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Have you ever seen a wild starving bird? Me neither. In Matthew 6.26–27, Jesus tells us why: “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?”
Pay close attention to Jesus’ first sentence: “Look at the birds of the air….” Theologians sometimes distinguish between general revelation and special revelation. The former refers to God’s revelation of his existence and character through reason, nature, and history. The latter refers to the revelation of God that is contained in the Bible. As Christians, we believe that God reveals himself through both the World and the Word. Jesus’ statement is an example of using general revelation to prove a point.
So, back to the birds: I have never seen a starving bird because birds always have plenty of food. A seed here, a grain there, bugs galore, etc.—birds feast like kings. Or rather, God provides plenty of food for them. All that they must do is eat what God has provided.
But how exactly does God provide? Jesus mentions that the birds do not “sow or reap or store away in barns.” Based on this passage, some people might wrongly infer that God provides for us regardless of whether we work hard or invest wisely. I don’t think that is the correct interpretation. After all, what Matthew 6.25–34 prohibits is worry, not work. Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that we ought to work so that we can provide for ourselves (1 Thessalonians 4.11, 12). And in 2 Thessalonians 3.6–10, Paul prohibits the church from providing charity to people who can work but don’t: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” When we cannot work, the Bible teaches us to rely on our families and churches for help (1 Timothy 5.3–8). So, in the ordinary course of events, God provides food for us through our work, through our family’s love, and through the church’s generosity.
What, then, is Jesus’ point? If he is not saying that God will provide for us regardless of whether we work, what is he saying? He is saying, it seems to me, that we ought to approach work and relationships with an “abundance mentality.” An abundance mentality begins with the assumption that God is good and generous. That is to say, God desires to bless people and provides them with more than they need. Because of this assumption, people with an abundance mentality work hard and share generously with others. Why? Because a good God will always provide. By contrast, people with a “scarcity mentality” believe that the world’s resources are limited and that getting them is a “zero sum game” in which if one person gains, another person loses. People with a scarcity mentality worry a lot, and they hoard rather than share.
Obviously, Jesus wants his disciples to have an abundance mentality. So, work hard and share generously, but don’t ever worry. God will provide.