Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34
In The Lion King, the lions are the “royal family” of the animal kingdom… And one lion, Mufasa, is king. And at the beginning of the movie, everyone is celebrating the birth of Mufasa’s son, Simba. Well, almost everyone…
I mentioned last week that the Book of Judges defines that period of time in between the death of Joshua and the rise of the monarchy in Israel. The last judge to rule over Israel and the man who would anoint both King Saul and King David was Samuel. And the first chapter of the Book of 1 Samuel tells of his miraculous birth.
Samuel was one of many children in scripture born to mothers who had previously been unable to have children. The mother of Samuel was Hannah. Her husband, Elkanah, had another wife, however, by whom he did have children.
As with the similar story of Jacob, and his two wives, Rachel, and Leah, Elkanah loved his childless wife, Hannah, more than he loved his wife with whom he had children. Naturally, the other wife didn’t like this, and verse 6 says, “And [Hannah’s] rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed [Hannah’s] womb.” Listen to verses 7 and 8:
Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
That’s kind of romantic. And my heart goes out to Elkanah. He loves his wife Hannah! “Aren’t I enough for you? Isn’t my love enough for you? More than enough for you! In fact, am I not more to you than ten sons?”
And perhaps Elkanah would be “enough” for Hannah… except for one reason: Hannah’s husband is married to another woman who doesn’t have any trouble getting pregnant…
Oh what misery we bring upon ourselves when we compare ourselves to others! After all, what usually makes us most miserable in life is not that we don’t have enough; it’s that we don’t have what someone else has. And there is even a word for this kind of comparing ourselves with others—covetousness—and the Bible calls it a deadly serious sin… a breaking of the tenth commandment.
Hannah covets. And that sin prevents her from seeing that in God we actually do have everything we need. Paul says in Philippians 3:8 that in comparison to knowing Christ, everything else is garbage. Jesus himself compares knowing Christ to a kind of treasure for which we disciples should be willing to sacrifice everything else that we have—and be perfectly happy about it… because, after all, Jesus is more than enough for us. 1
We should be so satisfied in Christ—we should find such happiness and joy and contentment and peace in Christ—we should find such treasure in Christ—that we are unable to covet what anyone else possesses. “What is that thing, or that worldly treasure, or that person, or that relationship, or that prize or honor or trophy… compared to what I already possess in Christ? I have everything in him!”
Nothing should provoke us to covet… because we already possess something infinitely better than whatever it is we’re tempted to covet!
Only Christ, and the treasure we find in him, can cure our covetousness!
A relationship with him should always be more than enough for us…
In this next clip, Mufasa’s son Simba and Simba’s friend Nala give in to Scar’s temptation, they lie to their parents, and they go to the elephant graveyard, where they encounter some of Scar’s evil agents, a group of hyenas, who are threatening to kill them.
Earlier Scar warned his brother, Mufasa, not to turn his back on him… and, truthfully, Mufasa should have heeded the warning. He keeps turning his back on Scar, and it eventually costs him everything. Scar is clearly a Satanic figure. And we’re reminded of the apostle Peter’s warning in 1 Peter 5:8, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” 2
Neither Mufasa, Simba, nor Nala saw Scar in the shadows at the end of that second clip, but Scar looked a lot like a lion on the prowl, “looking for someone to devour.”
But here’s the problem: The devil rarely looks like that… He rarely looks likesome evil, frightening, shadowy, menacing figure when he attacks us. If only he did!
Instead, the devil and his words seem attractive… he seems to be looking out for our best interests! The devil sounds like the voice of reason!
No, the devil may be a roaring lion on the prowl, looking for someone to devour, but the Bible also says that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” 3 And that’s the way he appears to Simba in the clip.
And that’s the way he’ll usually appear to us, too!
Well, eventually Scar’s evil plans pay off: He causes Mufasa to sacrifice his life in order to save his son. And then Scar shames Simba into running away from home… because Scar convinces him that he’s to blame for Mufasa’s death.
When Simba runs away, he makes a couple of delightful friends, who teach him a song…
Surely one of the most neglected commands of our Lord comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” 4
So… Is Jesus saying, in so many words, “Hakuna matata”?
Not quite… but let me explain.
Hakuna matata wouldn’t necessarily be a bad philosophy on life, except it doesn’t explain why we shouldn’t worry “for the rest of our days”: Jesus, by contrast, tells us why: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” 5
See, what makes “no worries” possible is understanding that our Father is taking care of us… always. This is the doctrine of God’s providence.
