READ : Luke 12:29-31
Every life has one – a chief concern. Each of us lives by some overriding priority. Jesus calls that what we seek. Listen to His words. I’m reading from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 12, verse 29: “And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well” (vv. 29-31). The question for each of us is: what, most of all, are we seeking? You know what it is to “seek.” You look for something. You go in search of it. You pursue it. You inquire about some desired objective. You aim at it. You move toward it, try to reach it. It becomes your life quest.
The “quest” is one of the great themes of literature: Jason for the Golden Fleece, English knights for the Holy Grail, pirates after buried treasure, or raiders for the “Lost Ark.” Many in places like South Africa have been on a life-long quest for freedom and justice. And, realize it or not, we are seekers and questers, too.
Maybe you know exactly what it is that you are after. Maybe you don’t. Maybe it’s hard for you to get in touch with what your real quest in life is. You can find clues, of course, if you want them. Study, for example, how you use your money and your discretionary time. Consider what your mind keeps springing back to when released from pressing activities. Think about what excites and delights you most. That will help. Ask the people who know you best what they think you are living for, what they see as your chief concern. That might shake you up, but it could also be very revealing.
Here’s one more test. Imagine that you’re visiting a funeral home. You’ve come to pay your last respects. As you look at the body in the casket, you’re astonished to see that it’s yourself! You are present somehow at your own funeral service, and you’re listening in to what people say about you. Now here’s the test: What would you most want them to say about your life? That can be a telling clue to what you seek, to your chief concern.
A ROAD THAT LEADS NOWHERE
Jesus warns us first here about a false lead, a mistaken concern, a wrong priority. He says, “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind.”
He’s just been speaking of the common human tendency to worry about the necessities of life. Remember these words, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith!” (Luke 12:22-28).
Suppose our chief concern in life is to get enough of what we need to keep going. We want to be sure that we’ll have food to eat and clothing to wear. Or to extend it a little, we’re concentrating on saving enough for retirement, having adequate insurance. We’re trying to hedge ourselves from poverty and want.
Now notice, Jesus does not say that we are not to work for those things, save for them and do advance planning. That’s part of being a good steward and a good provider. But He urges, “Don’t let that be the main thing you’re concerned about. Don’t let those issues fill you with anxiety.”
Jesus is not mocking the poor with these words. He knew that for some it was a struggle (and it still is) to find daily bread and a way to keep warm. But He knew also that wealthy people can be preoccupied with these same things. Those at every economic level can be worried about them. I know people who seem to me extremely well off, but who still aren’t sure they’ll have enough to sustain them in retirement. They’re wealthy but they’re worried.
Why shouldn’t we take this common road? Why shouldn’t we make food and clothing our chief concern? For one thing, Jesus says, there are far more important things to seek. “Your life is more than food and the body more than clothing.” You can have those things in abundance, more of them than anyone could ever need, yet still miss the real meaning of your life.
Here’s another reason why anxiety about those things ought to be avoided. It doesn’t do any good. Listen to what Jesus asks, “And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life?” All your concern about whether you’ll have enough food and clothing and savings and retirement, can that prolong your life, even for one moment? Of course not! So what’s the use of all that worry? “If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that,” says Jesus, “why are you anxious about the rest?”
Most of all, Jesus, says, don’t make those practical necessities your chief concern because to do that is to forget God. That’s what most of the world does, of course. Jesus says, “All the nations of the world seek these things.” It’s the common-sense way to live. If you leave God out of the picture, it seems like the only way to go. That’s the best that unbelieving people can do, because they have no one to trust. But for you, if you’re a believer, for you, if you know the living God, anxiety about food and drink and clothing is a practical form of unbelief. It means succumbing to the fear that God doesn’t know or doesn’t care or can’t help. When we seek with an anxious mind to make our own future secure, we’re worrying about whether we’ll have enough, then for all practical purposes, we’re forgetting that God exists.
