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Don’t Miss What Matters

Don’t Miss What Matters

JUNE 5, 2024

/ Articles / Don’t Miss What Matters

My wife and I just returned from Birmingham, where our youngest granddaughter, Courtney, graduated from Samford University.

Let me tell you about our time. We missed the reception for the new graduates because of construction at Samford. The commencement could have won an award for its length and tediousness. Getting the family together in one place for meals made climbing Mt. Everest look easy. And the trips to Birmingham and back to Orlando (where we live) were trips from hell. We ran into at least three major traffic jams with traffic backed up for miles. Along with that, there were several slowdowns . . . I could have ridden a tricycle and made better time. On top of that, the car’s dashboard warned me of low tire pressure when we were driving home on the Florida Turnpike. The tire managed to stay inflated, but the last thing I needed was the anxiety of having a flat tire at night on the Florida Turnpike. We got to bed around two.

There is more, but I’ll spare you the details. However, the most important thing about the weekend is that Courtney graduated. She received her degree and even won some awards in journalism. Nothing else mattered.

Courtney and her graduation mattered a lot.

Over the years, I’ve officiated at hundreds of marriage ceremonies with the bride and groom nervous as cats in a room full of rocking chairs. To calm them down, I often said, “In thirty minutes, you will be husband and wife. That’s what matters. If the best man loses the ring, we’ll find or fake it. If the flower girl gets lost, we will look for her. If one of you faints or you trip over your train, we’ll stop and fix it. If you get your lines mixed up, I have the book, and I’ll help you get it right. If the candles go out, we’ll relight them. If the usher seats the family on the wrong side of the church, we’ll reseat them. And if your father gets so emotional that he forgets to give you away, I’ll remind him. None of that matters. What matters is that when it’s over, you’ll be married.”

Spending a lot of time on what doesn’t matter is so easy that we miss what does. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said something important about what matters and what doesn’t. Jesus said we shouldn’t be anxious about what we should wear or eat or how long we’ll live because God, our Father, knows all that. Then Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness [i.e., faithfulness], and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:33-34).

You’re probably familiar with Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, often used in Alcoholics Anonymous: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.” That’s good, but there should be an addendum, “And grant me the wisdom to recognize what matters and what doesn’t, and the ability to focus on what does.”

How do we know what matters? I’m not sure. Sometimes, we don’t know, and that’s a fact we all have to deal with. I forget the story’s details, but the president of the United States and his advisors were on their way to an important meeting when the president stopped to talk to a little boy standing on the street corner. Afterward, one of his advisors asked him why he had stopped, and the president replied, “One never knows what that little boy will someday become.”

So, let me give you some advice that I obviously don’t always follow, given that I started this letter by focusing on what, in the long run, didn’t matter. The most obvious place to start is with God. It is the recognition that God tells us what really matters. What God says is important; it isn’t irrelevant, unimportant, or shallow. The Creator of all that is is the only one who gets to decide what in that creation is important and what isn’t. Seeking first the kingdom of God is what God says is important.

That means people are important. We are—all of us—created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Because of that truth, every person who drives you nuts is important. Every heretic, sinner, Democrat or Republican, and everybody who isn’t a member of the “cool kids” club is important. That also means you’re important.

Not that long ago, responding to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter” would get you into serious trouble. George Bingham, the president of Key Life, said something profound during that time, “You matter. You matter to God, and you matter to me.” We live in a time when our culture has become so divided that we sometimes forget “God so loved the world.” But it didn’t stop there. God didn’t make “loving the world” a generic statement. The cross made it personal, putting equity, diversity, and inclusion on steroids.

As a pastor, I remember thinking I would get my job done . . . if it weren’t for all the interruptions from people in the congregation. God often reminded me that those people were my job. Jesus said it was important that we seek first the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God isn’t a place, a castle, or streets of gold. The kingdom of God is people—people who have a King whom nobody elected and nobody can remove. In Luke 17:21, Jesus says the kingdom of God is “in the midst of you.” (That’s the English Standard Version. The King James Version reads “within you.”) The King matters, but don’t forget the people of the kingdom matter, too.

So, our children are more important than our jobs. Broken hearts are more important than broken computers. A neighbor is more important than a mowed lawn. An afraid friend is more important than a theology book. A sinner is more important than the rules. And a hug is more important than a sermon.

Leighton Ford tells the story of the time he was in South America and approached by a prostitute. He asked her, “How much?” When she told him, Leighton replied, “You are worth so much more than that,” and then told her about Jesus. 

Seek first the kingdom. That means we should seek out, love, show compassion to, and cut slack for people. People are the kingdom. That’s what Jesus did for us. He made us his priority because we’re important. Our sin is far less important than God’s forgiveness. The fact that God likes us is far more important than whether anybody else does. God’s lack of anger toward us is far more important than the anger of people we’ve ticked off. God’s promises are far more important than everybody else’s lies. God’s loving-kindness is far more important than the world’s self-righteousness. Seeking first the kingdom means that people are the priority—us and them.

Seeking first the kingdom of God means more than knowing that people are more important than programs, propriety, perfection, and prosperity. It also means that what is important will last longer than we do. The kingdom of God is eternal, and the eternal is always more important than the temporal. C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.” Mark Twain said something similar and less religious when talking to a group of wealthy business leaders that there would come a time when they would meet someone who had nothing and was happy and at peace, “then you’ll know that you paid too much for your whistle.”

I’m an old guy. I’m not sure when that happened. (Seems like only yesterday I had hair.) It kind of snuck up on me, and I don’t like it one bit. There is very little positive about being old, but there is one thing that makes up for that. It’s not giving a rip about what most people think is important. There is a heady freedom in not caring about what doesn’t matter. I have come to understand what Thomas Aquinas found when he got old. Aquinas was perhaps the most influential theologian and philosopher who ever lived, and his 13th-century work, Summa Theologiae, changed the world. My late friend, R.C. Sproul, said his favorite theologian was Aquinas. He’s mine, too, only for a different reason. When Aquinas looked back on all he accomplished, he said, “It’s all straw.”

Most things we think are important are straw. If I had learned that when I was younger, I would have saved a whole lot of time. And who knows? I might even have more hair.

So, remember what is really important . . . when you’re stuck in traffic, when nothing seems to be working the way you planned, when you’re frightened, lonely, or have failed, and when you think your sin is bigger than God’s grace and mercy. You’ll feel better and save a lot of time.

Don’t thank me. I was glad to help.

Besides that, he asked me to remind you.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

Steve is the Founder of Key Life Network, Inc. and Bible teacher on the national radio program Key Life.

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