Three years ago as our time in Texas was coming to an end there was a scripture passage that I found incredibly comforting:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them…Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:25-27
These verses were such an anchor for me in that season. We were doing all the things they tell you not to do at one time. Leaving two jobs, moving to a new state, having a baby and starting a new career. Truthfully, it was a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, God worked with us to take care of all the details in the most amazing way. With the help of this verse, we kept our eyes up on the overarching goals we new he was leading us to and let the details work themselves out day by day.
I’ve thought a lot about that one verse in particular since that transition: “Seek first the kingdom of God.” It continues to ground me as we navigate this early season of starting a family and career. It stops me often because while I know I’m not supposed to sit and stew about our bank account or elaborate plans for feeding and clothing our family its also not incredibly clear what the alternative, seeking the kingdom, actually entails.
The more I’ve looked into it, the more I find myself in good company as there isn’t much out there to read on the topic. What I do read comes bathed in precursors like: “theologians disagree mightily on this topic.” At first I took this to mean “tread lightly…this is going to go over your head.” Now though, I’m realizing its just a caution to understand that the kingdom of God, this side of heaven, is frankly somewhat mysterious. We have to take out our magnifying lens to find what it is we are looking for. I believe that’s intentional.
The kingdom of God reminds me of Paul’s attempt in 1 Corinthians to talk about love. He never really defines love but spends verse after verse trying to describe it. He says its kind and patient. Its not envious or proud. In the beginning of that passage he says that it could mean giving what we own to the poor or even offering our lives up on behalf of someone. Then he follows that thought up with the caution that even those things could be done out of our own self interest! Whats motivated by love in one person could be motivated by hate in another.
It appears that love, and the kingdom of God, resist definition.
Often, if I get curious enough, I do find myself uncovering consistent insights about the kingdom. For instance, kingdom manifestations are almost never flashing in neon lights. Usually, by the time I get there, my face is covered in sweat or dirt and my heart is a little banged up. But when I walk through that little door I eventually stumble upon the feeling is usually a familiar one…its usually some form of resting from or even forgetting about the hard work it took to get there.
Jesus almost exclusively spoke in stories when he talked about the kingdom. He wasn’t prescriptive and I think that was completely intentional. He didn’t want anyone getting away without a personal meeting with the great physician himself. Can you imagine that?
Lets say you have a strange ailment. Your body that was built for work and pleasure just won’t function the way its supposed to making work and joy near impossible. Your symptoms cycle on and off for months or years completely screwing with your plans, making typical life operations impossible. The general practitioners who try to treat you just don’t know enough about your particular disease or your particular body to do anything about it and so they keep passing the buck to this pill or that therapy wondering right along with you if they are doing anything to help.
You would understandably start to lose hope at some point, right? After years of difficulty? I know I would. But what if you found out that there was a doctor in your town who started his career studying your specific problem. What if he spent quality time with you in the exam room and you finally felt understood as he asked questions about your particular symptoms. What if he was so familiar with the disease and how it manifests that he knew exactly how to treat you. Wouldn’t your heart just completely come to rest? I know mine would.
There’s only one problem now though…you would only rest for a moment. Just as soon as you got that health problem figured out you would run into some other problem and that problem would take over until you finally realized that you needed a whole life physician. Body, mind, spirit, emotions…the whole thing needs an overhaul.
Here’s what I believe: God is willing to upend our lives through disease, debt, divorce, doubt, death and whatever else he needs to make us finally get curious about the Kingdom of God. Why? He says it right in that verse. Its where the LIFE is:
“Is not life more than food? The body more than clothes?”
All of us have strange diseases in our lives…For some it will be a physical malady. For others it will be a difficult relationship or an unreachable goal. Most of us have more than one malady that will crop up in response to different stressors. All of these have been tailor picked for us by a God who is kind enough to have bigger goals for us than the temporary ones we prop up as permanent solutions. Relationships are useless after all if we don’t understand their deeper context. Just as a six figure salary is useless if we don’t understand how to steward money in the first place.
So in your difficulty and concern over food, clothing, health and money, the proper question isn’t “how do i position my life to get hold of these things” but “where is the kingdom invitation in my current situation? Is there something redemptive in my pain or fear that I am not seeing and need to seek out?” There are no easy answers to these questions. They can take years to figure out. But if we keep them before us I’m confident the answers will come in a way we can understand. Even if it feels more mysterious than concrete. The kingdom of God is like love after all. It defies definition but you sure as hell know it when you’ve found it.
Tell all the truth but tell it Slant-
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind –