Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Seek First His Kingdom

Over the past few years, the Holy Spirit has shown me I'm a fearful person--and that means an idolatrous person too. First it was the fear of moving to Chicago. Then once I got there, I feared that if Olivia and I broke up, I'd be stuck alone in some new place where I didn't know anyone. This year I went through all kinds of unrest over my supervisor's disapproval of me and whether or not I'd have a job next year. So why is that idolatry? Because it means I'm ascribing to something or someone else the power and value in my life that only God Most High deserves.

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . . But seek first [your heavenly Father's] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:24-25, 33)

It wasn't until reading Running Scared by Ed Welch that I realized how verses 24 and 33, which frame Jesus' teaching about God's daily provision meeting our worries and anxieties, really fit the whole teaching. Jesus says that the solution to worry is to seek God's kingdom and his righteousness. But what exactly does this mean?

Like the father of the ancient Near East, the king's task was to love, protect, and bless his subjects so that the kingdom--his kingdom--prospered. Subjects of the realm, for their part, acknowledged their allegiance to the king and demonstrated that allegiance by living according to his laws.

In the kingdom of God, the King has made extravagant promises to us--promises of protection, liberation, and peace. We respond with our allegiance, which we typically call faith or trust. The essence of faith is not that we trust without evidence but that we choose sides: In whom do we trust? (p. 120)

This was mind-blowing to me. In essence, if we have fears about financial loss, it's not because our bank account is too small or our employment is unstable. We have anxieties because we've set up Money as a god who can provide peace, security, food, shelter, comfort, health, and the like. Hence Jesus says that Money (Greek Mammon) is a master we often choose to serve opposed to God (v. 24). Because we cannot serve two masters, and should serve God alone, "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry . . . ."

Or perhaps it's not money itself we hope in, but rather it might be the very comfort, peace, friends, or self-image that money can provide for us that have become our gods, the things we value more than God himself. When potential for their loss looms and we grow anxious, that shows we're valuing and hoping for something else more than God. "Worry, therefore, is not simply an emotion that erodes our quality of life or a pain to be alleviated. It is a misdirected love that should be confessed. It is trying to manage our world apart from God. It is making life about our needs, desires, and wants" (p. 163).

Seeking God's kingdom, then, is about acknowledging his reign over your life. It's his purposes and plans that must prevail, not your own. But while this might sound like cringing before some Machiavellian overlord, we need to remember that it is our heavenly Father whom we are serving as King (v. 32). If we doubt God's goodness, Jesus comforts us with this corrective: "If you, then, though you are evil [in comparison to God's pure and generous love], know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matt. 7:11). "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).

God-the-King's faithful, generous, gracious provision and protection is what the Old Testament often means by describing his righteousness. It's his just and good reign over his people, exercising his delivering power in loyal love toward those who've entrusted their welfare to him (see Psalms 4, 5, 96-98). When Jesus encourages us to seek God's kingdom and righteousness above all else, he calls us to acknowledge first God's glad benevolence toward his people and his power to carry out his good intentions for them.

O King, you are mighty to save! Forgive us all the times we've exalted good gifts from you to a place of desire and status above you, the Giver. And forgive us the ways we trust in bosses, paychecks, and the economy for our future, rather than praying for eyes to see your open hands. Help us in our unbelief to know that you have not withheld your only Son, but delivered him up to death for our sake; how will you then withhold any lesser thing that is for our good (Romans 8:32)? In Jesus' name, Amen.

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