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The God-First Life
set the right priorities and unlock the secret to blessing and freedom
By Stovall Weems
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2014 Stovall Weems
All rights reserved.
YOUR LIFE, GOD'S WAY An Invitation to Seek God's Kingdom First
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Years ago, my church—Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida—rented a billboard near a busy highway. We were looking to attract people to what God was doing in our world. The ad featured an image of me (which made sense because the invitation was coming from the church, and well, I'm the pastor) with these words emblazoned across the ad:
Your Life, God's Way
Despite the blinding vibrancy of my lime green golf shirt, we got a great response to that billboard. Lots of people visited Celebration for the first time and made it their home. Why? I seriously doubt it was due to my friendly-yet-penetrating gaze as drivers made their daily commute to work each day. No. What drew people in was that the ad offered a different approach to the one thing everyone is concerned about and probably mulling over on their way to work: my life. Imagine the thoughts of those drivers. It's not hard because we've all had them at one time or another, maybe at this very moment:
My life is a mess.
My life is going great.
My life doesn't matter.
My life is about to change.
My life is falling apart.
My life has no purpose.
My life is too busy.
My life is depressing.
My life is over-the-top amazing.
The billboard reached all these people behind the wheel—all with different plans, experiences, hopes, disappointments, and so on—and offered them one more lens through which to view their life: God's way.
Adding these two words has a way of changing our perspective. It forces us to pause and consider that there may be a completely different way of doing life than we are currently doing it, one we may never have considered. I'm sure more than one person drove by that billboard and thought, "God's way," huh? What does that look like? It's gotta be better than the way I'm doing it.
FACING THE BIG QUESTIONS
When I was growing up, my family occasionally went to church, but God wasn't really a big part of our lives. We were definitely Chris tian in our beliefs, but as a young person, my focus was on doing what a lot of young people do—partying and having a good time. I believed God existed, but I didn't think there was much more to faith in God than that.
About midway through college, however, something changed. I had an aunt who was praying for me, and God was really drawing me to him. I found myself tired of the typical college party lifestyle. The things I was involved in began to feel very temporal. Partying, studying, working, partying—I knew there had to be more than this, and I began actively seeking.
I was at a secular university, but I chose to major in religious studies. If Jesus was the truth, I wanted to know. I personally believe that's what goes on in every human being. There are seasons when God draws us to the truth. Like Paul talks about in Romans 2, I had suppressed that truth before; this time, I responded to it. Right there in the middle of the college party scene, I surrendered my life to Christ.
I found the experience, presence, and forgiveness of Jesus amazing, and I wanted to follow him with everything I had. But it wasn't easy. At the time I invited Christ into my life, I was part of the roughest fraternity on campus and worked in a bar. Not recommended. It was a confusing place and time. As I moved forward in my newfound faith, I faced tougher questions, harder choices, and stronger temptations than I knew what to do with.
I was reading the Bible, and sometimes it spoke directly to me and provided exactly the answer I needed. But other times the Bible seemed totally unrelated to the things I was dealing with. For every one thing I understood about God or the world, there were about ten others that seemed confusing, even unfair. How was I now supposed to approach these tough situations:
What is God's plan for my future?
Do I need to ask for forgiveness every time I sin?
How can I better relate to people who believe differently
than I do?
Is the girl I'm dating "Chris tian enough" to marry?
How can I trust God when modern science seems to contradict
Why does God tolerate so much evil in the world?
What about all the people who believe in other religions?
Are they all wrong?
Is Jesus really the only way to heaven?
Are all my friends and family members who don't know
Christ really going to this place the Bible calls hell?
If hell is real, what is it like?
And that was just the start. Wrestling with all these questions —and having few answers—made my walk with Christ inconsistent at first. I prayed, went to church, and studied Scripture, but a lot of stuff just wasn't connecting. I held on, though, because I knew I had met Jesus and something significant had changed in my life. Since he promised to help me, I kept on seeking him.
One day I was walking to class, considering all the questions racing through my head, and God brought to mind something I'd read in the Gospels, Matthew 6:33: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteous ness, and all these things will be given to you as well." This was the turning point. God spoke powerfully to me in that moment. Seek me above all else, he said. Put me first.
If I would truly put God first—regardless of how I felt or whether I completely understood it—then he would take care of "all these things." I didn't do it perfectly. I didn't have it all figured out. But that verse changed everything for me. My faith started moving from my head down deep into my heart. From then on, Matthew 6:33 became my compass. It seemed so simple, so tangible. There were a lot of things I couldn't do—or didn't even know to do. But I could do that.
