First things first


A certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" So he answered and said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And Jesus said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."—Luke 19:25-28

By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.

While reading this passage, the question the lawyer posed to Jesus led me to one of the most interesting discoveries in Scripture that I’ve stumbled upon recently.

"Teacher," he said, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

I decided to re-read the sentence, leaving out the word "eternal," and what I came upon was a fascinating question that you, too, have probably asked at one time or another: What must I do to inherit life? In other words: How can I find the kind of life that will bring happiness, contentment, satisfaction, and joy?

For 21st-century Christians, our question to Jesus becomes: How do I find that life You so often talk about?

Our society seems obsessed with getting more than what we have. Walk into any bookstore, and you probably will find books dealing with this subject among the top 10 sellers.

We struggle to describe what we really want, to define how it would look; we just know that out there exists a better way of living. We’ve been told it is possible to obtain, and so each day is spent searching for it.

But for some reason, it seems we always look in the wrong places in an effort to find that better life.

One of the first places we look in our quest is in the world of possessions. We believe that the more things we have, the happier we will be. And so we accumulate the things of life. But the number-one rule of this game of acquisition declares that the one with the most things is the only winner.

In this never-ending search to make sure we are secure and comfortable, we hoard our money and don’t risk losing anything. We think any catastrophe outside our door won’t affect us.

The true dilemma is that we no longer know what is real, lasting, or meaningful.

I’ve often shared the amusing story of the little boy who broke into a large department store one night. Instead of stealing things, he changed the price tag on every item. When the business opened the next morning, his mischief threw the store into chaos because no one knew the value of anything.

We struggle to know the value of anything any more. We are confused about what is important, and we have no idea how to right ourselves. What must we do?

Into our confusion comes this prophet named Jesus, who always put the important facts about life in simple, inescapable language.

In everything you do, Jesus said, you must put God first.

He knew that if we are to find the abundant life about which he so often spoke, we must be willing to start our search for it at the only place that can take us where we want to go. That starting place is with God.

Follow closely the life of Jesus. Before every miracle he performed, at the beginning of every prayer, he always first called upon God.

When asked to teach his disciples to pray, Jesus said, "Our Father." At the tomb of Lazarus, his first words were, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me." Even on the cross, his first words were, "Father, forgive them."

Before we can come into the fullness of life that Jesus represented, we must rearrange our priorities. We must remove the icons and idols of things, possessions, and security, and replace them with the knowledge of a loving God who knows our needs and who understands our desire to live happy, meaningful lives.

In my role as bishop, I have definitely discovered that if I don’t put God first in every decision, in every circumstance, and before every problem, I have no chance of dealing with particular situations. Thus with the dawning of each day, I seek God out.

What God gives to me in return is the kind of life that enables me to stand up to the challenges and demands I encounter.

Life in all its fullness is waiting on you today. Put first things first. This is what Jesus told the young lawyer, and this is what He tells us even now—Do this and you will live!

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