On December 23, 1898, the New York Times reported that unknown persons had tampered with the railroad south of Austin, Texas. A beam was installed across the tracks in order to crash a particular night-traveling, north-bound passenger locomotive. The motive was presumed to be robbery.
As the train full of sleepy passengers sped toward the danger, it suffered a separate collision which caused only minor damage to the train. There was, however, one fatality.
You see, a few miles before the robber’s trap, a bird took flight and collided with the front of the train, shattering and extinguishing the train’s one headlight. The bird died instantly and the train was stopped to see about repairing the light. Of course, the passengers had places to go and the recently deceased bird had caused their delay, so not much time was spent in mourning.
The moon that night was bright, so the engineer decided to proceed to Austin at a very low rate of speed. Since it was too dark to see the danger ahead, the train ran right through the trap. There was terrifying noise and the passengers were jolted awake, but due to the slow speed the train was not derailed. The locomotive engine suffered some damage, but no one was injured, and the robbers evidently left the scene when the train didn’t show up on time. So the bird’s death likely thwarted the robbery and certainly saved dozens of human lives. If the obstacle had been struck at full speed, the train would have derailed and crashed – and dozens would have likely died.
This story reminds me of a beautiful old hymn of comfort that says “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” That may seem strange to some, so let me explain.
In Matthew 10:29-31 Jesus is offering some wonderful encouragement saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
This reemphasizes Jesus’ earlier words in Matthew 6:25-27: “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? 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? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
As pretty as “His Eye is On the Sparrow” may be, I’ve long been frustrated that it doesn’t give the whole message that Jesus wanted to convey. Yes, our Heavenly Father is watching us, but His care is so much more intimate. He isn’t simply observing us.
God’s Word gives the much more comforting truth. Jesus commands us not to be worried because even the birds are fed by God. He isn’t only passively watching the birds, waiting to hop into action in case something goes wrong. Instead, He has already planned, ordered, orchestrated and ordained their dinner, and even their death, before they were ever created. Therefore, no sparrow will go hungry and none will fall to the ground apart from God’s providential will that is already established according to His eternal plan!
Jesus then gives the great assurance that we are worth more than many sparrows to God! (Matthew 6:26, 10:31) When we board a plane it’s certainly nice to know that God is watching. But knowing that our absolutely sovereign God is fully in control of all things provides much more comfort – particularly if the pilot announces an engine failure!
Looking at the life of Job helps us to see God’s sovereignty in action, for the good of His people, and for His great glory (Romans 8:28). Job knew that God is faithful, that His plan is good, that His love is steadfast, and that His will is righteous, regardless of whether He “gives” or “takes away” (Job 1:21-22).
Ephesians 1:11; 5:17 says “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” He “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”. Scripture assures us that He is righteously working out His will in the lives of His people, for our good. If God is faithful to keep His promises, shouldn’t we be able to rest and be anxiety-free, knowing He is in control? All that we experience, whether positive or negative from our earthly perspective, has been pre-ordained according to His perfect, eternal, foreordained purpose. (Acts 14:16; Galatians 4:4, Ephesians 3:7-21)
This is where people begin to get uncomfortable. When a plane crashes and people die - all because of a little bird - it’s admittedly hard to see the good that God promises those who love Him. Yet Jesus’ promise that no sparrow will fall apart from God’s will was directly meant by Him to comfort His people with the assurance us that no airplane will crash apart from the will of God, no sick infant will die apart from the will of God, and no earthquake will leave thousands dead apart from the will of God!
This is admittedly a difficult doctrine, but much more difficulty is created for those who attribute God’s sovereign will to that bird that saved lives by hitting a train, and not to the bird that caused deaths by hitting a plane. If God is not sovereign over all things, and in control of all things, how far, and in what areas, can we fully trust Him? If He’s not in control of ALL things, how can He be God?
As difficult as it may seem, the Bible commands us in Proverbs 3:5-8 , and Philippians 4:6-7 to “trust in the Lord with all your heart”, to “be anxious for nothing”, to not “lean on your own understanding”, but instead, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”.
We are exhorted “in all our ways” to “acknowledge” the righteousness of God’s plan and the goodness of His will. And those who obey that exhortation are assured that His peace will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, and that it will be “healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” because “He will direct our paths” and bring us to a “peace that passes all understanding”.
I’ve got to admit that I’ll probably still sing “His Eye is On the Sparrow” despite my frustration with it. Not just because it’s such a pretty song, but because, in the end, it goes on to relate Jesus’ comforting words and it does magnify His Father’s sovereignty in a roundabout way:
“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears.”
Why do I lose my doubts and fears? Because not even a sparrow will fall apart from His will - and I am worth more than many sparrows to God!
Since we know that nothing happens outside of God’s will according to His glorious eternal plan, and since we know that God has shown his great love for us “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), we should all strive to obey I Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”