“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” (Matthew 6:31-34, NIV).
I suspect that, like me, you find this passage challenging. It’s even more difficult to understand it in the King James Version of the Bible from which I was taught. The phrase in NIV is translated “do not worry” and in KJV is rendered as “take no thought.” I might keep the worry under control, but how do I shop for groceries if I am instructed to not think about what my family will eat?
At some level, of course, we have to pay attention to these matters. The key is to not let concern over them dominate you. Believing that God will provide while you hold down a job, manage a budget, shop for necessities, and consume what you purchased is all possible. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging, especially when it comes to the big bills.
It was a challenge for my parents to put my brothers and me through an Adventist education. My sophomore year was especially problematic because my father, having left a secure job to heed the call to ministry, was studying in the seminary at Andrews University. My older brother was a senior and my younger brother a freshman, so having us all at boarding school relieved some pressure on the space in the one-bedroom apartment, but the cumulative expense of all that tuition and related costs was beyond what my mother was making at the university library.
How did we do it? Of course, that’s the wrong question. The right thing to ask is, how did God do it?
Not that we were not part of the equation. Dad took an overload of classes every quarter and finished in one year, so that saved a bundle. We all worked jobs at the academy and watched our food intake, which also helped. Coupons were clipped, bargains were sought, luxuries were foregone. Those things add up. But the tangible evidence of a master plan from a place beyond earth was in how those academy bills, which piled up as the year went on, all fell aside as each child graduated.
I’ve never known a harder worker than my older brother. He would start the tractor up at four in the morning to get a couple hours of cutting hay in before breakfast, then spend the afternoon at the academy industry and take overtime hours if available. When his senior class voted to place the leftover class funds on the account of the student who did the most to work off his or her bill, it was just enough to pay my brother’s bill in full. He graduated with no debt.
I tried to follow his example. I baked 75 loaves of bread three times a week, having it in the oven before breakfast for another student to take out while I headed to class. Afternoons were at the industry, and evenings I was a Resident Assistant (RA) in the dorm. What put me over the top in time for graduation was the small inheritance my grandmother left.
My younger brother worked just as hard, again in the industry and as an RA. Dad returning to employment with the conference and Mom finding a better paying job were enough for them to catch up, and he, too, graduated owing nothing.
We couldn’t manage those costs on our own. All the work we could find was not enough. It was the things we could not plan that fell into place at just the right time that paid the big bills for our family. All the worry we could collectively focus on the problem would never have been enough to make those things happen.
Not worrying doesn’t mean not doing your part. It means not worrying. You have to get a job, manage your money, go to the store, control your consumption, just like everybody else. But unlike everyone else, you don’t have to worry. Instead, you get to marvel.
The original version of this commentary was posted by the Rocky Mountain Conference news site. Doug Inglish is vice president for administration and stewardship director for the Rocky Mountain Conference.