“Thou shalt have no other gods before me…”
We’ve all heard it before. I mean, it is the first command we’ve been given. Ask most any Christian and they’ll tell you that God is supposed to be the most important part of our life.
Actually, He’s not supposed to be a part. He’s supposed to be all.
It’s stirs me, though, that the first commandment— the one that few would think to deny the necessity of—is the one we break most frequently.
I don’t know about you, but I find that not a day goes by where I am not inclined to put something in my life before God.
Before I moved away from home this summer, God had been working on me on this very topic and I felt like I was finally starting to learn a thing or two. That was, until my whole life turned on end.
All of a sudden I lived in a new place and had a new job and a bunch of new people to meet. At first I was desperately concerned to not let any of that come in the way of putting my Jesus first. But slowly I began to feel the distance coming between us and I knew it was happening. I was becoming consumed by trying to figure out my schedule and what my responsibilities were and how I was supposed to do day to day life on a campus… The overwhelming love between Jesus and I began to dwindle. At least on my part. Our conversations went from hours to minutes. The constant stream of our dialogue that had been running through my days began to dry up.
I knew it and I didn’t want it to happen. I think back to countless conversations we had while I sat on my bed and looked out the window…
“God, I know we’re drifting apart, but I can’t help it. I can’t give you all my love and still give my kids my best. I can’t give both of you all of me. I want us to be close but I don’t know how to give you all my attention while I also give it all to my work.”
Kid, I have to come first. You have to lay everything else down and love me best. I’m not going to stop you from giving your kids your best. Actually I can use you more powerfully in their lives when you’re all mine.
“I know. But I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how that looks. How can I talk to You all the time while I’m also talking to them? How do I focus my eyes in two places?”
We went back and forth. He explained over and over that unless I set my heart wholly on Him I couldn’t really give my best in my job either. I knew in my head that He was right and I tried to do what He said but somehow in the flurry of service and activity, the depth of my heart was still torn between the two.
At first I recognized something was wrong and I fought to keep the closeness with Him that we both wanted, but slowly the lack started to feel more normal and I didn’t notice so much… Only that there was an emptiness deep down and that our conversations were so much shorter than before.
It was then that I started to think that maybe this was how it had to be. Maybe we couldn’t actually be so close in the flurry of daily service as we were in the quiet days at home when I could take hours of uninterrupted time to talk with Him. I thought that maybe I wasn’t doing something wrong after all. Maybe this had to be the new normal.
I think part of me started trying to accept that and get used to what I thought my new life had to be. Truth was, it didn’t really work. Day after day, I’d end up sitting on my bed and complaining to Him that something was wrong, but that I wasn’t even sure exactly what the something was anymore.
It was during one of those conversations that He whispered it gentle…
Why don’t you go back and read old journals and see the way I have led you in the past?
“Good point Jesus.”
I did. And yeah, it started to open my eyes. As I read lesson after lesson that He had taught me in the past (all of which seemed exactly timed for my life right then) I began to realize that there was indeed more to life than the way I had slipped into living. I had good reason to feel empty— I was living with half of the what He and I had had in the past.
During vespers that evening, something in my heart still throbbed with that thought. I knew the problem but the solution still seemed like a gray fuzz.
And then that familiar whisper again…
Kiddo, come outside and just spend a few minutes with me. I want to talk to you.
“God, I’m sitting in vespers. Can’t we do it later? I mean, I want to, but now?”
“Do you realize how silly it’s going to look for me to leave vespers and walk around the parking lot looking at the stars and talking to you?”
Does that really matter? Why don’t you just come?
Sigh. Yeah, I’m still learning not to give God all my excuses. I did finally listen though. And looking back, I could not be more thankful that I did. The conversation we had that night was the sweetest and most needed thing in the world for my little heart.
Kiddo, have you forgotten that you’re just supposed to be my little girl?
“Yeah. I’ve been so worried about doing my job and giving my best that I’ve neglected you and drained myself dry in the process. I’m not even doing my job as well as I want to now because I just don’t have the reserves.”
It’s not all about your job. Your job is not your life. I am.
That one hit me between the eyes. There was a long period of silence as I walked slow and looked up at the stars twinkling all around me.
“How did I forget this? How did I forget You?”
For weeks I’d been complaining to Him that something was wrong and I didn’t know how to fix it and all along it had been pretty simple. He just needed me. I just needed Him.
Hello. You’d think I would have learned that one by now.
There was no scolding in His voice though. We talked for awhile longer and then came the line that thrills me every time I hear it because it’s always the precursor to so much beautiful change.
I have a question…
“Yes, Jesus, yes. Ask.”
Will you lay everything else down and just be my little girl? Will you stop worrying about trying to be the best dean possible and just focus on being the best friend of God that you can? Will you stop fretting about trying to please everyone and just try to please me? Will you be all mine again?
I couldn’t help smiling. This is what I’d missed. This is what every bone in my body had been aching for. I’d missed just being His.
Will you remember that life is a beautiful journey we take together? Will you live your days simply with me?
“Of course, Jesus. Of course. Thank you a million times for asking. For finally getting through to my slow heart.”
Somehow the stars shone brighter now and the weariness that had settled over me completely lifted. I felt as if I had wings. I was His and He was mine. Could there be anything sweeter in all the world?
Did this mean my work suffered and I locked myself away in my room because I wanted to pray all day?
What did happen was something I never expected. I placed all my affection on Him but somehow I found I also had ten times more love for my kids. I took time out of my day to just be still and talk to Him but somehow I ended up spending more quality time with them too. I gave Him my best energy but instead of having none left for them I noticed that being with Him actually renewed my weary heart and I had more courage and energy to give than I’d had in weeks.
I gave Him my best, and somehow I ended up being able to give them so much more too. Not only has He restored the fulness of my relationship with Him and given me a new depth of love for His heart— He’s also given me a new depth of love for these kids. Because they’re His kids too.
I can’t help wondering how I forgot… We never lose by giving God our best. Ever.
When we let go of the parts of our lives that have eclipsed God, we always see more clearly, sing more sweetly, and love more fully.
Reality is that desire to give ministry my best energies had become my idol. The funny thing is that it didn’t just rob Jesus and I of the depth of our friendship but it actually robbed the people I was so busy trying to serve of the depth of love I should have been giving them.
I write it in my journal…
“Lesson 107. It never pays to put anything but God first. It doesn’t matter how noble it seems… how spiritual… how necessary… how responsible. It’s better to look like a fool and give God my best than be the most highly esteemed person in the world and give Him less.”
He doesn’t ask for everything because He’s selfish. He doesn’t say He is a jealous God because He doesn’t want us to find happiness elsewhere. He simply loves us so intensely that He can’t be content with anything less than every ounce of our hearts. He wants to be our everything because to Him we are everything. He can’t sit by and watch other things steal our hearts when He knows that will leave us empty.
It may be the first commandment… but really? It’s simply a heart cry from the One who loves us most. Because He wants us. And because He knows that we will never truly live until we love Him first, best and last.
Take all of us Jesus. Take all. We love you more than anything else in the world. Teach us how to live like it.
You are the One and Only.