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One Life Under God
His Rule Over You
By Anthony T. Evans
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2014 Anthony T. Evans
All rights reserved.
THE PRIORITY OF THE KINGDOM
* * *
There once was a man who visited the doctor because, as he told the doctor, his entire body hurt. From the top of his head to the bottom of his feet he was in pain. Every single place he touched brought great pain to him.
The doctor looked him over and then said, "Well, this seems very unusual. I don't see anything wrong." He proceeded to ask the man to touch different places on his body such as his forehead, nose, elbow, and knees. Each time the man touched a different place on his body, he cried out in pain. "It hurts, it hurts," the man complained.
After a few minutes of going through this process, the doctor deciphered the issue.
"Sir," the doctor said with a bit of a sigh, "you have dislocated your finger."
While it felt like everything was wrong with this man, only one thing was wrong. His finger was dislocated, thus causing pain any time he touched a different part of his body. If this man could ever fix this one problem, then all of the pain he thought he was going through elsewhere would be fixed as well.
A number of us are going through life with a lot of different issues that are painful, disappointing, or frustrating. We experience this in our world, lives, direction, purpose, relationships, and all else. It seems like the entire thing is a mess. However, the solution for getting all else functioning properly in your life boils down to one primary principle found in Gods Word. If you can get this one thing right, you will get everything else right simply because this one thing affects everything else.
The longest sermon Jesus preached while on earth is recorded in the Bible and is called the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon takes up three full chapters (Matthew 5–7), and it is addressed to believers—originally to His disciples. Christ's Sermon on the Mount is primarily a sermon about the kingdom.
The centerpiece of this sermon revolves around one verse. In fact, this one verse is the centerpiece of kingdom living altogether. We read, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
Before we take a look at the word I want to focus on from this verse—the word "first"—let's visit the concept of the kingdom. We can't understand how to align ourselves underneath God's comprehensive rule if we don't first understand the kingdom where He reigns.
His is a kingdom without borders and a kingdom without time. To apply the rules, precepts, and writs of this world to this very unearthly kingdom would be similar to bringing a horse and polo stick to a football linebacker, and instructing him to get on with it and play. The rules and tools of this earth do not govern the rules of God's kingdom. As King He sets the way it is to both operate and function. There is one Ruler—God. The rest of us are subject to His rule. He sets the standards, makes the laws, determines the consequences, and establishes the blessings.
In God's kingdom power goes to the weak, who recognize their weakness and humbly look to Him. Forgiveness reigns preeminently, and the amount of money matters less than the heart that offers it, as we see in the case of the widow and her mite. Significance in the kingdom is connected to service. Hope comes through helping others who may need it. Destiny is realized while advancing the purposes of the King.
Jesus spoke plainly of the kingdom when He told Pilate the ways of His kingdom do not reflect the ways of the kingdoms on earth: "My kingdom is not of this world."
He said, "If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36 NIV).
When His followers asked Him to tell them who was the greatest in the kingdom, Jesus pulled a child close to Him and then replied, "Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Continuing on—rather than requiring and demanding the pomp and circumstance typically befit for a King—He instructed His subjects how He would like to be approached as their Ruler and Lord: "And whoever welcomes one such child in my name," Jesus said, "welcomes me" (Matthew 18:4, 5 NIV).
Unfortunately, many of us either don't understand the kingdom or have chosen to live our lives apart from it. We are living as followers of a King whom we seek to dethrone, though maybe not outright, through more subtle ways of complacency, autonomy, independence, or simply through a lack of a connection to Him, His Word, and His rule.
As a result, we experience what anyone in any kingdom living apart from the rules of the King would—in our personal lives, homes, churches, communities, and nation: the chaos that comes from rebellion.
In a kingdom life is to be lived under the rule and authority of the King. The blessings of the covenant of our King in His Word, imbued with the authority He gives us through His promises and His chesed love, come when we live all of our life under God. Our King and His kingdom have an agenda, and that agenda is His comprehensive rule over every area of life.
The beginning point for living according to God's kingdom agenda can be found in the word from the passage we opened the chapter with: "first." It is the diminishing of the value of "first" that has led to the diminishing of the experience of God's best in many, if not most, areas of our lives.
