Seek First? I Finally Get It!

Preface
Discipleship is about imitation. I wanted to share a kairos, a moment in time, that I am experiencing and how the Lord is processing along side of me through it. I want to imitate Him. Hopefully, this is something someone else will want to imitate in me. You see, I’m transitioning out what I thought was my dream job (to me) and into the unknown (again, to me). It wasn’t God’s dream job, and there is no such thing as “the unknown” with Him. I’m not writing about the what’s, who’s, or why’s of it all. I’m writing about how “the kingdom of heaven is at hand, repent and believe, and you will be saved.” (Mark 1:14-15) God is showing me how to change the way I think (repent) in order to change the way I act (believe).

This is my story. (dun dun!)


Has there ever been something that you’ve heard dozens of times, something where you know how the concept works, you’ve explained it to others, but you’ve never really gotten it? You didn’t even know that you didn’t even get it, until you just got it. When you do get it there is a moment of clarity. I have recently had one of these moments. I’m going to start calling these “Oh!” moments. (The “V8” moment idea was already taken.) They are different than an “A-ha!” moment because those are usually when you hear something for the first time and fully get it all at once. An “Oh!” moment makes you keel kind of dumb because it’s something old that now makes real sense. Allow me to demonstrate.

God’s Magic Formula for Prosperity? No.

This week’s “Oh!” moment is rooted around Matthew 6:33.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (NKJV)

Or, in another translation,

But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (NET)

The context of this verse has to do with not stressing about your basic physical and material needs being met, because God’s got this. Since God takes care of things like birds and plants, and since He loves us more than those things, God can take care of us. So don’t be stressin’!

While there is a kind of “formula” about this verse, the verse itself subtly points out how we misuse and violate the formula. Because I am me and life revolves around me, I read this verse and see this formula: If I do good and Godly stuff then I will have what I want, er, need. In other words, if I do then I get, with the emphasis on “get”. This completely misses the point Jesus is making and violates the context. The key word in all of this is “kingdom.”

A Good Kingdom

God is a King with a Kingdom. Being a king isn’t just about being a ruler in charge over servants, armies, and the common people. It isn’t about living in a palace and ruling from a throne. Being a king is first and foremost about being a caretaker. If a king doesn’t take care of his people he will soon find himself without a kingdom. A good king takes care of his people and his kingdom. He provides for them, he protects them, he empowers them, because that’s how the kingdom stays healthy and strong.

A citizen of such a kingdom, with such a king, doesn’t even think about his life in terms of a formula like doing good so that he can receive. As soon as he does, he is no longer a citizen, but a selfish king over his own little kingdom. A good citizen does what he’s called to do in the kingdom. He doesn’t think, “I am doing my part so the king had better do his part.” Nay, verily, a good citizen will love the King and His King’s Kingdom so much so that he will seek the betterment of the Kingdom over his own betterment, even at his own expense, for the love of king and kingdom. This kind of citizen knows that if he actively seeks the wellbeing of the kingdom that the natural consequence will be the wellbeing of its citizens.

In other words, when you focus on the kingdom, everyone wins. When you serve the kingdom, and you are a citizen of the kingdom, the kingdom, which including its citizens, wins. This is what Jesus is trying to get at when He talks about pursuing above all God’s kingdom, and having these things added as well. (I can’t strongly enough recommend the book Covenant and Kingdom by Mike Breen. He has some amazing insights on God as the King and a Kingdom. It has profoundly broadened my understanding of these ideas. Kindle and paperback.)

A change of Mindset

The trick is having the genuine mindset of not even being concerned about yourself. The trick, really, is losing the formula mindset. When we have a mindset that says, “I’m going to do these things so I get,” or “This ‘God’ stuff doesn’t work because I’m doing my part and not getting what I think I should get,” we completely miss the point. We really need to re-evaluate if we are in God’s kingdom, or if we have shoved God into ours. What we need is to have a mindset similar to what President John F. Kennedy described in his inauguration speech in 1961.

“My fellow Americans, ask now what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but together what we can do for the freedom of man.”

Why and When This Is Important

My life is changing. It would be very easy to feel lost and disconnected from God in my circumstances. The reality is that this isn’t the first time I’ve been in a situation like this. God has been putting a pattern in my life so that I can learn and pass on to others (like Yoda). But each time I find myself seeking and a deeper connection to Jesus because I have unknowingly drifted away from intimacy with Him. It can feel like I’ve lost Jesus and I don’t know what to do next.

In his book, “The Seed and the Cloud,” Paul Gibbs compares what we can experience at times with what Mary and Joseph experienced once when they lost Jesus.

Have you ever felt that God was not where you expected Him to be? Have you ever lost a sense of connection and therefore a sense of purpose? Have you ever lost track of His direction in your life? Sometimes when we feel this has happened, we make the same mistake as Jesus’ parents. We look for Him in the wrong place. We search among our friends and relatives.1

He goes on to describe how, when we feel disconnected, or even when a major life change has occurred (like mine), that we tend to first seek out the advice of people we know and trust, even good godly people, and we tend to ask the wrong questions. Gibbs describes them as “weak” questions.

Maybe this concept is what causes us to ask

  • the weak question: “Lord, where should I go?”
  • Or the common question: “Lord, what should I do?”
  • Or the only slightly better question: “Lord, to whom should I go?”

