First Things First

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“Thank you! You too!” was all that I offered in response to her, “Have a nice day!” before I drove away. Apart from my coffee order, those were the only words I said the entire interaction with the barista whose shop I visit at least once per week. They’re busy and efficient, and as someone in a hurry, I respect that, but shouldn’t I know her name at least?  By now? How long could that possibly take?

She was one of at least ten people that I had a one-on-one interaction with before 10:00.  Whether seconds or hours, a shared sentence or a long story, they all had an impact on me. I can only assume I affected them in kind.

How many people do I see daily? What if each encounter were… an opportunity?

It’s a lie that we get to live in isolation.  We may feel very alone at times, but don’t buy in. You and I influence someone. We do. Because of that, we have an innate responsibility. Now pause. That word immediately incites dread for me. I’m tired of those. The “R” word. Who wants more of those?  Having two kids in two years is giving me all kinds of indications that it’s time for me to grow up, and I don’t wanna.

What I DO want is the best out of life. I want it all, no regrets. Jesus was there when this whole origin of life thing went down (see Colossians 1:15-17), and He said He’s the source of life best lived.

“…I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  John 10:10

I don’t know about you, but I’m sold. I want that. Now what do I do? What next? How do I get the most out of life while also stewarding it well? Surely He included a “how” if He came to give abundant life, right?

I don’t believe it’s just about adhering to a list of rules gleaned from Scripture. Don’t get me wrong, doing whatever you want or whatever “feels right” ain’t gonna get you there either. Whether you dig into the New Testament or the Old, the first commandment is always the first commandment: Love God first, with everything you’ve got. See Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 22:37 for a few references. Loving people is next. (Keep reading in Matthew 22.) Jesus even said that all of the Scriptures can be boiled down to these, making it sound like if these are our foundation, the rest isn’t much of a stretch. (Just keep going in Matthew 22.)

Now that we have our goal (abundant life) and our how (Love God; love people), let’s circle back. My life influences others. While tons of Scripture advises how that should look, the FIRST priority I’m given is not my relationship with others. Pause. If I replay my day mentally, how much time was spent in concern or maybe even regret about my interaction with another? I should have been gentler correcting my daughter. My coworker looked bothered; I should have asked how she was. Why did I answer him so curtly? I’ve met her before; why didn’t I say hi? I wonder what he thought about my idea; maybe I shouldn’t have spoken up. So much energy spent. And not on priority #1.

What if it shifted? What if that energy was put into the “Love God” part? Then what if the “love people” part was the wake I left in my pursuit of Him? What if it was the fruit that grew from my connectedness to the Vine (John 15:5)?

Let’s be real, my resolve to be a good person, to improve my gentleness, and to just be nicer has never actually changed my heart. But God is in the business of changing hearts. He’s also in the business of using a heart that says “yes” to Him to bless others. Although it’s real and important, my ministry to others is only an outflow and truly a reflection of my relationship with Him. I need to be filled up to pour out.

It’s somewhat freeing and somewhat daunting to reach this conclusion. He went to great lengths to make it possible. He gave me a whole book about Who He is and how He works. He sent His Son so that I could be in a relationship with a holy God despite my sin (Romans 5:8). Then He sent His Spirit so that I could understand things about Him (1 Corinthians 2). He does way more than His part in this relationship. I can only draw the conclusion that He is for me. And He is for blessing others through me. They should have access to the abundant life too, right?

It can be simple. Perhaps I won’t begin with sharing my testimony after my coffee order. Maybe I’ll spend time in the Word and in prayer consistently. I will ask God to let me see people through His eyes, to value them as He values them. I will ask to understand more about His love and grace. I will learn His grace goes deeper than I can fathom to redeem each of us. I will ask that He keep the truth that we are all deemed worthy of His love ever present in my heart and mind.

And for now, I will ask the lady her name on my next trip to the coffee stand.