“Seek ye first” is an edict we all recognize and readily comprehend. God instructs us that our individual and collective priority is to “seek His Kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). He will provide all we need, and our lives will be meaningful, purposeful, and full when we apply this principle.
“Seek first” is the beginning of another principle we should adapt if we are going to be successful and achieve desired results in a key element of all of our relationships, including our relationship with God.
God is a God of relationships. He wants a relationship with us, and His intent is that we will have good relationships with each other. After all, He called us to be “brothers and sisters” in the faith.
God understands us—our strengths, our weaknesses, our thoughts, our desires.
Communication—good, meaningful communication—is the most important part of any relationship, whether it be with God, our spouses, children, family, church family, and others. Communication is an absolute necessity if we are ever to develop the “one-ness” and brotherhood God wants for us, so evident when He said “by this shall all men know you are My disciples” (John 13:35).
Years ago I read a book that opened my eyes to communication and my personal responsibility in it. Stephen Covey wrote a landmark book titled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. All the “habits” were good, and can be traced to Biblical concepts, but there was one in particular that caught my attention and has stuck with me over the years.
Under the section of “Principles of Empathic Communication,” habit number five is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
How many times have we been embroiled in conversations that disintegrated into conflict, confusion, and hurt feelings because our spouse, child, friend, or brother just didn’t see things the same way we did? I’m not talking about straightforward biblical principles, but just everyday areas of life that include opinions, feelings, and ideas.
How many wives have said, “my husband just doesn’t get it,” and how many husbands have scratched their heads, saying, “I just don’t understand what she is so upset about?” There’s something missing in the communication between two parties when this happens, and it doesn’t occur just between spouses, but can drive wedges between brothers, friends, coworkers, neighbors, nations, and kingdoms—and even between us and God.
1 John 4:19 tells us, “We love Him [God] because He first loved us” (emphasis added). Did you know that God also seeks first to “understand” us and to know us well?
Notice Psalm 139:1-3, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; you understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.” God understands us—our strengths, our weaknesses, our thoughts, our desires. God and Jesus Christ love us, and they expect us to love each other as They love us. They understand us, too, and expect that we will get to know each other, and come to understand each other. The key to that understanding is communication.
Paul understood and applied the principle of “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” As the apostle to the Gentiles, he eloquently stated his approach in working with people, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22).
In order to effectively work with the Gentile converts, Paul had to first understand them. That took time; that took effort; that took sacrifice on Paul’s part; and that took agape love.
Over the years, I have had to remind myself of the concept of “seeking first to understand.” When things go roughly at home or on the job, I am reminded to step back and try to understand what is going on. Often, I realize that I haven’t been “seeking first to understand;” rather, I’ve been trying to be understood first.
How about you? Are things rough between you and your spouse, or you and your children? Are there conflicts between you and coworkers or your boss? Are there strained relationships with people in church? Do you just not “get” someone and it frustrates you every time you have to speak with them?
Then you might consider taking the time and giving the time, as a service, to sit down, communicate, listen and get to know and understand the other party. We all have different backgrounds and experiences that frame our point of reference. We need to take the time to get to know each other. When we take the time, we can more fully come to the point of understanding and loving one another, as Christ’s will is for us.
When we communicate, get to know, understand, and appreciate each other, we will see how God provides for His Church, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).
God knows us and has put us where He wants us to be. He has provided, and will continue to provide what we need. Take the time to get to know each other fully, and appreciate who God has called to His table. Remember, God is getting to know us, too, by how well we learn to work with, appreciate, come to understand—and love one another.
If we actively “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and “seek first to understand, then to be understood” we will be going a long way in doing God’s will for us.