I know what worry can do. A couple of years ago I had a heart attack. After clogged arteries and other physical things were ruled out it didn’t take a genius to figure out that stress had been wreaking havoc on my life. I had made some tough ministry calls, made enemies of the wrong people, doubted my judgment in a few areas, and made some relational and leadership missteps. It wore on me. And instead of seeking the kingdom of God where everything was still AOK …I decided to worry. And worry took it’s toll. The doc said “It’s a shot over the bow of your ship.” Don’t ignore it.
And so I had a choice. I could go back to what got me into trouble in the first place …the worry that led to my stress that effected my body or ….seek first the kingdom of God.
There’s a cultural narrative that many of us buy into. It goes like this.
If I keep my nose relatively clean, work hard, go to church, pay my taxes, contribute to charity and involve myself in the community I deserve a good life. In other words if I keep the rules I like to keep then I should get rewarded for keeping them. I bet you buy into it in one way, shape or form.
The problem is that life gets rather discouraging when someone gets a bad medical diagnosis, denied a promotion, or don’t make the A list or A team That’s not the payoff we’re looking for. We feel entitled to a smooth road. And when we don’t get that smooth road we get ticked, angry at times. We point fingers, worry a lot and decide not to trust a God we really don’t know very well.
This is an entitlement narrative that clashes with an even cursory reading of Scripture. The biblical narrative shows us rather conclusively that bad things, do indeed, happen to good people and that God’s ways aren’t our ways. When push comes to shove the ‘entitlement narrative’ can’t help us in both the tough and eternal places of life.
The apostle Paul points to a biblical perspective that can shape our lives in helpful ways. It’s a theology of the kingdom of God. Paul was able to withstand much because He knew who is was and what kingdom was shaping him. And it wasn’t the kingdom of the Roman culture. Nope it was the kingdom of God. He says in Corinthians 2. We will be afflicted, perplexed, struck down and even persecuted in this life but affliction doesn’t have to crush us, being perplexed doesn’t have to lead to despair, being persecuted and struck down doesn’t mean that we’re forsaken or destroyed.
Paul can say this because who he is and where he lives his life isn’t rooted in self-serving personal philosophy.
Paul had his identity as a child of God. He knew Christ dwelt within him and that he was living in the unshakeable kingdom of God where God is good all the time and all the time God is good.
If, like Paul, we can live in the reality of God’s kingdom knowing we are loved and cared for by a good and gracious God then life begins to make sense and many of the things that occupy our thoughts and dreams and cause us stress, strain, and hour after hour after hour after hour of worry begin to get smaller, even go away.
In this world of ours recessions will come and go, illness strikes, grades go bad, promotions are denied. basements flood and people die. These things challenge our deep seated sense of entitlement. Life doesn’t feel safe or secure. It’s easy to become testy, frazzled, stressed and worried.
The more I think, pray, and read none of these things can harm those who live in the kingdom of God for their identity and residence is secure. In God’s kingdom, there is a sense of security even in the midst of the most difficult things. That’s why Paul was able to say. “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” There’s a way of looking at life that is from God’s perspective not our own. It requires us to seek the kingdom of God in all things. If we die, we step into the arms of God and our destiny. If we miss a promotion we can learn how to trust God for something better, perhaps different. If our basement floods we can see it for what it is …an inconvenience and a pain. It's not the end of the world. In all things we seek the kingdom of God. In all things. All things.
How many times have we heard of people living in the kingdom who serve as an inspiration as they faced inevitable tough times? We wonder why they are not angry with God and testy with us. I think it’s because they are linking their story to the bigger narrative. They know who they are and where they are. They are God’s child, with Christ at their center, and they live in the unshakeable kingdom of God.
And that’s why throughout Scripture God says ‘don’t worry about anything’. And it only makes sense if we are rooted and nurtured by the kingdom.
My spiritual director tells me often to live in the present moment, in the presence of God. He tells me that this is the key to the Christian life. Nothing more. Nothing less. He urges me to stop worrying and to start trusting and to live righteously, doing the right things in the right way with the right attitude. Now. He's right. Worry doesn’t add a single hour to my life or to my satisfaction. In fact, it diminishes it.
I’m realizing that I can waste this moment with worry or I can seek God and His kingdom. The truth of the matter is that we have to learn to deal with whatever the present moment gives us. Satan wants us to avoid the sacrament of the present moment. And so worry becomes one of his tools keeping us from entering into whatever the present moment has for us. The present moment is where God beckons us. And He says: ‘Don’t worry. Trust me. I’m good. All the time. All the time I’m good.'
P.S. Read the three books by James Bryan Smith called The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life and The Good and Beautiful Community. Excellent.