“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)
Birds have been much on my mind lately. I am not what you would call a bird watcher. Such people are far more serious and scientific in their approach to the subject than I am. I don’t try very hard to identify the bird and I have a hard time remembering some of the names I have learned in the past. But I do like to watch them. Their acrobatic feats in the air, their quick movements and constant alertness entertain and fascinate me. I love to watch a hawk hover and then dive straight toward the ground, or a hummingbird zip about in all directions as they search for nectar. While not all birds fly (ostriches, emus, etc.) and some only “fly” underwater (penguins, flightless cormorants) the vast majority fly through the air, some for very great distances, such as the Arctic Tern who flies from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again, every year over an average of 30 years for a combined lifetime mileage equal to three trips to the Moon!
When men first tried to fly, they manufactured wings that they attached to their arms and flapped them to mimic the movements of a bird. This met with complete and sometimes cataclysmic failure. What such fearless pioneers of aviation failed to realize was that flapping wings is really the least of the things needed by birds for flight. Many birds soar for hours and barely move their wings. It is the way birds are engineered as a whole that gives them the ability to fly. Their bones are very porous and lightweight, yet well designed for strength. Their body mass is compact, streamlined and hangs below their outstretched wings. Like the wheels on a plane their legs tuck neatly into their bodies once they gain altitude. Their wing muscles are marvels of efficiency and strength. Their wings are rounded over the top and relatively flat on the bottom for lift. When humans finally discovered that it was this wing design that provides the lift needed to fly, it finally led to more and more successful attempts to become airborne.
And then there are the feathers. While it is true that non-birds, such as Pterodactyls, bats and butterflies are able to fly without feathers, the avian feather offers a unique solution to many flight problems, especially for great heights, long distances and turbulent weather conditions. The “zip-lock” design of the flight feather provides an easy repair whenever feathers take a beating in the winds or birds need to clean themselves. The way the feathers are placed and on their wings and tails, along with the muscles that minutely control their movements provide birds with huge flexibility in the air. The hummingbird is the most maneuverable of all birds, partly because of the way it is able to control its tail feathers. They can hover and move in any direction, including backwards, at breakneck speeds.
Another feature unique to birds is their lung system. Instead of a “bellows” design as we and most animals have, they have a through-flow system that allows them take in air continuously as they fly, much like the jet engine. There are many other incredible design features on birds in general and special features for different kinds of birds. All of these show the tremendous wisdom and power of God who designed and created birds. It is therefore no wonder that God often uses birds to illustrate spiritual truth, even to show one or more of His excellent attributes.
In the passage quoted above, Jesus tells us to look at the birds. He does not specify which birds, as He does later when uses plants and specifies, “the lilies of the field”. He just bids us look at birds. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns and yet our heavenly Father feeds them. The feeding habits of birds are quite varied according to species but in every case there is usually an adequate supply of what they need. In our backyard, we have feeding “socks” hanging from the eaves for the finches. They will not eat off the ground, even if abundant seed is provided there whereas sparrows and doves are ground feeders. One way our heavenly Father feeds the birds is by designing us to enjoy their company! Hummingbird feeders are found outside many homes. Gardens with a variety of flowering plants also draw these fascinating creatures. God does take care of them! And that is Jesus’ point. He is not telling us that we do not have to work. Birds work hard at finding their food. Flying may seem fun to us but it requires a lot of energy and much time is spent by birds foraging for their favorite menu items. What we can learn from the birds is that they do not worry about the future. They are intent upon the moment. Even when they are building their nests for the eggs that shall soon be laid, they are not thinking about it. They are just doing it as God has wired their bodies to do. While we are made in God’s image and therefore have the ability to think of the future and consciously prepare for it, we must learn from the birds that God will provide for us. The demon of worry must not be allowed a foothold in our minds. To worry is to doubt God’s love and ability. Looking at the birds, we can see displayed both God’s loving provision and His absolute wisdom. We can trust in Him completely and leave the outcome of our labors on earth to His merciful and wise provision.
Another truth Jesus draws from the birds is that their needs are simple. Having food and shelter, they are content. When our earthly needs are reduced, it frees us to pursue the higher purpose for which we were created. Jesus asks, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” If we are worrying about worldly goods, it is probably because we have the mistaken notion that life is all about acquiring more than we really need. But that is not what life is about. God gave humans an amazing ability to obtain food and shelter in many, sometimes quite difficult, environments. From the frozen Arctic to the burning deserts to the humid rain forests, humans have found a way to live. God has well provided for us. There is plenty for all on this beautiful little planet. But those who do not trust our heavenly Father to provide for them, feel they must war with their neighbors to have enough, that so much for others means less for them. Life, for humans, is much more than physical. We are created by God to enjoy a rich relationship with Him and with the rest of His creation. The thrill of discovery, the joy of love, the rich rewards of service to God and His creatures far surpass those of gluttony, lust and greed.
Look at the birds. They don’t worry; they are content with simple fare. We need to truly become “as free as the birds.” We need to “mount up with wings as eagles” (Is. 40:31), to soar above the low world of petty things. We were made for heavenly things, not for rooting around like pigs in the earth. Down to earth we must be but not bound to earth. Enjoy the birds and take a lesson or two from them.