We live in an age of unprecedented anxiety. Into this anxious world, Jesus speaks words of profound comfort in Matthew 6:25–34. Yet while the world yearns for direct relief from problems, Jesus calls us to set our attention elsewhere. To combat our anxiety over worldly cares, Jesus teaches us about the indirectness of faith.

We Cannot Resolve Our Anxieties Directly

Often, we know what causes our anxiety. Usually, our anxieties focus directly on a particular object: something we want, but have never had; something we have, but fear to lose; or something we have lost, and worry about how we will cope without it. We tend to believe that if we could only possess the object of our longing, our anxiety would go away.

At the heart of anxiety, then, is the belief that there ought to be a direct solution to our problems. So we hunt for that solution, turning problems over and over in our minds as we rehearse what has already happened and imagine everything we might face in the future. At some level, we know that we will never find a satisfying resolution. Even so, we keep worrying anyway, hoping that we might stumble upon the answer as our minds wander through the dark forests of our fears.

To this Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25). While we are tempted to give direct attention to our problems, Jesus insists that we must not be anxious about even the most basic, life-or-death needs in our lives. The immediate problem presented that gives rise to anxiety is not the real issue, and we will not be satisfied by resolving it directly.

Certainly, we should care about our food and clothing—but without anxiety. Jesus commends the birds for our consideration: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26).

Jesus’ point is not that we should be lazy or passive. Birds search constantly for their food. Rather, Jesus is drawing our attention to the fact that everything that a bird receives is given to it. Like Ruth, the birds may work diligently to glean their food, but they rely on the generosity of someone else. And even in Ruth’s story, wealthy Boaz depended on the generosity of his Father in heaven to send the right balance of sunshine and rain for the grain in his field to grow (Matt. 5:45). All the worry in the world could not feed a single hungry soul. Jesus instructs us instead to trust our heavenly Father to meet our needs.

The Gentiles Seek Direct Solutions

To underscore our powerlessness, Jesus directs our attention toward the lilies of the field: “They neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matt. 6:28b–29). In this reference to Solomon, Jesus subtly closes off one more avenue we might take to try to meet our needs: our own wisdom. Solomon’s wisdom exceeded that of anyone who has ever lived, except for Jesus Himself (Matt. 12:42). Yet while Solomon’s wisdom produced unprecedented wealth in Israel (1 Kings 4:20–34; 1 Kings 10:14–29), all his splendor cannot compete with the glory of a simple, helpless lily.

Our Lord is patient to redirect our attention away from our problems and toward a person.

Worse, Solomon in all his wisdom failed to trust God, leading him instead to turn and serve the gods of the gentiles (1 Kings 11:1–8). Whereas Jesus commends simple faith that (indirectly) trusts God to feed and clothe us, the children of this world focus all their wisdom toward (directly) fulfilling their needs: “The Gentiles seek after all these things” (Matt. 6:32a). The pagan worship of the gentiles was never about loving the gods with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Rather, pagan worship was about appeasing the gods to get what the worshiper wanted: offering the right sacrifice to the right god(s) at the right time and in the right way, to gain the desired blessing of rain, fruitful fields, fertility in childbearing, or victory in battle. The gods were merely gatekeepers. Everything really depended on the worshiper.

So when Jesus speaks about the “gentiles,” He is talking about approaching God as though we were interacting with a vending machine. For modern people, the “gentile” worldview remains substantially the same, so that everything still depends on me: the goals I pursue, the wisdom I employ, the sacrifices I make, and the wealth I accumulate.

We Deal with Anxieties Indirectly, by Faith

Jesus rebukes this lifestyle: “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?” (Matt. 6:30). Our problem is not that we lack wisdom or resources but that we lack faith. More than even the most basic bodily necessities such as food and clothing, our greater need is to trust our loving heavenly Father. Our Father knows that we need all these things (Matt. 6:32b), but we may struggle to believe that He wants to provide what we need.

Jesus’ solution, then, is fundamentally indirect: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). This is so hard! We would much rather tackle our concerns directly by identifying the problem, focusing on finding a solution, and doing whatever needs to be done until the matter is resolved. By contrast, Jesus tells us to do what Peter will later express this way: “Cast your anxieties on him, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

By dealing with our anxieties indirectly, we take up a posture of humility and helplessness before our Father in heaven—a posture we might learn from the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. God’s care for us, however, goes beyond His care for plants and animals, since He loves us as a father cares for his children. As His children, we may come before His throne with confidence (Heb. 10:19), addressing Him as “our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9).

By this posture, Jesus trains us to deal with our anxieties relationally rather than transactionally. We aren’t trying to pull a lever on a heavenly vending machine; we are growing in our experiential knowledge of the love of our heavenly Father. Through this, God trains us to love His kingdom first so that we are content in every situation, regardless of need (Phil. 4:11). Ultimately, God must lead us to love Him so that we trust our Father no matter what He may bring into our lives today or tomorrow (Matt. 6:34). By this posture, God gives us something that we desperately need: a settled assurance of His fatherly kindness toward us.

At the cross, Jesus gave us a perfect picture of this posture. While Jesus could have appealed to His Father to send twelve legions of angels to deal with His problems directly, He did not (Matt. 26:53). Instead, He dealt with His looming crucifixion, wrestling with His Father in prayer (Matt. 26:36–44). When His Father did not remove from Him the cup of His sufferings, Jesus continued entrusting Himself to the One who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). By this, our Lord not only gave us an example for dealing with anxiety, but He also cast out the ultimate source of our anxiety: our fear of God’s punishment because of our sin (1 John 4:18).


In the stress of a crisis, we might be tempted to reject Jesus’ teaching about the indirectness of faith. Our Lord is patient, though, to redirect our attention away from our problems and toward a person. While the gentiles will continue to seek direct solutions, the object they seek will always elude their grasp, no matter how skillfully they search.

Yet what wisdom we cannot find within this world, God has freely given us through His only begotten Son, Jesus, who was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. By the indirectness of our faith in Jesus Christ, God not only meets our basic needs, but He overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).

How to Avoid a Life of Regrets

The Mediator and His Offices