We live in a world of constant noise and distraction. There is always something to tear us away from what we focus on in any given moment. Images flash before us, ever changing what we are thinking about or reflecting on. Music provides an endless soundtrack to life; we find it in malls, in banks, in hospital waiting rooms. The frenetic pulses of the world we live in, like a migraine that won’t end, eventually takes it’s toll on us. According to a 2011 paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, It only takes a person 4 seconds become uncomfortable with a silence in conversation. Personally, I have noticed the strangest urge within me. Every time I sit at my desk with my Bible open, in preparation for sermon work or Bible study, a small voice goes off in my brain demanding that I check the current feed on Facebook. I wonder if you have ever struggled with a similar thing? Even if we are unaware of it, we are used to something else always going on, demanding our time and our attention. We live in a world where slow, methodical, focus is a detriment and multitasking is a virtue. Because of this we say things like ‘I wish there were more hours in the day’, ‘If I only had a few more hands’ or ‘please stop the world I’d like to get off.’ We feel exhausted and tired because of the ceaseless pace of the world we live in.
Is this there a way to break out of this type of life? Can we combat the overexposure of sights and sounds, the barrage of messages highlighting self-indulgence, and that internal sense of being overwhelmed? Can Jesus lead us into a different way of living?
In her book, Abundant Simplicity, Jan Johnson describes the message of Jesus as a radical denunciation of a life lived ‘in bold print’. Jesus points us to a life of unhurried grace. He calls us to not worry over “what we shall eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Pagans run around after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ I have grown up with this verse. I have sung it as a hymn in churches many, many times. Yet I never really thought about what that verse points us to. What does it mean to seek first God’s kingdom in our lives? How do we go about this? And how does living for or in the kingdom of God, differ from living for or in the kingdom of this world?
Have you ever seen the movie City Slickers—starring Billy Crystal and Jack Palance? In this movie, Palance plays an old rugged cowboy named Curly, while Crystal acts the young mid-life crisis-baring city person. Crystal’s character is in awe of Curly because, as he says ‘your life makes sense’. In the central scene of the movie Curly, with cigarette dangling from his mouth says to the burden-baring Crystal, “You city folk are all the same. You spend 50 weeks tying knots in your rope and then think two weeks up here will untangle them for you. None of you get it. Do you know what the secret of life is. This. (Curly holds up his finger) One thing. Just one thing.’ Of course, here, Hollywood takes a turn and it is suggested that everyone must find their one thing, but until then, what Palance talks about is very much like the type of life Jesus is pointing us to.
Looking back at what Jesus says in Matthew 6, it seems that Jesus makes a stark difference between two fundamentally opposed manners of living. There is the way of seeking the kingdom, first and foremost in our lives; and there is the way of ‘The Pagans’. The way of the kingdom is unhurried, focused, and diligent. The way of the ‘Pagans’—the way of the world—is to run around in an intolerable scramble trying to achieve that which we are worried about yet can never fully receive.
The way of seeking the Kingdom is different, because the rule of God in our lives becomes the one thing that our lives are directed toward. Jesus tells parable after parable about this very thing; it is a person searching for a rare pearl, a woman searching for a lost coin, a shepherd searching for a lost sheep; a father searching for his lost son. The kingdom of God is to be the sole focus that redefines all of life. Unlike life according to the world—telling us we are to flit about in ten thousand directions at once, chasing everything and finding nothing; spending week after week ‘tying knots in our rope’—a simple, kingdom focused life arranges all actions, duties, and tasks around one unified and definitive principle and goal—life in the kingdom of God; life as a disciple of Jesus.
It seems to me that to living out this singular, simple, kingdom-focus will have dramatic effects in how we live our lives. But maybe that’s what Jesus wants. Our life in the kingdom isn’t to be so internal that even we forget what it means! The kingdom of God should effect how we interact with the world around us. It should change how we speak, how and what we purchase, how we serve one another.
Over the next little while I will be exploring what this singular, simple, kingdom-focused life will mean, both to my inner heart of devotion and faith, and also to the various outward way that we engage in the world around us. I invite you to take this journey with me, and even offer your own insights and suggestions.
What is one outward thing you can do to ‘simply’ your life? Remember ‘Simplicity’ should be defined as a single-hearted focus on Jesus and his Kingdom.