SEEK YE FIRST
To live life to its fullest and to accomplish and experience all God created you to do, God and His kingdom must be first. God is not to be one among many; He is to be first. The problem in most of our lives today is God is merely in the vicinity; He is not first. I often hear people tell me they don't have enough time for God—which means they are really telling me God is not first place in their lives. This is because a person will always make time for what is first, for what matters most.
Over and over in Scripture we read about God and the offering where He asks for the "first fruits" of all He has given us. As just one example of many, we read in Proverbs, "Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce ..." (Proverbs 3:9). When Jesus reproved the church at Ephesus, as recorded in the book of Revelation, He chided them for having left their first love (Revelation 2:4). Jesus wasn't saying they didn't love Him at all. In fact He applauded them for being upstanding people who have "perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary" (v. 3). What He was saying is they had left their first love. They no longer regarded Him as first in their hearts or in their lives.
In Colossians, this point of Christ's preeminence over all things is further emphasized where we read, "He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything" (Colossians 1:18). God makes it clear here and repeatedly throughout Scripture that He belongs first in our lives.
Many of us who own homes have what are called "living rooms." However, these rooms are misnamed. They should be called "visiting rooms," because the majority of us live in the den, kitchen, or family room. I remember when I was growing up in Baltimore if I stepped foot in the living room I was quickly told, in no uncertain terms, to get out of it immediately. In fact, even now when I go back to visit, no one lives in that living room at all. It's barely used and still has plastic covering the furniture. This is because the living room to many people is simply reserved for special times or special guests. It is called the living room few people ever live in. It is misnamed.
Many of us have misnamed God. We call Him "Lord God," but He is only good for the visiting room in our lives. We visit Him on Sunday, and we visit Him in our devotional times, but we do not hang out with Him. We do not live with Him. We do not spend the majority of our time in His presence. What is missing for so many people is the principle of first. Jesus said we are to "seek first" God and His kingdom, above all else in our lives.
Friend, when the God you acknowledge is not treated as God, you cannot experience His kingdom and its benefits. The follow-up portion of the verse we are looking at states clearly that when you put God first, "all these things" will be given to you. The corollary of that rings true as well—when you do not put God first, you are missing out on all of the benefits and blessings of the King and His kingdom. That doesn't mean you won't have problems or issues in life. What it does mean is you will be well equipped to overcome or get through those problems and issues when all of life is aligned under His authority and His rule.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE TO PUT GOD FIRST
One of the major determining factors to know if you are putting God first in your life is to ask yourself where you turn when you have a decision to make. When you have a problem to resolve, or you need guidance, do you turn to people first? Do you turn to your desires first? Or do you look to God, His Word, and His principles first? Getting God's perspective on a matter and then applying it to the particular situation you are dealing with is one revealer of Gods position in your life.
If you are a parent, do you recall saying these words to your children: "Why didn't you talk to me first? I just wish you would have talked to me first." Often parents will let their children know they could have avoided mistakes or problems in life if they would have sought and followed their parent's advice first. While this holds true in parenting, it holds even more true with God. So many people wonder why they are not hearing from God or experiencing His abiding presence and victory in their lives. God's answer to their question is simply, "Because you come to me last. In fact, you go to the world—a system that leaves me out—first. And you only come to me when none of that works out."
The key to kingdom success is found in this monosyllabic word first. The prioritization of the rule of God over every area of life is where the power of kingdom living is found.
PRIORITIZING THE KINGDOM
The context in which we read Matthew 6:33 is critical to understanding it. When we look at the surrounding verses, we can see a recurring theme appearing. We read:
"For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life...." (v. 25)
"And who of you by being worried ..." (v. 27)
"And why are you worried ..." (v. 28)
"Do not worry then ..." (v. 31)
"So do not worry ..." (v. 34)
Did you catch the theme? Yes, worry. Right in the middle of multiple verses addressing our human tendency to worry, God places the very solution to our worry. He says if you will seek His kingdom first and His righteous standards first, He will grant you all of the things that often make themselves the focus of your worry.
