In Luke 12:13-34, Jesus is asked to arbitrate a property dispute between brothers. He responds with a warning agains all kinds of greed, followed by a parable about the “foolish farmer” whose plans to build larger storehouses were interrupted by his own mortality. Jesus follows the parable with further teaching about not being anxious, climaxing with the famous saying, “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Jesus’ words cuts through real life, whether it’s the first century or the twenty-first century. Anxiety over material provisions seems to be a common human experience regardless of time, place or culture. But Jesus’ words are more than an exhortation to live a care-free life. They cut cross-grain with his original audience’s understanding of God.
God gifted Israel with the Torah, Temple and Land in order to train them to be a nation that would be God’s presence in order to rescue and bless the other nations. But like the foolish farmer in Jesus’ parable, they turned these overflowing gifts inward upon themselves rather than lavishing them upon their surrounding neighbors.
So the man that requested Jesus’ intervention in the property dispute was attempting to cling to his small portion of the Holy Land, a familial toe-hold in his ethnic identity and therefore his place in God’s special people. Possession of the land had mutated from a gift to bless others to a symbol of one’s secure placement in God’s family. This man, and his fellow kinsmen, had become like the foolish farmer who was selfishly consumed with his own personal economic and religious security.
But Jesus quickly moves from this one man’s individual case to the core of humanity’s shared experience. The anxiety that consumed this man regarding his property consumes all of us. Remember that most of Jesus’ original audience had just enough for that day. And the reality of not having enough for tomorrow always haunted them. A serious illness or injury would mean instant destitution. So anxiety and the compulsion to store a little more for one’s security is an authentic human need in their world and ours.
And so Jesus points to the birds and flowers, reminding us that “Life is more than food.” He’s not waxing poetic or being a dreamy-eyed hippie. He’s confronting the core of broken human experience with the reality of God’s kingdom. As the world’s King, God lavishes his love and power upon his creation, so that we, his image-bearers, may relax in his abundant and sovereign provision and do the same.
Humans are created to bless. It’s part of being God’s image-bearers. He’s a loving and blessing God, and were are designed to do the same. But anxiety short-circuits our ability to bless. Anxiety disconnects us from our blessing God and pulls us in a deepening spiral inward when our vocation is to be outward.
Jesus’ words are not an encouragement to live a care-free and happy life. It’s not a 1st century version of “Don’t worry. Be happy.” In fact, on the crazy-difficult chart, this ranks up there with “Loving and forgiving your enemies.” This is counter-intuitive to the common human experience.
But that’s usually true of God’s kingdom. Jesus said elsewhere that his kingdom is not from this world. Therefore living in it requires an entirely new way of life, one that doesn’t make sense from a mere human perspective.
While the intuitive approach to life is to first focus on providing for ourselves and family, save enough to be secure, and from that bless others, Jesus summarizes life in God’s new world order, “Seek God’s kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.” In other words, turn our focus to our loving and blessing God. Direct our primary efforts to becoming like him, to being his image-bearers.
In practical terms, we are to become “blessing machines.” We are to become people who naturally and automatically lavish love, generosity, compassion, encouragement and hospitality upon others. Make blessing others our “career.” Bless others with our presence, our time, our words, and our resources. And then rely on God to provide everything we need. And as we pursue our vocation in God’s kingdom, reflecting his image into the world as a constant source of blessing, we can securely relax in God’s sovereign care like the birds and flowers do.
This doesn’t come naturally for many of us. We have to develop these kind of habits, so they can become natural reflexes in our lives. In his short book, Surprise the World, Michael Frost encourages Christ-followers to learn new habits. One of these core habits is blessing others. He encourages us to develop this habit by intentionally choosing to bless at least three people a week. He defines blessing as “strengthening another’s arm.” In other words, we are to proactively choose three people each week that we can strengthen in any way that relieves their burden, lifts their spirit or alleviates distress. It can be anything such as an encouraging word, a kind act or a gift.
Again, the point is to become “blessing machines” that naturally churn out blessings for the sake of others. And be doing so, we restoratively reflect our loving and blessing God into our world.
Thus God’s New Creation is a Reality absent of anxiety and filled with blessing.