Is the reason we get such a poor response because it is difficult to give a good answer to a bad question?2

What if, when changes and challenges come, when the “all these things” that Jesus is talking about seem like they are about to be taken from you or me, what if we actually, literally, sought something else, first, above all others? Gibbs writes,

You see, there are better answers waiting for those who ask the better questions. There is a question that will lead to a better answer from God, because it is in line with the purpose of any pilgrimage to which He calls us. So here is that better question: What is the most effective thing I could do for God’s Kingdom?3

Oh!

“You mean, if I get rejected by the school that I planned my life around that I shouldn’t look for another school first, I should ask, ‘What is the most effecting thing I could do for God’s Kingdom?'” Yes! That doesn’t mean that you never go to school. It means that you seek to build God’s Kingdom, above all other things in your life, and that you see school as a vehicle for that. It means that your choice of school is not determined by your plans and goals, but by God’s and what best serves His kingdom.

“You mean, if my company relocates me, and my family has to uproot, leave lifelong friends, family, and community, everything we’ve ever known and loved, that I shouldn’t fight with God about it but instead ask, ‘What is the most effecting thing I could do for God’s Kingdom?'” Yes! Did it occur to you to think that your boss isn’t relocating you, but God is (who is really your boss anyway)? You and your family can filter the entire situation through that question. God has kingdom building work for you to do. You are being sent by your King on a mission. What an honor!

“You mean, if I leave the job at my church that I thought God was deliberately preparing me for over the last 25 years of my life, that I thought He had me, specifically, there to do, and now its gone, and my family and I are at financial risk, that I’m supposed to stop everything and first and ask, ‘What is the most effecting thing I could do for God’s Kingdom?'” Yes!

This is the situation I am in right now, as I write this.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t look for a job to support my family. It means that I need to first stop and reflect on how God has wired and gifted me to be a builder of His kingdom first, above all other things. It means that I have to not be in panic mode about how I’m going to pay the bills and come up with some kind of, “God, if I do this for you then I expect you to take care of me,” plan.

It means that whatever I do to take care of my family responsibilities, that activity must first serve my Kingdom responsibilities.

This is surprisingly liberating. How? Instead of thinking, “Pay the bills! Pay the bills! Pay the bills!” I am thinking, “I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom, I am His representative, sent out to build His Kingdom. He will provide me with the authority, power, and resources to do so in the place and in the way that He sees fit.” There is peace in that. There is freedom in that. There is rest in that. I’ve just started and I’m already feeling it. When I first realized this, and then started to experience it, I said out loud, “Oh!”


Going forward

I left a job at a church where I was doing good, Godly work, but I wasn’t building God’s kingdom, at least not in the way that God has wired me to do so. Now, my life has become a scripture lab experiment. I am going to try and put Matthew 6:33 to the test, in its proper context, with the proper mindset.

Here is what I am doing.

  • Revisiting my original calling. I’m rediscovering what it was that the Lord first inspired in me to do for Him, and how I have drifted from it. It took Abraham a few decades in his case, so I don’t feel so bad.
  • Recalling the most effective kingdom-building season’s I’ve had in my own life. What was I doing? How was I doing it? Does it still apply?
  • Re-examining my skills. God has wired us all with gifts, skills, and abilities. I’m trying to find mine and see how I can use them.

What I’m trying to do is find ways to do and use all of that stuff, before and above having a “job”. Most of us have a job and try to do kingdom building around it. I’m trying to see if there is a way to do kingdom building and have a job around it. Instead of a job supporting Kingdom building (maybe, if there is time), I’m after kingdom building supporting my job. Literally.

  • I still have a set number of hours doing part of my once full time job, working in IT.
  • I have a couple of IT clients from whom I can earn a predictable amount of income.
  • I’m looking into things like Uber and Lyft, because I love to drive and I love the flexibility.
  • If kingdom building opportunities also have the means to provide some income, then so much the better.
  • The rest of the time I will be pursuing things like writing some books that I’ve long wanted to write, teaching and speaking when and where I can, discipling some people, and a few other opportunities I’m excited about.

What I’m not doing, at this point, is looking for a career. I’m not sure, at this point, if I want a full time job at a church or at a company doing IT or whatever. Maybe, for me, those aren’t the ways God has wired me to best build His Kingdom. I’m staying open to whatever enables me to put kingdom building first, whatever that looks like. If that ends up being a full-time gig at a church or business then cool.

Feel free to follow me online, ask whatever questions about the thinking, and the results. @corbystephens on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and on Medium and the blog which is being redesigned. This is a discipleship opportunity and I want to pass along lessons learned. Thank you to friends and family for the support. I love you all.

And, go.

  1. Gibbs, Paul (2016-02-20). The Seed and the Cloud: Alternative Thoughts on Finding Direction (The Kingdom Trilogy Book 3) (Kindle Locations 188-190). Harris House Publishing. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
  2. Gibbs, Paul (2016-02-20). The Seed and the Cloud: Alternative Thoughts on Finding Direction (The Kingdom Trilogy Book 3) (Kindle Locations 226-232). Harris House Publishing. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
  3. Gibbs, Paul (2016-02-20). The Seed and the Cloud: Alternative Thoughts on Finding Direction (The Kingdom Trilogy Book 3) (Kindle Locations 242-245). Harris House Publishing. Kindle Edition. ↩︎

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