This week I thought of Matthew 6:26 (NIV) where Jesus is talking about worry and says, "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." But then Jesus asks a question, "Are you not much more valuable than they?"
A father was giving his daughter a last minute course in defensive driving as she was heading out the door with her friends. "Honey," he explained to her, "Remember, if you're driving down the road and you see an animal, do not swerve to avoid the animal. Your life is much more valuable than that of a cat, or dog, or bird, or whatever may cross your path." Later that night the father was waiting up for his daughter when the phone rang. A police officer explained that his daughter was okay, but that she had been badly shaken after being involved in a one-car accident. The father rushed down to the hospital and asked for an explanation. The daughter cried, "Daddy, I’m sorry I wrecked your car. But I saw a squirrel off the side of the road and I did exactly what you told me to do!" Confused, the father asked, "Honey, I love you and I’m glad you're okay. But if you did exactly what I said how it is that the car landed fifty yards out in the field next to the highway?" After a short pause the daughter said, "Daddy, you told me that if I saw an animal that I shouldn’t swerve to miss. Well I didn’t miss. I saw that squirrel on the side of the road and I flattened him out like a pancake!"
Jesus invites us to consider our worth to our heavenly Father.
In Matthew 6:26 Jesus isn’t just talking about worry. He is inviting us to consider our worth to our heavenly Father. Are we not much more valuable than the birds, than the sum total of our worries? I thought about this verse some time ago while waiting in my car for Lara. Somebody had just thrown an unfinished McDonald’s Happy Meal out the window and the sack was sitting on the ground near my parking spot. As I sat there these huge ugly black birds began swooping down out of the sky. The first bird tore a hole in the paper sack and flew away. Then another bird swooped down and poked its head in the hole and fluttered off. Then two other birds swept down. The first bird reached in the hole, pulled out a huge french fry, and then darted off. Then the other bird got a fry. And pretty soon, dozens of crows were taking turns eating french fries. Finally one of the crows snagged the last french fry. Feathers flew in the air as the last lucky crow fled for its dear life with all the other crows in hot pursuit. God loves those dirty disgusting birds enough to give them a Happy Meal! Jesus says, "How much more valuable are you than they?"
The drive to establish self-worth.
So we are more valuable than the birds. Big deal? Only a militant, tree-hugging, bird-loving environmentalist would think differently, right? I am convinced that one thing we don’t do often enough is to weigh our worth in God’s eyes. We wreck our lives because we forget that we are more valuable to our Father than everything else in all creation, not just the birds.
On one level this may not seem like a big deal. But have you ever considered what happens when we lose our self-worth? Jesus saw our lack of self-worth as a driving force behind sin and evil. Even psychologists today, secular and Christian, trace bad behavior to low self-esteem or low self-worth. "Tommy isn’t a bad boy, he just has low self-esteem." When our self-worth isn’t rooted in God we will go to great lengths to establish worth somewhere else. We set up artificial measures by which to gauge our self-worth. We compare. We compete. We devalue those around us in order to build ourselves up. We become jealous and envious. We open the door to evil.
Applause of men and self-worth
When we shut the door on God, one of the first places we try to establish self-worth is in the eyes of the world. If the world loves us perhaps we can love ourselves too. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 through Matthew 7 is a case study detailing the lengths that men and women will go to in order to establish self-worth in the eyes of men. Instead of being salt and light to our world, we forfeit our distinctiveness and values. Our greatest fear becomes that someone might reject us, insult us, persecute us, label us, think less of us, or somehow exclude us from his group. So we stop resisting the ebb and flow of culture. We stop living the counter-culture life of Christ. We stop hungering and thirsting for righteousness. We stop taking those stands for Christ. We suppress our convictions. We hide our faith. We live to please men, to be accepted, and to be safe and secure. When our self-worth is measured outside of God, the praise of men becomes more necessary and urgent than the applause of heaven.
And when our self-worth is based on the applause of men, we willingly enter into one compromise after another. There is a disconnect from the qualities that God values. Do you remember the beatitudes? Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and blessed are those who are persecuted. These qualities are meaningless to people obsessed with trying to establish their self-worth outside of a relationship with God. If anything, these values cause us to be demoted and to have a lesser standing in our families and workplace and society! And that is the point. The blessed life arises out of a relationship with God as we find greater worth in God’s eyes than worth in things men value.
Religion and self-worth
By way of example, consider the religious things we do in order to establish worth in the eyes of the world. Religiously we might live the lifestyle of the Pharisees and teachers of the law that Jesus describes throughout the Sermon on the Mount. They strived to live moral lives not in order to please God, but to distinguish themselves in society or to be valued. Their motivation was to look good. They judged others' negatives in order to accentuate their own positives. They became legalistic about those behaviors and actions they’d mastered and they became hypocrites in those areas of their greatest failures. They promoted themselves and demoted everyone around them.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks of their tendency to use prayer, fasting, and giving to the needy as ways to elevate themselves. Instead of using prayer to draw close to God, they used it to manipulate people’s perceptions. They were more interested in looking spiritual than in actually being spiritual. It’s a sad state of affairs when our quest for self-worth is intermingled with religious activity. It's sad when we feel a need to go through the motions of loving God in order to establish worth among people. It's sad when we get so desperate that our every deed is weighed by the stature it might give us in the eyes of others.
