If you ask someone you meet for the first time what they do, the answer usually has to do with their occupation. Part of this is due to cultural conditioning and expectations. And yet, such answers may also offer insight into how we see ourselves, and what constitutes our priorities.
What we do and how we do it says a lot about who we are. Have you ever thought about the purpose for which you were placed on earth? In order to live, we all need to eat and to have shelter. This being the case, we generally need to have an occupation to help ensure that the basic needs of life for us and our family members are met. This doesn’t mean, however, that what we do to meet our basic needs should define us.
There’s much more to life than simply surviving. Purpose and meaning are so important, yet are often overlooked due to the complexity and demands of trying to meet basic needs. For those whose needs are well met, priorities sometimes shift from survival to enjoyment. There’s nothing wrong with enjoyment, yet if it becomes the end goal of our existence life can become pretty shallow.
For some, life’s purpose and meaning are clear. They’re passionate about pursuing something, and they do so with energy and enthusiasm. This is awesome, especially if what you’re pursuing helps others in some significant way. This is often the case with Christ followers. Many become passionate about a ministry to which they’ve been called, even if it has little to do with their occupation.
In the same way that the basic demands of life or the pursuit of enjoyment can sometimes drown out the more purposeful and meaningful aspects of one’s life, being overly passionate about a cause or ministry can also become problematic. Jesus warns members of the church in Ephesus about this imbalance. In Revelation 2:2-5 (NIV) Jesus says:
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen!
This is a picture of a situation in which Christ followers were passionate for the truth. They stood firm against great opposition for all the right reasons, and yet their cause and ministry apparently started to replace God as their first love.
I’ve been reflecting lately on how the first and second commandments relate to other areas of our lives. At one time an expert in the Jewish law tested Jesus by asking him which is the greatest commandment. In Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV) Jesus answered as follows:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
In the same way that how we answer the question, “What do you do?” offers insight into our identity and priorities, how we pray says a great deal about the same things. In other words, do we primarily pray about us and our immediate family members loving God more deeply? Do we pray about removing anything in our lives that creates distance between us and God? Do we pray that we would seek to live more in God’s presence? Or, is most of our prayer time focused on the basics of life, on enjoyment, or on a cause or ministry effort?
For me, first commandment prayer focuses on keeping God as my first love, and desiring the same for my immediate family members. After all, without doing so, we are far less helpful to others. Without God being our first love, anything we do for others is undertaken in our own strength. To truly love others is to put God first, and to then love them with the grace and love that we ourselves receive from God.
The wonderful freedom in this approach is that to the degree we keep God as our first love, we cannot fail in life’s ultimate purpose. God created us to love him, and through Jesus to be in a right relationship with him. Ensuring that God is our first love fulfills this. Then, fulfilling the second commandment becomes a great joy.
On the other hand, when a cause or ministry replaces God as our first love, failures are common. We hope and pray for certain outcomes, yet the results may never really reach our hopes or expectations. No matter how biblical our efforts may be, if they replace our relationship with God as our priority, we fail.
I have a dream of serving God in a particular way someday. It has the potential to significantly change lives, and to bring others closer to God. I hope I someday get the opportunity to see this unfold. It would be awesome. And yet, it may never happen. I may never have access to the resources necessary to make this a reality. In the meantime, the Lord reminds me to keep Him as my first love, and then to be faithful to what he already has for me in terms of serving others.
Again, the greatest part about keeping the commandants in the proper order is that in doing so we cannot lose. Loving God with all our heart, mind, strength, etc. doesn’t take resources we don’t have. Loving others with what he provides for us as we love him may be very fruitful in our eyes, or it may not. That’s up to our Lord. What matters is having our priorities right, and then faithfully walking where the Lord leads.
Even as we seek to serve others, I pray that you and I will always keep God as our first love.