“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” (Matt. 6:33, ESV). I read those words for the first time during a systematic study of the Gospel of Matthew when I was a new believer in Christ. The word “seek” clearly indicated a quest, a journey was being called for and I understood it to be top priority; first things first. But I desired clarity: what should this journey look like? What exactly does it mean to seek the kingdom of God? What should I be doing? Would someone please explain this journey?
Drip, Drip, Drip. Because I can be as slow as a coffee-maker needing decalcification and partially because I lacked good mentors in those early years, it took forever to get a grip on this journey thing. Awareness and comprehension trickled in as I studied various authors who had written about their perceptions of the Christian journey – in large part these authors became my ‘mentors.’
Frederick Buechner explained the journey to be sacred (1). R.C. Sproul helped me understand that the quest was a yearning for meaning in life (2). David Swartz convinced me to be obsessed with the kingdom-oriented search (3). Richard Rohr imaginatively named the male version of this journey after John the Baptist, the wilderness prophet (4). The “road map” which I badly needed for the journey was supplied by M. Robert Mulholland (5) and Stanley Grenz convincingly demonstrated that the moral and ethical dimensions of this quest emerge from “…an intimate relationship with this God” and arise as “…our response to God’s demonstration of love, grace and favor toward us” (6).
I was beginning to have some clarity but the Kingdom of God seemed to encompass so many things and I wanted something like a laser focus - more specificity. I found John Eldredge to be helpful for he explained the seeking as a heart desire, a “searching for the life we’ve only dreamed of” (7). Some badly needed synthesis of ideas streamed in when Doug Banister (8) clarified the ‘seeking’ to be a journey of spiritual intimacy with God and Martyn Lloyd-Jones plainly preached this:
“What should we be seeking? We should always be seeking the Lord Jesus Christ himself, to know him and know his love and to be witnesses for him and to minister to his glory” (9).
David Benner sharpened the tip of the truth about spiritual intimacy: “The Christian spiritual journey is responding to God’s invitation to personal encounter in love” (10). And Ruth Barton wrote about the hunger causing us to respond to God’s invitation:
“We are starved for mystery, to know this God as One who is totally Other and to experience reverence in his presence. We are starved for intimacy, to see and feel and know God in the very cells of our being. We are starved for rest, to know God beyond what we can do for him. We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself” (11).
Journey of Devotion. This is what I have subsequently named my ‘seeking the Kingdom of God’- it’s my Journey of Devotion. Two scripture passages fuel my day-by-day journeying:
“There is only one thing worth being concerned about” (Luke 10:42 NLT).
“The one thing I ask of the Lord – the thing I seek most – is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. You have said, ‘Seek my face.” My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek’” (Psalm 27:4 and 8, NLT and ESV combined).
The “one thing” which Jesus refers to is Mary of Bethany sitting at His feet and listening, really listening (Luke 10:39, 42). Mary is, of course, living into the reality of Psalm 27:4 and 8 for she is ‘seeking’ the Lord’s face - this is relational intimacy. She is delighting in the Lord’s perfections, relating and meditating – deeply processing, seriously considering and absorbing Jesus’ words and way.
de·vo·tion The “one thing” is devotion. The dictionary defines it as “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause.” But devotion to God requires a better explanation and I find the following model very helpful:
Practicing Devotion The scriptures reveal something about each major component of devotion and Jesus modeled it perfectly for us – He practiced true devotion to the Father and we are to follow suit. Allow the Holy Spirit to personally and exponentially expand upon the following explanations of commitment, intimacy and passion (desire).
Commitment This is unconditional loyalty, unfailing faithfulness, dedicated steadfastness. The Father explained His commitment to us this way: “I have loved you with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jeremiah 31:3) and “My covenant of blessing will never be broken” (Isaiah 54:10). The Trinity is perfectly committed to us, the Son demonstrated this same commitment to the Father and Mary of Bethany was practicing it with Jesus. This is to be our commitment to Jesus.
Intimacy This is the “seek my face” of Psalm 27. Intimacy is “…the sharing of closeness, of bonding, of reciprocation. It is the engulfing of warmth and care. It is the experiencing of Another. It is the experience of sharing life together, …the satisfying of a longing for love and personal significance in the heart of Another” (12).
Intimacy is knowing and being known at the heart level. With God it is a sacred kind of closeness. It is deep, meaningful, fulfilling companionship. Within this intimacy God accepts us, enjoys us, nurtures us and corrects us. It is a relentless tenderness which, when we allow it, breaks through our defenses and brings about meaningful connection accompanied by growing feelings of care, security and support. God perfectly shapes this intimacy for each individual. It brings life to us.
Intimacy is far more than just believing and understanding biblical data. Intimacy means personally experiencing/encountering God. The Holy Spirit moves us into the reality of close interaction with the written Word of God and Jesus the Living Word (John 1:1). He longs for us to surrender our fears, faults, weaknesses and all of our brokenness to His care. He wills deep transformation for us through life-giving intimacy. The Trinity exists in intimacy, Jesus modeled intimacy with the Father (John 10:14-15), and we are called to relate intimately with Him (John 17:21).
Passion The word ‘passion’ refers to A) God’s desire for us, and B) the intensity of His desire. He is zealous/jealous for us. He desires first place in our hearts (Ex. 34:14).
Passion involves more than just God’s emotion but certainly includes His strong emotions. The Old Testament Hebrews chose specific words to describe facets of His passion: ahab refers to a powerful ‘ardor,’ haphetz indicates his ‘delight,’ ratsah refers to His ‘pleasure’ and hashaq for His ‘desire.’ Meaning, of course, His ardor, delight, pleasure and desire for us, His people!
Passion also speaks of God’s potency or creative power to bring newness, growth and vitality to our lives. It speaks of His courageous-ness in pouring out love while risking our rebuff. It speaks of his joyfulness is easing our heavy burdens, turning our mourning into dancing (Psm 30:11) and evoking our wonder with who He is and what He does.
God pursues us passionately, overtakes and uplifts us passionately, passionately rejoices when we do well and passionately aches when we stumble and fall. He zealously works to conform us to the image of Christ. He is passionate about His pure desires becoming our desires (Psm. 37:4). God created desires (longings/yearnings) to be normal, strong, effective motivators of our behavior. He is motivated to love us passionately. The Trinity is passionate about One Another, Jesus modeled His passionate desire for the Father (John 2:17), and our devotion to Jesus is to be our greatest passion: “I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me” (Jeremiah 32:40).
Balanced Notice the devotion ‘model’ is an equilateral triangle and our goal is to express a balance of commitment to, intimacy with and passion for Jesus. I believe the journey of devotion leads into the Kingdom of God, provides for our spiritual formation, soul restoration and links us to every Kingdom purpose God has designed for us.
1) Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey, HarperOne, 1982
2) R.C. Sproul, The Hunger for Significance, Regal Books, 1983
3) David Swartz, The Magnificent Obsession, NavPress, 1990
4) Richard Rohr, The Wild Man’s Journey, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1992
5) M. Robert Mulholland, Invitation to a Journey, IVP, 1993
6) Stanley Grenz, The Moral Quest, IVP, 1997
7) John Eldredge, Journey of Desire, Thomas Nelson Publ., 2000
8) Doug Banister, Sacred Quest, Zondervan, 2001
9) Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable, Harold Shaw Publ., 1984
10) David G. Benner, Opening to God, IVP Books, 2010
11) Ruth H. Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, IVP Books, 2010
12) Elaine Storkey, The Search for Intimacy, Eerdmans, 1995