But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.Matthew 6:33
We all know what it means to live for a future prospect with a measure of certainty. When Kathy and I made the decision to move to the Bay Area for a church plant in May of 2009, our manner of living for the next thirteen months was not arbitrary. There was the housing search. There was the transferring of hospitals to prepare for our son’s arrival. There was the seemingly perpetual packing. There was the preparation of leaders to whom I would eventually hand over the youth ministry I was leading in our San Diego church.
The planning was contemplative. The execution was purposeful. There was no full guarantee that the move would actually happen, but we had every reason to believe that it would and thus lived life accordingly.
The decisions we make in life and the way we conduct our lives have to do, not just with what’s presently happening, but with what we believe will happen in the future. The degree of certainty that we can have about the realization of a future prospect determines the level of focus and whole-heartedness to which we give ourselves to preparing for that future prospect. The irony in this is that, as Christians, the most certain prospects are often what we neglect when it comes to the planning and thinking of our household affairs.
There are many prospects that we plan for that are not guaranteed (James 4:13-17). We search for larger homes to accommodate our family’s future needs, though our future survival into the next day is not guaranteed. We save up money for flights to visit grandma and grandpa for Christmas, even though there’s no guarantee that we’ll make it to Christmas. We encourage our children to take AP classes so that they can increase their chances of making it to college, even though their survival past the next day is not certain. We put money into retirement funds in anticipation of our retirement, even though we are not guaranteed to make it to retirement.
When it comes to the future affairs of life, even the most statistically probable prospects are not guaranteed. Yet, we plan for them anyway (and wisely so). But if the level of certainty of the future must shape the fervency and focus of our preparation, then every Christian’s life today must be whole-heartedly given to the future arrival of Christ’s kingdom. Christ’s return is guaranteed; the ushering of his kingdom is not a mere probability, but a decreed future reality that will be fulfilled at a fixed day and time. Every day that passes brings world history a day closer to his coming. Every hour that passes brings us an hour closer to the fulfillment of his coming kingdom.
Therefore, every single Christian—man or woman, leader or layman, married or single, young or old—must seek the kingdom of God as a first priority. This isn’t something that we plan after we accomplish all of our desires: the pursuit of the kingdom of God must be what shapes our actions, choices, decisions, and plans. Thus, if you are a Christian and currently are not whole-heartedly given to seeking the kingdom of God, then your priorities are skewed and you, by implication, aren’t living life the way God intends.
But for American Christians, it is the regular pursuit of the “American Dream” that has caused the neglect of the pursuit of the true “dream” that God intends his people to be consumed with: the dream of reigning with His Son in the coming kingdom. It’s all too ironic that Americans—the people blessed with the most material assets in the world—are the people who can’t stop thinking about material assets. We love stuff, live for stuff, and lust for stuff. Stuff is killing us, as John Piper has said.
You get a glimpse of this when you listen to prayer requests in our local churches. We pray for the remodeling of our bathrooms. We pray that our kids would win their spelling bee. We pray that we should have fun on our Bahamas vacation. We petition for nicer homes and new jobs where we can have our own cubicles. We pray for our Fido to overcome his kennel cough.
Compare these prayers to the prayer groups in some of the third-world regions in the 10-40 window, where impoverished men and women who have nothing more than a garbage bag of personal possessions are praying fervently that God would enable them to become missionaries to the unreached people groups. Life, Jesus said, is so much more than food and clothing, and yet we make it all about food and clothing (Matt 6:25-33). The material possessions of this world have lured us into small living and small pursuits…and even smaller prayers. The more we have, the more we want. The more we want, the more we pray for what we want. And before we know it, the very privilege of petitioning the Almighty God for His kingdom to come is relegated to a session of asking for more and more personal luxuries.
We need to reorient our lives to the kingdom of God, because the kingdom of God is not some hypothetical, nebulous concept to describe moral and ethical soundness. Living for God’s kingdom involves more than just respecting your parents, telling the truth, abstaining from adultery, and going to church (though these are mandated for all kingdoms citizens). It involves the pursuit of a coming, concrete entity that will invade world history at the end of our current dispensation. The kingdom of God refers to the earthly kingdom of Christ that will be established once Christ returns to the earth. When He does, He will return not to humble himself as a sacrificial servant, but to reign as King over all the earth.
When Christ returns, he will establish a global kingdom that will span every region, every territory, every inch of the globe. All earthly political rulers, kingdoms, and world powers will be put to an end. Christ has asked His Father for all of the nations, and all nations will be given to him as his possession and inheritance once he returns.
The citizens of his kingdom will include saints from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group. Those who have followed him as disciples in this life will reign with him once his kingdom is established. That kingdom is not yet fully realized. But, one day, it will be. It is a kingdom promised as an inheritance to all of God’s children, and it is a more blessed inheritance than anything this world has to offer. To live for the kingdom is to live for what all of world history since the beginning is going to culminate toward. Thus, as Christ commanded, “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33).
How, then, do we live for his kingdom?
First, we must pray for the King to return. Godly prayer involves petitioning from the heart, “Let your kingdom come!” (Matt 6:9). “Maranatha!”, we pray. “Come, Lord Jesus,” we pray. The kingdom will only be ushered in once the King returns. We seek the kingdom first by praying for King Jesus to return to claim the nations to himself.
Second, we seek to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. Christ himself said that he will return only when the gospel has been proclaimed to the ends of the earth ( Matt 24:14). In God’s sovereignty, he has arranged both the timing of Christ’s return and also the means that will usher his return. If we want our King to return to the earth and establish his kingdom, then we must labor to bring his gospel to the ends of the earth.
Third, we must labor to see people transferred into the kingdom as kingdom citizens. Man, in his depravity, lives under the dominion of Satan and as an enemy of God. But when Christ returns, many will have been converted from rebels to disciples of the King; people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Citizens of the kingdom are synonymous with disciples of Christ. Current followers of Christ will be the future citizens and heirs of the kingdom. Those who are today under the spiritual reign of Christ will participate in the future reign in his kingdom. And the vehicle that Christ has chosen to carry out this disciple-making commission is none other than his church. Hence, we ought to engage in making disciples of all nations.
What is certain is that Christ is coming again. What is uncertain is whether you and I will be found as faithful laborers who spent our lives wholly invested in His kingdom. So, seek his kingdom and his righteousness first, and all things will be added unto you.
 John Piper, Sermon “How the Supremacy of God Creates Radical Christian Sacrifice,” from Together for the Gospel 2008.