First Place

Today is Wednesday, middle of the week, and yet it feels like the start of my real week because God brought me back to keeping first place in my life what should always be first place, or, I should say instead, “who” should be first place, Jesus.  It is so easy to get away from who should always be the main, first person in your life!  But God is always in your mind and heart, leading, leading, leading you back to where you should be and to who you should be.  He works diligently, hour after hour, relentlessly calling and nudging and appealing to your spirit to come back to the best and only place where we find contentment, joy, and peace.

I am asking God to make a radical and consistent change in my life: to keep Jesus Christ preeminent in my life at all times; to integrate all the parts of my life into one lived in peace and wholeness and balance.  I feel like a brand new Christian, leaving behind everything I’ve learned and studied over the past decades and beginning fresh with Christ.  It isn’t that I will lay down whatever I’ve learned through Bible college and seminary, through personal study, and seminars, but rather that I am looking at everything again with fresh eyes and fresh heart, trying to learn simply day by day and in the moment what God is telling me.  Putting Christ first place in my life is an enormous struggle for me because of distractions and negative thoughts and emotions; it’s a struggle because of family needs, pet needs, friend needs, and needs of the world.  Everything sometimes comes at once to pull you away from the preeminence of Christ in your life.

But there is no contentment, no real or lasting peace, no quietness or wisdom or stability unless Jesus Christ becomes and remains first place in our lives.  The Word of God is one item that is always included because it is the way God speaks to you and it confirms and validates the truth of a thought or emotion or contradicts something that is not from God.  Prayer is essential too because unless God illuminates the Word, you will not be able to understand what is being said to you in the spirit.  Then, there is the personal communication with Christ, that conversation of the heart, that makes you know Jesus is speaking to you all the time, always drawing you to that place of safety and comfort and wellness that happens only in His presence.  I want every day to start and be focused on, Christ and his having first place in my life, heart, and mind.  So, today, after struggling for two days with worldly distractions like shopping and errands, I am back to beginning the day with the Word and Jesus and prayer, and it has been wonderful!

First, I went to my daughter’s house, where I babysit her dogs and where I’m able to bring three of my six dogs with me!  The five of them have a great time, running around in the back yard, playing inside, and then napping together while I work.  Life for me is best when surrounded with dogs!  I can’t imagine not having dogs around me constantly; they are an integral part of my happiness in life, and I feel blessed to have them.  Every day I learn something new from them!  But while they are a very important part of my life, they are not first place in my life–Jesus Christ is the only one who can fill that position.  I could have all the dogs in the world in my life, but without Christ in the center of my heart, even this passionate love I feel toward dogs does not fill the void.  On Monday and Tuesday I spent no time in the Word of God, in prayer, or in daily activities focused on Him.  This morning, as I was getting ready for the day, I was thinking about certain things that I had not accomplished in my ministry as a pastor, and was filled with discouragement and rejection of myself.  I even heard a thought in my head yelling, “You are a failure!”  Suddenly, my spirit realized that I was again listening to wrong thoughts from the enemy, Satan, who wants nothing more than to derail us from letting Christ have first place in our thoughts and lives, and who wants to destroy us with negative words and emotions and thoughts. I knew that God would never call me a failure!  God would never yell at me, period, and would never say such a defeating, negative thing.  God is a God of encouragement, fresh beginnings, positivity, and light.  Whatever I might not have accomplished, God is Someone who can restore, repair, and guide you into mending anything that is broken or even dead.

I realized that I had gotten off-track from putting Christ and His word into my daily life, and had allowed myself to be distracted from having Him involved in every aspect, every minute, of my day.  Whenever you’re filled with confusion, depression, anxiety, negative thoughts, or even boredom and apathy, that is a signal that God is not involved enough in your life!  And the only answer to those feelings and thoughts is to go immediately to the Word, to Jesus, to prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit to become centered and focused again on the only true reality in this world, Jesus Christ and the truth of the gospel.  So, I finished getting ready for the day, gathered my things together, lassoed the three dogs I was taking with me, and drove to my daughter’s house, filled with purpose, and grateful for God guiding me back again to this real change in my life.  When I arrived, I put my three dogs out in the yard with hers and watched them play together.  Her dogs are a Golden Retriever and an English Shepherd, and mine are a Beagle, a French Bulldog mix, and a Cavalier Spaniel.  They had a great time together, and then we all headed into the house, where I put my notebook on the table and settled in to study God’s word.