THREE GAME CHANGERS
When I first started thinking about my life in terms of God's way, three life-altering, game-changing realizations came to mind. And speaking now as a pastor, let me add that these apply to anyone.
1. God has a "way" for our lives. Most people think God is not at all interested in the details of our lives. But he is. He doesn't sit in heaven simply watching our lives from the nosebleeds. God wants to be fully involved in your life, and he has a game plan, a path, a way for your life that is designed specifically for you. As you make him the first priority in your life, you'll witness firsthand just how much God wants to be present and active in your life. You will experience his presence on a whole new level.
2. We don't have to carry the weight of our life alone. Life is challenging, and the cares of life are heavy, but God doesn't want you to carry the burden alone. Jesus invites you to keep step with him while he does the heavy lifting. When you put God first, you begin to live in response to him as he shapes your life. Rather than striving to manipulate and control every outcome under your own strength, you will find that God is standing close, ready to help lighten the load.
3. God's way is better than ours. The Bible says that God's way is perfect, refreshing, trustworthy, right, and enlightening. I don't know about you, but my way usually isn't any of those things. Amazingly, God's way is not only all those things, but it also meets us wherever we are. When you feel like your life ...
is a mess, God works all things out for your good.
is going great, God has greater things in store for you.
doesn't matter, God ascribes incredible value to you.
is about to change, he will be with you every step of the
is falling apart, God is your strength and deliverer.
has no purpose, God's purpose for you will prevail.
is too busy, God's peace guards your heart and mind.
is depressing, he is the giver of joy.
is over-the-top amazing, there is a place to direct your
God's way for your life is the best possible way you can live. I think most people instinctively believe this, but few know how to put that belief into action. It's really not as complicated as we can sometimes make it appear to be.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
The things we enjoy most are often complex things made simple. In an interview with Newsweek, Steve Jobs said the desire for simplicity played a key role in the development of the iPod—and presumably all the other "iStuff" we love to use.
"When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there," he told interviewer Steven Levy. "But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions."
Under an iPhone's touch screen, we find layers of complexity that most of us will never understand. But the simplicity of the interface and the way it integrates with all the apps, functions, and tools make it appealing to millions. We don't love the iPhone for its complexity; we love it for the way it makes all the complexity so simple that a toddler can use it. What if your life could be like that too?
But life is just not that simple.
I hear that all the time. I've even said it myself. The phrase is usually followed by a long account of a real and complicated situation that the person has struggled with for a long time. I understand. I really do. But let me be clear on something: while many of the problems we face in life are complex, I don't believe that the ultimate solution is.
Our lives really can be simple. In fact, I believe they were always meant to be. Unfortunately, few people understand how to live such a straightforward life in the middle of this hectic, complex, and painful world. I want to turn that around. When I discovered the practice of putting God first, everything in my life suddenly started coming together in a simple, orderly, and joy-filled way.
I came to see that eventually God would give me the understanding I needed. He would answer my questions and bring solutions to the different problems I faced. He would provide all the things I needed in life. But God had to remain first in my life, regardless of my questions or regardless of whether I understood something or how I felt about it. When I started doing that, all the crazy dots began to connect. Peace and order came to my life. Joy began to fill me, and God became more real, more beautiful, more powerful, and more loving to me than I could ever imagine.
JUST PUT HIM FIRST
This is the God-first life. It's the life God intends you to live. It removes barriers and gives you a simple, sustainable touch point for accessing the freedom and joy that belong to you in Christ. It's far better than just another "app" to marginally improve your life. Beneath the surface are interlocking layers of spiritual depth and supernatural programming that make it revolutionary. But for us, God has made it simple: just put him first.
So, what does this look like, practically? In the single verse of Matthew 6:33, God reveals three key aspects of the new life to which he calls us. Even better, we can look at them as three promises if we put him first.
The first two—new family and new life—are all about setting the right priorities in our lives and restoring order to the chaos of choices and demands. The third aspect—new freedom —is about experiencing God's blessing.
Let's break this down a bit. First, we enter God's kingdom by coming into his family. This is accomplished through salvation. 14 The way we seek his kingdom is by playing our role in God's family.
Second is God's righteousness, which is his character expressed in his goodness. We enter into God's righteous ness by faith in Christ alone, but we seek God's righteous ness by ordering our lives according to his patterns so that our priorities reflect his priorities.
