Struggling is a part of the human experience. As a young person, I struggled to be grounded as a believer. Too much of my life was predicated on feelings. If the emotional tide was high, I was surfing the wave of sensation. Then when things were not running as smoothly and the flow of good feeling left, I often would crash and feel that all was lost!
One Sunday evening, after the rising and falling of my emotional temperature, the pastor preached an inspiring message, and I made my way to a place of prayer. Again, I poured out my heart and promised to do and be better, and that next time I would remain steadfast and strong. My pastor knelt across from me and spoke in his usual kind and gentle manner and reminded me that God loved me, and so did most of the rest of the people who knew me. He opened his Bible to Matthew 6:33 and asked me to read the verse: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In those days, I never heard anyone use the phrase ‘life verse.” Yet, on that Sunday evening, Matthew 6:33 became my life verse. Let me tell you what my pastor shared with me that night:
- Seek first. Seek is a word of diligence and commitment. It is an action word. It means to determine your intent and direction. Seek also speaks of focus. In life, you may seek multiple things, but there must be a priority, a purpose. You must determine what the ‘first thing is and decide to follow God.’
- His Kingdom and righteousness. That evening the pastor challenged me to make the Kingdom and His righteousness my life’s priority! Do not let emotions, problems, trials, or anything else become the driving force of your life. Make life about the Kingdom and the righteousness of Christ. These words from my childhood pastor still ring in my ears.
- And all these things. The “all these things of life” will receive more and better care when they are placed in the proper place. When they are correctly set, you see them from a better perspective. It was a spiritually counter-intuitive moment for me: things that I couldn’t get to work out would stand a better chance of functioning correctly after my priorities were in proper order! When God’s Kingdom and His righteousness is first, everything becomes clearer as well
- will be given to you as well. When we run after things and assign to them all the meaning of life, we will miss out on both the Kingdom and the fleeting things of earth. I am not saying that I never had another bad day, ceased surfing the tsunami of emotion, I still experienced the routine, emotional ups and downs of life but usually, in short order things would level out, I reminded myself of the difference between the Kingdom and Righteousness issues and the transitory items of life.
This event reminds me of how often in life it is the small encounters that leave lasting impressions. I did not time the conversation I had with the pastor, but it could not have been more than five or ten minutes, and nearly half a century later, I can remember it as if it were yesterday.
Many of our pastors are discouraged and nearly overwhelmed as they help us navigate the uncharted waters of 2020. Pastors, do not give up, in little and big ways you make a difference. Something you say, or kindness showed, is the lifeline that is desperately needed. I am not sure Pastor Watson knew how significant that time around a prayer altar was for me as I was trying to figure out my life. I will never forget Matthew 6:33 and the message it contains.
Never forget to put the First thing first!