So Much Better Than “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” – Luke 12:22-31
By: Northern Seminary
In the late 1980s a song called “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin reached the top of many chart lists round the world. All the music was produced with human voices, and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was the first a Capella song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The song bounces along gently and reassuringly. It’s become the perfect background music for scenes in many movies, TV programs, and recently even in video games.
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is comforting. But there’s almost no substance, no basis, behind the ‘don’t worry but be happy’ theme other than ‘don’t worry but be happy.’ I’ve read the lyrics. No money, no style, no girl? Don’t worry, be happy. No place to live and a landlord suing you? Don’t worry, be happy.
That’s a nice philosophy, but also hopelessly inadequate. The song virtually says: “Live in denial. No matter what, just don’t worry and be happy.”
In Luke 12 Jesus speaks about worry, but he has something of real meaning to say about overcoming worry. His words are so much better than “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”!
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
Just before these words Jesus was warning the crowds: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Now Jesus speaks to his inner circle of disciples, and he has some very direct but reassuring words to tell them about their attitude to life, to worry, to trust, and to the kingdom. His words come with significant reasons to banish worry and approach life with a very positive attitude!
1. Attitude to life and its priorities.
Jesus has just finished telling the parable of the rich fool, the story of the man whose whole existence was about gathering wealth. He invested everything in this world and nothing in the next. He focused on increasing his wealth and gave no attention to God. Then one night – suddenly and unexpectedly – the rich fool died, and he lost everything that had occupied his years.
Jesus taught a very different attitude to life and its priorities: “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes” (vs. 22-23).
Those were bold words. The crowd he had just finished addressing were farmers and fishermen, or people who scraped a living from making things others might buy. No one was a rich fool because no one was rich. Almost all these people were very poor, potential victims of a bad harvest or a night of fishing without catching any fish.
How could they not worry about having food to eat or clothes to wear?
Jesus’ answer was simple but startling:
“Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (v. 24).
That answer would have amazed people. They knew their Old Testament and Leviticus 11 lists creatures the people were to regard as clean and unclean. It’s a long list! From verse 13 of Leviticus 11 God details the unclean birds. Eagles, vultures, kites, owls, gulls, hawks, cormorant, osprey, stork, heron and bats are all there. And right in the middle, in verse 15, God lists “any kind of raven.” The ravens were on the banned list.
Yet, Jesus tells the people that day, “God feeds them.” God ensures ravens have life. They’re unclean, and they don’t grow crops or store grain, but God gives them water and food. God cares for them.
And Jesus says: ‘You are so much more valuable than any bird, so, if God cares for even unclean birds like ravens, isn’t it obvious he will provide even more for you? If God cares for the lesser won’t he care for the greater? And you are so much greater than birds.’
His point, of course, is this: ‘Therefore don’t make your life about possessions. Don’t make your goal even the basic necessities like food and clothing. If God provides for any of his creatures, he’ll certainly provide for you.’
2. Attitude to worry and its pointlessness.
There have always been people who have believed in telekinesis. Telekinesis has its roots in the idea of mind over matter, as if an object can be moved from one side of the room to another just by the power of the mind. No scientific basis for that ability has ever been established.
Jesus debunked mind over matter ideas centuries earlier. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (v. 25).
I want to say “If only we could!” Faced with exams at school or university, I always worried that I wasn’t prepared. If only I could have one more hour to check over key facts. During busy days of pastoral ministry, I worried that I’d never found enough time to prepare my sermon for Sunday. If only I could have one more hour to get that message straightened out.
In the days of traveling all over the world, I often got stuck in traffic on the way to an airport and I worried that I’d miss my plane. If only I’d had one more hour before take-off time. Worry, worry, worry. But not once did I get that extra hour, nor thirty minutes, nor fifteen minutes, nor even one minute. No amount of worrying gave me any extra time. Worrying made no difference at all.
And Jesus says: “Since you cannot do this very little thing (adding even a single hour on to your life), why do you worry about the rest?” (v. 26).
In other words, if worrying can’t add even one extra hour into your life, worrying is even less likely to deliver the bigger things.
Worrying is hopelessly impotent and therefore utterly futile. Of all activities in which we can engage it is totally pointless.
