What is development anyway? And what do the Scriptures say about it? Well, in a thorough search, you won’t find the word “development” in the Bible – or even the word “develop.” But that doesn’t mean the Scriptures don’t speak of it. The concept is present, even if the word is not. What we find, however, may not be what we would expect.
Development, in the broadest sense, generally refers to the growth of a nation or people group. Most often it brings to mind better infrastructure, a more solid economy, higher median incomes, longer life expectancies, better education, food security and safer water supplies. There are many passages that speak to these issues, but most notably Matthew 6:19-34 and Luke 12:13-34. Following a discussion of the need for food security (“what you are to eat”), clean water (“what you are to drink”), physical comforts (“what you will put on”), life expectancies (“add a single hour to the span of your life”) and so on, I was intrigued by Luke’s phrasing of Christ’s words, “For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”
I began to think about that – all the nations seeking after these things. It’s true. All the nations do seek after those things, and most of the individuals in those nations. And most of us who work in the development realm work hard to bring about these “developments” in those nations. But then He cautions, “Instead…” It’s a bit different from Matthew’s rendition, “Seek first… and then…”. That almost makes it sound like, “Seek all those things, but make sure His kingdom is first.” And I’ve heard it taught that way. But Luke says, “Instead, seek His kingdom…”. Not, “in addition to” or “do this first, and then that.” Just instead. That got me thinking.
I don’t think that means that we don’t think about food security, water supplies, housing, etc. I think it does mean that we don’t seek it. We don’t go after that. We go after the kingdom. When we go after the kingdom, when the Kingdom is brought to bear in nations that are underdeveloped, “all these things will be added.”
As the director of a development organization, I have one really big fear. And I mean fear in the best of terms – the “don’t dive into a shallow lake or run out onto a busy street or put poison in your mouth or open the emergency door on an airplane in mid-flight kind-of-fear.” My fear is that Women of Hope will go the way of so many Christian development organizations – starting out strong with Word and Deed, keeping integrated ministry in the forefront, making the Main Thing the main thing – but then eventually getting caught up in the depths of the overwhelming needs and end up just digging wells or pulling kids out of brothels or handing out food or building houses. Not that there is anything wrong with ANY of those things! They are all good – very, very good. And they are all needed. Our Father KNOWS they are needed! (Luke 12:30) But He says “Seek my kingdom – period.”
Not only is this a promise given by an unfailing God, we also see it proven throughout history. When nations seek His Kingdom, they prosper. When they don’t, they remain in darkness and underdevelopment plays out in a multitude of ways. Look at Europe pre- and post-Reformation. The progress and development brought about by the Kingdom-seeking reformers affected an entire continent, and beyond. Pre-reformation Europe was hardly different than most of Africa today. Was the difference the advances of science? The renaissance of art? These were all involved, but not as a cause. They were the effect. The cause was a turning of the hearts of the people to the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
As development workers in the degradation of underdevelopment, rampant corruption, illiteracy, and the ravages of disability, the greatest need of the nations is that His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Pray with us that our Lord’s prayer would be answered in Sierra Leone, and that we would remain faithful to the call to seek His kingdom for the women to whom we are called. Our Father knows all their needs – but His Kingdom is what they need to seek. May we point them only to Him.