**The audio for this article is in two parts.
In C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, a child named Lucy encounters Aslan, the Christ-figure of the Narnia stories, after not seeing him for a long while. “Aslan, you’re bigger,” she says.
“That is because you’re older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”1
The more mature in the faith we are, the bigger God will be for us. As our vision of God becomes clearer and we understand his enormity, we learn to rest in him. We grow in our ability to depend completely on him and know that with a God as competent as the God we find in the pages of Scripture, the universe in which we find ourselves is truly a safe place for us.
At least, this is as it ought to be. Reality, for far too many of us, is quite the opposite. In spite of this large and competent God who cares for us and promises to never abandon us, we often find ourselves beset by worry, anxiety and fear. It is only the most mature leader who understands that as we come to rely on God, we find rest in this world.
All people who lead others or carry organizational responsibility find more than enough reasons to worry – deadlines, financial pressures, market instability and other pressures (you fill in your own blanks here) make stomachs churn and account for many a sleepless night. But Jesus cautions us against worrying about anything – even the food we eat or the clothes we wear:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
In this passage, Jesus gives his disciples (and us) six reasons for trusting in God rather than worrying.
First, the same God who gives us the greater gift of life will certainly supply the lesser gifts of food and clothing. In typical Jewish fashion, Jesus reasons from the greater to the lesser: If God has given us life, won’t he be faithful to give us the things that will sustain that life and make it rich and rewarding? If God can be trusted to take care of big things, can we also trust him with the small details? The answer is: of course. God never begins something he does not plan to see through to completion.
Second, the God who cares for birds will care for his people. After all, humans are of much greater value than any bird. “Look at the birds” implies “Look and Learn.” We can learn much from these flighty little fellows. They are industrious yet carefree. Without the benefit of barns they manage to find food each day. That is God’s provision for them. For us, God’s provision is greater. We have been given the ability to manipulate our environment. To grow crops, raise animals and preserve food. Not only are we more capable than the birds to provide food for ourselves, but we are also more valuable in God’s eyes (Matt. 10:29-31). How much less, then, we should worry.
Third, worry expends energy pointlessly – it doesn’t change the reality of the situation a single bit. Worry is kind of like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere.
Fourth, worry ignores God’s demonstrated faithfulness in our lives. The same God who so wonderfully clothes the flowers of the field is responsible to care for them. Every blossoming flower is a reminder of God’s faithfulness to us. A field of wild flowers sprinkled across a bed of fresh spring grass is a remarkable sight indeed. These little beauties do not labor or spin (probably a reference to both men’s and women’s work respectively). But even Solomon’s wardrobe paled in comparison. If God is so generous with something as transitory as kindling for the fire, what do you suppose he will do for us? No wonder Jesus rebukes us, “O, you of little faith,” when a mere glance out our bedroom window should teach us the futility of worry. As R.H. Mounce has said, “Worry is practical atheism and an affront to God.”2
Fifth, we are God’s children. God will never treat us as orphans who need to fend for themselves. Failure to grasp this will lead inevitably to worry and failure in our moral lives. In fact, it is not an overstatement to say that the most important thing about us is what comes to mind when we think of God, as A.W. Tozer clarifies:
That our idea of God correspond as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us. Compared with our actual thoughts about Him, our [doctrinal] statements are of little consequence. Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God. A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.3
If we view God as a cosmic killjoy, we will likely be plagued with guilt and shame over every sinful thought or angry moment. If God is seen as some kind of doting grandfather who turns a blind eye at our shortcomings, we will be likely to excuse our wrong actions. If we think God is looking for a good bargain, we will expect him to come through for us when we have done something good for him. Our quality of life will always rise and fall on our view of God and our expectations of him. Once we come to know God as the faithful Father he is, worry simply does not make sense.
Sixth, when we worry about tomorrow we miss out on today. Jesus recognizes that our days will be filled with trouble. We simply cannot afford the luxury of worrying, casting our eyes on future affliction. Each day will demand our best attention. Any problem we face can be handled, with God’s help, one day at a time.
As leaders who want to reach our generation for Christ, we need to lead in a way that allows others to see our faith in God. One way we can do that is by depending on God in the face of our daily pressures. The next time you’re under pressure, pray for the grace you need to depend on God, who is perfectly and eternally worthy of your trust. Remember that those you lead will see how you respond to such pressures and will follow your actions.
Those who have not placed their faith in God often live only for the moment. Their peace of mind or anxiety is tied to their circumstances. But those whose faith is secure in the One who is secure are able to live above the worries of this world. As Dallas Willard points out:
People who are ignorant of God…live to eat and drink and dress. “For such things the ‘gentiles’ seek” – and their lives are filled with corresponding anxiety and anger and depression about how they will look and how they will fare.
