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Is the Christian life ascetic? Does God want us to live like the monks and nuns of early Christianity, who were indifferent (and sometimes hostile) to physical and material pleasures? Are we supposed to live the carefree life of the birds, trusting to God to provide for our needs?
Or rather, yes to the third question, not the first two. God will provide for our needs because he cares for us more than birds and lilies, which he feeds and beautifies respectively. That is the essence of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6.25–34 and the foundation of a worry-free life.
But we often confuse Jesus’ teaching with asceticism, that is to say, with the simple and disciplined lives of monks and nuns who take vows of poverty. God may call some people into that manner of life, but he does not call all of us. Instead, he calls all of us—whether rich or poor—to have the right attitude about our creaturely needs and wants. The essence of that attitude is faith or trust, which produces in us a lack of anxiety.
Anxiety, you see, is a fundamentally religious problem. It reflects a lack of trust in God. That is why Jesus says: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ 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.”
Jesus here contrasts a pagan lifestyle with a truly Christian one. The pagan is constantly concerned about food and clothing because his gods are many and fickle—much like the idols of fashion and popular opinion are today. Who knows what they want? But the Christian has no anxiety because the One True God is wholly reliable. Having created the world, the Christian God cares for it and all that is in it, especially those who have trusted him for their eternal salvation.
Because our Heavenly Father is reliable, Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Neither food nor clothing is ultimately important to us. What matters most is our relationship with God and the spiritual and moral fruit that relationship bears. The closer we draw to God, the more our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions should reflect his own. His righteousness rubs off.
So do his blessings. What else do the words “all these things will be given to you as well” refer to if not the food and clothing we need? The Creator always provides, if we prioritize him in our lives instead of creature comforts.
And anyway, anxiety about the future is a useless emotion. We only live one day at a time. The future is best left in the hands of God.