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About this series
Balancing Life's Demands
Biblical Priorities for a Busy Life
Are you busy, tired, stressed out, and stretched to the limit? Does life seem a little out of control? Are you running long on "to do's" and short on time? In the series, Balancing Life's Demands, you will learn how to put "first things first" and find peace in the midst of pressure and adversity. This isn't about cliches or quick fixes, just practical biblical insights to help you order your personal world.More from this series
The issue behind materialism, at the core, has nothing to do with things, or even money. It has to do with faith; it has to do with trust: “Do you trust Me? Do you trust Me to come through for you, yes, in the material necessities? But do you trust Me to come through for you, that you’re significant and valuable the way I made you? Do you trust that if you would find My purpose and My role for your life – that you don’t have to look like that, you don’t have to live in that zip code, you don’t have to drive that, you don’t have to have so many people know you? Can you trust Me that if you do life My way, the deepest things that you long for in your heart, I’m going to give you? Because I’m good, and I love you.”
That’s really what He’s getting to. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink? or ‘What shall we wear?’”
And then, this is more than a mild rebuke, “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Put a little line under run after, because He’s going to use a play on words. It means to vigorously pursue. And that verse that we like that’s coming up, that tells us how to really arrange our priorities, where it says, “But seek ye first” – the word seek, this word is an intensive form of that. It’s the same word. The pagans are seeking, are running, are pursuing after all these things.
And His point is that you don’t look any different than the pagans when you’re running after all these things, when your priorities are out of whack, when your relationships are being deteriorated, when you think that things and status and stuff, and letters behind your name and kids getting into certain schools and SAT scores being a certain way, and, vicariously, your little league teams of your kids and grandkids winning little championships that you can tell your friends about at cocktail parties – and of course Christians drink different stuff at cocktail parties, depending on what kind of background they come from.
In fact, our cocktail parties are often in the foyer of the church. “Have you heard about my grandson?” “Yeah, Harvard really didn’t quite work out, but we thought MIT would be a good second choice.” “Yeah, well, did you hear about my daughter? Yes, well, she’s been doing it for eleven years.” “How old is she?” “She’s twelve. And at one, we put her in the pre-Olympic gymnastic team. They could see from, they ran tests on our DNA, for a hundred thousand dollars, and we could see that she had high-side potential, and actually, in the Olympics of 2042, we’re expecting a gold medal. And we’ve rearranged our entire life. We’ll be moving to Houston soon so that, you know that’s where the gymnasts and…”
I’m putting you on, but so help me, you just back that off a little bit, and we all play those games. And we think our meaning and our significance and our value is what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished, who we know, what our kids have done.
Now, is there a place for a God-honoring sense of accomplishment and pride? Of course. That’s not what He’s talking about here. And by the way, when this sucks you in, it’s deceitful.
This isn’t happening to bad people that are saying, “You know what? I love to go to church, but I like to go to those strip clubs, too.” I mean, these aren’t people that are necessarily logging on to the Internet, or robbing people behind the scenes.
Who’s He talking to? He prayed all night – Luke 6. Who’s He talking to? “Hey, Pete, you’ve got to watch out for the…James, John, listen up on this one.” These are His disciples, and the crowd is overhearing. These are issues that the faithful will struggle with.
He says, “Guys, you know, I’m going to leave, and I’m going to cut out of here, and there’s a mission and I am the Messiah, and God has a plan for the world. And I love you, and I’ll take care of you, and there are things that really matter, and eternity really is real, and there’s a real, real heaven, and there’s a real, real hell, and I’ve chosen you, and this is the character and quality and the rewards of a kingdom citizen, and I want you to be salt and light and live it out, and I want you to know that your righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees, because what I’m telling you, it’s issues of the heart! I mean, I’m telling you, guys, I came to give life to the world, and I want you to be the conduits of My grace.
“But you know what? There are going to be two motives. You can play that game, and you see it. There are going to be two treasures. You’re going to have to decide. And it’s going to get down to how you look at life! Are you going to use ministry as a platform for the same junk of people thinking highly of you and impressing them and all the rest? Or, are you going to have the singular eye, the single focus? Because, guys, I want you to know, I’m going to check out of here, and you’re either going to worship Me, or you’re going to worship mammon.” It’s the Aramaic word for possessions, property, and money. It’s just materialism.
I want to go back through and make some observations of verse 24 through 27, and then, we’ll come back to the solution, where it says, “But seek first” – doesn’t that sound like a priority deal? – “His kingdom” – that’s where Christ’s rulership is reigning, where we’re doing things God’s way. He’s the CEO of the universe, and you say, “Ahh, since You’re running the whole world, why don’t You be the CEO of my life, too?” It’s really what He’s saying. And you seek first His agenda, instead of your own, and you’re seeking first His righteousness. So, it’s about character development.
