Stop Telling Christians to Put Jesus First

My pastor is doing a sermon series based on Game of Thrones.

The sermons explore the book of Ecclesiastes, in which King Solomon pursues every imaginable form of pleasure only to find his life entirely devoid of meaning. Empty. Futile. Dust in the wind.

It’s not a bad parallel to the characters in the HBO series, most of whom spend eight seasons chasing power. A few also chase wine and women. Most die gruesome deaths in the process, and almost none find any sort of fruitful sense of purpose.

The point, of course, is that Jesus needs to sit on the throne of your heart. It’s right there in the Bible, over and over again: prioritize the kingdom of God, and all of the other stuff will get taken care of, too. It’s a valid point. I even agree with it–but pastors need to stop saying it.

He’s Not First

You’ve probably heard a variation of that sermon a hundred times. “Is Jesus the King of your heart? Do you love Him most? Do you worship any figurative idols?” If you’re like me, your answer is likely the same as it’s been the past 99 times: He’s not first.

Not really. Not if you’re honest.

You’re terribly distracted, you see. You prioritize all kinds of things above Jesus because of your vanity, or your pride, or your selfish ambition, or your laziness. You’re not proud of it. You’d like to be different, but you know perfectly well Jesus isn’t on your throne. You are!

Jesus isn’t on your throne. You are!

You Can’t Change

So … what can you do about it? That’s the missing part that seems, in my opinion, critical. Nobody has a good answer.

As a recovering perfectionist, my natural response tends to be, “I need to try harder!” Read my Bible longer. Pray more often. Go to more church services. Volunteer.

But I know from experience where that leads, and it’s the same place the Game of Thrones led Jon Snow: to disillusionment. It’s also the same place King Solomon ended up, the richest and wisest and most powerful man who ever lived. Bummer.

Let Him Work

Here’s the problem with putting Jesus first: you can’t do it. It’s impossible. Stop trying.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I’m a big fan of trying in general, meaning that you should absolutely keep taking small steps toward self-improvement, but you were never meant to perform your own heart transplant. Jesus wants to do that for you.

The whole point of the Gospel is that you can’t save yourself, so Jesus has to step in and make some serious changes on your behalf. The first step to putting Jesus first is to be honest with Him. Try this prayer for starters: “Lord, I know you’re not on my throne. I wish you were. Help me.”

Your part is to keep on asking.

It’s not that Jesus doesn’t expect you to participate at all, but the key point I’m making is that He does the work in you. You just need to recognize the problem, acknowledge the ugly truth, ask Him to do what you cannot, and trust Him to answer.

My pastor honestly preached a great sermon on the Christian version of the Game of Thrones. He simply left us to figure out the application on our own–because it’s not enough to inspire a sense of shame. True repentance means to turn around, to enact a change in leadership.

In my case, only Jesus could gently persuade me to relinquish my seat on the throne and bend the knee to the true King.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

5 Reasons I’m Glad I Got Married

Evan and Marie - HQ-4530-2
Daniel Swanson Photography

I’m not advising you to get married.

I’m also not suggesting that married people have more fulfillment in their lives than single people. I’m simply sharing my experience because I expected to hate marriage.

Weird, right?

I’d heard about how “hard” marriage would be, and I experienced a lot of fear and indecision beforehand, so I can honestly say that my marriage has turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Sometimes it’s nice to recall the good decisions that you’ve made.

Here are five aspects of married life that I love:

1. Companionship

Ordinary tasks take on more meaning when you share them with someone. I’ve always felt this way. Even in college, when a dear friend helped me clean my dorm room, the chore became a bonding experience. Now that I’m married, grocery shopping or cooking dinner can become a date. My husband calls this “life-ing” together.

I’d much rather fold laundry for us than for me. Long drives to audio gigs become special memories. Yard work becomes an opportunity for conflict management. Watching Netflix on the couch doesn’t feel like a waste of time because we get to cuddle. Companionship imbues my mundane moments with a greater sense of purpose.

2. Friendship

Growing up, my best girlfriends and I giggled about the same boys. We stayed up late, watching Disney movies and eating raw cookie dough. We wore matching outfits. Honestly, marriage feels a little like that sometimes.  My husband and I sit around the house most evenings, telling each other about something cute our cat just did.

We stay up too late on work nights watching funny YouTube videos. We reference obsolete Office quotes and laugh at our own jokes. We have long phone conversations while driving, sharing every uninteresting detail of our day. We eat ice cream straight from the carton and record music videos together. Basically, we’re besties.

3. Company

I don’t do well on my own. Once upon a time, when I lived in a house full of siblings, parents, and grandparents, I craved “alone time” to play with my beanie babies. As an adult, I have discovered that I need someone with me. My semester in Oxford, England first impressed this lesson on me, and married life has provided further confirmation.

It’s not that I can’t ever be alone. Sometimes I enjoy a nice hot bath, a novel, or an evening to myself to clean the bathroom sinks. I recently flew to California for a one-night business trip, and I didn’t have a nervous breakdown in the hotel room. After a day or two without quality time, though, I get sad. My husband makes me feel more secure.