Friend, you ought to put God's kingdom first if for no other reason than to reduce your personal anxiety and worry. Over forty million US adults suffer from a diagnosed form of anxiety. Countless millions more no doubt suffer from worry or anxiety on less severe levels. Worry is a common issue plaguing people today. Whether it's worrying about jobs, safety, health, relationships, flying, income, terrorism, the future, or anything else—worry rots away at many people's ability to enjoy the gift of life God has given them.
God tells us in this foundational principle for kingdom living that we actually don't have to worry at all. God Himself—seeking His kingdom and His righteous standards —is the very antidote to worry. In Matthew 6:33 we discover the one principle that affects everything—even the level of your worry.
A man was running late and rushing to catch his plane at the airport. Worried he might miss his flight, he started weaving in and out of the crowd with moves that would make Adrian Peterson proud. Bumping into a man dressed in a flight uniform, the passenger paused briefly to say he was sorry. The uniformed man asked him why he was rushing and he told him that he was trying to catch his flight.
"Where are you going?" the man in the flight uniform asked.
"I'm going to Austin," he replied.
"Well relax and stop worrying," the man said with a smile. "Because I'm the pilot and that plane won't go anywhere without me."
Immediately the man who had been running through the airport, worried about missing his flight, was able to slow down and rest. This is because he knew where the pilot was. Knowing where God is located—knowing what He promises when you look to Him first—will change your anxiety, frustration, irritation, and exacerbation on all levels.
Of all of the problems you face—whatever the category —and of all of the issues that keep you in perpetual defeat ... have you placed God first in that area? Have you looked to honor Him first in your heart, attitude, choices, and thoughts? Have you sought His wisdom and will for you on how you are to respond to that situation? If you haven't, go ahead and worry, because you will need to worry. But if you have, then rest—God's got it.
YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
Chapter six of Matthew closes with the verse that many of us have found easier to commit to heart rather than commit to practice. It says, "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (v. 34).
Most people are being crucified between two thieves: yesterday and tomorrow. They kill today because of what happened yesterday, and they are too scared today because of what may happen tomorrow. Do you know that today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday? In other words, as long as you are on earth you will never run out of tomorrows. There will always be a tomorrow. So until you learn to make today what today is supposed to be—to embrace today, seize it —you will perpetually live your life either bound by yesterday or tomorrow or even chained between both.
Friend, I would like to challenge you to change one thing and watch that one thing change everything else. When you put God first, all else will fall in place. Make Him first in your thoughts, hopes, and decisions. Put Him first in how you spend your time. Place Him first in how you view the world around you. Please Him first, honor Him first, give to Him first ... and all else will get in line.
God doesn't say that to put Him first is a request. This is a demand from a deserving King. But when you choose to obey this principle you will reap the benefits of the abundant life Christ came for you to have. In other words, God's got your back when you put Him first.
A lot of people never get to see what it looks like when God has their back because they are out there trying to fix it, solve it, tweak it, and obtain it all by themselves. We are tangling with the Gentiles in a Gentile-run world, and we never truly experience God overruling our issues—simply because we don't put Him first. This is His kingdom and He is the rightful King; putting Him anyplace other than first is foolishness.
Keep in mind we are to seek His "kingdom" and His "righteousness." Kingdom means His authoritative rule along with the visible demonstration of it comprehensively in every area of life. Righteousness is the standard God requires for people to be rightly related to Him. It includes abiding by the governing guidelines He has set as the King.
In other words, if you are a kingdom Christian and you want to know the right way to go, think, act, perceive, react, or relate—that is called righteousness. Righteousness simply defined is God's standard for living life. His kingdom and His righteousness are to be what each of us seeks first. Without them we are wandering aimlessly around without the support and the backing of our King.
In baseball, if you miss first base when you are rounding the bases it doesn't matter whatever else you do. If you have run past first base without touching it, it doesn't mean anything that you touch second, third, or home plate. It doesn't matter that everyone in the stands is cheering you or congratulating you when you cross home. Because if you miss first base, then nothing after that even counts.
Excerpted from One Life Under God by Anthony T. Evans. Copyright © 2014 Anthony T. Evans. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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