Tuesday, February 19, 2013

First things…

My wife’s been reading a book called First Things First. It sounds interesting. As she describes the premise, the author encourages people who want to work and live more efficiently or effectively, to reflect on what’s most important to their goals and souls. After all, many issues, ideas, opportunities, burdens waft across our plates every day and offer to stay. We could volunteer. Remodel the kitchen. Go back to school. Write more letters to friends. We could read the Lenten devotional book that Pastor Shane helped write (copies still available!). But we can’t do everything. We don’t have time or energy. We make choices.

The thing is, the author observes, many choices we make don’t align with what we most want in life, what’s most important. Rather, we pick what seems most urgent, go with the apparently immediate needs. Even if those tasks are less critical to our success or long-term well-being, the plate gets full before we tackle the first things. How long has that project remained on the to-do list? How long has that idea floated around, you saying, “Maybe I’ll make it happen when I finally have the time”? Truthfully, we often have the time. We just don’t use it thoughtfully enough. But if we pause, reevaluate what our most important things are versus the simply ‘urgent’ things (like spending time with God, deepening relationships, building skills that bring us joy), going forward we might be better at keeping first things first.

I like that notion. I’m thinking about it this month in honor of Lent. Our theme, you’ll recall, is “Letting Go,” which reflects a frequent Lenten dynamic. People often choose things to “give up” or “let go” so they’ll interact more with the really First Thing- God! You maybe noticed that I’m asking the church, as a worshipping community, to experience that together. Every Sunday, rather than pray the Lord’s Prayer as per usual, we’re praying a communal prayer of confession found in our Chalice Hymnal, borrowed from our Anglican partners. For many Disciples of Christ, of course, weekly Lord’s Prayers don’t occur. After all, traditional Disciples thought recognizes only baptism and communion as irreplaceable institutions. But for many DoC churches, ours included, that’s been a long-standing element. Indeed, since Jesus himself encouraged us to pray it, it might feel like a divine requirement! Ironically, in Matthew 6, where the most familiar version appears, it comes just after Jesus tells his disciples, “Don’t pray in public, grandly, like hypocrites. Instead, pray in private.” That being said, I doubt Jesus would grudge us our weekly public recitation. As long as the reasons we do it accord with his call to holiness, justice and truth.

But is that why we pray the Lord’s Prayer? A sincere desire to connect with God, forgive our debtors, help God’s Kingdom come on earth? Or is it obligation? Filling time? Maybe the comfort of something familiar (which is good!), but devoid of Jesus’ originally intended transformative purpose? Honestly, I don’t know. It may be one, several or none of those options for you; I’m not your heart’s interpreter. Still, it’s so easy in worship or basic Christian living to fill our plates with stuff that, even when important or useful, we just go through the motions.

That’s why I think “letting go” during Lent can be helpful, even if that concept seems odd to you. Intentionally not having something you like or even deem obligatory provides space for remembering why it matters. Obviously, the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t fall into that category for everyone, but it does for some and that’s instructive for all. In a culture that rarely gives up anything it wants, seemingly treats every desire as a need (I wonder how Lent’s experienced in developing countries?), it’s spiritually healthy- maybe essential- to regain perspective regularly. Perhaps letting go of the Lord’s Prayer until Easter will facilitate that for you, not only as regards our worshipping together but even in your life. Have you filled your plate with stuff, obligations, routines and even urgent things that honestly aren’t critical? If so, ask God to help you let go, to keep first things first.

Grace and Peace,

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