Day 8: Seeking First His Kingdom (61 days of worry-free devotions)

There is a great debate about getting into heaven based on faith versus based on works. The Bible makes it clear that you can’t get into heaven without faith—without accepting salvation through Jesus. So, what does this statement of Jesus’s mean?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 7:21

If you’re journaling through these devotions, write down your thoughts about this verse now. Done? It’s easy to think of a few televangelists when I read this passage. They preach with preachy voices, “Lord, Lord,” etc. etc. And then we find out what they’ve been doing in their private lives, and it’s most definitely not God’s will. I don’t think God is too impressed with their words. The next verse even says that Jesus will tell people who did miracles in His name to “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

But lets’ not leave it at pointing our fingers at easy targets. This kingdom search is about you and me. So what is God’s will? I think if God wants you to do something specific, He will make it very clear to you. Otherwise, there are general things that we know are in God’s will. We talked yesterday about loving God and others. John, in 1 John 4:19-20, says, “We love because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

The other day I was driving, on my way to a place where I knew I’d be seeing a certain “brother” who is not a believer. I caught myself in the midst of the strangest thought. I was thinking, “What can I do to look loving so I will represent Christ well to him?” I had to laugh at myself. “LOOK loving? Gee, how about ACTUALLY loving him?!”

That’s me getting closer to doing His will. Paul, in Romans 12:2, says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Keep renewing your mind. Keep checking your thoughts. Keep in the word. And you will keep to His will.

Yes, we are saved by faith. But do we have faith if we are not doing God’s will? Yes, we’ll make mistakes and need forgiveness. But do we have faith if we’re not even trying? Go back and reread the verse of the day, and then write a kingdom sentence with which to replace your worries today.

M.L. Millard

11-24-16

*New American Standard Bible translation used with permission from The Lockman Foundation in the paperback version of this devotional.

Day 7: Seeking First His Kingdom (61 days of worry-free devotions)

You really should read the whole “sermon on the mount” if you never have. It’s Matthew chapters 5-7. The verse this devotional is based upon is in this sermon, as were yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s verses.

Do you ever hear people’s ideas of what heaven will be like? Certainly there’s a lot that the Bible doesn’t tell us about heaven, and I’m expecting some pretty awesome surprises. But some people’s imaginings of heaven just don’t match up with what Jesus says. For one, the idea that we’ll lose our individuality.

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:17-20

Jesus goes on to say things like, “Not only should you not murder, but you’re guilty even if you’re angry with your brother,” and “Not only should you not commit adultery, but looking on a woman with lust is adultery in your heart.” (My paraphrasing.) Remember Billy Graham’s “poor in spirit” definition yesterday? This passage sure makes me realize I need Jesus to enter the kingdom of heaven!

Yes, through Jesus we can all enter heaven, but some of us will be called great there. Does that appeal to you? I’m going to tell you a secret. I’ve always been a bit of an underachiever, and it’s enough for me just to get in. But if you want to be called great, find out what Jesus teaches, and be careful to do and teach the same! Here’s a good place to start.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.; On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40

Do I teach people, through my words and actions, that loving God and others is the greatest commandment? Because even if I don’t care if I’m called great in the kingdom of heaven, I do want to please God.

What will your kingdom statement be today? There is a lot to digest here today, but I think I’ll say WHOEVER KEEPS AND TEACHES THESE COMMANDMENTS WILL BE CALLED GREAT IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. I’ll replace my worries with this statement. And I’ll remember that love is the greatest commandment.

M.L. Millard

11-23-16

*New American Standard Bible verses originally used with permission from The Lockman Foundation in the paperback version of Seeking First His Kingdom (61 days of worry-free devotions).

 

Day 6: Seeking First His Kingdom (61 days of worry-free devotions)

I had a relatively easy childhood. I think that’s why the beginning of Jesus’s most famous sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount” used to sound depressing to me. The passage is often called “The Beatitudes.” I called them “The Blesseds.” Here are two of them—the two whose promise is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:10

In my happy young mind, I was somehow supposed to seek out being poor in spirit, whatever that was, and persecution, in order to receive the kingdom. I could handle some of the other blesseds (“blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” didn’t sound so bad) but others almost repelled me. Especially the two that promised the kingdom of heaven. To be sure, “for they shall see God” might imply going to heaven, but I think it’s funny that God prompted me to search the word “kingdom” and it led me to the most difficult “blesseds” for me.

Now that I’m older, I realize that while some of the qualifications for being blessed in this passage were indeed to be nurtured (gentleness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness) some of the more depressing ones were going to come about, given enough time, because that’s how life is. (Mourning, persecution.)

As for persecution, so far I haven’t faced it, except in the form of general anti-Christian statements on social media. But what about being poor in spirit? A quick internet search led me to Billy Graham’s definition. It’s really about humility—realizing our sinfulness and need for Jesus. So it can be cultivated.

The “blesseds” aren’t so depressing for me anymore. Not that I’m out of my sheltered, happy childhood, I see them as glowing ember promises warming a cold world.

My kingdom statement I’ll use to replace my worries today is WHEN I’M PERSECUTED OR POOR IN SPIRIT, THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS MINE.

*New American Standard Bible translations used with permission by The Lockman Foundation.

M.L. Millard

11-22-16

Day 5: Seeking First His Kingdom (61 days of worry-free devotions)

The very first thing that Jesus says about the kingdom in the New Testament is found in Matthew 4:17.

