Seek Ye First
People are often really surprised to find out that I’m a pastor. Sometimes they ask me how old I am, and then their eyes get really wide, and they say, “You’re so young to be a pastor!” When I was younger and sassier—like around 27 and 28—sometimes I would reply to peoples’ surprise by reciting some of the things Dr. King had done at my age. By age 26, Dr. King had led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. By age 28, he had become the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. By age 29, he had been stabbed, bombed, and had a meeting with the president of the United States. I really used to say these things to make people realize that they are much less freaked out when young men my age are pastors.
But this month I turn thirty, and I find myself making that same ridiculous comparison to Dr. King for a different reason. As I start to mark another decade of life, I find myself asking anxious questions like, “Will I ever do anything as significant as my heroes? Will I ever lead a boycott or become a leader of a social movement or meet the president of any country? I think a lot of us cast a vision and dream for our lives that we may never achieve, and we feel bad or anxious about it. If our heroes are Dr. King and Gandhi or Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton, no wonder we feel anxious about our lives!
This year, I’ve been traveling a bit to attend leadership development programs for young clergy. At these programs, we get to meet some really amazing and successful pastors around the country, people who have built up huge churches, achieved the heights of pastoral ministry, and become famous and influential in our denomination. Last week, I was in Miami, and we were hearing from the pastor of one of the largest United Methodist Churches in that area, with thousands of worship attenders, lots of great staff, a huge sustainable budget. This guy had the job every pastor dreams of. But he said something to us that I have been thinking about a lot, and it had nothing to do with his professional achievements. He said to us, “I used to have this pastor who worked for me, and he was the progressive guy on a conservative staff. But, even though I will never agree with him on certain issues, I was so drawn to this man because I could tell that he was just a truly whole human being. He was the same genuine person inside and out. He lived life with such integrity, and I have real respect for him. And, ever since knowing him, I have made it my goal to be like that—to be a whole human being.” That’s what he said to us.
I have been thinking about what that pastor said since we left Miami. Even though I know it’s crazy, there is something deep inside me that wants to achieve and accomplish, just like my great heroes, Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi and Dorothy Day and Malcolm X. But, when I really stop to think about it, maybe what I admire most—or what I should admire most—in these people is that they lived genuine, courageous, and whole lives. They put it all out there. They were men and women of real character and integrity. In Biblical terms, they sought first the kin-dom of God and God’s righteousness. And, whether or not anyone ever comes to know me as a great leader or world-changer, if I can manage to live a life, in which I genuinely strive to keep God’s reign at the center and forefront of all I say and do, I think will be able to hold my head high on that day when I give my life back into the hands of the one who gave it to me to live.
25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will she not much more clothe you—you of little faith?31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and her righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
(This was originally shared as a devotion on one of Church of the Village’s Wednesday morning prayer calls. Join us any Wednesday morning at 7am for 20 minutes of devotion and prayer. Ph: (559)546-1200, Code: 533-689-191#)