My gran was always telling me: ‘Look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves.’ Gradually I figured out what she meant!
Her approach encapsulates a vital truth when applied to kingdom living according to the principle of Matthew 6:33: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’. Diligence in small things – sometimes, unbelievably small things – brings glory to God, and prepares us for bigger things too.
Our lives are full of decisions, and at the heart of each decision is the question of outcome. As we weigh up outcomes, we are often in fact asking ourselves whether something is ‘worth’ it. Is it worth the sacrifice?
Now, sacrificial living isn’t just a Christian thing. But motives can be mixed. Think of a mum who regularly drives her son to football practice. Maybe she wants her son to have friends, to keep fit, or even to become a premier league player. Then, perhaps she doesn’t want him grumbling for an hour and prefers that hour free for coffee with her friends.
Think of the person whose real motivation was, deep down, to receive praise from others. How do you know? Well, he or she just couldn’t stop news of the good deed slipping out! But Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 6:2 that, ‘They have their reward’.
Kingdom living should spring from much higher motivations than these. Ironically, it can be easier to say yes to sacrifice for Jesus when we think of ‘big’ decisions, but what about those penny sacrifices? What happens when, for example, I have to decide between thirty minutes extra in bed or getting up to read the Bible and pray?
Jesus explained the dynamics of kingdom mathematics in Matthew 13:44: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field’.
The man rightly calculated that the field plus treasure was worth more than all he had. But, it is all too easy to have a less searching interpretation of this parable – namely, Jesus must become our treasure, and we need to ‘give our lives to him’; and so we’re in the kingdom, and that’s it. But Jesus is saying much more than that!
Yes, we must come to the point where we yield our lives to Christ. But Jesus doesn’t say entering the kingdom is like this, he says the kingdom of heaven is like this. He means that we are to be continuously giving up all that we have, to follow him – yes, even unbelievably small things for the sake of his kingdom.
So, to return to that example: when deciding whether or not to lie on in bed, I need to think how I can best invest those extra thirty minutes. Do I really need that rest? If so, it may be right to take it as rest – that too will ultimately work for the kingdom’s sake. If not, am I willing to sacrifice that time?
There is great treasure to be had in the sacrifice. If I read my Bible, I will encounter God and be taught and encouraged by him. If I pray, I will glorify God and be able to ask for his promised help for myself, and call on him on behalf of my brothers and sisters. Such treasures are worth more than anything.
Or what about the church’s mid-week evening meeting? Will I spend time in front of the telly or meet for fellowship with God’s people? What about next Sunday’s lunch? Will I just relax in my own comfort zone or invite that needy person to join me?
When I prosper financially, will the money be spent on yet another holiday abroad or could it lead to the right sort of practical help for that unemployed person in the fellowship? Real kingdom living – the kind your children notice – is about small things.
It is relatively easy to argue for ages with JWs on the door or defend Sola scriptura against theological liberals, but what about those unbelievably ‘small’ decisions of everyday kingdom living? Are you looking after the kingdom pennies?