Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
– Matthew 6:33
I feel as though I could let words of Jesus in the above verse just speak for itself. However, I suppose I should elaborate on how special and sweet, how comforting and challenging these words really are. They certainly have been that weighty for me, and I pray that they sink down deep into your soul as you read them. Take a minute… meditate on those words. Let them refresh you like a warm sip of your favorite hot drink. If you are looking for a simple life motto to live by, my hope is that perhaps this is what you can cling to.
When I reflect on my time at UVa (which I know many of us fourth-years are doing right now too), I think back through four years of fond memories: late night Cookout runs with friends, studying for exams while eating snacks at the Stud, laughing with housemates over ridiculous shenanigans, fall retreats, praying and reading Scripture in a garden by the Lawn at sunset, hugs from Miss Kathy, brother-sister small group hikes up Humpback… Then, I remember the many difficult moments as well: the nights of anxiety and immense stress; entire seasons of loneliness and depression, and the mornings where I would wake up wondering how I would get through the day.
No matter the memory, I am overwhelmed with a recurring theme: God’s grace. His favor, which frankly, I don’t deserve. Yet there it is. God's grace is a common thread through every one of my lived experiences, even when I am completely unaware of it. Even in this moment, I zoom out to realize that I am… alive. I exist. I am breathing with the breath God breathed in me. Hundreds of millions of alveoli in my lungs are participating in gas exchange, while my heart’s ventricles and atria pump blood together in perfect harmony over 100,000 times a day to distribute oxygen to my body. (Okay, the pre-med geek in me is showing…) There are tens of thousands of daily miracles occurring to sustain our physical bodies. I wonder, how many more daily miracles sustain my soul?
I so often take for granted just how good the Good News really is. When I think about it though… I was utterly dead in my sin and rebellion, which left me longing and empty; and now, I’m alive in Jesus. Because God Himself was willing to humble Himself to become a human, live a perfect life, and die the humiliating death I deserved, I am able to live in restored shalom (true peace and wholeness) with my Creator, presently and for eternity after death. Not only that – but we, as broken and flawed individuals, now get to partner with that same Creator in the greatest redemptive story of all time, sharing this reckless God-love with others.
Wait. Stop. Really? What the heck! That is such good news! If you stop reading this post right now, but took away just how good the simple Gospel is, it would be more than enough.
I am reminded of the words my friend Jonah once told me: “The Gospel isn’t the old news, it’s the good news.”The Gospel is not simply a message that we hear once, but rather a daily reality of which we get to be a part. The Gospel is past, present, and future. The Gospel is Jesus, nothing else. Following Jesus is not a one-time decision, but a choice we get to make each morning when we wake up. We have the privilege of making the radical choice each day to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. And this is something that recently has meant a lot to me. My friend Abigail put it this way: “Choosing to wake up and follow Jesus each day is always a radical decision – just as radical as the day you decided to follow Him.” My friends, the pressure is off! We don’t have to try to perform big acts of righteousness for God to get Him to love us. The Apostle Paul said at the end of Romans 8 that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. The Gospel really is that simple. Yet, it is the most profound reality in the world, taking an entire lifetime to understand and then live out.
Having a solid grasp of who God is and who we are will help us in every nook and cranny of our lives. Once we know who we are, we don’t have to worry about what to do, because we will naturally move in our identity as sons and daughters of the King. What is it, then, that makes Matthew 6:33 so significant?
My second year, I was a part of a small group of guys that each latched onto a catchphrase throughout the year – “Seek First.” It became a way of life. Whenever we were trying to align our hearts with God or grow closer to Him as a group, we would encourage each other by asking, “How are we seeking first?” Whether it was relationships, friendships, academics, life goals, future plans, personal struggles, it seemed to always apply to everything: “I just need to seek first.” I have often pondered why the words “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” centered me so much.
