ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 10/29/2017
It was early in the fall semester of my Senior year at Hendrix. A couple of my teammates were running a bible study and I got invited to check it out. I had never gone to a bible study before, and I honestly didn’t know anything about Christianity. The main reason I accepted the invitation to attend that day was because I was told there would be a video shown featuring former Kansas Basketball All-American Wayne Simien. Being a lifelong KU fan I wanted to see what this video was all about. The clip was Wayne’s testimony spoken through the I Am Second platform. I enjoyed the video because it was about a player I grew up cheering for, but there was a part of his testimony that frustrated me.
He stated, “I had played for myself and played for the applause of the crowd for so long that I really had no idea how to compete outside of that, and God had to show me how to do that. He showed me that I could compete and that I could play for his glory. And when that became the motivation of why I stepped on that court, that’s where the freedom came. To where it didn’t matter if I scored 30 points or if I didn’t score any points at all, that if the posture of my heart, the posture of how I lived, the motivation for why I did things was to glorify and honor God, then I knew at the end of the day that he would be pleased with me.”
You can watch the full video below:
At the time this quote didn’t make any sense to me. You can play better by NOT playing for yourself? How can you be OK with not scoring any points at all? That went against everything I ever experienced in sports, especially in my baseball career up to that point. For almost my entire baseball career I had an outcome based mindset rather than a process based one. I would seek an outcome and then I would figure out what my process needed to look like in order to achieve my desired outcome. On the surface this sounds pretty good, however, I’ve recently discovered some flaws with this mindset.
The problem is, if we’re being honest, most of our desires are centered around ourselves, not God. I realized that a majority of the outcomes I pursued were done so out of personal desire first, and then with a desire to glorify God second. Due to this realization, I have since prioritized my prayers around not getting caught up in the outcomes, whether they will be good or bad, but rather focusing on the act of glorifying God throughout the process. As a result I can now understand what Wayne meant when he said he could step onto the court and play basketball with freedom.
So what does pursuing Jesus-centered processes, as opposed to personal outcomes, look like biblically? To answer this question I’m going to point to the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 6 and 7. When studying these chapters two things are extremely apparent; First, we must seek God before seeking anything else, and second, we must seek obscurity.
1. Seek God First
This one is a no brainer and something that gets talked about all the time, however I would like to unpack this a bit more. Matthew chapter 6, verses 31-33 reads, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” In verse 33 we get the clear command to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and while this passage references food, drink, and clothing, I think we can safely substitute those three nouns with any other noun(s) that we may possibly seek.
The theme of this passage is essentially Matthew affirming the readers that we need not worry about anything because if we seek God we will be sufficiently provided for. The problem is we often twist this premise and seek things OF the creator before we seek the creator himself. We pray for things we want: bigger paychecks, the relationship to work out, the headaches to stop, the (fill in the blank for yourself). Is it bad to pray for these kinds of things? No, I don’t think so. But these things aren’t Jesus. We have to remember that even if we don’t get the created things we desire we still ALWAYS have the creator. And he alone is sufficient.
It’s almost is if Matthew predicted this problem would exist because he prefaced this passage with, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). We must remember that seeking God is priority numero uno, and that Jesus (treasure in heaven) is all we really need for eternal satisfaction. Every other possible desire (treasure on earth) can only satisfy us temporarily.
While on this topic I believe It’s important to address Jeremiah 29:11, considering it’s one of the most popular verses in all of scripture, “for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This verse is often quoted by itself and used as a source of inspiration for those stuck in undesired circumstances. Understandably so, considering the Lord is telling us his plans for us will be hopeful, but when this verse stands alone it can unfortunately promote passivity. If you continue reading into verse 12 you will see that the Lord calls us into action to fulfill the plans he mentioned previously.
“(12) Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. (13) You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (14) I will be found by you, declares the Lord…” Notice the commands here: you will CALL upon me, PRAY to me, SEEK me and FIND me.
Y’all I don’t think this could be any clearer. We must seek him with ALL our heart in order to fulfill the plans of hope he has for us. It is a requirement for salvation. Remember, It’s one thing to know who Jesus is, it’s another thing to trust him as Lord and Savior. We can’t sit idly by feeling all warm and fuzzy by simply reading Jeremiah 29:11 over and over again. We must reject passivity, call upon the Lord, and seek repentance. Only then will we completely receive the glory of the resurrection. It’s the Gospel.
