Intro: Video – City Slickers - “One Thing”
An old preacher’s joke was about the preacher who had delivered a sermon the previous week with 23 points, and realizing that he had overdone it announced that because his previous sermon had had too many points in it this week’s sermon would be pointless. The joke that followed asks the question, “How many points should a sermon have?” The answer is “At least one.”
The real question is, how many points should a life have? And the answer is, only one.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus looks at our lives and says, look at all the things you’re worrying about – food, clothing, shelter – and God knows you need them, and when you trust God he’ll make sure you always have enough. Instead of worrying about the same things everybody else in the world worries about, you focus on one thing – “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33).
But it might be a bit of a hopeful assumption that anybody listening then or reading that now would know exactly what that means – how does one “seek first” God’s kingdom and righteousness? Even if that was the desire of your heart, you might not know exactly where to begin and what steps you needed to take to accomplish it.
That’s what happened with Lucy’s uncle – you know, Lucy, Charlie Brown’s friend and sometimes nemesis in Peanuts. She tells Charlie, “My uncle has always wanted to play the violin. Last week he went down to a music store and bought one. Then he went to a concert to watch the violinists play to see how they did it. Then he went home, picked up his new violin and tried it himself. He couldn’t play at all! The next time he goes to a concert, he’s going to try sitting closer.”
I used to play guitar – I thought I was pretty good, but really, I knew about a dozen chords and a half dozen songs and just played around at it. Suppose I decided that I wanted to be a concert classical guitarist - I’m not sure I’d know where to begin…. But I know it wouldn’t be easy, it wouldn’t happen quickly, and it would involve some pretty significant sacrifices. It’s not any different if we are to “seek first” God’s kingdom and righteousness for our lives.
I see four dimensions of this command of Jesus and they come out of the words themselves:
Jer. 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
There is seeking and there is seeking. What Jesus and Jeremiah are talking about isn’t like the game we used to play as kids, Hide and Seek, or the word puzzle where you look for a word hiding in a jumble of letters. The word “seek” implies an intentional and purposeful pursuit. Have you ever lost track of your child in a store? That captures the urgency that is needed.
Seeking God is not a casual hobby that you play at occasionally when the whim hits you only to put it down for months or years as you lose interest.
Seeking is not aimless wandering around hoping you stumble across something important. It’s not a serendipity that you stumble upon in the pursuit of something else – this is it – this is the main thing, the only thing, the one thing.
A little boy was sitting by the side of a creek with his cane pole and can of worms fishing, when a group of teenage boys with fancy rods and reels and lures and flies show up. They stomp out into the stream in their waders thrashing the water and shouting and laughing at each other, but catching nothing. Meanwhile the little boy is pulling fish out every few minutes and one of the teenagers shouts to the boy, “How do you do it? We’ve got all the best equipment but aren’t catching anything.” The little boy looked up long enough to reply, “I’m fishing for fish. You’re fishing for fun.”
In Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he lists Habit #2 – “Start with the end in mind.” You need to know what you are seeking – what does it look like to be a “kingdom” person? How will you know when you’ve found it?
It’s a shame that the only time of year we sing the song “Joy to the World” is at Christmas time – it’s not really a Christmas song – it’s much deeper and more life centered than that (Joy to the World #1018). It’s a song about the lordship of Jesus in our lives – about letting him rule in our hearts.
The thing about seeking God is that he isn’t hiding – he is there in plain view wanting to be found. But he can only be found by those who seek him with all their heart. It is Paul’s words in Phil. 3:10, after telling them that everything else in life that he thought was important he had thrown out on the garbage pile, and that all of his energy and desire was now focused on this: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
To seek him first, you have to focus your heart and your life. You have to be ready to put one thing on the front burner. You have to be ready to set everything else aside.
Ricardo Semler is the CEO of Semco, a large Brazilian company. In his book, Maverick, he writes: “We were in yet another meeting… when we came to the purchase of $50,000 worth of file cabinets. Several departments had been waiting months for the cabinets and in desperation had decided to pool their requests… . We didn’t buy a single new file cabinet that day. Instead, we decided to hold the First Biannual Semco File Inspection and Clean-out. Our instructions were simple: We told everyone to look inside every file folder and purge every nonessential piece of paper… I was one of Semco’s biggest file hogs, with four large cabinets and a request for two more. After our cleanup, I trimmed down to a single cabinet, and that was pretty much how it went throughout the company… The cleanup went so well that when everyone had finished, Semco auctioned off dozens of unneeded file cabinets.”
That’s what has to happen in our lives if we are to “seek first” God’s kingdom and righteousness.
