J-O-Y, J-O-Y this shall surely be:
And Others in between.
I remember singing this song in Sunday School at a very young age and thinking that it was only natural for me to put Jesus first since he had given everything for me. Remember, this was all done from within the context of belief that my life was worthless and in me was no good to be found. Even with the redeeming power of Jesus, a human being was still said to be a worthless wretch, a ‘worm,’ nothing.
So this was the path to Joy: learn your priorities.
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I recall when one of my College mates got married, he had the intention (and believed he had a calling from God) to be a pastor and thought he had found the ideal pastor’s wife. On his wedding day he told his bride that God was first in his life and that meant she would always take second place to his ministry.
That marriage lasted less than a year.
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A few months ago I had a short chat with the head of a global missionary organisation. I appreciated his commitment to the work and what he and his mission had done through planting self-perpetuating and self-funding local churches around the world.
But when he spoke of the cost of mission work, it seemed the family made little difference. If a child died overseas because of lack of proper medical care while the parents were doing ‘God’s work,’ that was something to be proud of–a badge of honour to prove how God was first in everything. It was an example for the local ministers and congregations to follow.
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Another story caught my attention the other day of a young man, the son of a prominent Evangelist, who was now writing a book about his journey into atheism. One major theme encompasses his story: in his family, God was always first (‘God’ being his father’s evangelistic ministry). Dad was never home. Dad spent more time ‘winning souls’ than nurturing those in his own house.
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Isn’t it interesting to hear pastors, evangelists, Christian writers, leaders speak about putting God first and then equating this to giving to their particular ministry, mission or cause. In a local church this takes the form of showing up for every church activity 3 or 4 nights a week plus Sunday morning. To a televangelist, this could mean sacrificing that holiday, present or bill money to further their ‘outreach.’
My aunt was a dedicated follower of Jerry Falwell. As I recall, Falwell had a fundraising campaign sometime around 1980 in which he would send everyone who made a donation to his ministry a ‘Jesus First’ pin. My aunt sent in a donation for each of us so we would all have a ‘
Jerry Jesus First’ pin to wear with pride.
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‘Put God first and your family will never suffer need.’
I am believing with more and more conviction every day that when you put your family first, you are putting God first. Your family has been entrusted to you by God. God does not desire to be worshiped or served at their expense.
Your family is your first ministry.
St Paul writes about this when he calls those who do not provide for their own family ‘worse than an unbeliever’ and says of these, ‘They have denied the faith.’
I believe this is more than simply a roof over their heads, food on the table, and clothes on their backs.
If you neglect your family, you are neglecting God.
I would go so far as to say that if you do not consider your own family as your first and foremost service to God, you are simply making excuses for your choice to be an absent father or mother.
I would be even bolder to declare that many in Christian ministry truly believe that, if they were not to ‘forsake all and follow Christ,’ they would find themselves in great judgement. Because of fear, they serve God to the detriment of their own household, believing the end justifies–requires–this. After all, saving someone’s soul for eternity is far more important than playing basketball with my son.
Perhaps, they have the mistaken notion that God will one day demand of them: ‘What have you done for me?’
And they, like Adam, hanging their head in shame, will reply, ‘The family you gave me, Lord–they kept me from pursuing whole-hearted service for you.’
And God will say to them: ‘The family I gave you–service to them was serving me.’
‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.‘ (Matthew 25:40, NRSV)