Paul says a lot about this doctrine in1 Corinthians chapter 3. If you came to my sermon series on 1 Corinthians in the winter, you may recall that Paul is writing to a badly divided church. Among other things, the church was split into factions based on which apostle was their favorite: Some said, “I belong to Paul; he’s my guy; he’s the best.” Others said, “No… Forget Paul. I belong to Apollos! He’s a much better preacher!” Still others said, “I belong to Jesus’ number one apostle, Cephas”—the Aramaic name for Peter. But listen to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 and prepare to be blown away:
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
In other words, these church members are arguing over which apostle is the best, which apostle they owe their allegiance to, which apostle they “belong” to. And Paul says, “You don’t get it. You don’t belong to me or Apollos or Peter. We all belong to you! Because our heavenly Father, in his sovereignty, is enabling us to serve you and your best interests. Always.”
In fact, Paul goes on, “This is true of literally everything in the universe! Everything that happens to you… You may lack the perspective to see it right now, but everything that happens to you, everything that will happen to you in the future—even the things that cause bitterness and disappointment, even your own death—it’s all for you… it’s all working out perfectly according to God’s plan for you. And because you’re in Christ, his plan for you is always for your good; his plan is always to serve your best interests. Because you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
May those verses give us the confidence we need to overcome worry in our lives! So… “Hakuna Matata” is true, to some extent… because of Christ alone!
In this next clip, the prodigal son, Simba, goes home—with the encouragement of Rafiki, a wise monkey from the pride lands back home. He reminds Simba of something important.
Sometimes, let’s face it, it feels like it would be easier to just forget the past, or to regret the past, or to wish that events in the past hadn’t unfolded the way in which they did.
Not long ago, I talked to a woman who’s not a member of our church, but she’s part of our church’s Narcotics Anonymous group—which is, by the way, a very helpful, large, and growing ministry that your generous church stewardship possible. But this woman told me that—praise God—she was celebrating ten years of being clean, of being free of drugs. She is a deeply Christian woman now, and she gives God all the glory.
But she went on to tell me, with shame, that she had been a drug user and an addict for twenty years prior to that… And she deeply regretted all the harm she had caused to people she loved, not to mention to herself. She had even been in prison.
“If only I hadn’t done this… if only that hadn’t happened to me… If only I hadn’t hurt those people.”
“If only.” Those are two very complicated, sticky, prickly, sticky, difficult words that cause us pain… If only…
And I completely sympathized with this woman saying “if only.” While I’ve never been a drug addict, I certainly know the regret of causing great harm to others because of my sin! And I’m tempted to think of a thousand things in my past that I wish had been different, or had worked out differently. I’m tempted to say, “If only…”
Maybe you are, too?
If so, I want to encourage us with the very words that I shared with this recovering addict. It’s something that Paul says—about himself—in 1 Timothy chapter 1. Listen to verse 15:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
Notice Paul says, “I am the worst.” He’s not pulling punches, but keep in mind that Paul caused great harm in his past. He was a violent persecutor of the early church, and some of his actions even led to the deaths of Christians. That’s really, really bad! Surely Paul was tempted to want to rewrite his own past… to be filled with regret… to wish that things had turned out differently.
But not so fast!
He goes on in verse 16:
But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
Do you see what Paul is saying? In so many words, he’s saying, “God is using my past, even including—especially including—the fact that I was the worst sinner ever as an encouragement to other sinners: as a way of proving to other sinners that if God can have mercy on even me, and if God can save even me, and if God can heal even me, and if God can have a purpose even for me, and if God can use even me for his glory and his kingdom, what do you think he can do for you?
“If my past,” Paul says, “hasn’t disqualified me from God’s love and grace and mercy and purposes, why do you think your past disqualifies you. If God has done this for me, think what he can do for you!”
And I told this woman, this recovering addict, the same thing! I told her, “I understand that you wish these things in your past had been different, but there are people in your life right now who are struggling with addiction, and they don’t see a way out. They feel hopeless and stuck, trapped in this cycle of self-destruction… the way you were for twenty years… And God will use the very fact that you were that kind of person for twenty years to prove to other addicts that they, too, can find hope and healing and recovery and salvation!”
Listen: If you are a child of God through faith in Christ, there simply is no “if only”: God hasn’t wasted anything in your past! It has only prepared you for what’s to come in the future! And what’s to come in the future—for those of you who are in Christ Jesus—is glorious. Hallelujah!
Besides, let me ask you this: Do you like the person you are today?
Mostly, I like the person I am today… And I really like the person I’m becoming. I really like the person that God is making me into.
And I hope you can say the same for yourself!
If so, just think: God likes the person that you’re becoming, too. In fact, he is the One who has been shaping you into that person for years… for decades! And he’s been using everything that’s happened in your past to shape you into that person. I mean, I get it: It’s easy for us to regret what’s happened in our past, but it’s also true that if anything had happened differently in our past, we would be different people. And God our Creator loves the people that we are today, and the people that he’s making us into tomorrow—he doesn’t love some hypothetical version of ourselves that we wish we were! And he doesn’t love some person that we would have been—you know—if only, if only, if only…
Do I need to repeat that? God our Creator loves the people that we are today, and the people that he’s making us into tomorrow—he doesn’t love the person that we would have been… if only…
In this last clip, Simba goes home to claim his crown, but that means taking it away from his evil Uncle Scar, who has been reigning in his absence. Under Scar’s foolish stewardship, the once lush savanna has become a barren wasteland.