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

“From that time,” refers to Jesus settling in Capernaum after hearing that John the Baptist had been taken into custody. Before that, John the Baptist had already been preaching repentance and forgiveness, preparing the way for Jesus.

Remember how yesterday I was seeking God’s kingdom like a kid on a treasure hunt? How I would do anything to get that treasure like Jesus did everything for me? Well, it’s a good thing I’m in that frame of mind, because that’s exactly where I need to be to be motivated to say, “I’m sorry, God. There are some things I need to change.” It’s hard to admit fault! I’ve been following Jesus for a long time, but I still do and say things that I need to ask forgiveness for, find habits that I didn’t realize required repentance when I first believed. I may never steal or lie, but I am often guilty of complacency or judging others. The more I find out about God and His kingdom, the more I want it (we’re going to read some amazing things about the kingdom in the coming weeks) and the easier it is to say, “I repent!”

God, help us to see what we need to change, to ask forgiveness, and to change our ways. Help us to find Your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

As you consider what your statement will be to replace your worry today, think about why this might have been the first thing Jesus said about the kingdom. My sentence for the day is just going to be the whole verse. As I’m seeking His kingdom today, I’ll remember that His kingdom’s being at hand means repentance for me.

M.L. Millard

11-21-16

*New American Standard Bible translation originally used by permission from the Lockman Foundation in the paperback version of this book.

Day 4: Seeking First His Kingdom (61 days of worry-free devotions)

Did anyone ever set up a treasure hunt for you as a kid? It’s a vague memory for me, but I do remember following clues that would lead us from one room to another, maybe out to the backyard tree and then the patio table. I had a blast. Searching for clues was exhilarating, and the best part was that you knew that treasure was waiting for you.

Talking yesterday about receiving His kingdom like a child, and remembering those treasure hunts, prompted me to use this passage next. Jesus is telling parables (stories for teaching) and he says:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.”

Matthew 13:44

My childlike response to that is I WOULD GIVE EVERYTHING TO GET THE TREASURE OF HIS KINGDOM!! And that’s my sentence for today. That’s what I’ll replace my worries with. Before you decide on your sentence, read these other metaphors  that Jesus used right after that one.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. So it will be at the end of the age; the angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Have you understood these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.” And He said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old.”

Matthew 13:45-52

His kingdom is a treasure, a pearl. It’s a net full of good fish and bad, and the bad will be tossed away. (The Bible says that God wants all people to be saved, but we fish do make our own choices.)

Consider today’s verses. What are your thoughts? What is your sentence to remember?

M.L. Millard

11-20-16

*All verses are New American Standard Bible translation, originally used with permission in the paperback version of this devotional.

Day 3: Seeking First His Kingdom (61 days of worry-free devotionals)

Every time you read a Bible passage in this study, think about it for a minute (or five) before you read my thoughts about it. I don’t want to influence you too much, when God might be trying to tell you something different than what I’ve written. What does today’s passage make you think about?

“Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.”

Mark 10:14b-15 (also see Matthew 18:1-4 and Luke 18:16-17)

What was your response? Lots of people say, “Kids are selfish and throw tantrums!” But Jesus is probably not saying to act childish, only to “receive the kingdom” like a child. And it’s not optional. Receive the kingdom like a child or you will never enter it.

Have you ever been in a children’s Sunday school class? I worked for a few years with our church’s first through sixth graders. What I remember? The kids love to hear about Jesus. They love to sing to Him. When they are at church, they’re not thinking about which teacher they’ll get next year or what’s for lunch. When they’re there, they’re there, receiving His kingdom joyfully and completely.

As we continue to read passages about His kingdom, receive them like a child. My sentence to remember today is RECEIVE HIS KINGDOM LIKE A CHILD. What’s yours?

Much love,

M.L. Millard

11-19-16

Day 2: Seeking First His Kingdom (61 days of worry-free devotions)

In no way do I mean to minimize your worries. In fact, do pray about them. Peter, in 1 Peter 5:7, says, “casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you,” and Paul, in Philippians 4:6-7, says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

BUT there are lots of studies about dealing with your worries. I am going to focus on seeking His kingdom, and seeking it first. When you’re done reading today’s kingdom verse, maybe you won’t feel the need to worry about all those things anyway. If that’s not true today, I hope it’s true after a few days of seeking His kingdom first. At any rate, I won’t be mentioning worry much anymore after today.

Instead we’re going to focus on seeking His kingdom. Are you worried that it’s going to be hard to find? Then today’s verse should relax you. At the end of Luke’s telling of the message that we read yesterday in Matthew, Jesus says this:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.”

Luke 12:32

I don’t know about you, but I find it very comforting, as we start out, to know that God is not trying to keep His kingdom away from us. He wants us to find it. Another place Jesus tells us this is in Matthew 7:7-11. “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

How did you do yesterday with replacing your worries with a kingdom phrase? The phrase I’m choosing to replace my anxious thoughts any time I catch myself worrying today is MY FATHER HAS CHOSEN GLADLY TO GIVE ME THE KINGDOM. Is that yours, too?

Much love,

M.L. Millard

11-18-16

*All verses from the New American Standard Bible, originally used with permission in the paperback version of Seeking First His Kingdom (61 days of worry-free devotions).