Each summer an untold number of Christians engage in what has become a ritual: going on a mission trip. While I have enough mission trip stories to fill several ebooks, one trip in particular grips me. And I wasn’t even on that trip! A church I once served developed a relationship with a church in a remote area of the Yucatan, and friends there had made it their commitment to make a yearly pilgrimage to serve their Mayan friends.
Loaded with tools and children’s ministry supplies (it wouldn’t be a mission trip without building something or doing children’s ministry), the group found room for the favorite treats of the man who drove them everywhere they needed to go.
They couldn’t wait to surprise him. They were the ones surprised when he opened the bag of cookies and passed them to his friends who standing there. When the bag came back around to him, then he took a cookie for himself. Behind this simple act was a deep understanding about where those cookies and everything in life comes from.
Luke writes his Gospel to the church in its early days. Small, struggling for unity, cohesion, and recognition, they are keenly aware of their need for resources in order to grow. It’s no surprise that he includes a scene in Jesus’ ministry where he addresses that very issue. In chapter 12, we see a crowd of people gathered to hear Jesus teach. He tells them a story about a man whose farming business had a great year. It was so good he had to build more storage barns to hold it all. Jesus calls this man a fool.
As he often did, Jesus then turned to his disciples to explain the story (Luke 12:22-31). Imagine being there. As Jesus huddles with his disciples, hundreds of people, many who traveled to hear Jesus teach, are left hanging by a story whose meaning they don’t understand. They lean in expecting a deep, otherworldly insight that would make them feel better for not getting it the first time. Instead they are admonished to not have an anxious thought or expend emotional effort on what you will eat, what you will wear, or where you will live. These concerns don’t add anything to your lives.
That’s not totally true, though. Psychologists tell us these concerns add anxiety, stress and fear, high blood pressure, other health problems, and depression to our lives. It seems this reality does not discriminate.
Whether we’re poor and in need of these things, wealthy and concerned about the quality of these things, or somewhere in between, Jesus says that along the way existence has become more important than life. Food, clothing, and shelter are to serve life, not the other way around. The key question Jesus addresses here is if God takes care of dirty, careless buzzards that do nothing but cry and peck for food and of flowers that can do nothing to get their beauty, can he also be trusted with our existence?
Jesus thinks so. Since God knows what we need and when we need it, we are free to give ourselves to what matters most to Him. We’re free to live.
Jack Radcliffe is a husband and father, pastor and ministry consultant with Youth Ministry Architects in Nashville, TN, an adjunct professor at Martin Methodist College, and a seminar presenter for Parenteen (www.parenteen.com). He has an MDiv from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio and a DMin in Youth and Family Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary.