I am a Disciple of Jesus

"God is the #1 priority of my life. . . . I always put Him first. . . . He's at the top of my list."

We hear this kind of talk a lot, don't we, from the lips of the super pious. God may be one among several competing priorities, but at least He's on top, right? I was thinking about this today as I meditated on the various "callings" of God on my life:
  • Husband
  • Father
  • Son
  • Grandson
  • Friend
  • Student
  • Church member
  • (One day) Minister of the Gospel
  • Citizen of my country, my state, my community
. . . and so on.  As I move closer to the end of my formal preparation for ministry, I am thinking and praying more and more about the direction God would take us after graduation. Where does He seem to be leading? What are my options? Where should I be looking? How aggressive should I be in pursuing ministry positions? Networking? Is there a specific geographic region? Demographic focus? And on the questions roll.

"But you've been called into the ministry, Matt. Aren't you supposed to know these things? Isn't God speaking to you? Aren't you listening?"

Well, He has spoken, and I have listened, which is why I quit my job, uprooted my new family from southwest Missouri, and moved to Chicago to attend seminary. But it wasn't as if God told me, "Matt, you need to attend Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois." No, the call was much more generic than that: "Matt, you need leave this place and pursue formal training for the ministry to which I have called you." The rest was trying doorknobs, opening doors when they were unlocked, stepping inside and looking around, trying other doors, praying, and then choosing.

So the reality is, a lot of choice goes into where a person called to ministry actually ends up ministering. Not without tons of prayer, counsel, and careful discernment... oh, and faith! But at the end of the day, when the spirits and voices have been tested, decisions have to be made.

Which brings me to the main question of this post: Is God's will that I place Him at the top of my priority list, followed by my wife, then daughter, then church, and so on?

In all of these decisions, there is a temptation to "put God above" those whom He has entrusted to my care. But what does this mean? In reality, I think it means that I am putting those to whom I feel God is calling me to minister above them. What I am really saying when I say to my wife, "I know this is a huge sacrifice for you, but I have to put God first" is "Reaching and ministering to these people is more important than taking care of you and Madelyn."

The Apostle Paul recognized this tension when he wrote to the Corinthian church,
"I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. . . . I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint on you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord" (1 Cor 7:32-35).
Perhaps Roman Catholics were on to something in ordaining only celibate men for the priesthood. Well, perhaps not, but they did at least recognize the tension.  :-)

Now, how about we consider something revolutionary:
We are disciples of Jesus, not first among other roles and obligations, but in all of them.
Being a disciple of Jesus is my identity—forming, motivating, and directing all that I am and do, ordering all of my relationships and priorities. God is not one (even first) among several priorities after all. Putting God first means honoring Him in all my "worldly" priorities and relationships. When we see the life of discipleship like this, things begin to change. No longer are we forced to choose between loving God and loving those He has commanded us to love, as the previous hierarchy forced us to do. We simply live faithfully where we are, seeking God's direction for where He wants to take us, and move forward, in unison, in the direction He leads us.

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