Torch, Summer 1991

-------------------------~- with relieving the pain. There is an obvious difference between the person who fails to put God first and the one who puts God first. The unhappy husband who would rather spend extra time on the job than with his wife and family is failing to put what God wants ahead of what he wants. The disgruntled wife who has resigned herself to keeping the marriage together for the chil– dren 's sake, instead of for Christ's sake, is failing to put God first. The frustrated parent who would do anything to get the children out of her hair believes that escape is her only option, rather than raising her children God 's way. The angry teen who wants, more than anything else, to get his parents off his back, thinks more of freedom than of God. The offended church member who has ceased his Sunday giving shows he gave, not as an act of worship to God, but as a favor. And when things did not go his way, he withdrew his favors. Believe it or not, all these individuals have a common problem. In each case there is a failure to be faithful to God and to what He wants. When a person stops living for God, he begins living for himself. Failure to put God first means three things. First, we care more about pleasing ourselves than pleasing God. This carries serious implications because we begin to act like practical atheists; we pretend to worship God but live like there is no God. People who think this way carry the facade of a righteous life, but they are really out for their own interests. Achan, Ananias and Sapphira are some of the more infamous Scriptural examples (Joshua 7, Acts 5). They were more interested in riches than righteousness. In each case God's judgment was severe and swift. However, there are positive examples. Jesus modeled how to please God and said, "I always do what pleases Him" (John 8:29). The Apostle Paul was not shy about stating his first priority when he wrote, "So we make it our goal to please Him." Then in the next verse he is quick to remind us that "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:9- 10). In other words , it would be prudent for all Christians to make it our goal to please Him, considering we will someday answer to Jesus Christ face to face . Second, failure to put God first means we are opening our lives to unbiblical responses. Abandoned husbands and wives become so consumed with getting their mate to return that they are willing to do anything, including sinful things , just to get their spouses back or to get rid of their hurt. Students who fail to put God first are willing to do anything, including lying and cheating, in order to pass or get a good grade. Counselees who are open to do anything to get rid of their problems are not following God' s agenda, because the goal of Christian counseling is not to remove trials but help people learn to be "God 's kind of person" in the midst of them. That means putting God first in everything. It may never cross our minds that it is not God 's will to remove those trials. This was certainly true of the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). In fact, the Bible is clear that the "blessed life" is not the one that is purged of trials, but the one where the believer has learned to persevere through trials (James 1: 12). And the blessed man, writes the psalmist, is like a tree that produces fruit, not in the absence of hot desert winds, but in the midst of them (Psalm 1). The writer of Hebrews tells us that hardship is not a disease to be relieved, but a discipline to be learned: "God is treating you as sons" (12:7). Consequently, hardship is an excellent test as to whether God is first in our lives. Third, failure to put God first means we leave ourselves at the mercy of our circumstances. People who are at the mercy of their circumstances are subject to more aches, more pain, more anger, more depression and more anxiety. When Cain 's sacrifice was not accepted by God, instead of offering an appropriate sacrifice, he became "very angry, and his face was downcast". Then God gave him an opportunity to change his ways and said, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?" (Genesis 4:7). But He also warned Cain about falling prey to his circumstances: "If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you , but you must master it" (Genesis 4:7). Cain 's failure to put God first resulted in the murder of his brother and his personal demise. So Christians who wonder whether or not they are putting God first find out quickly when adverse circum– stances enter their life. What about the people who put God first? How are they different? First, the people who put God first live above their circumstances. Even if their spouses have left them, they are determined to be God ' s kind of people. That means they will work at living for God, not just at getting their spouses back. Sure, they have a desire for the one they love to return to them, but not more than they have a desire to please God. That means, instead of speaking threats, manipu– lating, or retaliating, they have entrusted themselves "to Him who judges justly" (I Peter 2: 23). Instead of being dominated by worry, anxiety, fear, and jealousy, they arm themselves with the attitude of Christ who was willing to suffer for right– eousness sake (1Peter4:1-2). They know "it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God" (1 Peter 2:19). The Apostle Peter sums up with these words of encourage– ment to Christians who suffer because they put God first, "So then, those who suffer according to God' s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good" (1 Peter 4: 19). These Christians live above their circum– stances because their souls are firmly and securely anchored in heaven with their faithful Creator (Hebrews 6:19). The hurricane of life may rock them about, but it will never dislodge them because no storm is big enough to reach to heaven. That is why those who put God first can be confident about life, even though it is fu ll of turmoil. Second, the people who put God first know where happi– ness is found. This is wisdom that defies the world 's logic. Happiness cannot be found by seeking it, but it does come to those who seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33, cf. Mark 8:35). When we use all of our mind, our energy, and our resources to achieve the things of this world, thinking that the accumulation of these things as ends in themselves will bring us happiness, we, like Solomon, find it proves to be meaningless (Ecclesiastes 2: 11). These things end up taking God's place in our life. But the people who seek first His kingdom oppose the pressure to sin, and do what is right. They find rea! happiness in pleasing God, not pleasing men. They are the "C" students who resist cheating for better grades. They are the parents of a disobedient child, who see the child's continual interrup– tions as an opportunity to teach respect, rather than an incon– venience and to sharply rebuke. They are the spurned spouses who give up thoughts of revenge and are determined to be godly, whether their mates seek forgiveness or not. Their happiness is not rooted in this world; it is found in pleasing God. continued on page 12