Godly Forethought – Lessons from Jesus, John Stott, and the Birds

Photo by Richard Bewes

Do you ever wonder how to balance faith with making plans for the future?

As a friend of Langham Partnership and the global church, you may know that our founder John Stott was not only a gifted Bible teacher but also an avid bird watcher.  He even jokingly referred to his passion for “orni-theology,” a combined interest that resulted in his book, The Birds Our Teachers.

In that work, Stott provides important insights about the relationship between faith and future planning, reflecting on these well-known words of Jesus: “Look at the birds of the sky; they do not sow and reap and store in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth more than the birds?” (Matthew 6:26).

Here are four important lessons from Jesus, John Stott, and the birds:

In his book, The Birds Our Teachers, John Stott reflects on Jesus’ teaching about how we are to live by faith. Stott corrects three common misunderstandings and encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus.

  1. Jesus was not prohibiting forethought:

The command of Jesus is not to have anxious thoughts about the future. He’s warning us against anxiety, not against planning for the future. Stott writes, “Jesus forbids worry, not prudence. Faith in God is not inconsistent with making sensible provision for the future.”

  1. Jesus did not mean that we are guaranteed protection against all accidents:

We have all seen (and Jesus would have known) that sparrows do sometimes fall to the ground. Stott wisely teaches: “What Jesus promised is not that the law of gravity will be suspended for our benefit, but rather that nothing can harm us without our heavenly father’s knowledge and permission.”

  1. Jesus did not mean that God’s children can sit back and do nothing:

John Stott points out that God most commonly feeds the birds indirectly.  “He provides the wherewithal for them to feed themselves…. So, faith in God is not incompatible with cooperation with God…. We rightly thank him for our daily bread.  But we are still depending on farmers and fisherman… We both trust God and take appropriate action.”

  1. Fix your eyes on Jesus with “faith like an owl”:

One of my favorite chapters in The Birds Our Teachers is about the owl, which has the ability to swivel its head at least 180 degrees.  The owl helps us to see how we grow our faith – by looking back with gratitude and forward with expectation.  As John Stott says, “We must learn to imitate the owls, which swivel their heads right round.  For then we can perform our essential spiritual contortion, looking back to Christ’s death and resurrection with enormous gratitude, and looking on to his return with eager expectation.”

Your Faith, Forethought, and Planning Can Strengthen the Church around the World: 

John Stott’s faith and forethought led him to make provision in his estate for all of his book royalties to be given to Langham Partnership to train biblical leaders throughout the Majority World.   We thank God that almost 100 others have already shared similar plans with us as expressions of their love for the Lord and His church around the world.  What a blessing to think of how many pastors and leaders will be equipped to preach and teach God’s Word for decades to come! 

As you seek to live by faith with godly forethought, would you consider including a gift to Langham Partnership in your will or trust?   You can learn more here or by reaching out to us at legacy@langham.org.  If you include Langham in your plans, it would be our joy to thank you and to welcome you to our growing family within the Cross of Christ Legacy Fellowship.

Kevin VandenBrink, Planned Giving Director for Langham Partnership, is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP®) and a member of the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners. He is passionate about helping people like you who care about the global church and long to be wise stewards. He also brings to the Langham team many years of engagement in theological education, pastoral ministry, and global missions.

Kevin would love to hear your story, celebrate what the Lord is doing through Langham, and visit with you about the options and benefits of including Langham in your planned giving. Please click here to send an email to Kevin, or call him at (314) 488-0256.

*Quotes taken from The Birds our Teachers.  Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 2014.