28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:28-34 NLT
I came to Christ (or whatever equivalent language you use for the specific point of appropriating Christ’s offer of salvation from sin – being “born again”; “accepting Christ” into your life; coming into a “personal relationship with Jesus”, “accepting Jesus” etc.) in December 1993. At the time, I would have considered myself agnostic (believing in God but denying any of his earthly relevance or power). My philosophical outlook was humanistic in its emphasis on the power of the individual to create his/her own path and to achieve through will and work ethic. I credit my upbringing for establishing these values in me. I was ecumenical in my theology, doubtful that there was only one path to heaven in which I believed. A personal circumstance and what I now see as the persistent intercession of people along the path of my early life both brought me to my knees (literally) that quiet December morning. I recall being overwhelmed by the tension between my outlook and the mounting evidence of a personal savior. I recall the sense of relief at surrendering to the latter.
Once I made the decision, the automatic need for Christian affiliations that were supportive of and nourishing to my embryonic state established itself strongly. I joined an evangelical congregation. (For clarity the term “evangelical” in the Caribbean is more theological than it is political, as applies in the US). My association immediately introduced me to a liturgy, to which I had been introduced as a child attending a Pentecostal assembly with my grandmother, but which became part of my newly adopted worship ritual. I quickly engrossed myself in various activities, including leading worship and formal study of the Bible. A few years into my maturing church participation, I experienced a significant church hurt. I was so devastated that I fell away from the congregation and church altogether (what we in the Caribbean refer to as a “back-slidden” state). Although I still considered my faith in Jesus to be important, I compromised through the inclusion of various “worldly” pursuits.
Once I migrated to the US, I found a church to be a member of but continued to be a “back-bencher”, not integrating fully and still entertaining a duplicitous existence (one foot “in Christ” and the other in “the world”). Shortly before the 18th anniversary of my decision for Christ, my world came crashing down. I was at risk of losing everything that was dear to me. Ironically, it was my church membership that offered me participation in a recovery ministry. The thing that amazed me about this program was my unrecognized connection between Christ’s message and his desire for my personal congruence, an alignment between my internal processes and external affiliative expressions. I learned that I had trapped myself in a cycle of performance which resulted in a skewed valuation of myself and others. This valuation also extended to the way I automatically classified people based on arbitrarily selected measures. I struggled immensely with pride, always defensive, paradoxically attempting to hide various places of insecurity. I pursued prestige as an end of its own focusing on identification as a mitigation to feelings of inadequacy .
The honesty and deep soul searching through the program led me to confront my denial and accept that I needed help. For the first time in my life, I was able to look at the full timeline of my life and connect hurts to my coping mechanisms and unhealthy patterns. I learned that people who had hurt me a lifetime ago still figured in the way I made decisions. The program changed my thinking about asking others for help. It opened my eyes to people’s willingness to help.
I was introduced to this ministry 12 years ago and since then I have discipled many others through it as I was (discipled). My personal crisis resulted in the establishment of various spiritual disciplines that are installed as irremovable routines in my life. Among these disciplines are tithing, fasting, seclusion, study, chastity, celebration, service, personal prayer and worship, corporate worship, the practice of a Sabbath and personal Bible study.
When I reflect on Christ’s exhortation to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness”, I reflect on the arc of my own life. God’s kingdom is where he is enthroned and acknowledged as King. Within earthly realms these places are his church and the heart of the believer. Pursuing his kingdom therefore has a connotation of affiliation. These are the activities in which I was first involved after I made my decision for Christ – church membership, association with other believers, participation in Bible study, affiliation with a denominational creed, establishment of a robust theology, participation in church activities (ministries, outreach, charities etc.). Pursuing his righteousness involves the less visible personal activities that result in the creation of personal insight, spiritual formation, and maturity. My observations of myself and others, over the years, have shown that these pursuits are usually initiated through crisis. This crisis either pushes the believer back to the world (as happened with me as a result of my church hurt) or into a deep desire to materialize the relationship with Christ (as happened with me at my 18th anniversary). It is nothing short of the sanctification process that must occur in each believer, if spiritual and emotional maturity are to emerge. It is a deliberate, courageous, vulnerable, and witnessed submersion into our brokenness. It is visible to trusted others and involves honest inventorying, admission, repentance, forgiveness, amends, and a commitment to disciple others. It involves the establishment of spiritual disciplines and personal boundaries that allow no personal compromise (to the intent of these disciplines). In short seeking his righteousness, as Christ references in this passage, takes work. To be sure, as believers, we are already made righteous with God through Christ (Romans 3:24). Christ’s context in this passage, however, refers to the Holy Spirit activated process of spiritual growth (John 16:12-15).
Where do you find yourself as a believer? Are you a Christian by association or a follower of Jesus through the existence of an internal mechanism that is growth minded? Being the former is not bad, but it may be time for more “solid food” (1 Corinthians 3:2).
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