Anger and self-worth
In Matthew 5 Jesus addresses the problem of anger. We can’t help but notice that much of our anger comes when we try to establish our worth with others. Anger arises out of unfulfilled expectations. Someone isn’t paying attention to us, so we get angry. Our efforts aren’t being acknowledged, or someone is stealing the limelight, or our status is being diminished, so we get angry. We assert ourselves by insulting the offending party.
The big news this week was that of a father who drugged his son’s opponents in a tennis competition. If I heard the story correctly, one boy died in car wreck and the other was hospitalized for days. That father so badly wanted his son to be valued that he wrecked everything for him. His anger escalated into murder.
Marriage and self-worth
Our lack of self-worth takes a toll on the marriage relationship as well. Lust. Fantasy. Adultery. Divorce. All these activities reflect a misguided evil desire to establish worth for ourselves outside of the marriage relationship. These activities say, "Look at me. Look at this attractive person who values me. I’m still a hunk."
Speech and self-worth
And let's not forget what Jesus said about speech in the Sermon on the Mount. So many of our lies arise out of our lack of self-worth. We lie in order to make ourselves look good in the eyes of men. Our "yes" stops being "yes" and our "no" stops being "no". We swear and put God’s holy name behind our words. We exaggerate our accomplishments. We pad our resumes. We cover our faults and blemishes. We make false promises to our families. We misrepresent the truth in order to protect ourselves or to advance our image.
Possessions and self-worth
Many of our purchases are driven by a lack of self-worth. So much of what we purchase is not driven by practical necessity, but rather by a fanatical whim to establish our identities and worth to others. We purchase flashy jewelry that sparkles and intrigues. We wear that expensive perfume or cologne. We buy the expensive tools and toys. We try to one-up the Jones family next door. Materialistically, we begin storing up treasure for ourselves on earth. We buy that home in that prestigious subdivision not because that neighborhood is safer for our family, but to make a statement that we're on the up-and-up of society. We buy that foreign brand car or that oversized SUV not because it has practical value, but to signal to those around us that we are someone important who should be noticed. We purchase name-brand clothing not because Tommy Hillfiger holds up better than Big R’s Wrangler jeans, but because it impresses our friends and peers.
Judging others and self-worth
In Matthew 7 Jesus speaks about judging others. He knows us so well, doesn’t he? He knows that so much of what we do is good old image management. With good intentions, we put on masks and create false impressions. Our clothing, our jewelry, our outward adornments, our behavior; all these things are instruments we use to cover our insecurities and advance our standing. And this is true of worry.
The point of Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV) is that so much of what we worry about relates to our self-image or sense of worth in men’s eyes. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 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? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"
"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 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."
Great freedom can be found when we stop running after the same things the world runs after and when we begin to grasp our value and infinite worth to the Father. God doesn’t measure our worth by how much work we do for him, by what clothes we wear, by how spiritually we act, by how much money we make, by whether we are on the starting lineup or sit on the bench, by the grades we get on our report cards, by how witty and cool we are, by our appearance, by our social or economic status, by our degrees, by which side of the tracks we live on, by which people we associate with, by how much we sin or don’t sin, or by any of the superficial standards our world uses to gauge our worth.
In God’s eyes you are more than your job title, you are more than your academic merits, you are more than your works, and you are more than your performance on or off the court. You have value inherently as God’s creation. Now if that doesn’t free you from running, I don’t know what will!
You are worth the price that God paid for you.
This past week I saw a book by Alister McGrath and his wife on self-esteem. As I thumbed through the book I read a few pages where he explains how God has established an objective measure for us by which to gauge our worth. In scripture we discover that we are worth whatever price God was willing to pay for us. When God redeemed us from sin, he liquidated his greatest asset in heaven so he could buy us back. He sent his Son Jesus Christ to seek and to save us, but also to die for us. To pour himself out. To die on a wooden cross, taking God’s curse upon himself in our place.
We get kind of goofy sometimes, wondering if we really have worth in God’s sight. We get emotional. The world beats us down. Family discourages us. We get tired of just punching a clock or going through our routine. The cross stands as an objective reminder to us of our worth in God’s eyes. The cross was God proving to us how much he values and esteems us. The cross reminds us that esteem, value, and worth are not found within, or in this world, or even in the reflections others have on our lives. Instead our worth is found above, in relationship to a heavenly Father who treasures us more than anything else.
When our self-worth is rooted in our relationship with God, we are free to live. It will matter less what people think or say about us because ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What matters is God’s assessment of our value.