“But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33, KJV).
I remember when I was younger (as in six years ago), I had a mountain of dreams and self-ambitions. I wanted to be fast, I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be good at singing, guitar, tennis, baseball, and volleyball. And I always thought that if I really dug deep inside, I would find the part of me that was capable of holding people spellbound with my music, or impressing them by tracking a speeding baseball through the air and bringing it to rest in my glove with an all-out diving catch.
Now that I’m old, compared to that fifteen year-old version of myself, I realize the shallowness of some of those desires and the errors in my method of realizing them. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped dreaming and goal setting. On the contrary, there are many different areas where I want to improve. Some of those areas where I see the need for progress include prayer, patience, fluency in Spanish, and discernment.
One and a half years ago I came to Mexico to care for abused children. And there are not many things about me that haven’t changed since that key event. Qualities that I viewed as “nice” and “something I could probably improve on” suddenly became mandatory, a matter of success or failure. But my method of “trying to find the patient part of me” was not working well.
I knew that God wanted me to become a better disciple of His and that some of the things I desired were qualities which all His followers should develop. Take, for example, what Paul wrote to Timothy, “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Timothy 6:11, KJV). However, I wasn’t sure how to just BE that more patient, prayerful, and godly person that my children needed. So I just did my best day by day to care for my children with my heart and with my actions.
And God began to show me the principle of Mathew 6:33. As I sought God’s kingdom in the hearts of my kids, God began to add to me the things that I needed. As I focused on making the boy who sleeps above me an important part of my life, it became easier and easier to remember to pray for him. As I allowed the small one with the constantly moving hands to burrow deeper and deeper into my heart, I realized that my prayers on his behalf started to come from the same place. As the well-being of my children became more important to me than my own comfort, I found that patient and godly actions came easier than before.
Now I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me, I’m still a selfish and proud individual. But, by God’s grace, I now have another weapon, another principle to use on my behalf. And I believe this principle is instrumental for anyone who wants to grow as a Christian.
It is nearly impossible to grow spiritually if you are focused on yourself. You will not grow in love unless you practice it on the people in your life. You will not grow in patience until you learn to care for THAT person who requires patience. And you will not grow in righteousness until you care about not hurting Christ and His followers with your sin.
This is why Satan loves to tell us that we should not worry about others until we’ve fixed all of our own problems. He knows that if we never focus on others, we will never have anything but problems. Trying to grow without practicing on others reminds me of a game I saw in a science museum. Two people would sit across from each other at the table with brainwave-reading headsets on. The headsets measured the waves emitted from the brain while relaxing. And whoever “relaxed” the hardest, won. But the more you focused on the game, the less progress you made.
And I’ve been there. The harder I tried to fix my problems, the less progress I made. So, I realize that the probability of you learning something from the life experience of a twenty-one year-old is quite minimal. But I hope that this can serve as a reminder. If God has shown you an area that you are weak in, find someone that you can invest into in that area and I believe God will build back into you through those efforts.
Take the initiative! Find that way that you can build God’s kingdom, leave yourself behind, and God will add to you what is necessary.
--Written by: C.Y.
“I love you Daddy!” My little girl Hadassah came running up to my desk and gave me a big hug. Then she plopped down in my lap, eyed my chocolate raisins sitting on the desk, threw her arms around my neck and gave me a sweet little look. “Daddy, what is that in your jar? What are they for?” I laughed at her schmoozing and let her have a handful. Off she ran, stopping at the door to give me a wink and another “I love you Daddy!”
Matthew 22:36-40 details very simply the two greatest commandments. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
So what exactly was Jesus calling us to when He said that? My daughter Hadassah really does love me, but in the story I shared, how might her reaction have been different had I told her that she may not have the chocolate raisins? As humans, we find it naturally easy to show and express love when we get the chocolate raisins, but we don’t tend to love very well without them. Yet Jesus’ way is so much bigger than that. He is calling us to love others the way that he loved us. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 NKJV).
It is easy to love when it is reciprocated. That feels great! But the call is higher for a follower of Christ. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:4-8a NKJV). Obviously, for us as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to love with abandon, without regard to the response.
I’ve been so convicted as I’ve read the Bible and realized that my love isn’t what is described. Sadly, I don’t spend nearly as much time loving people who won’t be able to reciprocate my love as I do loving people who give it back. People like my family, my church, and my friends all give back to me when I am loving towards them. But what about the homeless people who live across the street and won’t ever repay my love in any way? What about the folks that need Jesus desperately, and yet are angry that we share Jesus with the people in our neighborhood? The people that need our love the most often are the very ones we forget about, ignore and avoid.
As followers of Jesus, one of our primary goals is to help others see who Jesus is. I cannot think of any more powerful way for that to happen in our neighborhoods than for us to love in the way the Bible describes. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 NKJV).