Friday, June 15, 2012

Good again between grace and rest

A meditation on Matthew 6:26

"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?"

I brew an early morning cup of tea, hoping to shake the drowsy vestiges of clinging slumber from my mind and eyes.  The scriptures are cleaved open on the couch next to me as I search for a caffeinated shot of revelation, something to shake the anxious thoughts from my mind’s eye.  Too often it’s the things I can’t see that boldly allege themselves truer than the things my eyes can measure.  A child’s pair of shoes bought 2 weeks ago, already threatening to be too tight.  A resume sent with expectation, still waiting for reply.  Instead of giving thanks for the new shoes, I clutter the blessing with worry about where Providence will come from when those toes are pressed fully in.  And instead of rejoicing in the opportunity of an open door, I fret that it’s been closed before I even walk through it.  Such a wandering vine I can be in the flesh, groping about for a place to wrap my tendrils.  Time and again, I need reminding that worry is nothing more than rotting wood, a terribly weak support for flourishing trust.  In my search for the rock-anchored trellis, I thumb through Matthew and there find it in chapter 6.  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns…   A thousand times read, but today it beckons me to have a deeper look.  So while sipping my tea, I begin to chew the Word. 

Jesus, why did you illustrate this lesson with birds?  Why not a deer or lion or mouse?  My thoughts are led to Genesis 1 and I see it; creatures of the air were made on the 5th day, the number representing grace. By definition, grace is undeserved favor, charity or kindness.  It’s the getting of something we didn’t work for or earn.  Indeed, the birds are recipients of grace, never having to learn how to plow a field or thresh wheat to fill their bellies.  Their food is “graced” to them, given by a loving Creator who sustains them without fail by His own hand. 

And Jesus, what of the sowing and reaping and storing away, the work that birds never have to contend with? Why thrice emphasize the laboring on the land?   A few minutes of meditating on that question and I find the connection.  Land animals, including man, were created on the 6th day, a number that often represents rebellion and turning away from God’s ordained plan.  It’s also significant that after the fall of Eden, the serpent was cursed to be a dust-dweller and Adam was bound to work the earth in oppressive toil.  That’s the cycle that replaced the 5th day’s grace… the sowing and reaping and storing away, all efforts stemming from our own strength and ingenuity.  All roots growing out of the curse and seeds for worry about supply.    

In that moment of insurrection at the fruited tree, the 6 days of glorious handiwork that God had unfolded for us to enjoy were abruptly halted.  The crowning 7th day of rest became nothing more than a mirage at the end of thorny fields to ever-plow.  My heart is heavy at the realization of man’s plight and the depth to which rebellion has brought ruin to our world.  But I’m nudged to keep reading.  There’s more to uncover here.  The verse ends with a question… Are you not much more valuable than they?... as if to ask us what we know about our standing in the heart of God.  So I take up the thought and ask myself, “What do I know about my value in God’s eyes?  How great is His love for me, even in the midst of my journey through this sin-harrowed world?  

My thoughts, of course, go to the cross, that other tree of significance in the Scriptures.  Whereas the first tree was exploited for the ruination, the second tree was assigned for the restoration.  But it wasn’t the birds of the air or the fruit of the land that God most wanted to re-grace.  It was me.  And you.  And every jewel in the Kingly diadem that had been pried loose by the looting thief.  I see a Father sending a beloved, only Son to a faraway, unholy land with the unfathomable task of shouldering not only the weight of an entire creation’s sin, but then also the wrath and righteous punishment necessary to purge the world of that filth.  Abba, I can’t imagine the conflict of that decision. I could never freely hand over my child to the lash for the depravity of another.  I see a Savior, lifted up high on 6th day ground, stretching His arms wide to grasp the 5th day’s grace and the 7th day’s rest, spanning the divide over which our sin-mired feet could never stride.  Jesus, I can’t find words to thank you for entering the curse in my place.  Ages before I even knew that I needed pardon.

As the caffeine disperses my mental fog, the marrow of the Word begins to satisfy my spiritual hunger.  Light is breaking through the trees and filtering into my heart.  I see it, Lord.  Why so many times you tell us not to worry.  Anxious thoughts are like a trail of breadcrumbs back to thorny ground.  They return me to a place that I have been freed from, once and for all.  For a child of God, the 6th day is no longer a place where supply is strangled.  We are given “It is good” land to cultivate again.  The enemy is so limited now.  He can only stumble us with doubts about the efficacy of Jesus’ work and lure us back to the lamentably comfortable  “bootstrap” approach to life.  But the grace covenant has no loopholes, no addendums made after the fact, no leaven of the law.  And because the Father sent His beloved Son, the highest ransom that could possibly be paid, there is no question that the debt has been paid in full.

It’s time to get the kids up and tackle the new day with a fresh revelation about my Father’s tender love and detailed attention to my needs.  I see that as God’s child, my worrying about shoes or job interviews is like a sparrow trying to plow a field.  Neither will produce fruit, just aimless toil and wasted time.  As I spend time remembering that my value is far above the birds of the air, anxious thoughts suddenly lose their sway.  Today, I’m trellising on redeemed ground at the cross, reaching my tendrils out for the sure arms of Jesus where the gifts of grace and rest await my return.