As we consider how to prioritize seeking first the kingdom of God in the craziness of the holiday season, it is important to identify what keeps us from doing so. Since I have a large spattering of random things that seem to keep me from seeking God’s kingdom first, I’ve tried to narrow it down to a few categories, which include “distractions” and “my agenda”. We will get into the personal agenda next week, but for now we are going to camp out on the distractions portion.
From my experience (which will be three decades worth as of tomorrow) distractions can take on any shape or form. I am equally likely to be distracted by very important things as I am to be distracted by the classic time wasters. And, if you’re anything like me (which biblically speaking you are, by nature, something like me) you’ve got some uncanny ability to prioritize literally anything else before the Lord. I am both impressed and horrified at how effectively I can fill a day with nothing. The truth of the matter is that the groceries need to be purchased, the laundry needs to be done, for the sake of our sanity the house needs to be in order, clients need to be contacted, publishers need to be haggled once more, and the list goes on. I’m learning that there will always, always, always be distractions ready and waiting for me to fill my schedule with. We can always, always, always find excuses for why I didn’t prioritize the Lord. I remember thinking, back in my younger and more vulnerable decade, that I would surely spend more time with the Lord once I was out of school, then once I was out of grad school, then once I was done teaching, then once I got our business up and running. But the truth of the matter is that I have the same twenty-four hours in my day that Jesus had, that world leaders have, that everyone has. It’s not a matter of needing more time; it’s a matter of prioritizing the Lord within the time he’s given us. We need Jesus to help us want Jesus. I need the Lord to help me seek the Lord. Go figure, right?
The passage about Peter and Jesus walking on water has been particularly challenging to me lately as I consider how to seek the Lord first regardless of the distractions at hand. It says,
“When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:23-33)
Typically we see this passage taught in the context of “fixing our eyes on Jesus” or “following fearlessly” or something along those lines. I want to look at it from a distraction standpoint. It says early in the passage that the wind was against them and their boat was being beaten by the waves. It should be noted that the passage never says that the tempestuous waves cease. What I want to consider is the fact that Peter’s surrounding circumstances, that is the storm, did not change once Jesus was in sight. Jesus didn’t settle the waters for Peter once he stepped out of the boat. Instead, Peter stepped out in faith and went to Jesus amidst the tempest. He didn’t wait for the storm to pass (like some of us, namely me, would have done and chalked it up to basic sanity) but instead prioritized going to Jesus in the middle of the chaos. Now we know that Peter eventually takes his eyes of Jesus and remembers that he literally jumped ship in the middle of a storm and panics, and for this, we know, his faith is called little. All things considered, I’m very challenged by Peter’s ability to find Jesus in the storm, and even more so, his desire to go to Jesus despite of his immediate circumstances. Sure, he became distracted by the waves once he was walking on them. But I can’t confidently say that I would have even looked up to see Jesus in the first place; I can confidently say that you could not have pried me from that boat in the middle of a storm. Circumstances, especially crazy ones, have a way of demanding full attention, and I am notorious for fixating on them. But the truth is that Jesus is there to be found in the midst of the storm, not just after it passes. So let’s ask him to help us prioritize him regardless of the chaos, in spite of the difficulties, and above the distractions.
Pray this with me:
“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.” (A.W. Tozer)