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‘Put Jesus first.’

I like listening in on the conversations of wise people … and a lot of them are blessing my comment threads right now. There’s some discussion going on about what it means to “wait,” with a lot of people saying insightful stuff in a better way than I ever could dream of saying it. (Check out the comments here if you’ve missed them.) I’ve been so encouraged.

But it’s brought up another discussion and some questions about another phrase that, much like the “waiting” thing, I misunderstood for years. And years.

“Put Jesus first.”

OK, seriously. What does that even mean?

I was told by parents, teachers, leaders, friends to “put Jesus first,” and that was perfect advice. It’s still the best word today for anyone anywhere. It’s the Sunday School answer, but if you know what it means, it … works.

And if you don’t, it sounds cliché, keeps you frustrated or lulls you into a blissful spiritual sleep.

Mine was the last of the three.

I thought it was a one-time decision. Will I put Jesus first? Yes. I will. So what did I think I meant?

It’s crude, but it’s honest: “I’m a Christian, I live in a way I think would be generally pleasing to God, and if someone put a gun to my head and told me I had to renounce my faith or die, I’d choose to die.”

Seemed ambitious enough.

The decent Christian life, I’m committed to that. The dying thing, well, I know what I would do, so I won’t worry about that until the event (astronomically unlikely in the West) actually happened. The middle bit is the part where you read your Bible, pray, go to church, make good decisions and coast.

A blissful spiritual sleep.

And then, at the prompting of very wise people, I started reading the hard bits of the Bible. The parts where Jesus said you have to deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow Him. To die to self as He died for us.

“Deny yourself.” There’s no way to get around the fact that that means EVERYTHING in life has to be less important than Him.

“Daily.” That sounds like daily. Not like once, and then the dying thing later.

For a long time, I thought if I was making the decisions I felt He wanted me to make, He was first in my life. Doesn’t make much sense, though, if at the end of the day I’m not satisfied with the one thing I say is most important to me.

I’m not saying we don’t naturally want anything else. Of course we do. We were designed to want food, so we eat. We’re designed to make families, so we want to.

I’m just saying denying ourselves means everything we want takes a backseat to our desire for Him.

And it does that because we want Him more. Not because that’s what He wants from us.

Some say OK, practically, what does this look like?

I for one would like a checklist. I like that. It’s cut and dried. People asked Jesus for that all through the New Testament. The rich young ruler asked what he had to do to have life with Jesus, and Jesus told him to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor and follow Him.

But He didn’t say that to everybody. He just knew that guy’s heart.

All through the New Testament, it was less about the decision and more about the heart behind it.

Putting Him first. It’s the easiest thing to do and the hardest thing to do.

What He really wants is my heart, not my decisions … for me to want Him so much that the other stuff becomes secondary. And for me to actively want that every day. It’s not passive. It’s not coasting. But it’s also not drudgery. We love Him. And so we get out of bed, and we follow.

It takes intentional thought and prayer … but the floodgates open up and the hunger for Him and His Word grows more and more. Give Him a blank check with your life, and ask Him what He’d like to do with it and you’ll find He’s eager to take you up on it … and show you more of Himself. Read His Word, the Bible. Talk to Him daily and ask Him how He wants you to spend your days and your relationships, how you personally can bring Him the most glory, how we can enjoy Him today and how we can tell others about Him and how much He means to us. It becomes a daily conversation, a journey with Him rather than a tally of major and minor decisions. The decisions start flowing out of relationship.

It takes discipline, and at the same time it’s incredibly freeing.

It’s desire.

When you seek God for God, offering everything (not in mental assent like I did, but in actuality), you’ll find He’s there to answer the door.

Doesn’t mean times will be easy … in fact, He says they’ll be hard. But He also said we have Him with us always, and that He is the reward at the end.

And He’s worth everything.

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