Matthew actually echoes this idea in chapter 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (7:7-8). As Christians we must read this as it refers us to Jesus. Ask, seek, and knock for the thing you need (Jesus) and not the treasures of earth that you want. If you do so you will receive, find, enter into God’s Kingdom.
2. Seek Obscurity
Matthew begins chapter 6 with a verbal right hook. Check out verse one, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Now, it’s important to understand the context of this verse and the ones that follow. He is referring to people giving to the poor for the sole reason of being seen by others. Later in this chapter he also addresses fasting and prayer. We will discuss prayer in a couple paragraphs, but on the topic of fasting he tells us, “do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (6:16-18).
Considering Matthew uses 3 examples of when NOT to be self-righteous I think we can conclude that this topic needs to be taken seriously. We need to ask the question: does our life, relationships, and desires reflect the problem that Matthews addresses? Do our social media accounts overflow with self-righteousness? I know I can admit that I have some areas in my life where I can struggle with this. Shoot, even with writing this blog post I find myself asking, “What is my true motivation for writing this? Am solely I trying to help people, or is there a part of me that is writing this only for the positive feedback I hope to receive?” The truth is we are all guilty of selfishness to some extent. Matthew alludes to this in chapter 7 when he explains the Golden Rule. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:12-14). The gate of self-righteousness is wide and easily accessible. The gate to humility and obscurity is narrow, which only makes Jesus’ selfless act upon the cross even more amazing.
So how to we begin to exterminate self-righteousness from our life? It begins with how we pray. Thankfully, my homie* Matthew drops some dope verses on prayer in chapter 6. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).
Y’all see the theme in this chapter?? First giving to the poor, then fasting, and now prayer. Not only are these three examples vital as a believer in Christ, but it is vital that they be done with the right posture of heart. The fact that the examples Matthew gives are all things that believers do just shows us that self-righteousness can often be disguised as spiritual nobility. From the outside the deeds can look awesome and selfless, while on the inside they are ego-driven and greedy.
Want some more information on how to pray? Well then let’s keep on reading. Verse 9, “pray then like this: Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be they name.” Verse 10, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Ok, let’s stop right there and break this down. As you are probably familiar, this is the Lord’s prayer. A pretty popular prayer. I recited this prayer before basketball and baseball games even way back before I was a believer. It was just part of the pre-game routine. Though I’ve recited it well over a hundred times I’ve never really paused and focused on the verbiage. Verse 10…
“YOUR kingdom come,
YOUR will be done,”
Not my kingdom or my will. Not your kingdom or your will. HIS kingdom and HIS will. If we call Jesus our Lord then our prayers MUST reflect Matthew 6:10.
Ever catch yourself praying and asking God to distinguish your purpose in life? I admit to this form of clarity seeking. However, instead of asking God to provide us with our will in life we need to start aligning our lives with the will he has already revealed to us through scripture. His word equips us with knowledge on what to pursue in the form of commandments that are not to be ignored. "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength" (Mark 12:30). "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31). "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). As Christians our purpose doesn't change. It's to fulfill the commandments that are exposed to us in the Gospel. Only until these commandments become prioritized desires in our hearts will we begin the process of exterminating self-righteousness.
Looking back it’s funny to me that I got frustrated with Simien’s comments on playing basketball for the glory of God and not himself. Now, when I go back and re-watch that video I’m inspired by his attitude and his selflessness. My baseball career has been over for years now so I can’t relate his quote to playing baseball anymore, but I can still relate it to every aspect of my life I’m currently going through. Can I still glorify him the same if my dream job gets taken away from me? If that girl I ask out rejects me? If someone tells me this blog post is dumb? (I feel like somebody is going to say something now just in spite of this haha).
When I was younger in my faith I struggled with the idea of pursing my personal desires while simultaneously trying to submit to God. I thought to myself, how can I implement my faith into my already developed passions (baseball, career, etc.). As I matured in my faith I began to understand that I was attacking this incorrectly. Instead of trying to implement my faith into what I was already doing I needed to reorder my desires. If my greatest desires are anything outside of Jesus then I’m simply setting myself up to get let down, and I’m not truly glorifying him in the way he deserves.
When our greatest desire is to submit to God then we find joy the process of relinquishing control. We also find joy in the outcome, no matter what it is.
*For real though we tight