The legendary coach for the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, once found himself frustrated with his football team. They weren’t playing up to their abilities, and had taken some things for granted. At his wits end, Lombardi huddled his team together, and pointed to an object they all knew, and proclaimed, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” His message that day was clear—they had drifted away from the fundamentals, and needed to return to the most basic of things. They needed to keep first things first.
This week, we begin a series at Abundant Life called, First Things First. We’ll be hanging out in Revelation 2, where Jesus says to the church at Ephesus that they had, “abandoned the love you had at first.” In His own way, Jesus is holding up the proverbial pigskin and saying, “Church, this is a football.” They needed to return to the basics…and so do we.
Someone once said the problem with life is it’s oh so daily. Now if ever there was a true statement, that’s it. There are kids to get off to school, errands to run, work attended to, headaches to deal with, people to love, lead and care for, homework to be helped out with, ball games to attend, money to be managed. On and on we can go and, if we’re not careful, we can wake up one day and realize that we, like the church at Ephesus, have drifted away from our first love, Jesus. We never made a conscience decision to put Jesus on the back burner, it just kind of happened.
What’s interesting, is Jesus doesn’t accuse the Ephesian church of outright neglecting Him, He just says He was no longer first. To the church at Ephesus, Jesus was somewhere in the picture, He just wasn’t front and center. That hits me right between the eyes.
We all were born with what I call natural wirings. By no means am I a perfect person, but when I put my mind to something, I can be pretty disciplined, even when I don’t feel like it, and this sometimes gets me in trouble. I grew up in the church, and a phrase I heard a lot in my formative years was “quiet time.” Between the pastor, the youth director and my parents, I heard the message loud and clear of how important it was to spend a few moments reading the Bible and praying every day (preferably in the mornings). This was sage wisdom. The Bible speaks repetitively of the importance of immersing ourselves in the Word of God (i.e., Psalm 19; Psalm 119), and prayer (i.e., Matthew 6:5–15; I Thessalonians 5:17). But the problem I ran into with the quiet-time culture, is that I was tuning into Jesus for 30 or so minutes a day, while doing my own thing the other 23 and a half hours. String enough of these days together and you can see how easy it is for Christ not to be first.
If Jesus is going to be first He must be constant. Jesus recognized this. That’s why He said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). The word “abide,” simply means to remain, or to hang out. What’s in view here is a lot more than a “quiet time,” it’s a constant lingering in the presence of Jesus. No, Jesus isn’t asking us to quit our jobs and spend all day everyday in meditation and prayer. He expects us to go to school, study hard, work, love our families well and serve, but to do so with the background music of our activities being Jesus. This is how Jesus becomes first, by becoming constant.
If you’ve ever been in love, you know this idea of constancy. When you fell in love, you weren’t content with a 15- to 30-minute conversation in the morning. No. You called several times a day, talking for as much as you could. When you hung up the phone, your mind marinated on your beloved. You wrote notes, went out, thought about and talked. This is what it means to abide. And if Jesus is going to be first, the same principles must apply—He must be constant.
I look forward to sharing more with you this Sunday as we begin our series, First Things First. Hope you can join us at 10 o’clock!