First Things First: How to Be a Disciple in 2012

This begs the question: If I eliminate anxious thoughts from my mind, what am I going to think about 75 percent of the time?

If ever there was someone who had a right to be anxious about tomorrow it was my friend Lucy. She had breast cancer that spread to her bones. Prayer was her mainstay during her radiation treatments. She recounted to me how, before one of her treatments, as she was praying, she saw herself being held in Jesus' arms and experienced a deep sense of peace unlike any she had ever known before. It was a blanket of peace. And she had the thought, as if Jesus himself spoke to her saying, "I have given my life for you—do you think that I would desert you in your time of need?"

Lucy died a few months later. For me she continues to be an inspiration; if she could accept Christ's peace in such a situation, isn't the opportunity open for each of us in ours?

Just before this passage about not being anxious, Jesus says, "You can't serve two masters." One way to interpret this is that we can't live by anxiety and by faith; we must choose one or the other.

2) Seek first God's kingdom and God's righteousness.
What are we going to do with 75 percent of our thought time? What about seeking first God's kingdom and righteousness? God's righteousness is the central quality of God's character as revealed to us in the Old and New Testaments. Not a rigid moral demand that we be flawless, but the compassion and mercy God habitually shows to human beings.

Do we have to be flawless to enter into this relationship? Not at all. The Israelites before the exile had what was called a ceremony at the gate. The people would process to the entrance of the outer court of the Temple and call into the priest: "Who may ascend the mountain of God, who may stand in God's holy place?" The temple priest would respond, calling out from the inner court: "He whose hands are clean and whose heart is pure, who does not direct his thought towards evil." In other words, not the one who is perfect, but the one who is repentant, the one who is willing continually to turn his or her priorities back toward God. For this person, the gates are open to a relationship with God.

A United Methodist Church in Ivyland, Pennsylvania had on its church sign the week after Christmas, "O Come All Ye Faithful, And Anyone Else." We are all the "anyone else." Seeking God's righteousness is not about being flawless, but rather being willing to say "yes" to the relationship God seeks to have with us. It means that we daily affirm God's righteousness, God's compassionate care and love for us as a reality deeper than our anxious emotions. It means we allow our trust in God to overtake the 75 percent of our thoughts that are negative.

I don't want to keep running down the road of 2012 leaving behind the most important thing. I want to go back and pick up the shining nugget of truth and carry it with me as the run the race of life. "Don't be anxious. Seek ye first God's kingdom and God's righteousness."

1/3/2012 5:00:00 AM