What if every parent was as committed to the character development of their kids as they are to how good they could be in all these athletic teams and ballet and music and on and on and on and on?
These are good, loving people who just find themselves in a maze of activity pulled, the school activities here and here and youth here, and this here and this here, and then youth group here, and the church does this, and this does this, and this does this, and – why? “Well, because my kids have to have the best, and we have to prepare them.” Why? “So they can get ahead.” Why? “So they can get good jobs.” Why? “So they can make a lot of money.” Why? “So they can be happy.” Ehhhh! Ehhhh! Wrong paradigm. Is that who’s happy? “Well, all the other couples in the church are doing it, and their kids are playing all the seventeen sports, and I don’t want my little Missy to miss out!” I mean, you know?
Now, is it wrong to play youth sports? Of course not. But you know what? What would happen if you started with, “We’re going to have great times as a family. We’re going to really meet with God. My first responsibility is, I’m going to have fun, and I’m going to teach my kids.”
I mean, imagine the deep relationship that occurs when, three nights a week, I’m sitting in little stands, feeling like I’m being a good parent, as my kids are running around being yelled at by other parents, who probably don’t know how to coach the sport anyway. And then, we have to hustle supper, and then, it’s late to do the homework, and you know what? He’s out there in that little uniform that I can’t believe they made us pay that much, and you have no relationship with him, or her.
And then, you’re under pressure going home, and then they go to bed, and then you get up early and you do the same thing again. And then, your kids wake up, and you took them to church every week. Some of you even put them in a Christian school. And you tried to model the life, and then, you know, at eighteen, nineteen, after one year of college, they say, “Man, I don’t know what this Jesus-church-religious stuff is, but all – I’m worn out, and I don’t – I don’t need it or want it.” And then, we say, “Lord?”
And see, it’s not bad stuff. The enemy of the best of God’s will is never bad stuff – you’re smart people. It’s good stuff. Good is always the enemy of the best.
And to follow this passage, I’m telling you, you’ll get unpopular. “You’re not allowing your kids to do three sports this time? You’re not allowing them to be in the play, do this, do this, do this, do this, do this, and…?”
I mean, there were times I was the pastor. I would say to my own kids, “You’re not going to that youth activity.” “Dad, come on!” “No.” “You’re the pastor!” “I know I’m the pastor. I’m a dad, first.” I remember the time at our church when, I mean, it was so blowing and going in California, in so many different directions, and we unconsciously – I mean, the fifth and sixth year, we had hundreds there, and hundreds in the junior high, and hundreds in the high school, and this and this and that.
And I sat down one day, and – because I was a parent – and I thought, What would it be like as a really committed Christian in our church? Oh, you come to a service, you serve somewhere, you’re in a small group. Let’s see, Tuesday night, we’re doing that dinner, and the electives. And then, my lands, if you had a kid here, you’d have to be out this night, and junior highers dropped off here; high school’s here.
I remember getting our whole staff together and saying, “Man, we’re the enemy! We’re idiots! We have successful programs that are killing families.” And we pulled it back and said, “Okay, high school, junior high, fifth and sixth, and the family life counseling ministry – you all get together, and we aren’t doing anything unless whatever we do flows to build healthy families, instead of build our church programs.”
And here’s my point. You can see it when I give it to you corporately like that. That’s what’s happening to a lot of you. I mean, who can argue with a hundred and fifty fifth and sixth graders studying God’s Word on this night? Or a hundred and fifty or two hundred junior highers doing it this night, and then going on a retreat here and then having an outreach over here, and doing this over here? The only problem is, dad is not the priest of his home. You know, he and his wife are going, “Do you think we could get a vacation from, like, everything?” And they get tired.
Don’t think of materialism as simply possessions, and, “Do I love money,” and, “Let’s see, am I a shopaholic,” or, “I’m a workaholic.” At the heart of materialism is believing that the material world, a condition of the heart, it can be the concern for other things.
I’ve got a good buddy who is extremely wealthy and very godly, and I remember he built a nice house, paid cash for it. He was, at one point in time, in one of my ministries, chairman of the elders, great buddy. We met on a regular basis. And he did some other things, and he had a nice pool over here, and this here and this here.
And I remember meeting with him one day, and he said, “Yeah, I made a decision. Whoo. I’m tired of the upkeep of the stuff I’ve got. If you got a pool you’ve got to have a pool guy. If you got a second house, you’ve got to have come someone clean it when you invite people over to stay; then, you’ve got to go up there just often enough to feel like you’re worth the second house.”