By contrast, those who understand Jesus and his Father know that provision has been made for them. Their confidence has been confirmed by their experience. Though they work, they do not worry about things “on earth.” Instead, they are always “seeking first the kingdom.” That is, they “place top priority on identifying and involving themselves in what God is doing and in the kind of rightness…he has. All else needed is provided” (6:33). They soon enough have a track record to prove it.4
This is not to say that believers in Christ will be exempt from the usual troubles of this world. Worry-free does not mean trouble-free. Sometimes it may be our faith which actually brings on troubles as we navigate our way through a world that insists on flying upside-down. Still, in spite of our circumstances, those who depend on God will find out for themselves the truth the psalmist discovered long ago: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:19).
We live in a time when all forms of external authority are being challenged in favor of subjective, inner authority. The quest for autonomy rather than accountability has become rampant. Yet the Scriptures tell us that an autonomous mindset is a mark of foolishness, since it ignores our fundamental need for dependence on God.
Jeremiah struggled with occupational hazards faced by many effective leaders. Because he knew that Israel’s behavior was destructive, he needed to function as a constant agent for change. He preached and counseled and urged his followers to turn from sin and to practice righteousness.
As he prodded, Jeremiah lived with opposition and persecution, and one wonders whether Jeremiah ever asked himself the question that confronts many leaders today: “Since change arouses opposition, why not back off and let things remain as they are?” That wouldn’t have been a good option for Jeremiah. It rarely is for a leader, because change is intrinsic to the nature of leadership. And that led to the second hazard: Since the changes were essential to Israel’s survival, he was compelled to live with the hard knocks he was taking as the agent for change.
No one has ever found a way to improve anything without changing it in some way. Our second dilemma could be phrased: “Since change arouses personal opposition, I have to steel myself against the way people feel about me. But I can’t stop caring about what they think or feel. If I do, some of those I am supposed to lead might become my ‘enemies.’” The second leadership hazard, then, is that the leader may become so hardened to opposition that he or she no longer hears or cares about the personal concerns behind it. The resentment of opposition can turn followers into opponents.
Jeremiah knew that what he was doing was right and necessary, and he continued pushing for change even though he took a beating for it. He was attacked by kings, priests, false prophets and, most painfully, his friends (Jeremiah 20:10) and family (12:6). How does a leader survive such hardships and still maintain his integrity? That leader must come to depend on God above anything else. That leader must, like Jeremiah, remember:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
The horror of the complete destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians was still vivid in Jeremiah’s mind when he wrote a series of five lamentations. Nevertheless, these verses, placed as they are in the middle of this short book, are words of hope and not of despair. They remind us that our only real hope is in the character and promises of God.
The Lord’s lovingkindness, great compassion and complete faithfulness make him the supremely worthy object of personal reliance. He is always good to those who seek him and who put their hope in him. Everything God asks us to do is for our ultimate good, and everything he tells us to avoid is harmful to us, even when we may think otherwise.
The problem may be that God’s faithfulness is too faithful. Philip Yancey writes:
I remember my first visit to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National park. Rings of Japanese and German tourists surrounded the geyser, their video cameras trained like weapons on the famous hole in the ground. A large digital clock stood beside the spot, predicting twenty-four minutes before the eruption.
My wife and I passed the countdown in the dining room of Old Faithful Inn overlooking the geyser. When the digital clock reached one minute, we, along with every other diner, left our seats and rushed to the windows to see the big, wet event.
I noticed immediately, as if on signal, a crew of busboys and waiters descended on the tables to refill water glasses and clear away dirty dishes. When the geyser went off, we tourists oohed and aahed and clicked our cameras; a few spontaneously applauded. But, glancing back over my shoulder, I saw that not a single waiter or busboy – not even those who had finished their chores – looked out the huge windows. Old Faithful, grown entirely too familiar, had lost its power to impress them.5
It seems faithfulness often goes unappreciated – especially the faithfulness of God. His presence is so regular, so commonplace, that we tend to overlook the very quality that separates him from all other gods. In fact, one of the few things God cannot do is be unfaithful (he also cannot remember our sins once they’ve been cleansed!).
Still, we are often tempted to complain that “my way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God” (Isaiah 40:27); but doing so means judging according to appearances and not according to reality. There are only two possible perceptions of God’s character and our circumstances; each of us will choose one when we encounter trouble. We will either view God’s character in light of our circumstances, or our circumstances in light of God’s character. If we choose the former, we will tend to look away from God and look to ourselves. Instead of leaning on the Rock, we will lean on a broken reed (2 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 36:6).
Faith is a universal experience – everyone, including the atheist, lives by faith. The issue is not whether we will trust in a belief system or trust in people or things, but whether we are placing our trust in that which is reliable or untrustworthy. Faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed. The prophet Jeremiah provides us with a look at two conflicting sources of personal dependence:
This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah draws a sharp contrast between those who depend on human strength and those who depend on the living God. He makes it clear that we cannot look to both as our supreme basis of trust; we will either put our hope in the promises and power of people, or we will look beyond human capability to the person and promises of God. When we make people the basis of our confidence we experience rejection and disappointment again and again. But when God becomes the ultimate source of our confidence, we are never let down.
