"You shall not have other gods beside me.” Exodus 20:2-3
It is abundantly clear that God wants to occupy a central role in our lives. As we know, the very first of the Ten Commandments that were handed down to Moses at Mount Sinai was to place God first and avoid the worship of any other gods or idols. This was important because it set the Israelites apart from other people of the time who worshiped many gods and created idols to worship. It was an expression of the belief that God was the creator of all and the Lord of all. Other gods might demand worship and sacrifice but not that type of exclusivity. The faith of the Israelites was founded on the belief that God was at the center of creation and should be at the center of our lives.
The belief that we should place God first in our lives is a challenging one. After all, we live in a world that is clamoring for our attention. Every one of us has responsibilities such as school, work, family and friends that demand our attention. Those responsibilities can often be what we prioritize; after all, we need to work to get good grades in school and to make the money we need to afford to live. We also care deeply for our family and friends. In some cases, we truly want to spend time and enjoy their company. Sometimes we might simply feel obligated to spend time with them. Either way, they are an important part of our lives and we give time to them.
Then there are the false idols that we give time to. Let’s face it, technology has benefited us greatly in a lot of ways but it has also made us addicted to social media, posting selfies and other online activities that might be entertaining but they are not truly what we should prioritize. The same applies to other activities like watching sports, playing video games, television, movies and other hobbies. Rest, relaxation and entertainment are important for recharging our batteries and staying healthy but we can’t allow them to become our priorities. We can’t allow them to draw worship from the Lord or to cause us to neglect the people in our lives. Not many of us are going to start worshiping other gods today. A lot of us, however, will give our time, attention and money to entertainment and material things that can become false idols. As one of my favorite quotes from Gandalf in Lord of the Rings goes, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Time is a gift and we should spend it wisely.
When a scholar of the law asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life Jesus asked him what was written in the law. The scholar replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your being, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:26-27. Jesus praised the scholar for this response and said he had answered correctly. “Do this and you will live.” Luke 10:28. It is clear that Jesus wanted us to know that we should place God at the center of lives. During his ministry, he modeled how to do that both through prayer and through helping others.
Knowing that we should put God first, how do we do it? How can we live a life with God at the center? We can start by cultivating our relationship with God. That means carving out time amid our noisy and busy lives to walk with God through prayer, scripture and quiet meditation. It can be hard to find the time but that is how we start by putting God first. There is a treasure trove of resources out there online and in churches, religious bookstores and gift shops that can help guide your study of scripture, prayer and meditation. Once you begin setting aside that time it will become a beneficial habit. We also put God first when we overcome our natural inclination to put ourselves first and help other people. Jesus repeatedly called on us to be each other’s servants. Service to those in need is another important way of placing God at the center of our lives.
While the art of putting God first might seem like a lot of work it is also enormously beneficial. It gives us a sense of peace and fulfillment the world doesn’t give. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world give do I give it to you.” John14:27. These often repeated words of Jesus might seem cliché at this point but they are true. Placing God first and allowing God to suffuse your mind and heart brings peace, even in troubled times. It gives us strength and helps us. God yearns to be at the center of our lives so that we can experience that peace and God’s love in a profound way.