Cultivating Peaceby Megan Tucker
Jesus, Man of Peace
When I’m anxious, I turn to the red letters. The red letters aren’t better or more important than the black letters, but there’s something about reading the words that the man himself spoke that breathes a special peace into my soul.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, I bet that he had a lot of opportunity to be anxious, whether it would be about how he was going to feed his ragtag gang of twelve, or where they would all stay when they headed to the next city. Yet, with all the what-ifs revolving around food, and money, and shelter, and possibilities of being stoned, or beaten, or thrown in jail, Jesus was able to remain focused on his job as the savior of the world, and he was able to remain in a state of constant peace.
The man had a lot going on at any one time; you and I have a lot going on at any one time. The opportunities for us to be anxious and stressed abound in this day of constant connection, with multiple ways in which we can be the recipient of a barrage of communication (hello – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, email, Instagram, text message, phone calls, voicemails, Planning Center, Slack, etc., etc., etc.). We have full time jobs as accountants and real estate agents, caseworkers and teachers, moms and dads, not to mention that we are all ministers of the Gospel.
How do we, as followers of Christ, remain in that same constant state of peace? If Jesus did it, being fully human, wouldn’t that lead us to believe that we can also be at rest in that peace?
Jesus’ first big preaching gig was in Galilee. The crowds of people that were listening to him as he sat and preached on the mountainside were from all over, from Galilee and the entire region across the Jordan. People from all over came to listen to this man who sat on a mountain and had twelve really good friends and who carried the peace of heaven in his mind and his heart.
It never fails; when I’m anxious, I turn to the red letters of the sermon on the mount. Matthew 6:25-34 is an exhortation to not worry, to not be anxious. Don’t worry about your clothes, because even the lilies of the field are clothed in splendor. Don’t worry about what you will eat or drink, because even the birds of the air receive their daily portion. And then I skip to verse 34: therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
These things are good. I think I love to read these words because I can get so into them, like, “yeah! yeah, don’t worry about anything, Megan! Even the birds get their share and the flowers are tended to! Of course everything will be okay! Don’t worry! Don’t be anxious! Don’t be stressed!” And it’s comforting. It’s a nice little comfort message.
But I never really pay attention to verse 33: but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Oh. Oh, you mean I have to do something? I can’t just, you know, recite some scripture and say a little prayer and all my anxiety and stress will dissipate?
Well, it may. But if that’s all I’m doing – if all I’m doing is reading this one piece of text, this little section of red, and taking a deep breath – I’m not creating a very secure place to rest in the peace of God. Jesus didn’t quote scripture to himself and then go along on his merry way. He himself actively sought first his kingdom and his righteousness.
Charles Spurgeon had indicated in one of his sermons that there are three facets to seeking first the kingdom of God:
1. We have to be a part of the kingdom of God. That is, we have to take our places as sons and daughters of the Father and have entered in and joined the royal family.
2. We get to enjoy, and ought to enjoy, all the privileges of the kingdom. We ask for God to fully fill us, we ask for all spiritual wealth, we ask for all heavenly wisdom and insight.
3. We have to extend the kingdom. Meaning, we go and we minister, we share the Gospel, we feed the hungry. We do good, seek justice, proclaim freedom to the captives, bring justice to the orphan, and plead the case of the widow. We “go” and we “be the hands and feet.”
The second part of that verse calls us to seek his righteousness, and I’m in agreement with Spurgeon that this is a call to seek to grow and maintain a righteous character for ourselves. Actually, this phrase of seeking his righteousness brings to mind the fruit of the spirit.
We know that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And we know that those of us who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Or… ahem… we should be. Daily. Meeting our unrighteous desires and passions face to face, each morning (“first!”), and putting off our old selves and putting on our new selves. Our new selves, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Whatever it is that we seek first — and most — in our lives has a direct correlation to what type of fruit our lives produce. Our old selves are corrupted by deceitful desires, producing the works of the flesh. Our new selves, given to us by the Father the moment we run to his arms, produce the fruit of our lives which we can offer back up to the Father as a pleasing sacrifice.
We put off falsehoods and instead speak truthfully. We don’t give the devil a foothold in our lives through our anger, to let bitterness take root. We don’t steal. We do speak with words that are helpful and that build others up. We don’t grieve the Holy Spirit; we get rid of our bitterness, our rage and anger, and every form of malice. We are kind. We are compassionate. We forgive each other, just as Christ forgave us. We become imitators of God, as the dearly loved children that we are.
This is the elementary of seeking first his kingdom: to enter into the kingdom as sons and daughters, to remember all the benefits of being in the family, and to invite others in.
This is the beginning of seeking his righteousness: to live a life of love, just as Christ loved us, that our lives might also be a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The fruit of our lives will show us what it is that we are seeking first. When I find myself wrestling with anxiety or stress more intensely or more frequent than usual, it’s a pretty good indicator to me that I’m not seeking his kingdom or his righteousness anymore. I’ve let my eyes grow weary from seeking, and that I’ve let them fall to my circumstances instead of gazing at Christ in adoration. When my eyes are no longer focused on the Lord, when I’m not tending to the garden of my soul, the fruit my life produces is the opposite of the fruit of the spirit, and that is just not a good or pleasing offering for the King.