I was raised in the Christian church and a phrase you hear constantly is “put God first” and “as long as you put God first, everything will work out” or “just remember to always put God first and you will know what path to take”.
While I understand the why of this concept, I’ve always struggled with the how of it. I don’t think I’m the only one. I think many of us want to do this, and may even think we are doing this, but still find there to be this tension, this uneasiness, this grating that occurs because we’re not quite doing it. Sometimes, it become glaringly obvious, but that’s a blessing, because then you know and then you can seek to do differently. It’s all the time we spend not quite seeing how we’re not quite getting it that results in so much mess.
I think too often we let good things and God things become interchangeable. But they are not. Loving our family is good, performing well at our job is good. Taking care of our bodies is good. Doing well with our finances is good. Advancing in school, social ranking, or work is good. Being a hard worker is good. Being kind, serving others, making sacrifices for the good of those you love – all good things. All good things that can be God things. But without God in them, they are not God things. They are just good things. And they will not ever be enough and you will feel it in your soul and you will wonder what in the world you are doing wrong. And it’s not so much an active wrong as it is a passive on. Maybe you pray every day. And go to church regularly. Maybe you are saved. Maybe you follow all the rules and do all the right things that people have told you are the things to do if you are to be a good Christian. But if God is not the only thing, the everything, if God is not your beginning and your end, your bread and water and joy and comfort and peace alone, then God is not first. If your entire identity is not wrapped up in your Savior, then you’ve given yourself away to lesser gods, whether you meant to or not.
That’s the thing, the most dangerous traps are often set in the most benign ways. As good things.
I’ve found all this lately. Found that my identity has been wrapped up in all kinds of things – my job, my parenthood, my marriage. My comfort has often come from knowing just when the bills are going to get paid and just how that’s going to happen. My joy has come from everything going right that day. And so my identity is in crisis when something is amiss with my job, my mothering, or my marriage. And so, my comfort can easily be snatched from me with a financial setback and my joy dissipated in a day of everything going wrong.
That is not the way we are meant to live. Our soul knows it. It rebels against this kind of living all the time and we tell it to quiet down so that we can keep doing the good and the right things. All the while God is right there. And we are flitting around everywhere else. Stopping by for a prayer, a sermon, maybe a scripture and then running off, hands full of our good things and our hard things and all these things that are not the thing.
“He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.” 1 Colossians 1:17
I’m finding, slowly and clumsily, that to put God first means that God is all. That God is what gives meaning to all and so, through God, all things can have meaning, but without God, it all is meaningless. A vapor.
“Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and vanishes.” James 4:14
Isn’t our life a vapor without the eternal significance that is found in joining our soul with it’s Creator and surrendering to the specific purposes and the promises designed for us by our greatest Love?
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
The idea that anything and everything could just not matter at all can be depressing and terrifying without God as all or it can be freeing and exhilarating with God as all. We were made to be set free.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
And so, to put God first means that God would be the filter through which I view my world, my role, my circumstances, my responsibilities. And so, I would see with clarity of spirit, beyond the worldly way of seeing things and the worldly weight and value. And so I would not burden myself with things that are not mine to carry, but instead know that my hands and heart and spirit have a purpose, but it is a purpose defined by Heaven, not by man. And from Heaven, I am fully loved and always precious – my worth is not conditional and my joy need not be either. God’s fingerprints are all over me and God is mine and I am God’s and that is the only thing that I can spin my life upon. Everything else will fail me and even the good things are worthless without this one truth.
Applying this to my life and day is still new and I will surely stumble around with it, but I’m grateful for the crashing and crumbling that brought me here.
May I suggest checking out this work by The Liturgists? It hit right on the mark for me. It is a meditation (reflection), a (really good) song, and a centering prayer. (Don’t let the chanting in the first few seconds of the meditation scare you off!)