Once upon a time, I wanted to design warp engines like on the U.S.S. Enterprise. I was four years old and a big fan of the original Star Trek. I guess that dream never really died, because it is ultimately where the name of the ministry came from. At age 11 I wanted to grow up to be first baseman for the New York Yankees, just like my idol, Don Mattingly. At age 14 I wanted to be an aerospace/aeronautical engineer and design military aircraft, preferably ones that would go into space. At age 17 I just wanted to be a soccer goalkeeper. My hope was to make The Citadel’s team as a walk-on. A few months later, I just wanted to survive my first few weeks at The Citadel and had put all thoughts of trying out behind me, especially after I had severely injured my ankle during the summer (and of course, I didn’t tell anyone). As I was graduating from The Citadel, I wanted to be a career officer in the US Air Force. As I was concluding my first year with the US Air Force, that plan, and all former plans changed. I knew that God had called me into ministry. That became my number one priority and through the years, it has stayed that way. Now I’ll admit, the first eighteen months after I heard the call I did more than a bit of running. After all, I was still very young in my faith and I was overwhelmed that God could possibly want to use me in that way. But I knew what my priority was supposed to be.
My story is not unique. If you look at your life, chances are you’ve wanted to be a lot of things over the course of years. Your priorities have changed as you have grown and matured. This is true of just about everybody. But even though our priorities change over time, that doesn’t mean any set of them were right or wrong at the time they were our priorities. This applies to the present day. Are our priorities right? As Christians, our priorities are not our own, just as our time isn’t our own. Our priorities belong to God.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. – Matthew 16:24-27, NASB
This is a well known set of verses. We talk about it a lot within the Church. But as much as we talk about it, we aren’t very good at following it, myself included. Because right there in that first sentence is “deny himself.” That phrase we kind of read over really quickly until we get to “take up his cross and follow Me.” We like that phrase. It means we are justified in our suffering because we have followed Christ. But the “deny” part is critical.
When I start thinking of my priorities, my first inclination is to ask, “What do I want?” I immediately start answering that question. What I should be asking from the get go is, “What does God want?” That starts things down a whole different direction. With the first approach, eventually I’ll realize I need to look at things from God’s perspective. But you know what? Some of those really “important” personal priorities are hard to shake. They hold an exaggerated place on the list. When the priority list is started with the second approach in mind, personal priorities only start to come into play well into the planning. And they are seen at a different level of importance. That’s a good thing.
Jesus tells us that each of our actions will have a reaction. He says it quite clearly that He will repay every man according to our deeds. That “every” is no accident. It means this applies to Christians, too. We often don’t quote verse 27, but we should. It reminds us that if our priorities line up with God’s, we’ve got a reward coming. On the other hand, it is also a warning that if our deeds don’t line up, well, you can figure it out. While we will escape Hell and damnation, the fact of the matter is all will face judgment for what we’ve done with our time. Christians included. Again, that’s not something else we like to think about. Some theologians say our sins won’t be discussed at the final judgment because that would bring shame upon the believers. Others say it will, for we will have a mind like God’s and the acknowledgment of our life list of sins is a further reflection of our gratitude for His grace and the magnitude of His redemption. Whichever view you take, there is still the idea of rewards, a view which both sides accept. When you stand before God, do you want Him to say, “Here’s $20 for your efforts in my name,” or would you rather Him say, “Here’s a veritable fortune for following Me?” I know I’d rather the latter. That only happens if my priorities are not mine, but His.
If our priorities are His, we will look very different from the world. We will be that band of rebels God wants us to be. Our time will be properly spent. And we’ll be keeping in mind whose opinion really matters. But it starts with denying ourselves. We need to each ask God, “What are Your priorities for my life?” And that should be the starting point for defining what is important in our lives.