THE RIGHT TRACK
But simply being told that we ought not to worry about these things doesn’t help a great deal, does it? We know that anxiety is wrong and not good for us, but how do we escape from it? Jesus doesn’t mock us in our struggle. He doesn’t give advice without power. For our anxiety, He proposes a remarkable alternative: something we can do instead, a chief concern to replace that shriveled, anxious one that occupies us. Listen. “Instead,” He says, “seek His kingdom.” That is, seek God’s kingdom. Or as He says in His Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God.”
What do you suppose that means? God’s kingdom, of course, doesn’t mean primarily a territory over which He rules or an organization He leads. His kingdom means His active ruling, His reigning power. His kingdom is what breaks into human history in the coming of Jesus. He comes to set us free and rule over us as our rightful king.
All of us by our sin have lost our way. We’ve rebelled against our Maker and our Friend. We’ve disobeyed His will and spurned His fellowship. And by giving way to sin, we’ve come into bondage. Now we serve alien masters. We’re under the dominion of false lords. In Jesus, God comes to rescue us, to release us from our bondage and to make us free, whole human beings in His service.
To seek His kingdom then means to want Him to reign over us and over others. It means to submit ourselves to His gracious rule, to pray as we do in the Lord’s Prayer that His kingdom may fully come. It means to make the honoring of God’s name and the doing of His will and the bringing of all of life under His lordship the great concern of our lives. It means shifting the focus from how we can enhance and preserve our lives, how we can save ourselves, to how we can give ourselves over to the Lord’s service, how we can give our lives, losing them, as it were, for His sake.
That’s what a Mother Teresa does, who forsakes the ease and comfort of old age to spend herself in ministry to the dying poor. That’s what a Paul Brand does, who uses his medical talent not to amass wealth and reputation for himself but to do reconstructive surgery on the limbs of leprosy sufferers. That’s what missionaries do who leave homeland, loved ones, and most of life’s amenities to spend themselves in bringing the gospel to those who have never had a chance to hear it. They have a new life passion, a new life goal. They want to see God’s loving purposes prevail in this world. They want His life-giving lordship to be everywhere known.
WHY THE KINGDOM?
But why? Why, we wonder, why would people do that? What on earth would motivate them to renounce what comes so naturally and seek God’s kingdom instead of their own? Oh, listen, this is why. It’s because they know themselves to be wonderfully loved by God. That’s Jesus’ whole point here. He says, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” God cares about birds. But how much more must He care about you? If He clothes the grass that’s here today and gone tomorrow, how much more will He clothe you, people with eternity in your hearts? So don’t worry about what you’re going to eat or drink, or be of anxious mind, because the Lord knows that you need all these things, and He cares about you.
And here’s the wonder of the gospel: Jesus didn’t only say that God loves us; He demonstrated it. He was Himself the Father’s supreme gift of love. And when Jesus, God manifest in human life, fed the hungry, healed the sick and raised the dead, these were expressions of God’s heart toward people. Supremely, when He took upon Himself our sins and died in our place so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life, He drew back the veil, as it were, and showed us all the love in God’s heart toward us. So when Jesus calls us to want God’s kingdom, to pray for it, to give ourselves to His service, He isn’t inviting us to become the slaves of a heartless ruler. He’s calling us rather to respond to God’s grace with an answering gratitude, to love Him back for all His love toward us. The apostle John puts it just that way: “we love because he first loved us.”
So, friends, the way to change your chief concern in life for the better is to trust God’s love for you in Christ, to receive Jesus as your Savior, to welcome Him by faith into your life. Then, constrained by His love and empowered by His Spirit, you can throw yourself into living for Him, making it your life aim to be His person and to do what He calls you to do.
And do you know what He says will happen when you do that? He says, “All these things will be yours as well.” What things? The food you eat, the clothing you wear, and whatever else you may need to sustain your life. God is not a tyrant, friends, demanding service while caring nothing for His subjects. No, He is a loving, gracious Father who delights to bless. And He never fails to remember people who forget themselves in serving Him, people who make that their chief concern. I’d like to be one of those, wouldn’t you?
Prayer: Father, put us in touch with what we really want in life, and if that’s not Your kingdom, make us over. Make Your great love for us in Christ so real to each of us that we may respond with the glad service of our whole lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.