First Things FirstFr. Barnabas Powell
I recently received a note from a young man asking about our Orthodox faith. He is 15 years old and is already asking the questions that have him on a spiritual journey. Here’s an excerpt from his note (it is edited by me to avoid polemics and get to the heart of his comment): “I look at (my current tradition) and I see separation within the Body of Christ. I see how the (current tradition) church is all about reasoning applied to Scripture, and hardly a shred of worship. I currently attend a (edited) Church and our church worship consists of a computer projection of lyrics with a “church band”. When I read the Divine Liturgies, and compare them to my (current) worship, it saddens me and I almost need to hold back tears.”
Can you imagine having that kind of sensitivity to the things of God at 15?
I can. My own journey started when I was young, and I have come to a place of real gratitude for those early days and for that church and my pastor as a young man because they were doing the best they could and they taught me such a love for Scripture and for Christ. To be honest, some of those dear ones in my youth don’t understand the journey I’ve been on but no one should be amazed when good seed flowers!
How can we maintain this focus, or even obtain this focus, on spiritual things as the first priority of our lives? The truth is in my own life I have experienced the ebb and flow of spiritual attention and devotion, and I always drift from devotion when I forget to put first things first.
In today’s Gospel Lesson our Lord Jesus confronts this problem and challenges us to learn the principles, the wisdom of keeping first things first. Get your Bible and read Matthew 6:22-33. Here the Lord gives us three insights into keeping first things first.
First, the Lord confronts us with divided loyalties. “No one can serve two masters…” (Matthew 6:24) I always find my devotion diluted when I allow other priorities to cloud my devotion to God. I drift the most when I forget that my relationship with God, and my purposeful practice of the Faith is to define and regulate all other aspects of my life. It’s like committing spiritual adultery. A divided heart will never be sound and healthy.
Second, the Lord call us to authentic faith. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…” (Matthew 6:25) My heart becomes divided when I forget that God both loves me and will guide and protect me. If He has such care for creation, the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, then I can always have faith He will care for me, no matter what my circumstance. It’s when I lose sight of this eternal reality that I start to try to take care of myself by myself. And that always leads to a loss of first things first.
Finally, the Lord challenges us to be faithful. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33) It’s when I have first things first that all the other priorities in my life find their proper place. That’s why a constant attention to my priorities sets me free to stay faithful to first things. No wonder the Faith has such disciplines, such a focus on daily prayer, such a rhythm of worship, liturgy, visual aids, sensory devotion; it all works together to help me keep first things first.
Today, lying at your feet, are all the tools you need to keep first things first. Just know that to the extent you embrace and activate these tools in your life that is the extent that first things will be first in your life. The converse is also true. The more these spiritual tools lie idle in your life, the more confused and out of sorts your priorities will be.
Why not begin (or begin again) to put first things first in your home, your relationships, in your parish, and watch as the realignment of your priorities strengthens your faith and fills you with peace and joy? Why not?