Have you ever been determined to get started right by reading the Bible, and then been puzzled about where in the world to start?  Often, we have great intentions about the Bible, but then when we finally get ready to open it up and read some truth, we wonder where to start!  For me, I usually ask God what He wants me to read for that time of meditation and study, and He has always been faithful to show me.  If I’m ever unsure, I just open up one of the gospel stories in the New Testament, and read about Jesus.  Today, when I asked God to guide my reading, His immediate response was, Colossians.  When I went to my ipad to open my Bible App, it was already positioned on Colossians chapter one!  So I began reading the verses of chapter one, and of course, the preeminence of Christ, how He should have first place in everything, was part of that chapter!  God wanted to reassure me that the only thing that ever needs to be accomplished in my day is making sure I’m centered on Him and His word; everything else is just a bonus!  But unless Christ occupies that first place in our hearts, we cannot accomplish anything that matters to God.  God is a God of relationship first and foremost, and if you’re ignoring the relationship, nothing else you do counts for anything.

As Colossians says: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven, and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  And He is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  Col. 1:15-18 ESV

As I read these verses, and really, the whole chapter, I began to cry and be grateful simultaneously because I realized how much I need Christ to always be first place in my thoughts, words, and actions, and also how thankful I am to be drawn back to that place of peace and truth and love where Christ exists in the deepest part of my heart.  I began to be completely filled with happiness and joy as I read the words of chapter one over and over and over again, taking in the truth of verses 15-18, and also the verses of 21-23:

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul (and me!) became a minister.  ESV

I am blameless and holy and above reproach because of Christ’s blood on the cross, not because of what I accomplish as a person, or even as a pastor.  But I have to keep this mindset of being above reproach and blameless by continuing in the faith of Christ’s reconciliation and not allow anything to shift my heart and mind from this truth of the gospel.  This means I have to read and reread the truth every day and stay in constant communion with the One who gave His life for me so that I could live in grace and truth rather than condemnation and fear.

I’m reminded of how to keep someone first place in my life by watching my six dogs and their attitude toward me as the most important person in their lives.  In the morning, all six pairs of eyes are riveted on me as I feed them and then let them out to relieve themselves.  They look to me for their food, their water, their guidance, companionship, fun, and safety.  If something scares them, they run to me!  If they need something, they look to me!  If they want to play, they look to me!  If they want to be held or lay beside me, they look to me for that comfort.  I want these same things to be true of me and my relationship with Christ.  I want to be as focused on Christ for my every need in the same way my dogs are focused on me for theirs.  At my word, they have direction, at my word, their worries are solved, at my word, their world is expanded and made more interesting.  Let this be true of God’s word in my life as well.

I still don’t know the extent of my purpose in this life, but I know these things are true about my life:

I love God

I love people

I love dogs

I love the Word of God

I love listening to God

I love recording what God is doing and saying in my life

I love speaking and teaching the truths of God

I love worshiping God

I love studying the Word of God

I love observing and being taught through dogs

I love creation

I love observing and being taught through creation

I could do these things effortlessly all day long!  I am so grateful to God that we can give Christ first place in our lives and do the things that make us incredibly happy and fulfilled at the same time!  If you are ever wondering how you can do the things you want to do, and also make Christ the center of your life, start by giving Him first place.  Read the Word, pray, and ask Christ to fill your thoughts and daily activities with His presence.  From that focus, God will then lead you to all the things you desire to do or have.  Giving first place to Jesus in our lives does not exclude everything else, it simply puts all we do and have under the Lordship and control of Jesus Christ.  Jesus doesn’t want you to eliminate everything else you love and then just love Him in a bare room with no one but you and the Bible!  He wants our lives filled with the things and people and animals we love, but letting nothing encroach upon that first place of time and companionship and inclusion reserved for Him.  After I spend time with Jesus, I love others in my life more fully, I take care of and enjoy my dogs more richly, and I dedicate the material things in my life to His control, to be used for His glory.  Life becomes a joyous, peace-filled experience when we give Jesus first place in all things!

 

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