A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I was a young and ignorant man sitting in an undergraduate psychology class when I first heard that aphorism. A peer used it to prime a discussion group we were paneling. That group was tasked with making a choice between various scenarios. My peer was arguing that safeguarding something you have is wiser than the risk of losing it for twice as much of that something. You can eat the bird in your hand, but if you release it in an attempt to get the two in the bush, then you risk losing all three. You’ll go hungry. It’s an undeniable truth. It’s so undeniable that it is hardwired into the human decision making process. When things count, we become very risk averse. Most of the time, this wisdom is appropriate. Most of the time.
But it is the complete opposite of a spiritual wisdom uttered by Jesus. He says quite clearly in Matthew 16:25 that whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for the sake of Jesus will find it. The context of his remarks are seated in a discussion of what it means to follow him (Matthew 16:24-27). To follow him is to risk losing the pleasures and comforts of the life you currently have. In some ways, it’s more than a risk — it’s a surety. For instance, to follow Jesus certainly means to repent, and turn from ways that displease God, and to take the risk that God will give you a better life. People who have recognized their sins, and the misery those sins inflict through the illusions of comfort and pleasure, and who traded in those illusions for a difficult walk with Jesus, know full well the sweetness of the promise uttered by him. Afterall, they’ve traded illusions for real purpose, and the joy that’s found in it. In fact, they’ve loved Jesus, more than a temporal, earthly life.
Our worldly and fallen wiring is designed to preserve us in a world that is fallen and full of traps. It prevents us from seeing that our comforts are actually misery in comparison to the challenges in a life pursuing God. We resist risking those comforts for the greater treasures. God tells us, however, that when we seek the Kingdom of Heaven first, all the things we need, including necessary comforts and pleasures, will be added to us in addition to the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 6:25-33). To paraphrase a great theologian, if you seek the world, you may strive and not get it. If you seek Heaven first, then you get both Heaven, and the needed things of the world.
In a crude, earthly sense, a bird in the hand may be better than two in the bush. But those of us that follow Christ don’t belong to a crude earth. God has given us access to all three birds, the bush, and the earth from which it grows. We just have to take a chance and trust him, and recognize that pursuit of his kingdom is worth more than any earthly things we may now enjoy, as well as worthy of the labors and challenges we may suffer in that pursuit.