I have a very wise friend, a former chaplain at Covenant College and a writer. He wrote a book that has deeply and profoundly affected my faculty and me, impacting how we do much of what we do at Grace in what I pray are redemptive ways. At a recent meeting, my friend shared with me that, as Christians, we often let “second order things” take the place of “first order things.”
As my friend explained, there is actually only one first order thing: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. To live in a state of intimacy with the God who wants to be in deep relationship with you- the “now” you, the messy you, not the “hopefully you’ll clean yourself up someday” you. As amazing as it seems, God delights in being with us. Even though He doesn’t need us, He deeply wants to be with us. We are made to be in deep relationship with Him. That relationship is “first order.”
“Second order” things are encapsulated by Christ’s admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.” These are things like your work, your family, and your friends: your ministry. These are all great, wonderful, God-given things. My friend helped me realize that, in pursuing “second order” things, we often just assume our relationship with God, rather than spending much time thinking about it. Another way of saying that is “take it for granted,” like we would with our spouse in the course of doing life together.
My wise friend sent me off to stare at the ocean, and to think about these things. And, maybe you share some of my thoughts and feelings. “Second order things” are a joy to me; they fill my heart and bring tears of joy and pain. But, they flat out wear me out. I’ll bet you’re the same way. When you’re most tired, most weary, most drained, most depressed because you feel like the life is getting sucked out of you, chances are it’s because you’ve been exhausted by pouring your life into second order things.
The really crazy, ironic dilemma is that, if you’re like me and honest, you’ve become so attached to those second order things that they feed very real needs you have: the need to feel vital, to feel needed, to be liked or loved by others, to be sought after, thought of as “good enough” (whatever that means), or feeling like they (whoever that is) can’t do it without you. And, so, the very things that exhaust you also feed your addictions. You strive on toward exhaustion, creating a vicious cycle of pursuing good things made ultimate that threatens your very well-being.
The answer to the dilemma, of course, is in the first order thing; to step away from the chaotic cycle of busyness and neediness long enough to rest in your Father’s arms. You need time to delight in His presence. A half-hour daily quiet time is really good, but you were created to periodically need more. Long, sustained presence with the Father, maybe guided by a devotional, a journal, a musical instrument (if you play), or silence. Sustained presence means you can, over time, eventually delight in being with God, in relationship with Him, rather than being in love with His “stuff” – finding yourself in relationship with God “so that”: so that my marriage will be better, so that I can work more peacefully, so that I can love others better, so that my ministry will be as effective as I know it can be. You know: second order things. The benefits of Him, rather than just Him.
You can do it, you know. I know Satan and your addictions tell you that you can’t, but you can. You’re not more busy than I am, or anyone else. You have to schedule it, and create the time, even if you have to go out a month or more on your calendar to do it. You also have to create the place to meet with God, away from distractions (the minute you begin, you’ll be overwhelmed with distractions- it’s a spiritual battle; while I was thinking about all this and staring at the ocean, a dude with a leaf blower came up behind me and fired it up. A leaf blower, on the beach—really, Satan? Yep, distractions).
God says, “Come away, beloved child. Be with me, in My presence. Rest, really rest in Me, and be free to serve and love the second order things, rather than worshipping them. Free yourself from feeling like you have to control them. You don’t; you can’t. Rest in my presence and in my love, and see me not as ‘benevolent taskmaster,’ but as the beloved Dad who loves you and wants to be with you. Rest in the truth that nothing hinges on you, and be reminded of who I am and who you are.”
There’s a reason why we get so distracted, why Satan will do anything to stop you: everything that makes you well and whole and at peace rests in that one first order thing.
Jay Ferguson writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.