And then, he said, “You know, I love the yard; I love the landscaping. But I can’t do it. We’ve got a landscaping guy.” He started adding up how many hundreds of dollars a month, just to keep up all the nice stuff he had, that he graciously used and gave, over and above. He just said, “I’m just tired. My to-do list is about all these things.”
Some of you have things, and I’ve talked with some of you, and it’s like, “I don’t know how to get out of this, and I got these cobwebs, and I do it for a couple of weeks, and there’s a struggle, and ” You know, you can’t tweak it. Some of you need to really pray – and don’t write me and blame me if you make a dumb decision, all right?
But you need to really, really pray, and then, you need to say, “You know what? These relationships that we feel guilty about that are going nowhere, that we just, out of expectation, you know something? We’re just not doing those anymore.” And you know, some of these activities, some even “religious activities” – because people expect them, and, “I’ve done this for eleven years” – well, good, don’t make it twelve.
Figure out what God wants you to do. Get focused. Simplify your life. Get a handle on your money, on your time, in alignment with, “What am I supposed to be, and what am I called to do?” And then, just cut some stuff loose. I mean, just get out the old spiritual butcher knife – Slop! Swap! I mean, just – “I’m not doing that anymore.”
And, oh, you’ll struggle and feel guilty, and good, loving people, “You can’t do that. Our program could never go on without you. You are the source of our church program. The ladies will never go on without you!” Well, then, you got a bad program, because we all thought they could not go on without Jesus. Right? So, that’s what we need to talk about.
Now, let me give you the symptoms here. I think I had a small tangential moment. I think it was a Spirit-led tangential moment. But I’ll tell you, that last three minutes wasn’t in the notes. But I really think it’s where American culture is, among believers.
And I just keep meeting people that I love, who unconsciously are on this rat race. Did you notice the title of this, by the way? “How to Get Out of the Rat Race Forever.” I will guarantee, it will be painful. It’ll be painful. You’re not going to tweak a couple little things. It’ll take a gigantic, clear step of leading from God, where you look at your plate, and you just take some things off that you assumed you always had to do. And then, you’ll put some things on that will be about storing up treasure forever.
Friendships, family. Are there any relationships that need to be repaired? I mean, those are the things that are going to matter. And what do we say? “Oh, we’d love to get together. We really can’t. There’s a couple we really connect with; we’d love to be with them.” And you look at your schedule and, you know, three months from now. Well then, just look at your schedule and start going, “You know.”
And people do this all the time, in business. Have you ever had someone call you and say, “We’re really sorry. There was a tornado. We were supposed to roof your house. We have to delay it for a month”? And so, what do you do? “No, you can’t do that! You come right now!” What do we say, “Oh, okay.” Right? You can say that. You know, we had this on the calendar – no, no. Keep your word. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking, you know – you swear to your own hurt and change not.
But some of the stuff is sort of social obligation-type stuff. You just start going through and going, “You know what?” If it matters, and you long to do it, and you’re passionate about it, and you know God wants you to do it, let’s do it. And if it doesn’t, then figure out how to wean it where you get down to the basics.
Because look what Jesus says – the symptom of materialism – anxiety, is the mark of a life preoccupied with material things. And if you have that pen handy, you want to do a quick little Bible study? Look at verse 25: “Do not worry.”
Skip down to verse 27, you can underline that: “Who of you by worrying…” Skip down to verse 28: “Why do you worry?” – underline that. Skip down to verse 31: “So do not worry.” Verse 34: “Therefore” – just in case you missed the first four or five “do not worries” – this is Jesus – “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.”
Well, I mean, we are just fixated on all the things that might or could happen, or what we’ve got to do today in order to take care of tomorrow. “Do not worry about tomorrow” – why? – “for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
The meaning of worry – I love the Spanish word for worry. Do you know what it is? Preocupado. It means “be preoccupied”. See, we always think of worry as, I’m wringing my hands, and I’m so uptight about this. The Greek word for worry has this idea of a divided mind, of being torn in two different directions, of being pulled in opposite directions. And the root problem is lack of faith. See, I’m always hedging my bets. You know, If this doesn’t work out, I need to do this relationship and this relationship, and I need to do this and this, and I’m afraid I’ll miss out.
How can you miss out if God is good, God is sovereign, and you’re listening to Him? The frantic pace of our life is you don’t want your kids to miss out, you don’t want to miss out, and since you don’t clearly know the way, you try to do more than God ever intended, and then you blame God for how tired you are “doing His will.” It’s about faith. Stop the preoccupation. Cleanse the calendar. Cleanse the relationships.