Back to Stephen Covey and his Habits – Habit #3 is “Put First Things First.” And the “first things” aren’t the urgent things, but the important things. Isn’t that what Jesus was saying? What are urgent things? Food, clothing, shelter… What are important things? God’s kingdom and righteousness.
I believe that’s something of what Paul was trying to say in 2 Cor. 4:4 “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan does a pretty good job of clouding the issues and putting obstacles in the way of focusing on what’s most important.
It’s not that the things we focus on are necessarily bad, but they aren’t the most important. And if Satan can fill our lives with the second best, he has kept us from the one thing that matters the most.
That’s what Paul was describing to the Philippians – a total reorganization and reprioritization of his life – and here’s how he worded it: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12-13).
When we start focusing our lives through that lens of God’s kingdom, we have to make some judgments about priorities – cleaning out the clutter, organizing the things we keep. Focusing and refocusing on that one most important priority.
Kingdom is the operating word in our priorities. Jesus is the king of our lives – he rules sovereignly. Some of us have to begin there and turn over the control of our lives to him – completely. All of our decisions are filtered through his lordship. Questions about activities and attitudes and goals have to be surrendered to his authority.
And kingdom implies citizenship – it’s where we live our lives. It’s a daily thing – and there are daily applications. You see, I’m not a weekend visitor to God’s kingdom when I show up at church for an hour on Sunday – God doesn’t grant any tourist visas for people to come sightseeing. You move in, you live your life as a citizen – and that comes with responsibilities and rights and privileges.
Now, life in God’s kingdom isn’t just laying around taking it easy in paradise. Because we live out our citizenship as strangers and aliens in a world that is rushing headlong away from God, we need daily, sometimes minute by minute contact with our King to remind us who and whose we are. And so kingdom life needs these three things to sustain us:
Immersed in God’s Word
2 Timothy 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
As I was growing up, our family owned a Bible – a big KJV coffee table sized Bible – and I grew up thinking the Bible was the book you used to press your leaf collection in for science class. It wasn’t until I became a Christian when I was 16 that I began to read the Bible for the first time and realized the Bible was a book that actually talked about real life and had something to say about how I should live my life right now. It was an incredible realization.
Constant in Prayer
1 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.”
My wife and I have a great relationship, and it’s because we enjoy being together and talking with each other. She’ll call me during the day just to see how my day is going. We look forward to getting home to each other each evening and talking about our days. We don’t make important decisions without each other, we don’t hide things from each other. We know each other and want to be known by each other.
The Bible says that’s what prayer is about. Not a perfunctory ritual in which we list off all of our requests and desires, but a constant conversation in which we make ourselves known to God, and in the process we find God making himself known to us.
Henri Nowen described what prayer is really about: “When we walk in the Lord’s presence, everything we see, hear, touch, or taste reminds us of him. This is what is meant by a prayerful life. It is not a life in which we say many prayers, but a life in which nothing, absolutely nothing, is done, said, or understood independently of him who is the origin and purpose of our existence.” (Living Reminder, 28).
In Fellowship with His People
The third element of kingdom life is living in relationship with other members of his kingdom. There are no hermits in God’s kingdom – citizenship involves relationships and living in active, intentional harmony with the other citizens – and you come to find out – they are not just fellow citizens – they are blood relatives – brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
And that, yes, you are your brother’s keeper! And you have a purpose and a place in the kingdom/body/family that only you can fill – Paul writes that God’s purpose in the body is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). And that, only as we are growing up in Christ are we “joined and held together by every supporting ligament,” growing and being built up in love, as each part does it’s work. (Eph. 4:16).
Righteousness was really at the forefront of what Jesus came to call people to – not more religion – they had plenty of that – but a righteousness that hungered for God – that’s how he said it in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt. 5:6).
A “righteous” life is a life that is modeled after Jesus Christ. It is not a righteousness of our own, but a righteousness that is conferred upon us through the blood of Jesus Christ. But having been called righteous, we imitate the righteous one in holiness and purity.
There are a lot of big words in the Bible – sanctification, justification, glorification – words that take a lot of explaining and defining to understand. This isn’t one of them. At its core, righteousness is a life that is right with God. And that’s what I want. It isn’t complicated – that doesn’t mean it’s easy – but it is simple. Everything you think or say or do, you filter through this one question – “Would this please God?” If you wouldn’t feel comfortable with Jesus sitting next to you watching what you’re watching, listening to what you’re saying, being a part of what you’re doing, you don’t need a theological dictionary to tell you it isn’t righteous. We might try to make it more complicated than that, but it isn’t.
If our heart yearns for the presence of God, we will live our lives in a way that would invite him to spend time with us. And when we do, he will. We will need to search no more.
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.