During our time in Alaska a number of years ago, I noticed that for some reason that was totally foreign to me, lots of folks seemed to enjoy putting jigsaw puzzles together. They apparently loved the challenge and expressed a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when they finished one. Of course, there wasn’t a lot to do in a cold, rural Alaska village in the winter, so I guess it made sense, but I managed somehow not to ever get that bored.
A True Puzzle Lover ~
Obviously, some people just naturally see puzzles as entertaining challenges, and among whom is my firstborn daughter, who seems to have a passion for them. Whether it’s a word puzzle, jigsaw puzzle, number puzzle, colored cube puzzle, ‘find the hidden thing’ puzzle, ‘solve the riddle’ puzzle, a quilting puzzle (the ‘real’ quilting kind), or a cornfield maze, she’ll tackle any of them. She can look at them with a gleam in her eye and feel invigorated, ready to prove that she can overcome whatever challenge they throw at her. I, on the other hand, look at them and wonder whether they’re combustible.
Before continuing, I should pause and ask that you please refrain from forwarding articles to me extolling the benefits that puzzles can have on preserving brain function. I’m aware of their positive impact and that my avoidance could lead to sitting in a nursing home babbling incoherently– or maybe running for President. I’m not against puzzles. As a matter of fact, much of our lives is devoted to attempting to solve puzzles of one kind or another, whether we realize it or not. Some of them have far reaching consequences, and as our new year gathers momentum, one of the puzzles all of us face is figuring out where we’re headed and how to navigate our way through the obstacles between us and our targeted destination. That brings us to the point I’d like to make.
Puzzles Everywhere ~
This is the time of year when more people are more noticeably engaged in trying to solve puzzles than at any other time during the year, and they aren’t just the digital ones we find online. The ones captivating our attention at this point have more to do with how to get from where we are to where we want to be – without stepping on a land mine in between. People try to find solutions to their life problems by doing things like highlighting new commitments, signing up for programs, attempting to install new routines, changing their diets, and subscribing to self-help podcasts. All of those things have potential benefits and can represent solutions in some areas, but there’s another puzzle to consider. We’ll call it “the priority puzzle” and how we solve that one can determine whether we move toward success and fulfillment or more disappointment and regret.
Most of us are confronted with more things we could potentially do, and more ways to do them, than we can begin to process. We struggle to find space on our calendars for all we feel compelled to do. Our mailboxes, digital and otherwise, are being filled every day with some kind of admonition to do something, buy something, donate something, or go somewhere that promises to make either us, or some part of the world, better. Thus the priority puzzle emerges. Important things abound, but how do we figure out which ones are most important? The priority puzzle can be paralyzing. It isn’t just a question of what to do, but what do we do first? Thankfully, Jesus solved that one for us.
The Solution in a Nutshell ~
Matthew’s record of that profound dissertation that we’ve come to call “the Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) unveils the answer to our question. After authoritatively declaring that we cannot serve both God and the things money can buy, He illustrated the commonplace puzzles we tend to worry about solving and said we should quit doing that. Then He summarized the segment like this:
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:31–34 NKJV)
It doesn’t sound complicated, does it? That’s because it isn’t. The solution to the priority puzzle is simple, but there are some elements that we need to be clear about. An important one is that applying Jesus’ solution isn’t a “one and done” thing. Seeking the Kingdom of God is not a religious box we check and then move on. It’s meant to be a lifestyle. Here are a few things to consider about the process:
- Seeking requires personal activity. It is a decisive, purposeful, and ongoing investigation, not just putting in a 10 second prayer request once and considering it done.
- There are two objectives to be sought in Jesus’ admonition. The first objective is the kingdom of God. The goal here is not just to know about the Kingdom of God. Jesus isn’t sending His followers on a “fact-finding mission.” The objective is to be included as a subject and an active participant in His Kingdom and to give Him all-inclusive governing authority in our lives.
- Beyond that, we are seeking His righteousness. We must understand that we are not looking for some “Democratic Republic of Heaven.” Kingdoms don’t rule by consensus, and we don’t get to vote on how things are done. We’re not without representation, in the ruling palace, though, and the one representative we do have turns out to be the King of the Universe himself, and He is the only one we will ever need.
Another Question ~
There’s one more reasonable question we need to address. It would be helpful to know how to actually do the seeking that we’re directed to engage in. Thankfully, God didn’t leave us in a quandary about that, either. Jesus gave us a key in the way He introduced some of the topics He taught during that sermon. Matthew records at least five times when Jesus repeated a pattern that is very enlightening (Matthew 5:21-48).
He would introduce a topic by saying, “You have heard…” Then, after reviewing the spiritually flawed way the popular culture of the time dealt with the subject, He would follow up with, “But I say to you…” and proceed to deliver a contradictory exposition that was a radical divergence from what others were teaching.
Two Important Elements ~
At least two things are obvious. If we’re going to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, we must begin by abandoning the culture’s authority to dictate right vs. wrong. Then we must listen to what the King has to say about the matter – and that demands exposure and attention to the Word of God. We can’t honestly consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus and never open a Bible to explore what He actually taught.
