A few months ago after listening to Israel Houghton sing the song "Jesus, Be The Center Of It All,” I heard Charlotte pastor Stephen Furtick say that Jesus needs to be at the center of who we are and what we do. He said Christians mistakenly put Jesus first when we really need to place Him in the center of our everyday lives. I initially thought that statement was an odd thing to say. After all, the first Commandment listed in Exodus 20:2 says "I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me." We as Christians know God is jealous (Exodus 20:5), and He shares His worship with nothing else on earth. Why would God settle for being in the middle of our hierarchy of priorities instead? Why would it be problematic to aim to keep God first in our lives? Isn't first place the most desirable spot with the most accolades and the most attention? Why not have God first?
Two thoughts came to mind to make me consider otherwise: one of them being my own human nature. While first place in almost anything is a coveted spot, the fact that there isa first place usually means that there is also a second place, a third place, and a couple of honorable mentions in there too. If my podium of a priority list can accommodate multiple spots, it stands to reason that there was a competition for first place. I know it's not unusual for me to place God first only to find Him upstaged and shuffled by finances, school, work woes, or by some insane mundane "wha' ha' hap'm wuz" drama. When circumstantial storms arise, my attention to God is hijacked by a problem I'm trying to resolve. My focus, reasoning, energy, and emotions allow the storms in my life to supplant God's rightful place as first. God has first place when times are good and anything but first when times are bad, and sometimes I don’t think of Him until times get ugly only to ignore Him when skies are sunny and blue!
The other thought coming to mind is scripture. Though God's commandments were written in stone when Moses gave them to the Israelites, God tells Jeremiah that God will change His approach to imparting His laws to His people. God gives word to His prophet saying a time will come when God would write the laws on the people's hearts (Jer. 31:33). In this new covenant God would establish with humankind through Jesus Christ, God’s people would do His will not because they were fearfully required to follow, but because they lovingly wanted to do so. True, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10); God’s jealously for our attention has not waned now that it’s 2012. However, the drive to serve God and keep His commandments would come from the heart – the very core of who we are.
The core of me contains my love of my family. While friends and coworkers see me and base their judgments upon actions they see or words they hear, my family understands who I am in my heart. Because they understand my heart so well and accept it for what it is, I love them deeply and carry them in my heart wherever I go. And out of that love of my family members, I tend to consider them in almost everything I do and every decision I make. I imagine that is where God wants to be – smack dab in the middle of who I am – the very center of my being. When God is at the center of me, I will consciously or unconsciously carry Him wherever I go. I will consider Him and His will in everything I do, and I will prayerfully consult Him in the decisions I make. I think that’s what Pastor Furtick meant by keeping Him at the center instead of merely first. Besides, God loved me so much that He gave His Son to die for my sins (John 3:16). God loves me so much and knows me so well that when I ask for a clean heart and right spirit put within me, He grants me just that (Psalms 51:10). The center of me is truly the most appropriate place for God to reside.
God in the center of me could never be in competition with the other agenda items vying for my attention. When I am in the midst of a storm, there is God at my core holding me together and keeping me calm as I weather it. And when times are good, there God is literally – as Richard Smallwood eloquently put it – at “the center of my joy.” I can’t think of a better place for God to be!
-- Joy Colter