I’ve always known priorities are important. I’ve grown up hearing it— and seeking to live it. But then there’s those times when I’m taken off guard and I realize how much I still have to learn.
This summer was one of those…
Our schedule this year has been more full than any other year I remember. It's been exciting and crazy all at once. After being away on ministry trips for almost the entire spring, we set off for six weeks of ministry interspersed with family time. Little did I know how much I would learn about myself and my priorities along the way.
Often we think of priorities as choosing to put God, family, and ministry before other less important matters. But what about the times when we have to choose between giving our greatest energy to God or in ministry to people? What then? Is it more important to pour ourselves out on behalf of hurting humanity until we are spent, or to give our Jesus our freshest energies? Is it selfish to take time to talk to God about the little things that bother us when so many are fighting for life? How does one balance between taking time to “be still and know” and fulfilling responsibilities that seem to increase exponentially? Might there be a difference between real loving service of our Jesus and the load we so often place on ourselves of doing everything we think others expect us to do?
Hard questions that call for hard answers.
I’ve always known that I want Jesus to be priority number one. Over and over He has reminded me that He comes before school and work and any of my own plans. I think I’d finally begun to learn that one. And then He reminded me last fall that He comes before even my closest friends and family. That one is a little harder to learn, but when I began to grasp it I started to experience the beauty of loving Jesus most of all.
But our enemy is never content to see Jesus exalted. And sometimes he catches us where we least expect it.
For me that was in putting ministry before my own deep connection with Jesus. Sure, I didn’t consciously lay Him aside for something else. In fact I spent many hours seeking Him and trying to understand why His face seemed further away. But when it came down to sharing the deepest corners of my own heart with God or running off to seek to fulfill the needs around me, I chose the latter. I’m the type who hates to say no... who finds it easier to run myself dry in the hopes that someone else will be spared emptiness themselves. After all, isn’t that what it means to be selfless?
When we choose to put the needs of the hurting before our own intimacy with God we neglect Him and prove to be far less of a blessing to the very people we were seeking to serve.
When Jesus does not come before absolutely everything else, everyone suffers.
When we allow ministry to come before Jesus we cheat Him of the devotion He deserves. And not only that… we cheat the world of seeing a life who loves Him above all else.
Maybe it’s not real selflessness that puts ministry before our own intimacy with God. Maybe it’s a warped perspective.
When I see the needs of the hurting and think that I must jump to be all things to all people I miss the place He designed for me as His friend and coworker, and end up trying to do His job for Him. When I don’t choose to resist feeling guilty for not touching every heart I see, I miss the opportunity to live in real contact with His. When I try to spread myself too thin, there is nothing left to invest more deeply in the people He specifically wants be to touch. Really, when I think I have to reach the whole world I miss the unique opportunities He has handpicked for me.
Maybe saying no is actually saying yes to something greater.
What if the greatest ministry is only found in loving Jesus with the whole heart and then willingly accepting any cross He gives us? No less. No more. He already carried the cross that saves the world. Maybe my strained efforts to carry a cross I was never meant to lift not only hurt me but the heart of the One who already bore it. Isn’t it a diminishment of what He has already done to think that I must reach the whole world?
After all, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
I can’t claim to have learned all these lessons yet. I’m still getting there. Letting Him change old thought patterns and our natural nature doesn’t happen overnight. But it can happen. It will happen if I let Him. My Jesus never gives up.
We’re heading out now on our fall season of travel, and I go with a fresh recognition of how desperately I need Him to be my priority.
We fly and I look down on the lights of the city below and I remember that He holds the whole world in His heart. I don’t have to carry that weight... I simply have to carry Him in my heart and be willing to go wherever He leads and love whatever He asks me to love. This is life.
I share because I know I’m not the only one who struggles to give Jesus His rightful place. I don’t know what it is that blocks you from the deepest intimacy with His heart, but I know that if He can begin to teach me, He can teach you.
Nothing, nothing in all the universe is more important than Jesus.
Everything but Him is merely ashes. And honestly, anything that steals our heart from Him is our idol.
I don’t want to make an idol out of anything. Not even the things that seem innocent— like ministry. I want Jesus first, last and best in everything. Even if that means I lay down some of the things I think are so crucial.
I want to be all He created me to be-- His friend. I want that for you.
And maybe it’s only when we learn to love Him best that we learn to love the hurting world like He does.
Maybe it’s only then that our ministry carries the power to shake the world.