So far in our study of the book of Matthew we have seen Jesus proclaim that only by realizing our lack or rightness and God's provision of life can we have hope and a future. We saw that God intends for us to be light and salt-communicating His message to a dark and bland world. We saw that God is about fixing a broken relationship with Him and that as we experience this new life we need to do God's work in a way that focuses not on ourselves, but on Him.
Then we saw the model prayer for someone with a relationship with God-proclaiming the incredibleness of God, wanting His ways to be our ways everywhere, and asking for provision, healing, protection and mercy so we can be available to be the kind of people doing the kinds of things He wants us to do. But there's a problem-and it comes in the form of distractions.
Are you easily distracted? We have a little puppy at our house, Anna. She is a Bichon Havanese. Anna has very good hearing and at every little sound she spins her little head around-it could be a lawn mower, someone coughing, another dog barking (which often scares her). But she is kind of the poster puppy for Attention Deficit Disorder-unless our other dog, Amy, has a rawhide bone, then she is fully focused on stealing it for herself!
For us who name the name of Jesus there are two great distractions that keep us from being effective for the Lord-and they are two sides of the same coin: plenty and want.
When we have lots of stuff we become self-reliant, not God-reliant. When we lack stuff we worry about not having it. It's not about whether you are rich or poor-not about what you have but about who or what has you.
The enemy is very adept at distracting us by the stuff of this age-he's been doing it since the Garden of Eden when he lured Eve into believing that God could not be trusted to supply our every need.
At first blush, chapter 6 verses 19-24 and verses 25-34 don't seem related, but I think they are very related. If we are so focused on what we get in this age; we will not focus on what is of eternal, rather than temporal value. Second, if we over worry about how to supply our needs in this age, we become unavailable for God to use us.
19 - 21
Where is your treasure? By that I mean, what holds your attention and captivates you? Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages us to take an eternal view of life.
Paul taught is protégé Timothy about what can happen when the things this age values (money, power, intelligence, beauty) take over the controls.
1 Tim 6:6-10 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Basically all the stuff and systems of this age are going to burn up.
2 Peter 3:10 ... the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
If we invest our souls in the things of this age we will lose it all. One way you can measure how much hold things have on you is to imagine they are destroyed by a fire. What would your reaction be? Part of the problem here is that we don't trust God because we have lost our perceived need for Him due to our success. We forget that it all belongs to God, that our possessions are not "blessing" for our behavior but merely God entrusting some stuff for us to care for and that to the extent we let it use us we are violating that stewardship trust.
Instead of counting all the things you have here, count what is being invested into your heavenly account, which is not subject to government takeover or failure!
So how do we invest in the kingdom of heaven?
- Place your heart on deposit with God (accept Jesus)
- Make yourself available to Him to change and use (Romans 12:1)
- Focus on doing things that have eternal value (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
The kingdom of heaven is about relationships and character. We get the character and life of God though Jesus and then create bonds of love with Him and our brothers and sisters that will last forever. Building God's character and loving relationships is what it's all about!
22 - 23
Essentially Jesus is saying that if what you value is the stuff this age offers then you are blinded to the true values of God's kingdom. You can become so deluded that you think you are serving God when in fact you are serving the stuff.
Many of us are mistaken if we think that we can focus on all the goodies the world offers-and that doesn't mean we have any of it (the wanting creates the same idol worship as the having) and then serve God too.
The old Bob Dillon song "You Gotta Serve Somebody" is really true. You serve that which holds your fascination and your attention. If you had to choose, between your stuff and your God, which would it be really honestly? We don't serve God because we fear He won't answer in the way we envision reality.
So now comes the second part of the distraction-going beyond the getting beyond the hold of stuff and moving into trusting God for everything all the time!
25 - 33
We want it the other way-God add all these things and then I'll serve you. It simply doesn't work that way. We are conscious of our need for stuff, but not of our need for rightness. Our values are inverted.
But we get anxious about the future. "Anxious" is a Greek word that means "to care for something or someone," "to be concerned or anxious," "to be intent on or strive after," "to brood." The plural of this verb is used for cares that disturb the sleep. Jesus here tells us not to over-worry about the normal things that people need. Life is more than just filling those needs, but so many get stopped at that point. Life is about becoming like God and being used by God to bring others into relationship with Him.
His point is that 1) God takes care of you and 2) you can't really change much about your life so why spend so much time brooding about it? One of our big problems is that we do get anxious, we work and work and work and make a little money and start to feel secure without God, but He is talking about so much more than just physical needs on earth. As humans we don't want to rely on God so we don't unless we have to.
"Seek" is a present imperative, which means it is a action to fulfill a continuing obligation. It means to submit to God's sovereignty now, and work towards the full revealing of His king on earth in the future.
Who do you seek first? Do you make sure you have all relationships, all goods, all needs, all wants fulfilled first and then place yourself in God's hands? What you've really done is told God "I can do it without you, but I'm going to paint you on to the surface of my life."
God not only needs to take first place, He needs to take the only place. It's not a matter of just giving a nod to God, He needs to be in all of your activities-work, home, personal, and church. He needs to inform all of our priorities in all of life's activities.
But He also doesn't say to just sit around and wait for Manna to fall from heaven.
2 Thess 3:10-11 If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
We need to trust God for the small things so we can trust Him with much more important things, like being transformed into His image and being used to further His plans!
Planning for tomorrow is one thing, worrying about it is quite another. There's a great saying that my wife brought into my life: "I cannot control external circumstances, I can only influence them." We should do our best to provide what we need, then turn it all over to God-realizing that in plenty or want, each day is a gift from Him, to be spent enjoying our relationship with Him and relying on Him to give us "this day" everything we need to follow and serve Him.
The reality is that we will suffer lack, but it's because God's reality and plans are much higher than our ability to comprehend so we need to trust Him!
Do we serve our wants desires and needs above our Lord?
Self-reliance rather than God reliance is idolatry. Idolatry is when something becomes more important than being transformed into God's image and being used by Him. If God came and stood before you and said to give up something really important, what would you choose?
Why does stuff hold our attention and why can't we stop worrying?
We can see the "here and now" - we cannot see heaven, yet.
1 Cor 2:9 "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"
The truth is, what the world offers to satisfy us doesn't last and it only makes us hungry for more. But what Jesus offers really satisfies and lasts forever.
Jesus tells the story in Mark 10 of the rich young ruler. The man had everything the world sees as valuable-he wanted validation from Jesus, but the Lord put His finger on the real issue-the man loved himself better than God. When we realize that and turn our lives over to God-really turn them over, then we find true satisfaction.
So what is the secret to contentment without stuff ruling you?
1 Tim 6:6-10 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment,
Phil 4:11-13 for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
How do we avoid distractions? With Anna, all the sounds scare her, unless she is in my arms.