4. Partnership

I think this is the part people are talking about when they say that marriage is “hard.” You react immaturely to a stressful situation, and your spouse gets to see the worst side of you. Then your spouse hits a low point, and you wonder how the two of you will ever recover. In the worst of times, you sink simultaneously. Those times really stink.

The way I see it, everyone goes through something horrible at some point, married or otherwise. No, it’s not fun to bear someone else’s burden. It’s also not very enjoyable for them to carry yours … but we have no other option. I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t handle my issues alone.

5. Growth

Stagnation is probably my worst fear. Fortunately for me, it’s literally impossible to remain stagnant when you’re married–at least, that seems to be the case for Evan and me. We push all of each other’s buttons, which means that we have lots of … opportunities to mature. We don’t have a choice if we want to get along.

Most recently, my husband is learning to balance his work and home life, and I’m learning to give him space when he needs it. We’re both finding these lessons to be very challenging, but we’re better for it (I hope). I’d like to say that I’m a little more of an adult since getting married: more confident, more capable, and a tad less self-focused.

Jesus does all of this, too.

I’m abundantly relieved to discover that married life can be so great. I’m also learning, though, how much I still need Jesus.

It makes sense to me that the Bible calls Jesus the Bridegroom. Of course we all need constant, supportive people in our lives, but Jesus does it best. He’s willing to be our Companion, Friend, and Helper. He knows exactly when to push us and when to be gentle. He promises never to leave us alone.

I sure hope this blog post doesn’t discourage you if you’re not married because Jesus wants so much to be all of this for you and more. He wants that for me, too. As much as I rely on my husband, Evan can’t be my only source of strength. Jesus can.

I’m thankful to have both of them.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Evan and Marie - HQ-4539
Daniel Swanson Photography

 

Your Life Isn’t Boring

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Daniel Swanson Photography

I did not want to come home from Christmas vacation this year.

As my husband will attest, I grumped my way through long stretches of the thirteen-and-a-half hour drive through the snow from Deming, New Mexico to Littleton, Colorado. Going home meant returning to responsibility, which felt overwhelming. Dishes, laundry, cat litter, weary days at work, grocery shopping, lonely nights when my husband had to work late, and much-needed home repairs stretched before me with depressing certainty. I preferred to stay at his parents’ house, sleeping the mornings away and watching Christmas movies endlessly.

Then I actually got home.

Turns out, I missed my sweet kitties. It felt really good to exercise again. My stomach thanked me for a break from the rich food. I enjoyed my first days back at my job, and I discovered a fresh wave of motivation to get started on my goals for 2019. My husband even surprised me with Wicked tickets as an early anniversary gift, and then we watched a movie on the couch together.

So … what was I dreading, exactly?

Instead of boring, mundane, or difficult, my ordinary life turned out to be full of delightful moments. I loved my routines — even getting back to my own toothpaste made me smile. How had I forgotten so quickly? Feeling foolish, I found myself thanking God for this lovely life that I live.

My ordinary life turned out to be full of delightful moments.

Your life might not look anything like mine, but I’m guessing that you have plenty of reasons to appreciate your daily routines, too. Instead of complaining about tomorrow, maybe you could learn from my mistake and make up your mind to notice the little blessings. As I’m discovering, the day ahead is rarely as difficult as I imagine.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

The Actual Point of Life

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Daniel Swanson Photography

I’m on the verge of learning something incredible about God.

He’s been leading up to this for a while; I can feel it. At least, I hope I’m right.

My mom went back to school for a degree in counseling, and she needed someone to discuss a book with her: With. Yes, the title is only one word long. I’m a little judge-y about the author’s choice of words because, in my opinion, he’s trying a little too hard to be trendy. You don’t need to perform linguistic acrobatics to reach young Christians. But anyway, the basic idea of the book is that God doesn’t have an agenda other than being with us — hanging out with us — having a personal relationship with us.

It’s too good to be true.

But I think, maybe, it is.

Part of the book that really blew me away talked about God walking through the garden with Adam in Genesis. Suddenly it occurred to me that we don’t see many descriptions of Heaven in the Bible, and the ones we do glimpse are tough to understand because of the imagery and mystery. In the beginning, though, we find one clear and simple picture of what it should have been like between us and God. And the picture is this: God and mankind going for a walk in the garden together.

I don’t know if this hits you the way it gets to me because it seems so crazy, so unimaginable, that God would want to be with us like that. No goals. No needs. Just walking along together. And if that’s how things started out … then isn’t that where things are eventually headed again?

There are so many amazing implications about going for a walk in the garden with God because the experience will look a little different for everyone. Some people will want to talk to God, others to be quiet and simply look around in wonder. Still others will want to get to work, plowing the earth and making things grow, and He’ll enjoy every moment with every person. There’s a huge amount of garden to explore and so many thoughts to think and personalities to uncover and questions to ask, and all along He just wants to be with us.

It makes me want to cry. Not sure if you understand what I’m starting to grasp because I probably still have a lot more to unearth on this particular topic. God obviously does have goals and plans and a grand direction, an elaborate story to tell, but the end game is presented right there in the beginning of Genesis: going for a walk together. And what a walk it will be!

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Evan and Marie - HQ-8039
Daniel Swanson Photography

P.S. I’d love to hear what you think because this idea seems fragile in my heart, like I’m still struggling to believe it could really be true that God would want us. Do you agree?