You will need a tray, a glass jar, something large, like ping-pong or golf balls; something medium-sized, like dried beans or gravel or nuts, something small, like rice or sand or sugar. If you want, you can use pre-measured amounts so that balls + beans + rice just fill the jar.
Look at the jar. This represents your life: your time, your attention, your effort. You can spend this on different things.
Pour in the rice. This represents the million tiny things that fill your day. Take a minute to look at the grains and think what you spend your minutes on during the day.
Next, pour in the beans. These are bigger and fewer and represent the important things in life – family, friends, safety, freedom, health. If you had filled your head with the small stuff, you would have had no time or attention for the things that actually matter. Think about what or who those beans represent for you.
Look at your jar now. It is mostly full, and that’s fine. People are important, work needs to be done. And many people go through their whole lives like this and never spot the empty space at the top. But we are creatures of both time and eternity, and without God, there will always be a gap. Perhaps you’ve noticed it?
Add the ping-pong balls. These represent our place in God’s kingdom. You may have trouble getting them in.
Some things are urgent and grab our attention – a report that needs to be finished, the latest whatever. Some things are important – people, relationships. But all of these, however important, are part of this world, and are passing. Jesus told us to make sure we have treasure in heaven, to seek first his kingdom. He said it to the rich young ruler, he said it to the Pharisees, he said it to his squabbling disciples, he says it to us.
Tip the contents of the jar out onto the tray.
Put the balls back in first. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness ... Now put in the beans. There is plenty of room. God knows these things are important and they are good. Now add the rice. It may seem like the jar is full, but give it a shake down and the rice will all fit. ... and all these things will be given to you as well.
Sometimes my kids drive me nuts!
Don’t get me wrong I love ’em to bits – but sometime they drive me nuts! They bicker and they squabble, and when I ask them what the problem is, there is the porridgey silence of guilt. Remind you of anyone? Not naming any names, but it begins with dis and ends with ciples. Yes?
In Matthew, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Well, they really had got some aspects of ‘become like little children’ off to a T, but I don’t think that’s quite what Jesus meant.
There’s a huge difference between child-like and child-ish. The disciples were being child-ish, and we, if we’re honest, are no different sometimes. We’re all basically children in a bigger body.
There are many qualities of little children that are very good – wonder, faith, simplicity, trust – but there are others that are not so good – self-centeredness, possessiveness, rage (hell hath no fury as a two-year-old when some other child has innocently used his special yoghurt spoon).
Hopefully, we’ve grown out of yoghurt spoons and have learned to curb our less-than-attractive impulses (possibly ‘are learning‘ would be more accurate, when I think of my struggle to hold my tongue sometimes). But still, when we are tired, hungry, stressed or just plain old fed-up, the petty monsters of our child-ish natures can surface. And boy, did they surface with the disciples in our reading.
They’d been walking all day. (Tired – tick. Hungry – tick) Jesus had been talking weird stuff again. No-one understood, and that made them grumpy. They were all too afraid of looking stupid to ask Jesus, and that made it worse. To bolster their wounded egos, they had a ‘God loves me more than he loves you‘ competition among themselves and that descended, inevitably, into bickering and squabbling.
So Jesus asked them what they had been talking about, knowing full well what the answer was. Why did he do that? So that they would notice what they were doing. So that they would stop. So that they could start – start living in child-like wonder, faith, simplicity, trust – instead of child-ish egotism, stressing, power-struggles, self-security.
- Wonder – delighting in that which is greater, bigger, better than we are.
- Faith – knowing that there is much we do not know, but that does not make it untrue.
- Simplicity – focussing only on what is really important, and that’s certainly not status or power or wealth.
- Trust – the confidence of a small child crossing a busy road in absolute safely – when they are holding daddy’s hand.
Sometimes we get our priorities wrong – like the yoghurt spoon, or the latest phone. It may seem all-important at the time, but in the grand stretches of eternity … not so much. The passing priorities that life shoves in our faces are not what really matter. Children have got a handle on this (when they’re not fussing about yoghurt spoons), and that’s what we need to (re)learn.
I know I am often guilty of stressing over the small stuff and not leaving head-room for the important. How about you?
Thank you that you know all our cares and worries, all the little things that fill our minds.
We give them over to you now, knowing that you care too.
We also give to you the bigger things; our loved ones, our careers, our health and well-being, the things that will lie on our hearts in our final hours.
Teach us, Gentle Saviour, to keep our hearts and minds always on your kingdom and your righteousness, secure in the promise that all these things will be added.
For the sake of your glory
They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’
New International Version – UK Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.