Have you ever had too much to do, and not enough time to do it? Or have you ever done all you need to do, but still felt worried about how something would turn out? In most modern American contexts, especially in academic or professional settings, sorting out our priorities (plural) is a common practice due to hectic schedules and time constraints. What if it were simpler, and we had only one priority (singular) – the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? This way, our faith isn’t reduced to a To-Do List, perpetually checking off boxes like the Pharisees did. Matthew 6:33 comes right at the end of a passage where Jesus teaches about not worrying. To detach us from the subtle, yet heavy undertow of materialism, and to derail us from our cyclical patterns of worry, Jesus points us to the birds of the air or the lilies of the field. Jesus speaks to the Kingdom value of simplicity.
Immediately, it is easy for me to counter Jesus’ words with thoughts like, “What about making sure I fulfill your exact calling on my life?” or, “What if I don’t make enough money?” or maybe, “I have been seeking first your kingdom and righteousness – look at all that I am doing for you!” (I don’t know if those thoughts resonate with you, too). But Jesus’ words have this way of debunking the lies and fears within me, working their way into each circumstance.
When I think of His kingdom, my mind quickly jumps to the external – how Jesus impacted others around Him for God’s glory. When I think of His righteousness, I think of the internal – how Jesus related to the Father, and of His character. Perhaps this is a helpful distinction in our pursuit of living this verse, but perhaps not. The question still remains: How exactly does one go about seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness? Is it to prioritize serving the poor and administering justice for the oppressed? Is it to serve in a church, or join a small group? Is it all about reading the Bible, prayer, and worship? Or maybe it’s to proclaim to everyone the good news about Jesus, and to make disciples. That must be it right? Theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in his book Christian Discourses,responds to this by saying: “No, thou shalt first seek God’s kingdom.But then in a certain sense it is nothing I shall do. Yes, certainly, in a certain sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this silence is the beginning, which is firstto seek God’s kingdom.”
Seeking firstis more of a heart posture – a way to be. We must remember we were not created as “human doings,” but rather as “human beings.” What a relief this is! No longer is our faith only about doing all the right things, making sure each area of our life is aligned with God’s will – like trying to keep a bunch of cats in a full bathtub (which wouldn’t work very well…) If we align our hearts with His heart, we will naturally move in His will.
However, this is perhaps the hardest part of seeking first: it’s dying to all our preconceived notions of what we think His kingdom and righteousness look like, and listening to God Himself to direct our steps. Then, and only then, will our actions be able to align with Matthew 6:33. God’s great irony (exemplified through the crucifixion and the resurrection) is: the extent that we die to ourselves is the extent that we truly live. Jesus taught this concept – humility leads to exaltation, and exaltation leads to humility (Matthew 23:12).
In my heart I have wrestled with God just as Jacob did over this whole concept. Matthew 6:33 challenges me to consider my own heart posture in everything – in putting others first, in serving the poor, in giving voice to the voiceless, in racial reconciliation, in disciple-making and reaching the lost, as well as in using my vocation and the opportunities God has given me for His glory. Having meaningful discussions this year in the Horizons Fellows Program about each of these things and more has made me more aware of that which God calls us out ofand calls us to. And it drives me back all the more to Matthew 6:33. I’ve learned so much from our Horizons Fellows community. One of the biggest things is how God’s will for our lives is not as much a linear path as many see it, but more of a green pasture to dance within – the type in which David was made to lie down (Psalm 23:2).
Hopefully you find this as an encouragement in whatever season of life you find yourself in. For graduating fourth years especially, who may still be figuring out their next steps, or having doubts about the plans they have made, I hope this meets you right where you are. Though God may not bring perfect clarity about our futures, He brings something better – trust. Ultimately, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness is the chief means for the liberation of our souls. Though nothing is more challenging, nothing is simpler either. Though nothing demands more of you, nothing will be as rewarding either. It was the way we were created to live. Seek God, and all the rest will fall into place.
Wallace, Mary. The Live Dead Journal | Day 3 – Simplicity: Seek First His Kingdom. (Salubris, 2016.)
Edited by Dick Brogden.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Christian Discourses(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940) 322-344.