Finally, when we take our place in God's family and order our lives according to his way of doing things, we begin to experience new freedom and breakthroughs in life. We experience a life full of God's favor with all of our needs met because things are in proper order.
You can experience the benefits of a God-first life by seeking his kingdom and his righteous ness first. As we close this chapter, I want to drill down on that word, seeking. The Greek word Jesus used when he told us to seek God's kingdom and righteous ness first is zeteo, which means to search for a final answer to our questions, a final determination. Jesus is saying that we should come to resolution about our life in him, but there's a sense in which we never fully arrive because it's a continual process in going deeper with God.
In the rest of the book, I am going to show you how to do this by inviting you to make some basic, but powerful, decisions. The only question is, Are you ready?CHAPTER 2
ORDER AND BLESSING Find What It Truly Means to Put God First
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
You know that Johnny Cash song "I've Been Everywhere"? Sometimes, I feel like that could be my life's anthem. Ever since my early years in my ministry, I have spent a considerable amount of time traveling, serving in various mission outreaches, preaching in various parts of the world, and connecting with people from all walks of life. No matter where I am or what group of people I'm talking to, there is one compelling reality that consistently hits me: We all want the same things.
Whether it's a father wanting a good future for his children, a young woman looking for a good job, or something much bigger (like global peace), human beings the world over, of every race and religion, have similar worries, hopes, dreams, and desires. We all want a satisfying and productive life. We all want financial security, meaningful relationships with friends and family, freedom from worry and fear, and some kind of legacy to leave behind. Most of all, perhaps, we want love.
Regardless of what we may call it—luck, favor, or fortune —deep down, all of us strive for a life marked by blessing. God-first living is the only way to receive the blessing we instinctively seek.
WHAT GETS YOUR BEST?
Most people seem to equate happiness with certain measurable outcomes, using a formula something like this:
Right career + plenty of money + right girl/guy + right friends - pain and suffering = happiness
But how often have you seen people who have earnestly followed this formula and yet have continued to struggle to achieve that elusive happiness?
In an interview with 60 Minutes, New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady expressed both surprise and disappointment that his unquestioned fame and success had failed to bring him the satisfaction he craved.
"Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there is something greater out there for me?" Brady wondered aloud to CBS correspondent Steve Kroft. "I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, 'Hey, man, this is what it is.' I've reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me? I think, 'God, it's got to be more than this.' "
Kroft looked him in the eye and asked, "What's the answer?"
"I wish I knew!" responded Brady, shaking his head. "I wish I knew! I love playing football, and I love being the quarterback of this team; but at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me I'm trying to find."
Like Tom Brady, many of us spend most of our time and energy trying to plug the right variables into our "happiness formula" so we can guarantee a good life for ourselves. While I think such an approach has several problems, here's one that does most of the damage: we forget that whatever force has first place in our lives will drive our decisions and shape our futures. No matter how much success, fame, or money we have, if our priorities are out of whack, none of those things will make us happy.
Whatever has first place in your life directs how you live it. I'm no exception to this rule, and neither are you. So who or what has first place for you? What factor most determines how you choose to live? What causes you to decide where to invest most of your time, money, and energy? How do you select which relationships to nurture and which ones to keep casual? What gets your best?
HAPPINESS IS ABOUT ORDER
I'm going to take a guess about what you're thinking right now. I bet you're waiting for me to drop the happiness-isn't-the-goal-of-life hammer on you, aren't you? Or maybe the God-doesn't-care-about-your-happiness-he-cares-about-yourholiness bomb? Well, sorry to disappoint you. I won't do that, because frankly I don't believe the desire for happiness is a bad thing. Where would we even get the concept of happiness if it didn't come from God?
I'm convinced that in your search for happiness God is not your fiercest opponent, but your greatest ally. But to see things from his perspective, you must master one crucial truth: Happiness isn't about more, better, or greater; it's about order.
Most people think that a great life is all about getting their needs and wants met. They believe that if they can check everything off their "want list," they can settle into a satisfied life. Unfortunately, however, the items on their list never get checked off. In fact, if anything, their list just keeps growing. And if they try to chase down every item on their rapidly expanding list, it ends up consuming them. They wind up trying vainly to figure out why they can't get a handle on it, why they don't ever seem to have "enough," or why what they do never seems to satisfy them.
Excerpted from The God-First Life by Stovall Weems. Copyright © 2014 Stovall Weems. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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