About Kathleen PetersenI love digging around for scriptural nuggets of God’s truth with our devotional team and being amazed how many facets of meaning we discover. Thanks for reading!
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Matthew 6:25
During my lifetime, I’ve enjoyed an unprecedented abundance of the two necessities Jesus highlights in the above verse. So relating to this passage is somewhat difficult.
Estimates are that 30% to 40% of our nation’s food supply is discarded, accounting for around 22% of solid waste in our landfills. Many of us regularly clean out closets, donating the contents to charitable outlets with 85% of those donations ending up in landfills. How does this happen?
Part of the answer may be that nutrition experts churn out mountains of theories leading to never ending searches for perfect foods. Also, style influencers create desires for a bevy of fresh purchases that promise to win approval from watchful connoisseurs. It’s calculated that each of us encounters thousands of advertisements per day that encourage these inclinations.
Dig deeper into today’s scripture. A careful re-reading reveals Jesus’ words aren’t really aimed at starving people who lack warm clothing in winter. His message is most pertinent for those living a life of material adequacy, even abundance.
As Jesus’ followers, we’re challenged with simplifying what’s essential, keeping in mind that God cares for us. Then we’re set free to concentrate on issues he considers important. How should we view cultural standards of excellence considering the Kingdom of God doesn’t pivot around right eating or meticulous outward appearances?
Do you struggle with food and drink in such a way that making a wrong choice induces distress in you?* Or are you touting your eating habits to the point you irk others with implications that their choices are inferior? Do you fear that hairstyle, clothing, or decoration blunders will isolate you from true acceptance and friendships? Conversely, are you self-absorbed with your sense of cutting edge fashion?
Take a short inventory. Do you find yourself nervous because, in spite of your self-sufficiency, you might lose it to an unanticipated future event like an illness? Conversely, do you experience inadequacy anxiety because keeping up with the latest trends eludes your grasp?
Today, notice the times you’re tempted to ponder something attractive you don’t want or need but promises you an improvement or security. Analyze one or two commercials that seem to guarantee ridiculously more than the advertised product can deliver. Thank the Lord that he’s given you power to resist a temptation that could consume your peace or has the potential to separate you from the conscious presence of God.
*Note: Certainly it is unwise to ignore food sensitivities that cause either discomfort or medical emergencies.
At the beginning of a new year, some of us will renew or orchestrate our efforts to achieve desired outcomes for our lives. The next few verses reveal how we might frame our dreams around the possible.
Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, take pleasure in Him]; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit [your graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, and patience] be known to all people. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:4-5 (AMP)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Matthew 6:27 (ESV)
Thinking about the above scriptures, what should we reasonably attempt to control? What must we relinquish to gain the peace we desire?
As I think about what generates anxiety in me, most of the time it’s the small stuff like needing to reorganize the dishwasher after other household members have once again misunderstood how dishwashers function. On the other hand, anxiety generators are just as likely to be stuff I can’t control. For example: “Don’t those politicians in Washington D.C. have a clue they’ll trigger WWIII?” or “This town is full of crazy drivers…someone’s going to get killed!”
The more I focus on correcting the shortcomings of others, the more anxious I become. Likewise, striving after living a longer life or nourishing expectations that I deserve praise, have the same result. A critical, overly ambitious spirit cannot generate graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, or patience. Only the Holy Spirit can nudge me away from self-centered nitpicking or aspirations, to gentleness of spirit.
As we remain confident that Jesus intends to provide his servants with every resource needed to serve him well in this life and that he will keep his promise to reward us in ways we cannot measure, our security in him is enhanced. Concentrating on the generous character of our Master leaves us free to rejoice in him, even in adverse circumstances.
So resist overestimating the adverse impact of mistakes (yours or of others) or setting your sights on unattainable or selfish ambitions. Simple reminders from the above scriptures can take the edge off looming anxiety. Embrace what you can control:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.
He cares for you!
Write these three reminders on separate cards or sticky notes and place them in locations you frequent during the day. Then tell others about how the Lord has made himself known in unexpected ways.
Are you feeling at home in the church you’ve chosen or that it is not quite the right fit? Read this:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. I Corinthians 12:12-26 NIV
If classical pew-sitting and leaving the instant the Sunday sermon ends (or watching sermons on TV or the internet) has become your habit, the above passage confirms you’re intended to serve our Master as he builds his kingdom in an active, sometimes untidy body of Jesus’ followers, rather than in a pristine cloister.
You must start or start again somewhere.
If you’re unsure of your giftings, grab an opening, even if it seems an insignificant opportunity. Try joining a team with a variety of roles where you can move around as your faith journey comes alive.
Perhaps you’ve served in your community of faith for a while now. Are you in a role you’ve outgrown, and does God seem to be calling you to wrestle with a new challenge? Or maybe you need to take more responsibility in an area where you already enjoy benefiting others.
Some of you might already be established in ministry, exercising your gifts in confidence, the Spirit affirming that you are effective and necessary in your service. Encourage others around you as they develop their ministries.
Some of us don’t have the same energy or capacity we once had to fully operate in the gifts that connect us in the body of Christ. Maybe it’s time to major in mentoring or to ask God to open new ways of building God’s kingdom we’ve never considered before.
Most of all, don’t play dead if it seems the cost of being part of a body of believers is too great. Building God’s kingdom has always had a cost. Remember Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and the sacrifices of many fellow believers who have paved the way for us now and over the centuries.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:23-26 ESV
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 ESV
America’s Founding Fathers established a government system of laws patterned after ancient Rome and Greece. As you become acquainted with the multitude of federal, state, county and municipal laws, codes and regulations that have proliferated since then, it will boggle your mind. The other aspect of these laws, codes and regulations is, as administrations change, more changes in law occur. Yikes!
This expansion is so out of hand that in 2011, Harvard University professor Harvey Silverglate wrote a book entitled “Three Felonies a Day”. Silverglate’s book hasn’t had the impact he hoped. Organizations or individuals are devising more laws and bringing more criminal lawsuits than ever to settle trivial issues or simply punish someone they don’t like.
As you read the above words of Jesus and Paul, this trend is nothing new.
Have you been tempted to settle a relatively trivial matter with another follower of Jesus by calling your lawyer and dragging the matter into the public square? The above passages urge us to settle those issues quickly and keep them “in the family”.
There are gnarly, deeply serious issues that require the benefit of secular court proceedings so they may not inflict immense damage to the reputation of Christ’s body – but those issues tend to be rare. Jesus and Paul are not talking about murder and criminal sexual misconduct.
There are various reasons for the Church to have elders in any local body. If you have a dispute you can’t work out with your fellow believer, take it to those elders. Settle it before things escalate (to a World War Something status).
Don’t wait and let your problem with your brother develop into a Hatfield–McCoy situation.
There is every indication that consistent failure to settle family disputes results in what today is termed a dysfunctional family. Failure to address issues quickly also results in corrupt practices.
Read the above passages again. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you. If the Spirit reminds you of a problem you have been ignoring that you have with another Christian, ask for guidance in moving toward a settlement without a lawsuit. If you know of an unresolved situation between two other Christians that’s getting ugly, prompt them to bring it before an elder in your church (you may be that elder) – or a wise Christian if the two aren’t attending the same church.