6.07.2007

Simplicity and Relationships

Matthew 6:31-34 (New American Standard Bible)31"Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

We live in a day when we are overwhelmed by demands upon us. We don't -- here in my world, at least -- struggle for the basics of life like food and clothes and shelter. But we struggle to measure up to the expectations of the culture we live in, and to our own expectations. Some of us struggle for the A-dog position, and some of us just struggle to be sure we have a position at all . . . but few of us are just content, and don't worry about something consistently.

Those in church leadership or in active volunteer positions can be some of the most stressed people I know. They think they are seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, but they miss out completely on the fruit of the kingdom in their own hearts too often. Like me, they aren't stressing about their own clothes or food or drink, but they are stressing about their goals or about the unmet needs of others or about never being able to make the people around them happy, or at least about never being able to get done everything on their list of tasks and goals. And to relieve the stress, they don't jettison the things that aren't playing out as God's real priorities. They jettison the people that keep showing up wanting something: all those people that they just can't satisfy and send on their way so that they can get something important done!

Moms are lucky. They know their job is about people . . . albeit little people. And while we're not always great moms, and may not do the best job we could in ministering to our little people, we at least do not think the solution to our problems is to give up on those little people or on our ability to be moms! (Although "thank you, Jesus!" for the preschool my littlest one goes to! We are allowed to form a community of many caregivers and friends around our children to help balance our individual strengths and weaknesses, and should. But, even so, we remain "mommy!", the only comfort that really comforts those precious gifts.)

Pastors and church staff and volunteers need the same perspective. If projects are going undone but real people are being cared for, then today was a successful day. If people are an annoyance in the way of getting all those projects completed and praised, then perhaps it isn't God's praise that one is after. "Seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness" just might mean neglecting something I promise to get done or even an important meeting I myself called because someone shows up in front of me and I sense God's call to me to take the time to love.

My grandmother lived on a farm and had no electricity or phone or "TV babysitter" or washer or dryer or dishwasher for much of her early life. As she gained the "free time" she gained from hot running water and a washing machine and all those wonderful inventions, she invested in 3 things: hospitality, friendship, and time to read and think and pray. Many of her children and grandchildren seem to follow that example even now.

But here in Orange County California we have forgotten that talking with people or reading alone might be more productive in the long run than all that we do value investing ourselves into. For one of the people I love the most, I see a high value on pleasing the people whom he respects and values. He lives to do that, and does it well. But it must be terribly frustrating to try to please people and also to please God! (I think the Bible even has something to say about that?)

We are called to agape the people around us, which doesn't necessarily include pleasing them. We are called to be God's instrument in their lives today to accomplish His purposes. And that doesn't necessarily imply anything lasting or permanent in their condition. It just implies meeting the current need. Give that glass of water for this moment of thirst.

We have all our ideas of stewardship and mission . . . like "don't just give them a fish, but teach them to fish". That is all just and good, but not when it is a cop-out for meeting the need right in our face that we'd rather push off on someone else because it's in the way of our great program to stop such needs forever. Jesus didn't do that, did He? Nor was that part of the great commission as I understand it.

So "do not worry about tomorrow" and "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" really do boil down to obedience and agape in the moment, and plans for the future that value the ability of God to use us as His tools, rather than our ability to use God to fix up His world and His people so that they meet our expectations. And when we see that our lives are too busy or that we are too stressed, perhaps we should emulate Jesus rather than Jack Welch. Just look at the fruit of a life invested in needy individuals rather than in the growth of an endeavor.

The amazing thing about Jesus' promise is this: we get what we need for today if we invest in what is truly valuable. We don't have to run after a way to meet our own needs. We can run after Him with passion, and find that our needs have been met each day as we forgot ourselves in the pursuit of the Holy One and His agenda.

We are called to a freedom from the rat race of today's secular culture, but we are also called to a freedom from creating our own new Christian rat race, or from walking on in the one we inherit. We are called to the simplicity of a focus on that One who loves us, with the same kind of passionate abandon that we see in a newly infatuated teenager. The difference will be this: a teenager neglects the whole world to be with his or her new love, but we follow our passionate lover out to the masses and minister with Him shoulder to shoulder in service of any one who shows up.

If you are over-scheduled and not performing up to your own standard or someone else's expectations, perhaps the most responsible thing you can do is to delegate the stuff you hate to do and aren't doing well at all, and make room in your life for the simplicity of following Him into a full use of your giftedness . . . in alternating rhythms of solitude and prayer and study and of engagement with others in worship and service and fellowship.

And if you are performing ever-so-well and are very pleased with the produce of your hands and time, measure the real success of your life by your own reaction to people: will you be one of the ones who gladly gives that cup of cold water even when it interrupts your productivity, or will you be the pharisee who had to get on with his duties and promises and couldn't slow down for the mugged stranger in need of way too much time for this day he had planned?

Matthew 6:31-34 (New American Standard Bible)31"Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

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