It took God employing hardship for me to embrace the inescapable reality that everything I did in ministry was done in allegiance to, and in pursuit of, either the kingdom of self or the kingdom of God. This truth is best exegeted for us in Matthew 6:19-34. (Please grab your Bible or click the link to read the passage.) I’m convinced that this passage elaborately unpacks the thoughts, desires, and actions of the kingdom of self. Notice the turn in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God.” The word but tells us this verse is the transition point of the passage. Everything before it explains the operation of another kingdom, the kingdom of self. This makes the passage a very helpful lens on the struggle between these two kingdoms in everyone’s heart.
I want to examine four treasure principles that emerge from this passage that I find helpful as I seek to examine the motivations of my own heart in ministry.
1. You will be treasure oriented in your ministry.
God designed us to be value-oriented, purpose-motivated beings. God gave us this capacity because he designed us for worship. So what you do and say in ministry is always done in pursuit of some kind of treasure. I will explain in an article to follow how few things that we treasure are intrinsically valuable. Most treasures have an assigned value. This side of eternity, here’s what happens to all of us: things begin to rise beyond their true importance and set the agenda for our thoughts, desires, choices, words, and actions. What is the battle of treasure about? It is daily working to treasure what God says is important in our personal lives and ministries. What is important to you in ministry?
2. Your ministry treasures will command the allegiance of your heart.
Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The heart, being the summary term for the inner man, could be characterized as the causal core of your personhood. What Jesus says here is profound. He’s saying there’s a treasure war being fought at the center of what makes you think what you think, desire what you desire, and do what you do. Whether you are conscious of it or not, your words and actions reflect your effort to get out of ministry what’s valuable to you. What are the deep heart desires that shape your everyday words and actions?
3. What captures the allegiance of your heart will shape your ministry actions, reactions and responses.
Remember that by God’s design, we’re worshipers. Worship isn’t first an activity; worship is first our identity. That means everything you and I do and say is the product of worship. So the treasures (things that have risen to levels of importance in my heart) that rule the thoughts and desires of my heart will then control the things I do. The war between these two kingdoms in ministry is not first a war of behavior; it’s a war for the functional, street-level rulership of my heart. If I lose this deeper war, I’ll never gain ground in the arena of my words and actions. What do your words and actions reveal about what’s truly important to you?
4. Your functional treasures are always attached to the kingdom of self or the kingdom of God.
Christ gives us only two options. Either I’ve attached my identity, meaning, purpose, and inner sense of well-being to the earth-bound treasures of the kingdom of self or to the heavenly treasures of the kingdom of God. This is an incredibly helpful diagnostic for pastoral ministry.
Consider these questions: The absence of what causes us to want to give up and quit? The pursuit of what leads us to feeling over-burdened and overwhelmed? The fear of what makes us tentative and timid rather than courageous and hopeful? The craving for what makes us burn the candle at both ends until we have little left? The “need” for what robs ministry of its beauty and joy? The desire for what sets up tensions between ministry and family?
Could it be that much of our stress results from seeking to get things out of ministry that it will never deliver? Could it be that we’re asking ministry to do for us what only the Messiah can do? Could it be that in our ministries we’re seeking horizontally what we’ve already been given in Christ? Could it be that this kingdom conflict is propelled and empowered by functional, personal gospel amnesia? When I forget what I’ve been given in Christ, I will tend to seek those things out of the situations, locations, and relationships of my ministry. In what ways are you tempted to seek from your ministry what you’ve already been given in Christ?
The biggest protection against the kingdom of self is not a set of reformative defensive strategies. It’s a heart so blown away by the right-here, right-now glories of the grace of Jesus Christ that you’re not easily seduced by the lesser temporary glories of that claustrophobic kingdom of one, the kingdom of self. The problem is that no matter how committed I am to the big kingdom, I am always grappling with the dynamic of shifting treasure.