Earlier, when our heroes sang “Hakuna Matata,” they sang, “It’s our problem-free philosophy.” Problem-free?As we saw in this clip, Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa had to reject “Hakuna Matata” and their problem-free philosophy in order to win their fight.
And it’s the same with us as Christians. Being faithful to God is hardly “problem free”!
Just ask a woman named Naomi in the Book of Ruth. You may recall the story: Naomi has a husband and two sons. When a severe famine strikes Israel, Naomi and her family go to a foreign land, to Moab. Their sons marry Moabite women, but Naomi’s husband dies, and then both her sons die before they have children. And Naomi tells her two daughters-in-law to leave her, to return home to their families, where they can marry someone else.
Out of love and faithfulness to her mother-in-law, however, her daughter-in-law Ruth refuses to return home and instead accompanies Naomi to her hometown of Bethlehem.
Then, in Ruth 1:20 and 21, Naomi tells Ruth, “Don’t call me Naomi [a name meaning “pleasant”]… Instead, call me Mara [which means “bitter”], for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”
Naomi calls herself Mara, or “bitter,” because of what she believes the Lord has done to her. I don’t like that Naomi blames God. This makes me anxious. I feel the need to “nuance” her interpretation of recent events in her life. I want to remind her that God hasn’t done any of this in her life to harm her; that in fact, as Romans 8:28 and other promises of scripture tell us, and the doctrine of providence tells us, God is always working for the good of those who love him, and that God is always working to transform evil into good in the lives of his children. I want to tell her that while life may feel bitter right now, that won’t last forever, and that God is working his good plan and purposes even in the midst of this temporary bitterness.
That’s what I want to tell her.
But you know what I love about Naomi? The very fact that Naomi blames God for her troubles means that she knows where to go to find the healing and help that she needs!
One recurring problem in my own life is that I blame myself or others for my experience of bitterness: I would never say, “God has treated me bitterly.” But I would say, “My enemy has done this to me.” Or, “My ‘brokenness,’ or my sin, or my lack of faith, has caused me to feel this way!”
And I’m not saying I haven’t been mistreated and misjudged by enemies, and I’m not saying that I don’t deserve blame for my troubles… But guess what? My enemy can’t fix me… And heaven knows I don’t know how to fix myself!
Guess who does?
See, I need to learn a lesson from Naomi: I need to remember who’s ultimately responsible for everything that’s happening in my life. I need to remember that God has always placed me in the set of circumstances in which I find myself. I need to remember that Jesus Christ right now is sitting on his throne ruling over all the details of my life.
You may disagree with me, but consider how easy it would have been for God to engineer your life so that you wouldn’t be feeling this way at the moment, that you wouldn’t be going through this difficult trial, or that you wouldn’t be dealing with this difficult relationship right now. God could have changed your present circumstances if he wanted to!
Which can only mean that God’s got a reason for letting us endure this difficult trial. Which can only mean that he’s got something better for you on the other side of your present, difficult circumstances! Just wait! He’s got something better! Can you trust him? He’s got something better! Can you be patient? He’s got something better! Can you wait on him? His plans for your are good! Do you believe it?
Surely one reason God lets us go through the difficult trials we face is so that we will look to Christ our Lord, and Christ Great Physician—and look to him alone—for all the healing and help that we need!
After all, when have I ever sought healing from Christ when everything is going “my way”—as I perceive it? No, in times of great prosperity and ease, I’m often tempted to just ignore God. In times of great prosperity and ease I rarely seek healing and the help from the only One who has the power to grant these things to me.
And help always comes! I’ve lived for over 53 years now, and I’m telling, help always comes. Praise God! When I pray, help always comes!
As the great nineteenth-century English pastor, Charles Spurgeon, said: “Anything is a blessing which makes us pray.”
If the only reason that God is putting you through a difficult trial is to motivate you to get on your knees as never before, and pour out your heart to God, and pray to God, and believe in God, and trust in God more deeply, then that is a sufficient reason for the trial you’re going through!
I know a lot of you are feeling anxious about the future of our church right now because of this upcoming vote on August 9. Listen: the success of this local church in the future will not ultimately depend on this particular congregation, or on this particular annual conference, or on this or any other denomination: It will depend on God. He has all the power to make this church successful in its mission.
If you’re feeling anxious right now you know exactly where to go: You go straight to the throne room, you go straight to Jesus, you go straight to the Father, and you tell him, boldly, what you think you need, and what you think is best, and what you think will bring glory to him! “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16.
So if you’re anxious about our church’s future, here’s my message to you between now and August 9: “Hakuna Matata.” Don’t worry. But pray!