Make Jesus your ultimate concern
It takes more than Bible studies and worship services and good lives to meet Jesus this morning. You and I must “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Two imperatives are clear: “set your hearts on things above” (v. 1); “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (v. 2). That’s it. That’s the sermon. That’s what God wants us to do today. But how? What does this mean?
“Set your hearts” translates the Greek for “seek.” This is the present active imperative–God’s command for every one of us, every day. The word can be translated, “require, demand, crave, put above everything else.” The word means to put this one priority ahead of everything else in life.
Jesus wants us to do that with him. The Bible tells us to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). The command means to put him ahead of your girlfriend or boyfriend, or husband or wife or children. To put him ahead of success at work or status at church. To put him ahead of popularity or possessions or positions. To put him first in every part of our lives, every day of our lives.
We in the Western world don’t understand such a demand. We have successfully separated the spiritual from the secular, Sunday from Monday. We think that so long as we’ve prayed a salvation prayer and now come to church and try to be good, we’ve done all that Jesus requires. But if we think that, we’re wrong:
“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27).
“Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it'” (Matthew 16:24-25).
Paul could testify: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
Jesus has always wanted to be Lord of all, King of every part of our lives. Why? Because he is an egotist who needs to control us? No, just the opposite. He wants to be King of your dating relationships and money and time and temptations and jobs and plans, so he can include you in his “good, pleasing and perfect” will (Romans 12:2). So he can bless you and use you and reward you forever. But he can use only what we surrender to him. He can lead us only if we will follow.
Would Jesus say that he is your ultimate concern today? That you have “set your heart and mind on things above” this morning? Is there anything you would not do if he asked? Anywhere you would not go? Anyone you would not forgive, or help, or seek to bring to Jesus? Anything you would not give? Any sin you would not commit?
That’s your next step with your Father. That’s his next call on your life. Remember that we progress in life in proportion to the fare that we are prepared to pay.
Perhaps I know some words which will encourage you. Henri Nouwen, the beloved Roman Catholic theologian and spiritual writer, once said:
“I am growing in the awareness that God wants my whole life, not just part of it. It is not enough to give just so much time and attention to God and keep the rest for myself. It is not enough to pray often and deeply and then move from there to my own projects.
“As I try to understand why I am still so restless, anxious, and tense, it occurs to me that I have not yet given everything to God. I notice this especially in my greediness for time. I am very concerned to have enough hours to develop my ideas, finish my projects, fulfill my desires. Thus, my life is in fact divided into two parts–a part for God and a part for myself. Thus divided, my life cannot be peaceful.
“To return to God means to return to God with all that I am and all that I have. I cannot return to God with just half of my being…God’s love is a jealous love. God wants not just a part of me, but all of me. Only when I surrender myself completely to God’s parental love can I expect to be free from endless distractions, ready to hear the voice of love, and able to recognize my own unique call.
“It is going to be a very long road. Every time I pray, I feel the struggle. It is the struggle of letting God be the God of my whole being. It is the struggle to trust that true freedom lies hidden in total surrender to God’s love.
“Jesus came to open my ears to the voice that says, ‘I am your God, I have molded you with my own hands, and I love what I have made. I love you with a love that has no limits, because I love you as I am loved. Do not run away from me. Come back to me–not once, not twice, but always again. You are my child. How can you ever doubt that I will embrace you again?
“I am your God–the God of mercy and compassion, the God of pardon and love, the God of tenderness and care. Please do not say that I have given up on you, that I cannot stand you any more, that there is no way back. It is not true. I so much want you to be with me. I so much want you to be close to me. I know all your thoughts, I hear all your words. I see all of your actions. And I love you because you are beautiful, made in my own image, an expression of my most intimate love.