Monday, July 23

First Things First

On December 29, 1972 Eastern Airlines Flight 401 was on its way from New York City to Miami with a load of holiday passengers. As the huge aircraft approached the airport for its landing, the light that tells the pilot the landing gear had opened properly failed to come on. The cockpit crew began flying the airplane in a large, looping circle over the swamps of the Florida Everglades while they tried to figure out why the light had failed to come on. They needed to know if the landing gear had failed to open or if it was a defective light bulb.

First, the flight engineer fiddled with the bulb. He tried to remove it, but it wouldn't budge. A second member of the crew tried to help out...and then another...and another. After a short time, all the crew members' eyes were on the little light bulb that refused to move from its socket. No one paid any attention when the plane began to lose altitude. No one noticed as the plane dropped lower and lower in the sky until it dropped right into a swamp resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people.

While an experienced crew of highly paid pilots and engineers messed around with a seventy-five-cent light bulb, an entire airplane and many of its passengers were lost. The crew momentarily forgot the most basic rule of the air: Don't forget to fly the plane!

Read: Matthew 6:25-34
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

On flight 401, the crew became so obsessed with a warning light, they totally neglected the essentials of flying the plane. They were so worried about the warning light, they forgot to put first things first. There is a daily temptation - and often many times during the day - for us to do the same. As we work through this passage, Jesus reminds us not to be distracted by the things that we cannot control or which threaten to distract us and keep us from what is essential. He encourages us to trust God and keep first things first.

When reading a passage, context is always the most important element in understanding what it means. This passage follows Jesus' teaching earlier in chapter 6 on spiritual practices and how they should be done - not for the applause of people - but in our "secret place" where God alone sees. Then Jesus tells us in verses 19-21 that "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"; in verses 22-23 he uses the eye as a metaphor for the heart and challenges us to set our hearts on light (things of God) not darkness so our lives will be full of light; and in verse 24 he uses the imagery of slavery and challenges us on who we will serve - God or stuff.

What does this have to do with worry? Everything!
- If my heart's treasure is the praise of people and I do my spiritual practices for them, I will constantly worry that I haven't done enough and be a slave to what they think...

- If my heart's treasure is my money or my possessions or my comfort, I will constantly worry about what I have; about whether I have enough; about how to get more...

- If my heart's treasure is my children or my job or my own pleasure, I will constantly focus on those things no matter how often I say God is my real treasure...

As soon as we let anything other than Jesus become our treasure, we become just like the crew of Eastern 401! We've forgotten to fly the plane! We are distracted by things of this world! We've gotten our priorities backward - secondary things have taken first place!

Jesus says we should seek first his kingdom and his righteousness with the result that we get Jesus and all these things (like food, clothing, and other daily needs) will be given to [us] as well. Jesus reminds us elsewhere, if we don't seek God's kingdom f, it's possible to gain the whole world, but the result is that we forfeit our very souls (Matthew 16:26).

By running after the stuff we think we need, the stuff God knows we need, we show that we don't trust him to care for us. We show that we don't believe he'll keep his word. We show that we treasure control or stuff or something more than we treasure him.

Where is your treasure?
Ultimately it comes down to faith and obedience. Will we trust Jesus that what he says is true? Will we step out and make him and the things of God's kingdom our priority trusting that he really will take care of everything else?

Or will we worry? Will we let our focus be on our needs, our wants, our desires...showing where our treasures and our hearts really are and risking that we lose everything?

Take time this week to do one or both of the following:

Reflect. Get a piece of paper and a pen. Set an alarm for at ten to twenty minutes. Find a quiet spot, away from distractions. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Try to quiet your mind as much as possible and become as still as possible. If you are like most people, the more you seek to be quiet, the more your mind will race! As thoughts come to mind of things to do or concerns to address, jot down a word or phrase that will remind you of that thing later. Then, let it float from your mind like a balloon.

When the alarm goes off, take a moment to read over the list you've made. Ask God to show you and patterns that may reveal where your treasure really is. If it isn't where you'd like, prayerfully seek what you need to adjust.

Rest. In the Old Testament, God gave his people the Sabbath as a gift. The people were to rest from their work and to worship God seeking to enjoy his presence. Sabbath is also a way we can consciously remind ourselves that ultimately God is in charge. As we take a day to purposely not make a to-do list or to add to our addiction to busyness, we trust God that He is in control. By focusing on delighting in Him for an extended time, we actively say we are not in control and that, ultimately, we are dependent on God for all we are and have.

If we want to break free from worry and truly seek first God's kingdom and righteousness, taking time for Sabbath can remind us of who and what work is for as well as what matters most. A day of rest calls us to trust that the God who made the heavens and the earth and each one of us can manage all that concerns us for at least a day as we take time away.

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