Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Matthew 6:33
In yesterday’s reflection, we discussed finding balance in life, in terms of how we spend our time. Today’s reflection is going to depart from the Psalms for a day, to deal with some questions posed in an email I recently received from a Prayer Team member. (By the way, if you have questions you’d like addressed on the Prayer Team, feel free to email them to us. Many people have similar questions, and we don’t mind going to the “Prayer Team Mail Bag” every so often to address them).
The questions posed are these:
If constant focus on a God-centered life is the ambition for us, is it contradictory to have other goals, like job success? Is it inappropriate to ask for these sorts of goals to come to fruition? Is the focus on my own goals antithetical to helping others? Finally, regarding loving our neighbor, when we feel someone has treated us wrongly, how do we reconcile this with our Christian goals?
The first three questions are very closely related. The number one goal in life is to live a God-centered life that leads to salvation. Everything should be done under this umbrella, so to speak. In my life, I feel that God called me to be a priest. I believe this is His particular call and plan for me in my life. This is also a vocation, meaning I rely on it to put food on the table. In order to become a priest, one has to finish the seminary, so doing well in school was a worthy goals, because it allowed me to become a priest, which I believe is God’s call for my life. I can honestly say that I have worked for both God and for myself in this ministry. I have been able to realize personal goals, like owning a home, taking vacation with my family, and being able to eat out once in a while. I haven’t put personal goals ahead of God, nor have I stepped over or hurt others to achieve them. I don’t think there is a conflict between being God-centered and having personal goals. The conflict become when in order to achieve those goals, one has to do unchristian and ungodly things in order to achieve them. This is where the problem comes.
If, ultimately, we are supposed to live for God, and serve Him, while serving others, we should keep this at the forefront of our minds, with personal goals and ambitions secondary. If you asked me at the beginning of my ministry where would I like to end up, I would have said, “I’d love to be the dean of a big cathedral.” That was my personal ambition. Now, twenty-two years in, that is no longer a goal, and I’m glad that God didn’t give me that wish. I’m actually very happy in a medium-size church where I know everyone’s name, rather than in a huge factory where I wouldn’t be able to develop personal relationships. Sometimes we have goals and God does not allow us to achieve them, because He sees something better for us. That is certainly the case with me.
Is focusing on our own goals antithetical to helping others? The easy answer to this question is that we should make helping others a regular part of our life. If we are generous in giving the first of our resources to charity, and the first of our time to God, then there is nothing wrong with spending the remaining time and money on personal goals. As an example, if I spend time worshipping God on Sunday, and then spend the rest of Sunday at the beach, I have honored God with worship while meeting my own goal of rest.
Many times, I have been asked to offer a prayer at the beginning of an athletic competition at church. I never pray for our team to win, only for them to play their best. When you play your best, sometimes you will win and sometimes you will lose. If the goal is to win every time out, and you play a team that is better than you, you might resort to some kind of cheating in order to win. So the goal can’t be to always win, but rather to play your best.
In helping others, we can’t always put others last, because when we put others last, when we become too busy, others get forgotten about. So, we should put others in front of us. Having said that, that doesn’t mean that we put others in front of ourselves or our families to the point where we imperil ourselves or damage our families. But we don’t put ourselves and our families in front to the point where we have no energy or regard left for others. This is where wisdom, discernment and a good sense of stewardship comes in.
We’ve all heard of that acronym J-O-Y, Jesus-Others-Yourself. All three letters are part of the acronym. Being a J-O doesn’t work. Being a Y-O-J doesn’t work. Being a J-Y doesn’t work. We need to include all three aspects in order to have a balanced life, but it start with keeping Jesus in the front and doing everything under His umbrella.
Finally, regarding loving our neighbor, when we feel that someone has treated us wrongly, and reconciling this with our Christian goals, if the number one goal of life is salvation, then we can’t be tripped up by those who have wronged us. We will not be friends with everyone we meet. People will wrong us along the way. But when we become obsessed with being right, to the point where we are embroiled in anger, lawsuits, and our own sense of righteousness, then we lose sight of God’s sense of righteousness. Our goal is to love God and serve others. We will be judged by God for how we’ve done this. If others have wronged us along the way, they will have their own judgment from God. Our goal is to worry about our own judgment, rather than get embroiled in inequities that we probably can’t control or change anyway.
We give thanks to You, invisible King. By Your infinite power You created all things and by Your great mercy You brought everything from nothing into being. Master, look down from heaven upon those who have bowed their heads before You; for they have bowed down not before flesh and blood but before You the awesome God. Therefore, Master, guide the course of our life for our benefit according to the need of each of us. Sale with those who sail; travel with those who travel; and heal the sick, Physician of our souls and bodies. By the grace, mercy and love for us of Your only-begotten Son with Whom You are blessed, together with Your all holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)
Today’s reflection can be summarized by Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things (personal goals) will be added unto you” (as God wills).