Note: This post was originally part of a blog series called “52 Weeks of Simplicity”. I got so distracted that I never completed the series!
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 or Instagram. When I sit reading, my mind immediately goes to a thousand tasks that I have before me. But when I engage in any of those tasks, I long for the quiet focus of silence and solitude.
Have you struggled with a similar thing?
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. The world views slow, methodical, focus a detriment and multitasking a virtue. We say things like ‘I wish there were more hours in the day’, or ‘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?
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?’ Instead of running after the things of the world, the things the heavenly Father knows we need, Jesus calls us to seek first the kingdom. When we do this, Jesus promises that all those things we tend to stress over will fall into our lives. They will be “added to us” if we but set our eyes, hearts, and souls toward following the Kingdom.
Like you, 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 Curly’s life makes sense. He seems undistracted and singly focused. In the central scene of the movie Curly, with cigarette dangling from his mouth, says to the burden-laden 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.’ With one speech Curly seems to disarm the frenetic distractions of the world.
Hollywood, of course, takes it’s typical turn and suggests that everyone must find their “one thing.” Unfortuantely, what this means is that everyone is called to seek his or her kingdom. The movie never really explores the glaring irony that seeking his own kingdom was what got Crystal discouraged in the first place. How do you define your “one thing”, when you feel lost and do not know where to look?
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 kingdom is to follow the path that Jesus hold out. We do not find the kingdom; we do not create it or produce it. The kingdom erupts around us. It is a gift of Jesus we are invited to enter, enjoy, and participate in.
This is contrasted with the way of the pagans—the way of the world. 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 the world is to find the clothes that make the man, to win with the most toys, and to keep up with the Jones’. Of course, whenever we believe ourselves to have procured our ultimate goal, we find it hollow and fleeting.
Jesus tells parable after parable about the centrality of following his Kingdom; 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 that which 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; 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.
Are you feeling spiritually discouraged? Do you feel you would like a fuller, deeper, richer spiritual life, but don’t know where to start? Do you find yourself echoing the deep cry of Asaph? Sign up to receive my monthly encouragements and you will receive “9 Questions to ask when you are feeling Spiritually Discouraged.”