I mean, some of you have some people that, you know what? If God was going to use you to help them, they’d be helped by now. I mean, how many times can you hear the same thing? “Eh-na-na-na-na.” And the only reason you’re meeting with them is guilt. It’s the only reason. It’s not being led by God.
And you know what’s amazing? I still remember, my dad was an alcoholic, and they went through all this different stuff. And he was a good functioning alcoholic. “Ralph, you need to stop drinking,” and this and this, you’re neglecting the kids. “Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah.” And I remember, this was my mom: “Ralph – Reb” – she never called him “Ralph” – “We’re in a really” – she was a guidance counselor, so she kind of knew her stuff, even though we were a dysfunctional family. But she was one awesome codependent, I’ll tell you that. I mean, really.
And I remember when she came out of her codependency. She said, “Ralph” – and she took a beer bottle. She goes, “You can have that, or you can have me and the kids.” And I was the last one out, and my sister, so I’m in pretty late high school. So, she knows “You got twenty-four hours to make a decision, and you can do whatever you want to do.”
She nagged him for ten years. She tried to help him for ten years. She set a boundary and decided, What do I need to do to follow God? And guess what, in twenty-four hours, my dad decided he’d quit drinking.
Maybe some of those people you’re helping, maybe they need to hear, “You know something? I’ve done all I can do to help you. Here’s the card of a Christian counselor that I’ve learned in our area, if you want to keep talking to someone. Maybe if you pay them, we’ll get better results. I can’t help you. I love you. I’ll pray for you. I can’t help you.” I can see I’m going to create chaos all over America after this talk.
Notice, the acid test of materialism is not how much I have or don’t have, but my preoccupation and concern over it. Did you get that? I can be preoccupied and concerned over all the tons of stuff that I do have, or I can be preoccupied and concerned of what I don’t have and what I need. Either way, it’s materialism. The explanation – He says, “Stop your preoccupation with material things.”
Why? Look at verse 25. He says because it’s shortsighted. He says, “Don’t worry about your life, what you’re going to eat what you’re going to drink.” He’s saying, there’s more to life than things. And His motive, here, is to protect us and our wellbeing. Material things are unable to meet the deepest needs of your life.
If your kids get in Harvard, if they have a fifteen hundred on their SAT, if they have beautiful little grandkids, if they get a great job, if they drive a BMW, have a wonderful house, an amazing driveway, and you can invite all your friends and show pictures to everyone, if they go into the ministry, if that’s what you – and some even go on the mission fields. And you finally have your nest egg. If your 401(k) is protected from all the sub-prime mortgage, and everything is perfect, I will tell you, you will sit as a desperately lonely person, thinking, What happened? I mean, that didn’t do it? No. And it never will. That’s the lie. That’s the enemy. That’s a god.
Now, as you walk with Him – here’s what I’ll tell you – He may let your kids get into Harvard. Thank Him. If they got fifteen hundred on their SAT, I’d ask Him for counsel, personally. If He supplies you with beautiful grandchildren and children, and blesses you financially, what you’ll find out, if you’re there, is that it’s more of an overwhelming stewardship of what to do with all that money, than it is what you thought it would be like: Oh, we finally made it. Because the more you have, the better the maturity and the faith that it requires. And so, He says, “Don’t buy into materialism, because it is shortsighted.
Second, He says it’s illogical. Here’s the application: Look at the birds, look at the flowers. I mean, aren’t you more important than them? Yes. So, it’s that classical argument. He says, look, it’s shortsighted. It’s impractical.
At the end of the day, what is it that really matters? What has value? If you wrote down the top five memories in your life, what would you write down? Let me get you started: wedding day, birth of a child, birth of a grandchild, a deep friendship, times with your family, recovery from cancer.
How many of those are material? Have you ever gone to, you know, after the funeral – I’ve done lots of them – and you go to someone’s house and hang out, have a little food, and you talk about the person. Have any of you gone to one of those, and people get around little tables, and all the people made nice little food, and have you ever been to one of those, and maybe a group of guys in the corner, “Did that guy have a nice car, or what? I mean, you know what? If I had a 401(k) – in fact, he had a 501(3b), and a 401(k). He was capital “B”. He was thirty-two on Forbes’ list. Man, did he look good dead! Whoo! Man. Do you understand, did you know that…?”
I’ve never heard that. The only thing we talk about when people are gone is – what? Either how they modeled their relationship and love for God, and what they did in their relationships. Period. Period.
