What matters most
As I write this article, it was only last Sunday that I preached on Overcoming Heart Attack, taking the opportunity to look at some of the challenges which come into our own hearts, and using Joseph’s story. I used the analogy of the risk factors for our physical health to show that we need to check out our own spiritual and emotional health when we’ve experienced any of these risk factors: injustice, disappointment, doubt, waiting. I thought that was the end of this message; prayed over, prepared, preached and beginning to be applied.
Then on Tuesday this week I heard the news that a fellow pastor, a godly man and a great leader, had experienced a heart attack the night before, and had died suddenly. I was with other pastors and leaders at the time, due to being at a leader’s business conference, and all of us were stunned by the news. A swirl of emotions were present from shock, sadness, grief, hope, to thankfulness at the impact God had had in so many of us through this man’s life.
The conference I’d gone to was an important one for our family of churches, with a new legal & constitutional framework being presented, and with important matters being decided on by those leaders present. Yet as I reflected on the life and death of our friend, it was impossible not to reassess what is really important for all of us.
I suspect there are many things we worry about which are not a priority for God in the same way as they are for us. One reason for this is that we walk with an imperfect revelation of what is really important. It has been the same since Adam and Eve grasped the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – humanity has been searching to understand what really matters in life, and often we’ve grasped at the wrong things.
It is easy to hear the news of the death of someone we love, and rush to re-prioritise our own lives. We might look for a change of work so that we can enjoy more leisure, free from the pressure of enforced productivity. We might decide to invest our time in being with our families or friends, with renewed energy and with our love for them reaffirmed. Both of these are good thoughts, especially if we’ve allowed our work/productivity/position to become an idol for us. Even as I write the words I can sense a longing for both.
As human beings we are made to reflect and radiate God’s glory in all that we do. In the beginning, man and woman are created as those who bear God’s image, and as those who rule over the earth, filling it and subduing it. Yet the call Jesus issues is not only to a life of long walks, deep and meaningful conversations and BBQs with friends (though Jesus provided each of these for the disciples!). Jesus’ call is to follow him, and he describes this as taking up our cross and following him, daily, moment by moment.
This is an adventurous and overcoming way to live, and living according to the pattern Jesus demonstrated includes rest, reflection along with intense times too. Jesus spent three years with his disciples, walking with them, eating with them, sharing with them, teaching them and hanging out with them. I imagine they had some great times of laughter as well as many others of profound insight and revelation. When you get that many guys together there is bound to have been some good banter along the way… Yet all of this was with a greater purpose – it was not an end in itself. Whilst it was a good and godly thing, enjoying each others’ company was not the goal in itself, well, not quite anyway.
Jesus’ purpose was to prepare his disciples to live for a higher call than they would otherwise have done – that of living in the richness of God’s kingdom, and living as those who brought the good news to others. Jesus knew that ahead of him was death (and resurrection) and that ahead of each of the disciples were challenging times to come. Called to live in unity together, to live in rhythm with God and to walk with Jesus, nevertheless the disciples found that their lives would be different from anything they could have imagined aspiring to in their previous experience as fishermen, tax collectors and the like.
I do not believe that any of them were disappointed by this as temporary comfort was not their goal. The invitation Jesus offered them was not to add something into their lives, or merely to bring them to a place of inner contentment. It was much bigger than that. His call was to live a life which really mattered. To live in this way is to live as one who seeks daily to live with an awareness of, and in joyful service of, God himself. As we contemplate what matters, may we do so aware of God’s call and values, not only of those values and priorities which are all around us in the world. I’m confident that my pastor friend will hear Jesus say “well done, good and faithful servant.” There’s no higher accolade than that!