3. Attitude to trust and its reward.
Worry carries no power to help or provide, but God has all the power and all the love both to help and to provide. Jesus said:
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, 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, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!” (vs. 27-28)
Everyone who listened to Jesus knew that King Solomon was immensely wealthy with palaces filled with objects made from pure gold. No other king had the splendor of Solomon.
But, Jesus says, the flowers you see growing wild are more beautiful than even Solomon. They didn’t apply their own makeup – none of their splendor is their own work. Everything that makes those flowers so lovely is God’s doing. One day, when they wither, you’ll gather up that grass and throw it into your ovens as fuel to bake your bread. And Jesus says: ‘If God takes great care to beautify flowers with such a short life, then how much more he will do for you.’
At one time Alison and I had a home built on land that used to be a marsh. There were still damp areas, and consequently lots and lots of frogs. Each evening we’d take our dog out for a walk, enjoying the night air and the gentle romance of strolling along hand in hand.
But then Alison would see a frog crouched in the middle of the road. “I have to rescue it,” she’d say, “or else it’ll be flattened by a car.” Over she’d go, pick up the frog and lay it down gently among the grass at the side of the road, safely away from the traffic.
And off we’d walk again, and the hand that had just carried that frog from the road would slip back inside mine. I’d complain to Alison that her hand was now damp from a slimy frog, but she’d laugh and say, “Take comfort. If I make all that effort to save frogs, I reckon your chances are good too!”
She was right. The Alison who cares for frogs certainly also takes good care of me.
The God who provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the fields will provide for the children he has made and placed in his world, and so much more than for any other part of his creation. God can be trusted and that trust brings a great reward.
4. Attitude to the kingdom and its priority.
From the very start of this section Jesus was talking to his disciples (v. 22). His teaching about an attitude which shuns worry and invests in trust was realistic only for those whose lives were surrendered to God. So, Jesus says, while the pagan world – people with no faith – will relentlessly pursue what to eat and what to drink, you have no such need because you can be sure your Father already knows and will provide (vs. 29-30). You have a much more important focus for your life: “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (v. 31).
Another time (Luke 15:11-24) Jesus told the story of a young man who struck out on his own to get away from his father. He took a lot of wealth with him and spent it on anything his heart desired. But the friends he made disappeared as soon as the money did, and he was reduced to menial farm labor. Now he hated every moment of his poverty-stricken life. But he came to his senses, and returned to his father who was overjoyed. The boy rejoined the family, and everything that was good for him to have became his again. His priority was right. His relationship with his father was right. And because of a right priority and a right relationship, he had everything he needed.
Jesus’ point here is similar. Seek first the king and the things that belong in his kingdom, and everything you need day by day will be yours as well.
An earthly father who loves his children will give them affection but also all the practical necessities of life, because love does that. Jesus gave an illustration about God’s love based exactly on that truth:
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:9-11)
Earthly parents provide for their children. Your heavenly Father will provide even more. You are in his family. You belong to him, and he cares for you very greatly indeed.
Our priority is not the things of this world and getting as much of them for ourselves as we can. Our priority is putting God’s kingship, his kingdom, above all else, and trusting him to provide whatever we need.
I have clear memories from when I was very young of traveling to top level professional soccer matches with my Dad, mingling with massive and excited crowds, and seeing dramatic soccer action on the pitch. I also remember Dad taking me to The Open Championship, one of the most major golf tournaments in the whole world. Even more massive crowds, and top star golfers battling to win the championship.
What I have no memory of is anything practical about those events. How were we to get there? Who would pay to get in? What would we eat? How would I see what was happening? I knew nothing about those things. I had nothing to make them happen. But Dad did, and I was with him and trusted him. I had no fear and no worry, and it was all great. Everything worked out perfectly. Dad knew the plan; he had the means to carry it out; and he cared for me. That truly was enough.
So much more our heavenly Father cares for us. He knows our needs and loves us through and through. We can live without fear and without worry, for our Father’s care truly is enough.
 Solomon’s splendor, including his great wealth and treasure, is described in great detail in 1 Kings 10:14-29 and 2 Chron. 9:13-28.