I don’t know how many times I heard “His Eye is On the Sparrow” sung by various island ladies at First Baptist Church of Poinciana, a multi-ethnic congregation near Kissimmee where I served as Associate Pastor from 1998-2002. Every Singspiration or 5th Sunday Night Sing, you could always count on at least one (and sometimes two) renditions of this great song, usually sung a cappella. After moving to Virginia and then New Mexico, it’s been rare that I have heard “His Eye is On the Sparrow” sung at church, which is a shame considering the encouraging lyrics.
Based upon Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Civilla Martin was inspired to write the lyrics to the Gospel song following a visit to a Christian couple in New York state:
Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was the outcome of that experience.
In Matthew 10:29-31, Jesus tells us just how much more valuable we are than sparrows:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
What are we to make of Jesus’ discourse on sparrows and hair? Before answering that question — one that I preached on yesterday — I have been reminded yet again of the unexpected twists and turns on life’s journey. On Sunday evening, I got word that the father of our Music Pastor had died unexpectedly in West Virginia. Perhaps like no other event that we experience, death — even when it is “expected” — somehow hits us like a wild pitch to the head. It knocks us to the ground in a way like nothing else quite can.
Reflecting on the death of a loved one, somehow my second “appendectomy” seems more like a minor speed bump in the journey of life. If we live life long enough, we will all experience the unexpected and surprising twists and turns that this life offers. Whether it’s an unexpected surgery, a death, the loss of a job, or any number of surprises that come our way, we can take comfort in this fact — there is One who is never surprised at what happens to us.
That’s what I believe Jesus was trying to share with His followers — then and now — when He talked about sparrows falling to the ground and the hairs of our head being numbered. God, as the sovereign King of Kings, reigns forevermore. His reign is such, that not even a sparrow dies apart from His consent. For His creation — you and me — nothing happens in our lives apart from God’s permissive will (He allows it to happen) or His express will (He causes it to happen). While we may never have the answers to the why questions, we can be confident that God is honored and glorified in all that takes place in our lives and that we can “know that all things do work together for our good, to those who love God and are the called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28). That’s why Jesus could tell us not to be afraid as we run the race with endurance, keeping our eyes on Him, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
In all of life’s journey — even when we face unexpected twists and turns — we know that God is intimately aware of us, not just the hair on our head, but all our struggles. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows our fears and doubts. And, through it all, He promises to be with us, so that we can become more and more like Jesus. Why would God do such a thing? Because He views us as more valuable than many sparrows. So valuable, in fact, that God sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross for our sins, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
As we live life, with all of its unexpected (to us) twists and turns, might we remember that God’s eye is not just on the sparrow, but He watches you and me:
Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.