Kingdom first

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

Luke 12:31-32 NLT

The context of this command is anxiety, which is an emotion that is familiar to me. Specifically it is anxiety about having enough to get by. Food, clothes, shelter. I worry about these things. In my context it is living expenses, bills, mortgage, pension. I worry that we will die penniless and have nothing to leave our children.

But I am a doctor! How can I be poor? How can I be 58 years old and still have a mortgage? How can it be that I do not have a healthy “nest egg” for retirement? Mismanagement, people would say. I have not been wise in my financial planning. I have frittered away that which God has given me. I have no-one to blame but myself.

And indeed, I blame no-one but myself. But blaming myself or anyone else is not the point. How I got here is not the point. But I am here nevertheless, and I know there are many like me. For those who like me are his followers, Jesus says, don’t worry. He tells us to set our minds on other things, not whether we will have enough to get by. He promises to take care of us. In fact over the last few years God has repeatedly reminded me that he is in control, and that I am where I am (financially as well as geographically) because that is where he wants me to be. But still I succumb to worry, and my faith fails me.

Of course I am not, we are not, really poor. Maybe we only own a fraction of our house (the rest is owned by the bank), but at least we have a roof over our heads. There are many in this world who do not. We are able to pay the bills, when I know that many struggle to do so. I am still able to work, and for that I am thankful. God gives me the health and strength I need to generate an income. So there is no need to worry, even on a human level.

But I do worry, and I am ashamed of that. Because in worrying I am looking at myself and my own ability, forgetting that it is my Father who is my ultimate provider, not myself. I can think I provide for myself, but it is he who has given me the ability to do that. And if that ability to work should be taken away, he will continue to provide for me somehow for as may days as he intends me to live in this world. Looking at myself can easily produce worry. But I know he is a generous Father…

Jesus challenges me to look at him, and his provision. He challenges me to remember the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. He reminds me that God cares for me, as he cares for birds and flowers. It is true that flowers fade, and that ageing is a similar experience. But he cares for them, and he will care for me. He will “give me everything I need.”

But there is a condition: seek the kingdom of God above all else, he says, and he will give you everything you need. We think that to get everything we need we must be successful – financially, professionally, socially. But God does not ask us to be successful. He simply asks us to seek first his Kingdom. Then we will see his provision.

What does that mean, to seek first the Kingdom? I have come to understand it in two ways. On the one hand it means to go looking, to search for the Kingdom. On the other hand it means to work for the Kingdom. Jesus was always talking about the Kingdom. It is like a treasure that we go searching for, and when we find it, we are happy. It is like a seed that is planted in the ground, and when it grows to its fullness, it provides shelter and sustenance for many. There are many stories, many pictures. This Kingdom is what we are to seek.

The message is simple: make the Kingdom of God your first priority, not your house, or your clothes, not even your family or your friendships. All these other things do deserve energy and planning, but none of them should be the number one priority. That should be given to the Kingdom of God, and number one in the Kingdom of God is the king himself, that is God.

This exhortation is about our primary task in life, but it is also about our primary relationship. The task is the Kingdom, to find it and to build it. Jesus says, if we seek it, we will find it, for “it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” The relationship is with God, our Father and our friend, through the Holy Spirit. If we ask for it, the Father will give us that too: “if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:13)

Everything else in life comes after these two things: Kingdom and relationship with the king. How seriously do I take this command?

Anxiety is all about where I set my mind. Is this exhortation of Jesus a solution to anxiety? As simplistic as it sounds, I believe it is. We cannot change anything by worrying. Worrying does not bring the control we believe we need to ensure our security in this world. When I feel my thoughts travelling down the path to anxiety, or onward to panic, then I need to set my mind somewhere else. On finding the Kingdom, and on knowing the King.

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