Solving the priority puzzle the way Jesus directed will lead to all kinds of other solutions, as well. We might just discover that worrying about the other conundrums that puzzle us becomes an irrelevant waste of time and energy. The God whose Kingdom we seek knows what we need and where we should be devoting our lives. He will provide for us and direct us in the path He created us to follow.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “Kingdoms don’t rule by consensus, and we don’t get to vote on how things are done. We’re not w/o representation in the ruling palace, though, & the one representative we do have turns out to be the King of the Universe himself. He is the only one we will ever need.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “If we’re going to seek the Kingdom of God & His righteousness, we must begin by abandoning the culture’s authority to dictate right vs. wrong. Then we must listen to what the King has to say about the matter. That demands exposure and attention to the Word of God.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Listen to what the King says about abandoning the culture’s authority to dictate right vs. wrong. That demands exposure, attention to God’s Word. We can’t honestly consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus & never open a Bible to explore what He actually taught.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Solving the priority puzzle the way Jesus directed will lead to all kinds of other solutions as well. We might just discover that worrying about the other conundrums that puzzle us becomes an irrelevant waste of time and energy.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Solving the priority puzzle the way Jesus directed will lead to all kinds of other solutions . . . The God whose Kingdom we seek knows what we need and where we should be devoting our lives. He will provide for us and direct us in the path He created us to follow.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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© 2023 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved
Another post that presents hard truths with God’s love. I so appreciate how you make God’s Word palatable without watering it down. You have a rare and precious gift sir. Always remember that. Jotted down a couple of thoughts as I was reading. The first is a “Note to Self”. Don’t drink coffee while trying to read something Mr. Ron writes. I snorted my coffee and promptly choked as laughter overtook me, but you’ll always get my vote! Second, and most important, is that LIFE is a puzzle; and the guide book that tells us how to solve it is the best-selling book ever written. The Bible, God’s inspired Word, has sold over five BILLION copies (that 5,000,000,000 — man that’s a lot of zeroes) to date. When I researched that number (from 1995 by the way), I thought about how many Bibles have been sold and distributed around the world. As I thought, I wondered what percentage of those were smuggled into communist and Islamic countries, and how many of them were used to help hide God’s word in the reader’s hearts. That’s when I cried out to God. Two data point from the American Bible Society, shared by Gallup, were:
• On average, 85 percent of U.S. households own a Bible; the average number of Bibles per household is 4.3.
• 36 percent of Americans read the Bible less than once a year or never while 33 percent read the Bible once a week or more.
Oh, how that fact broke my heart my friend. As I look around at the ever-increasing secular society I see in America. When I consider the ineffectiveness of so many of our so-called churches today, many that attempt to be socially conscious, culturally compliant rather than aligning themselves with the word of God, I am saddened. God reminded me though, that “the institution is not Christ’s church, I am!” I am to be His hands and feet; I am to be the one who shines His bright and glorious light of faith, hope, and love into the darkness of this world – wherever it is found, which includes the church house! I am His ambassador, not the building, denomination, or doctrine, but the Christian. It’s high time we Christians return to God’s Word to solve the puzzles of this life and be Christians, not Christians In Name Only (CINOs) that like their political cousins look to government and man for the solutions to life’s puzzle. Yep. You did it again Mr. Ron, you’ve gone and got me all riled up with God’s truth! As I sometimes yell out in church, “Woo!!! Come On! Speak Truth Brother! Amen!”
Mrs. Diane and I don’t know how many times you’ve made our day when you’ve added smiles, stimulating insights, and a family feeling to something we’ve posted. Re. this particular one had my head reeling with the stats about the number of Bibles that have been published and then my heart was broken again along with yours when you reminded us of the percentages of how little they are read in this country. No wonder we’re surrounded by a moral cesspool. It’s like our preacher said this morning, “America’s failure originated in the church house, not the White House, and if we’re going to turn it around, we’d better start with the source of the problem.” I asked a congregation once how many of them had a picture of the church. A bunch of hands went up and I asked where they kept it. Some had them in albums, some on their phones, and some hanging on a wall. Then I said, “Wanna see mine?” and I pulled up a mirror and held it in front of my face. I don’t know how effective it was, but it’s a point we seem to have lost in this country. You and I, and other flawed bur redeemed followers of Jesus, are the only opponents the devil really has. He’s not losing any sleep over what some bunch of politicians are going to do to screw up his system. I’m all for doing everything we can to stop some of the insanity and pure evil that originates is legislative halls around the country, but I have no illusions that a revival of righteousness and justice is going to begin in Washington, DC.
Now I’m the one climbing on the soapbox. In any case, you’ve made our day brighter again. God bless you my long distance friend and Brother, and may the One who invented multiplication germinate every seed that any of us gets to sow in His name.
Jesus has truly made our priority lists for us, Ron, if we will only pay attention and follow His directives every day we draw breath. I do need to be reminded that what Jesus holds near and dear has nothing to do with the worldly aspirations of culture. When we truly follow Him, we are in the world, but not of it.
Blessings, my friend, and thanks for another inspirational post!
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Thanks so much, Martha. It seems to me sometimes that we have a tendency to make following Jesus sound so complicated and difficult to understand. Then I look at what He actually said and I don’t see a complex, confusing compilation of intricate details. He has a way of making the most profound things simple–not necessarily easy, but not hard to understand. God bless you for another welcome shot of encouragement and another reinforcing reminder that we’re not fighting the battles alone.