“Lord, I ask that you take the time I spend reading your Scripture and teach me. Please help me comprehend your truths. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” So went my prayer life morning after morning as I sat down to read my Bible.
As I look back now, it occurs to me that there were mornings when I had another thought that was sometimes verbalized, but more often than not, was more of a parenthetical statement of my purpose for studying. It went something like this: “Teach me and show me these things Lord so that I can teach and show others the things that you have hidden in these pages.”
There is not a doubt in my mind that Father God has given me an ability to help people as a counselor, guide, and mentor. I have no question about whether he has asked me to be a minister of his Word. Yet, I am faced with this line of questions: Why do I read God’s Word? Why do I spend time with him in his book?
It was a sobering realization one day to realize I was spending time with God for the benefit of other people other than for my own relationship with him. In wanting to assist others, I was missing the personal connection of knowing God by spending time with him. Period. Rather than my goal being knowing my heavenly Father, my goal was knowing his Word so that I could share with others more effectively.
I realize this is a fine line to draw. But the proof of my realization was when I examined the attitude I had toward God, his book, prayer, worship, giving, and so forth. I found that others and other activities had become my goals, professional aspirations, and motivation for spiritual performance. Quite frankly, I was tired of pursuing the goals. I had achieved. I was a leader in the Christian community. I had acquired expertise and was looking for new horizons to keep me interested. In short, I was wondering, “What is my purpose on the planet?”
Apart from my desk, I’ve been to church more than any other place in my life. I’ve heard lots of sermons—and a lot of those lectures dealt with purpose. My takeaway was that my primary function in life is to achieve two passages of Scripture. First, Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The second passage seemed to elaborate on Acts 1:8. Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have command you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Based upon these passages my prayer seemed correct: “Lord, teach me so that I can teach others in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the world.” My marching orders were obvious. Or, so I thought.
One way or another I had missed a very important part of these passages. In Acts, I failed to see the power of, “…has come upon you….” Sure the Spirit indwelt me at salvation, but I was remiss in letting him come over me. He hadn’t grown on me. I wasn’t deeply acquainted with him. I had the proverbial cart before the horse. Matthew was careful to state the most important part of the verse: “Teach them to observe all that I commanded you.”
The Bible is full of imperatives, i.e. strong intentions. In the strictest sense of the word, Jesus issued several imperatives. But when the religious leaders asked him to pinpoint a command, he isolated the most important truth in the Bible: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). The next verse notes, “This is the great and first commandment.”
As Matthew concludes his thoughts, he begins with an imperative: “Go.” He follows this with another: “Make.” Yet, he distinguishes these imperatives from, “Observe all that I have commanded you.” Specifically, Jesus’ one command was, “You shall love the Lord your God. This is the great and foremost commandment.”
Very simply: According to Jesus, my purpose in life—my highest calling, the most important matter in the mind of God—is that I love him. As important as it is that his message spreads throughout the world, the one priority that trumps all others is that I love him first and foremost.
My priority must not be the things of God—witnessing, prayer, Bible study, etc.—rather, my priority must be God himself with the supreme purpose of knowing him. To state the obvious, as I get to know God, the things that are important to God are going to be more and more part and parcel of my life. But in making first things first, the proper order forms: My Christian life flows out of my relationship with Father God rather than my relationship to him flowing out of my Christian life for him.
Do you recall the biblical story where Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” For emphasis, he repeats the question two more times. Each time Peter responds affirmatively, and each time Jesus says back, “Feed my sheep.” Notice that Jesus never asked Peter if he loved sheep, only if he loved him. Jesus knew that as Peter loved him, his instruction regarding care for his sheep would be fulfilled.
As one who has devoted himself to caring for people, I can honestly say that ministry is important to me. God’s people—his sheep—are my working priority. But I realize the only way I will ever effectively minister is if I know, love, and seek first the Minister himself. It is from this forged relationship that all things pertinent to his heart flow outward to people.
These days, when I sit down with the Scriptures I pray a more focused, honest, straightforward prayer. It is a prayer without an ulterior motive. Instead of looking for something to take away, I come to Scripture to spend time with the one who loves me—the one I have come to love from spending time with him considering his book.