It was a profoundly spiritual moment for me at MDSI Summit 2023, sitting at a table surrounded by other leaders and prayerfully shaping a mound of clay. The keynote speaker had asked us to form what we hoped God would mould us into this year. Though it might not have been clear to anyone else around me, as I am inept at all kinds of fine art, I was making a happy little tree inspired by a verse God was impressing on me:

“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers” (Psalm 1:3).

What an image: Sturdy, dependable, rooted, patient, resilient, flourishing, life-giving, satisfied. What a contrast to the vision of the good life fed to us by ads and commercials! If I had to choose one word that summarizes the quality of life I observe all around me here in 2023, it would be “anxious.” People are worried, hurried, and enslaved to real and perceived debts. These are driving their thoughts, priorities, schedules, behaviours, and shaping their values and beliefs.

I almost entitled this article, “Prioritizing by Our Values,” but reflected that even “prioritizing,” can be an anxiety-inducing concept. Do we have a lack of time? What we really need is to be trees. They don’t need to etch schedules into their bark. They just drink the water, enjoy the sunlight, and bear fruit as they embrace their God-given tree-ness. Is this a playdoh-inspired daydream, or a God-given vision? Can we live without the anxiety of indebtedness? In the sermon on the mount, Jesus addresses this directly:

“So do not worry (literally, “be anxious”), saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).

It is not just the indebtedness of eating, drinking, and wearing that Jesus addresses, though these are last on his list. He begins with postures of the heart, and blesses those who the world would deem to be in debt: the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those who have been denied justice, those who have to show mercy, stay pure, make peace, and endure persecution. The implication is that this blessedness flows out of a heart that is immune to indebtedness.

He then turns to relationships: those who feel the need to kill, hurt, hate, hold grudges, or to look outside of their marriages for satisfaction. He tells us in no uncertain terms not to bolster our credibility with blustering oaths, or to exact retribution.  At the base of all these relational breakdowns is a sense that we are owed, offended, short-changed, or deficient; in short, in debt.

Jesus even addresses our sense of religious lack (the root of legalism). He tells us to give, pray, and fast as if we are owed nothing from God or others for these pious acts – our reward is presently and eternally in God.[1] Ah, and now we are at the heart of the matter. Do we believe that we have all that we need in Him? Do we believe that if we simply turn our hearts to seeking his kingdom and righteousness, “all these things” will be given to us as well?

If we were to be honest, it takes a miracle to live without other perceived debts sidetracking us from those two priorities. In my role as MDSI Director, I need to be a tree. For the sake of His kingdom and righteousness, we need to: make disciples, plant churches, revitalize plateaued or declining assemblies, resource ministries, develop leaders in all generations, do justice, foster unity, contend for renewal. We can’t do that if we are: building personal platforms, fighting for resources, hating our enemies, asserting our preferences. Those things all come from a place of imagined debt and produce anxiety.

I’m so grateful for the prayer Jesus modeled for us:

Our Father in Heaven
Hallowed be Your name
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us today our daily bread
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Be all that we need.

[1] The word “reward” appears eight times in the passage.