Willy Loman is the central character in Arthur Miller’s brilliant and moving play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman personifies failure and broken dreams as he spends his life chasing the ever-illusive dream of being an irresistibly successful salesman. He lives in denial, tossed back and forth between the notion that tomorrow will bring great success and the heart-wrenching desperation of feeling utterly worthless. He continually tortures himself with the belief that if he just tries harder, believes in himself more, persists long enough, he will find success. His biggest mistake is the belief that success will fulfill his deepest longings.
If only Willy Loman could have found the courage to face the pain of failure and his emptiness, perhaps he might have realized that he was pursuing the wrong dream. In the end, he commits suicide. His son, Biff, comes to see the truth his dad could not face:
There were a lot of nice days. When he’d come home from a trip; or on Sundays, making the stoop; finishing the cellar; putting on the new porch…. You know something, Charley, there’s more of him in that front stoop than in all the sales he ever made…. He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong…. He never knew who he was.6
Habakkuk learned that “the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4), and he was not talking about faith in men. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe” (Proverbs 29:25). Those who put more confidence in themselves or in other people than in God will find bitterness and disappointment in the end. They may appear to prosper for a season, but the journey will not get them to their desired goals. But those who transfer their trust from themselves or the promises of others to the Lord will discover that their lives are deeply rooted in well-watered soil. The Lord declares that “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30).
Zerubbabel must have felt overwhelmed. His task was so huge he needed a prophet of God to give him perspective. The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and its temple 70 years before, and now Zerubbabel was in charge of the group that had come back to rebuild it. When Solomon first built the temple, he had the optimal situation – nearly unlimited resources and a motivated workforce. Zerubbabel now faced strong opposition, a demoralized workforce and limited resources.
God’s word to him in Zechariah 4 is everlastingly and universally true: Work hard and smart. But if God doesn’t look favorably on your work, it will result in nothing significant. The text reads: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (v. 6).
Zerubbabel had to make tough decisions, wrestle with personnel problems, sit in long meetings, listen to grievances – everything other leaders do. But the prophet Zechariah’s message to him was that the job ultimately depended on God’s Spirit, not on his or anyone else’s might or power. The wonderful truth of this is that all of our activities are now infused with meaning as we work in the power supplied by God’s Spirit. We can now join in the prayer of Blaise Pascal: “Lord, help me to do great things as though they were little, since I do them with your power; and little things as though they were great, since I do them in your name.”7
Leaders are responsible to manage their resources well and to lead their people effectively. But prayer to God and dependence on him for the outcome is the wise leader’s constant strategy for success.
Every leader will discover that there are times when it’s hard to trust in God. In an effort to help us do that R.C. Sproul reminds us of the absolute dependence of God as demonstrated in his promise to Abraham:
So the Lord said to [Abram], “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away….
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendents I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates….
Legal counselors are some of the highest paid executives in business because they protect us from each other. We find it so hard to depend on anyone’s word that we have to close all the loopholes in any transaction. In business, doing so is more than smart – it’s essential.
But Sproul reminds his reader that there is One on whom we can always depend. Commenting on this passage, he wrote:
The meaning of the drama is clear: As God passed between the pieces His message was, “Abraham, if I fail to keep my promise to you, may I be cut asunder just as those animals have been torn apart.” God put His eternal being on the line. It was as if He were saying, “May My immutable deity suffer mutation if I break My promise. May My infinite character become finite, My immortal essence suffer mortality. May the impossible become possible if I lie.”
The author of Hebrews reflected on this event when he wrote, “Since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself” (Hebrews 6:13).
The surety of God’s promise is God Himself. All that He is stands behind His promise. It would not do for God to swear by the temple or by His mother’s grave. He has no mother. The temple is not sacred enough to confirm the oath of God. He must swear by His own integrity, using His divine nature as an everlasting guarantee.8
In spite of the great and wonderful promises, in spite of the centuries of proven faithfulness, in spite of mounting evidence, empirical and anecdotal, demonstrating the folly of trusting in ourselves, people still reject the faithfulness of God. Perhaps because of their status, leaders are more acutely prone to lean on their own understanding. But God calls each of us – especially those of us in positions of leadership – to lean on him.
Such trust is difficult. It requires humility. It requires commitment. It will demand a constant vigilance. We will need to regularly review and renew our commitment, but if we train ourselves to trust in the only One who is worthy of our dependence, we may find, as Lucy in Narnia found, that our God is bigger than we ever imagined.
1 C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, The Chronicles of Narnia (New York: Collier/Macmillan, 1985), p. 136.
2 R.H. Mounce, Matthew (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), p. 80.
3 A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 8
4 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), p. 212.
5 Philip Yancey, “What Surprised Jesus,” Christianity Today, 12 September 1994, p. 88.
6 Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (New York: Penguin Books, 1949), pp. 110-11.
7 Quoted in Bill and Kathy Peel, Discover Your Destiny (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1996), p. 215.
8 R.C. Sproul, One Holy Passion (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987), pp. 154-157.