And the saddest funerals I’ve ever been to have been with the kids, who knew the inside story. And funerals – people are the biggest liars at funerals. Oh, my lands. “Oh, Bob, he was duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh,” and the kids are going, “Uh-uh. He wasn’t home. He was a jerk. He had anger management issues. He never talked to me.” But I will tell you, when someone has lived well and died well – actually, as hard as it is to let go, it’s sweet time. Man, it’s sweet when you see life.
And you know what? Jesus said, “I’m trying to protect you.” Some of you, if you could just relax, you relax and seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, He might scare you and just make you rich. And some of you will wish, later, that He hadn’t. But He just says you can’t – don’t buy the lie. This is really about a lie.
He says it’s unprofitable – verse 27 – right? Can you add a single day by worrying or being preoccupied by material things? All it produces is ulcers and migraines and dysfunctional families and sleeplessness.
It’s disgraceful. He says, the pagans run after this. When Christians live frantic, preoccupied lives, thinking that all those things and what they can accomplish…we don’t look any different than the world. That little tract that we give them, “Hey, why don’t you come to our church? We have eleven activities every week. Your life can get as busy as ours.” But we’re doing it for Jesus.
The promise: If you will pursue knowing Christ and making Him known – verse 33 – as your first priority, He will meet all your material needs. Run, seek, pursue after Christ, knowing Him and serving Him, and let Him tell you what to do with your time. Let Him tell you which relationships to be in and which ones to get out of.
It’s kind of funny, and I’m poking fun, because I find when I say really hard things, if we poke fun – it’s better to laugh now and then cry privately. Because some of you, if you start cleaning your relational network and cleaning your calendar and cleaning your garage and getting stuff out of storage – by the way, well, why do we need all this storage? Do you realize, thirty years ago, that wasn’t even an industry?
Why do we have all these garage sales? Because I’ve got to get new stuff I don’t need, to impress people who don’t care, and I put it in the garage. Then, I can’t fit it in the garage. Then, I try and sell it, and that’s a hassle, and I tried eBay, but, yeah, I don’t know about that. And so, I start – but wait, you don’t want to lose it. So, you start – cool – it’s got to be temperature controlled. And I put it in storage. And we’ve got people, and we’ve got stuff, then we got stuff, then we got stuff, then we got stuff, then we got stuff.
Guess what, you know what your life is? Full of stuff! It is stuff that ruins your relationship with Christ. And stuff can’t deliver. Make Him – run after Him. Invest in people, invest in God, and use things and money to extend love. And God says, “I will tell you what, I’ll work out a way that we can get those kids through school, and those house payments, we can work those out. I’ll help you with those.” And use your brains. Be wise. Make the good investments.
I came across an article I want to close with, because this really is a warning. It’s an article about California, a cover story. “When Jim Smallridge went to bed at his parents’ house in rural San Diego County late Saturday, he wasn’t concerned about wildfires. They were ravaging the Cleveland National Forest fifteen miles away, a distant glow in the night.
“He awoke a few hours later to find flames in his parents’ front yard. ‘It was on us like that,’ he said, ‘chasing us,’ says Smallridge, forty-two years old. ‘I knew that if we didn’t get out in a matter of minutes, we’d be dead.’ Minutes, it turned out, were all the residents of Lakeside had. After frantically knocking on neighbors’ doors, Smallridge managed to escape with his son Shawn, eighteen, by driving their pickup truck through a two hundred-foot-wide wall of flame that blocked the only road out of the neighborhood.” Now, imagine that: “It’s here. We’ve got to go. Tell the neighbors.” So, he tells the neighbors. “Son, get in the truck.” Pshhhh – and who knows what’s on the other side of it. They come through the flames.
“‘Others weren’t quick enough,’ Smallridge recalls. They disregarded his frantic warnings, or they responded too casually. Several wanted to save their televisions and computers. ‘They looked like they were packing for a trip,’ he said. ‘The ones who listened to me and left the area immediately, lived. The ones who didn’t, died.’” Feels a little bit like God speaking through Moses: “I put before you today a blessing and a curse. Choose life.”
It’s not about things, or how much you have or don’t have. It is a condition of the heart that arrives and starts, first, with motives. You discover it through these two treasures. It gets to the core of two eyes, singular or duplicity. And then, it results in two masters, either God or mammon. And the only way to live in a materialistic world and not be materialistic is what Jesus said: “Seek first His kingdom,” His rule, His authority, in everything, in every situation, “and His righteousness” – is that’s the primary goal, to become like Jesus – “and all” – that’s a pretty big word – “all these things will be added to you.” That’s why Paul would say, “Don’t fix your eyes on these things.” But then, he said, “Richly enjoy all these things that God gives you,” when they’re gifts.