Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor 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 you 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 after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:28b-33, English Standard Version)
I spent last Saturday morning “considering the lilies of the field.” My wife and I are part of a plein air painting group. Many Saturdays will find us loading our easels and paints into the Outback and trekking off to a park or farm or small town (or even urban Columbus). This past Saturday, we painted at the Saksa Daylily Farm located outside Centerburg, Ohio, about 40 minutes from our home (by the way, Centerburg gets its name from being located at the geographic center of Ohio).
What a gorgeous place! Lilies of every variety as far as the eye could see. There were so many different varieties, and walking through the rows felt like walking through an art gallery, each variety a masterpiece. In the end, I focused on a single flower, and hardly did justice even to that. This is that flower:
The starburst of yellow against the magenta petals, the stamens reaching up to the sun, the delicate veins and curling edges all caught my eye. Little wonder Jesus said that “Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these!” Jesus invites us to stop and consider the lilies of the fields and, in earlier words, the birds of the air and how God cares for them, and how much more God would care for us.
The field of lilies was a peaceful place, kissed by the sun and refreshing breezes. Such a contrast to the anxious life we often live. My own anxieties are less about food and clothing and more about what life in our senior years will look like. How long will we be able to remain in our home? What can we do to stay healthy as long as possible? What will the coming years bring? And often our thoughts are as much or more about our son and daughter-in-law as ourselves. We could not ask for better, but you never stop being a parent.
The verses above have been something of a watchword throughout my life. They were etched into my memory as a college student on a spring break outreach in Fort Lauderdale. A gifted jazz pianist, James Ward joined us in evening coffeehouse performances in an outdoor venue on the strip opposite the beaches. One of his songs was “Seek First the Kingdom (Consider the Lilies)” the first verse and chorus of which said:
Consider the lilies, how they grow,
Your heavenly Father takes control,
Are you not much more important than they?
What can your worrying do anyway?
Seek first the kingdom.
Keep the righteousness of God in view.
Seek first the kingdom.
He said all of these things will be added to you.
--James Ward, 1974
Ward’s song made sense out of my experience getting to Fort Lauderdale. I didn’t have either the money or a car to get there. People gave me money without knowing what for, and a friend lent us a car. It taught me that if I sought God’s will in God’s way, life wouldn’t always be easy, but God would take care of us. Over the years, we continued to live into the promise of this passage in moving to a new city and buying a house in a recession. Trusting God for a couple hundred dollars turned into trusting God for hundreds of thousands of dollars for the team God gave us to engage in ministry among students and faculty. We were sustained by God and his people through my wife’s two cancer diagnoses and a stubborn foot infection I faced. I could go on. We’ve been blessed to share forty-three years together.
The lilies at the lily farm reminded me of the promise we’ve lived into all of these years. The things that might cause us anxiety may be different from earlier years. The promise hasn’t changed. Most of all, the God who has proven faithful over the years as we’ve oriented our lives toward him hasn’t changed.
The lilies also recalled the song. I could not find the acoustic piano version I still have on vinyl, but I came across this jazzier version on YouTube. I like the version on my vinyl better, but this gives you a taste. It just might become a watchword for you.