Over the past few weeks, God has repeatedly delivered a specific message for me, via my bible reading, the books I have read and the people I have met. It stared with two Christian fiction books that I read on the flight from the US to Kenya, Blessed Child and A Man Called Blessed. Ted Dekker and Bill Bright use a suspense filled fictional story to illustrate what it means to have our hearts set on the kingdom of heaven. Christ summed this up perfectly in the following two parables from Matthew 13:44-46 (NKJV):
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Although the two parables are short, there is no mistaking Christ’s intentions – the kingdom of heaven must be our greatest object of desire. Too often the kingdom of heaven is only one of my desires, but not the greatest and without realizing it, I place my fleshly desires above that of the kingdom of heaven. I asked God to show me in a practical way what it means to have the kingdom of heaven as my greatest desire. As I spent time in His Word, these verses helped me gain greater understanding of what he wants from me.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, â€˜What shall we eat?â€™ or â€˜What shall we drink?â€™ or â€˜What shall we wear?â€™ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. - Matthew 6:19-34 (NKJV)
After examining myself and what I “worry” about, I’ve found that I spend way too much time focusing on my comfort – eating, resting and relaxing and planning what I want to do rather than seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. I need focus on what God wants me to do today.
Jesus answered him, â€œThe first of all the commandments is: â€˜Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.â€™ This is the first commandment. - Mark 12:29-30 (NKJV)
The first of all the commandments has a few strong words, if I am to give God my all, that must mean that the worldly distractions must go. Considering that I work in the ministry, I am often able to rationalize my actions as part of the service wether it be eating out or socializing (outreach), watching TV (relevance to culture/material for videos), or surfing the net (research and keeping up with new technologies). When I look deeply into why I do some of these things, often it is because I want to do them instead of what God wants.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NKJV)
This verse convicted me, I really need to start praying about what Christ’s personal vision for my life is. I don’t want to waste a single minute, so that I am running towards the prize with certainty. Also, I must start to cut back on my comfort crutches (candy, food, etc) that slow me down and distract me from the prize. Defining the vision and cutting back on my comfort crutches will be my focus for the current Advent fast. The nice thing about the mission here in Kenya is that there is plenty of time set aside each day to spend with God.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthyâ€”meditate on these things. - Philippians 4:8 (NJKV)
I am going to actively work on making sure that my thoughts throughout the day are focused upward. I’ll start with the challenge of going each day without complaining and I want to praise something new God has done each day (directly or through someone). I also want to start memorizing at least one verse a week and spend more time in praise and worship. Each night I will examine myself to see how I am doing.
Yesterday, in the liturgy, we read the Gospel where Jesus speaks to the rich young man:
Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, â€œGood Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?â€ So Jesus said to him, â€œWhy do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: â€˜Do not commit adultery,â€™ â€˜Do not murder,â€™ â€˜Do not steal,â€™ â€˜Do not bear false witness,â€™ â€˜Do not defraud,â€™ â€˜Honor your father and your mother.â€™ â€ And he answered and said to Him, â€œTeacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.â€ Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, â€œOne thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.â€ But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, â€œHow hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!â€ And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, â€œChildren, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.â€ And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, â€œWho then can be saved?â€ But Jesus looked at them and said, â€œWith men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.â€ Then Peter began to say to Him, â€œSee, we have left all and followed You.â€ So Jesus answered and said, â€œAssuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospelâ€™s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this timeâ€”houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutionsâ€”and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.â€ - Mark 10:17-31 (NKJV)
Seeing the contrast between the US and Kenya, one can’t help but think that my middle class life in the US isn’t far off from the life of the rich young man. I know that I strive to obey all the commandments but am I really willing to leave all that I have, take up my cross and follow Christ? At the mission, I see the lives of those who have truly left all in the literal sense to come and share Christ’s love among the Africans, they are an example and an inspiration to me. They work tirelessly to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the people without concern for their own needs. Please pray for the mission and Sherry and me. Glory to God for all things!