Strive First

I’ve been having some serious talks with Jesus. Well, it’s been mostly me lamenting to Him about the plight of the world (not that He needs my input, but, still…).

Why do so many people– followers of You included– still encounter so much hurt and pain in this life? 

Why do so many people find themselves feeling alone?

Yes, I include myself among the so many people. And, no,  I do not consider myself and my experience in the world as a special case. Hurt is everywhere. 

Why is hurt still everywhere?

I’ve read the book of Acts, many times over, and I see in my mind’s eye what the power of the Spirit can do in faith communities. So, why is it that such powerful faith communities are so rare today? Is not the same Spirit at work among us now?

I believe that if the same Spirit was at work in every church proclaiming Christ, the world would be a very different place. 

Instead, the world is as evil and self-absorbed as its ever been. It still hurts. People still use and abuse other human beings (and Nature) out of their own hurt, and the cycle continues. 

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others”

Like 11:42 (NRSV, boldface mine)

Now I see. 

I see how futile our tithes and offerings and teachings and programs and ministries can be. We cannot affect change when we believe that the content of what we say is more important than the spirit in which we say it. 

“For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.”

1 Corinthians 4:20 (NRSV)

The kingdom of God is not found through logic or reason. It is not found between the pages of a Bible. Nor is it accessed through asceticism or piety or good works. The kingdom of God is found through our relationship with the Person of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'”

John 14:6 (NRSV)

Unless we ourselves have entered into this miraculous reality, we ought to be pouring all of our resources into doing so! We can affect nothing, change nothing apart from the power and reality of Him. Every human need can be met in this way:

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:33 (NRSV)

Isn’t this how God works? Taking us (read: me) from believing we can be the saviors of the world to the realization that we ourselves still need saving? 

And then I think maybe my salvation, in and of itself, isn’t what I should be concerned about at this point. Clearly, I can’t save myself. What I can do, is continually strive to know better the only One that can. 

But what about the others? Where do they fit in?

This is important here, so, hear me out–Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with every part of ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). The whole ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ thing comes after this one. 

Can we love our neighbor, or ourselves, if we do not wholly love God?

No. I do not believe we can. Every relationship we have– with our own self and with others– rests solely upon the foundation of our own relationship to God. 

I feel a peculiar sympathy for God. This world that He created, then came to live within and die for, still struggles to find love in their hearts for the Source of all they have and are. 

I don’t think it’s right to hold God responsible for the plight of the world… He’s doing all He can to restore what humanity has broken. We are just opposed to the things He desires for us to cultivate in ourselves: humility, justice, and mercy (Micah 6:8). God’s Love is all these things!

The hurt I see in the world tempts me to rail against God… but my lack of love for God accomplishes nothing.

I am called to look past my own hurt, and the hurt around me, and look only to Him in love– finding myself in Him and His power.  The rest will fall into place. 


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7 thoughts on “Strive First

  1. Good point. I just wish I knew how to build a better relationship with God. I’ve had an extremely upsetting experience with delving by myself into scripture, and yet I’ve also experienced many judgmental faith communities. I’m tired of being hurt and scared to try again. That’s not a good excuse, but it’s where I am.

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    1. I can sooooo relate, Lily! I came into my own relationship with God with so much emotional baggage surrounding church and the Bible… I endured years upon years of spiritual abuse, only to go back to a church and endure further mistreatment. What I’ve learned is this: God is so much bigger than a sacred text and greater than religion. To be frank, I have a hard time finding God in any church. And, there have been plenty of times I’ve set my Bible aside because of having passages trigger images of past trauma. God understands! He knows the way to relationship with you, all He needs is your openness and willingness. It’s the “ask, seek, knock” passage in Matthew– those wanting to find a deeper knowledge of, and relationship with, God WILL. He always meets us on our way to Him. ALWAYS.

      I found a brand new understanding of God through my study of Buddhism in college. Isn’t that weird? While, I’m not Buddhist (and, Buddhism itself doesn’t necessarily foster belief in a Deity…), it helped me venture back to God in a new way.

      There are a lot of online resources for survivors of spiritual abuse. I’d recommend starting in that direction whenever you find yourself ready.

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      1. Thanks, Kristen. It’s helpful to know that you’ve been through similar feelings, yet still have managed to cultivate a strong relationship with God. I will have to look into those online resources someday 🙂

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  2. Powerful message. While God certainly has the power to remove all brokenness (and promises to do so in the future), He has chosen to follow a path of repentance and restoration. Where we are now is not as He intended things to be; rather we are living in a world that has rejected Him and/or His authority. Thus, all of Creation groans as in the pains of childbirth in eager expectation of God’s renewal. Romans 8:22.

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    1. I tend to think that God doesn’t have as much of a problem with imperfection as we all do, lol!

      I was reading Thomas Merton yesterday, and was struck by a line identifying perfectionism as a pagan idea that continues to infiltrate Christianity. As someone that is very hard on St. Augustine’s double predestination (which was written in response to Pelagius and his ilk), I get why he came out swinging here. This idea that human beings are capable of achieving Divine perfection, in this life and in and of themselves, is pure evil. While I wish it was possible, it IS NOT. And all efforts towards that goal are of the flesh, and a sin against God.

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      1. Totally agree with that. We are told to be perfect as Christ is perfect, but we are also told that we will be imperfect while in the flesh due to the lingering sinful nature that wars against the spiritual nature. Only when we shed the sinful nature at the resurrection will we have the capacity not to sin. Double predestination is a heresy (imo), but I do believe in the Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Although that’s ambiguous because there are so many variants.

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      2. I think the struggle of the εκκλησία today is how to live in the world, while not falling into the trap of striving for the same things the world does. While that’s always been a struggle for followers of Christ, now we have more “stuff” than ever for our sin nature to cling to. I think to the rich young man whom Christ told that if he wanted to be perfect to go and sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor. Christ’s perfection lies in possessing nothing apart from the Father. How far are we from attaining such perfection! Granted, I’ve been letting go of the stuff that possesses me, but I’ll never have the faith of the those that have truly left all for Christ becoming hospites mundi.

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