The timing of this post’s subject matter may seem off at first glance. As I write this, the battle for Ukraine and especially Kiev continues. The incredible courage of the Ukrainian leaders and people in the face of a massive onslaught is inspiring much of the world. It is unknown at this point where this resistance will lead, and if it can overcome the odds arrayed against it. I started this post a couple of weeks ago, and was not able to finish. But I still felt there is relevance so will go ahead. I hope it is an encouragement to you.
Tulips have become my favorite flower the past few years. I used to like roses the best, especially pink ones that I still give my wife for extra points. But for reasons I can’t quite communicate, tulips are now my bestie. Where I’m living at present, spring season is soon to arrive, and the tulips are just starting to bloom. On my daily walk I see the status of some tulips, and though they had not began to bloom fully, my wife bought some that were right outside our window. (the photo with this post.)
But with my recently found love of tulips, I must confess I have never seen one that is frustrated or anxious. They bloom when they will, at different times perhaps but with no comparison to one another. Tulips show the magnificent colors and shapes of their uniqueness. But there is a process that they submit to in their growth and flourishing. There is a right time, a right emergence. Then there is a season of hiddenness again until the next season of blooming.
Like tulips, birds also are not frustrated or worried what they will find to eat. They just seek and find. When I first joined the mission organization that I still belong to after 42 years, I became aware of a teaching that our founder, Loren Cunningham, had given a few years before. The title was what first caught my attention: Have you ever seen a worried bird? I thought that was such a creative title, and expressive of such an important truth. Birds are never worried like we as humans so often are. They trust their creator for the sustenance they need. I have never forgotten that title and it has always encouraged me.
The teaching Loren gave is based on the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament, and specifically part of the Sermon on the Mount. This was an extended teaching by Jesus covering several subjects and especially focused on the inner life and motivations, not just the outside and external behavior. This portion is in Matthew 6: 25-33. Here it is in full:
‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil or spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.’
Birds and flowers. Jesus loved to talk about things that were close at hand, that his listeners could easily relate to. Birds and tulips were not anxious, and neither should we be, for our Father knows what we need down to the slightest detail and will provide. Of course this passage, and this post, is not saying that there is not a need to work, actively trusting in faith that we will receive what we need. Rather it is speaking to our internal places, where there is anxiousness and frustration and worry. It is inviting us to trust in our Creator, who really does have our good in mind like for all of creation.
So what is the connection to what is going on in Ukraine right now? First of all it relates to our anxiety with world events, with the deep pain going on not only in Europe but also in a world emerging from a two year global pandemic. It calls us to trust, to bring our anxiety inside out into the open and name it. Then to watch the tulips bloom, like in the springtime climate in the state where I live. (Though I am writing this today in South Africa.) Or to watch the birds find their food without any fret or worry.
This passage and post also relates to the Ukrainian heroes as they resist the invasion of their homeland. Yes, they are needing to resist and not simply submit and surrender. And they are doing that at this writing in a heroic way. But the words of Jesus are an encouragement also to them, to shine forth their passion for freedom that will not go away even if they are conquered for a season. To live in a place of confidence in that freedom that comes from within. To know that their Creator does not abandon them, but will continue to arrange the food and clothing they need. Outer resistance and inner trust are not opposites or incongruent. Often in life we need to do both.
It is not a passive trust, but a very active one. The birds fly forth, actively seeking the food and sustenance they need. The tulips strain forward, day by day in season finding that push up and out. Both birds and tulips fulfilling their God-given reasons for existence, to shine forth the beauty and life for which they were created.
Our friends in Ukraine are fighting for their lives right now. The beautiful colors of their flag is lighting up buildings in most of the world. Their passion in defending freedom is inspiring the world. I have no idea what the future will hold for them, or for Putin’s hold on Russia. But I do know that God will not forsake them, and like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, there is a future and a hope.
As there is for you today.