This past Sunday afternoon our 2.5-year-old granddaughter burned her hands. In a situation like that, what is the very first thing a person should do? If your answer is “attend to the wound” … “comfort the child” … “pray” … my reply would be a definite “YES”. If your answer is “find out how it happened” … “get angry” … “find someone to blame” … my reply would be an even more definite “NO”. In fact, most of that second list should not even be included on later things lists.
Doing first things first is important, and as we do so, it is equally important to note that we are talking about “things” – not just one thing. Try taking away any one item from my yes list. Which one would it be? Each action is very important. They all are part of doing first things first.
This week I re-read a book written by a friend of mine, “First Things First – A Primer in Lutheran Theological Prolegomena” (sounds exciting, does it not! It actually is a great, quick read – as long as you don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by David’s vocabulary). In his conclusion he offers a great explanation to Luther’s “first things first” in making a great theologian – oratio, meditatio, tentatio: “Theology begins with prayer, with the recognition that spiritual and theological wisdom come from the triune God, and, as such, this wisdom is a divine gift to those who approach God through his own ‘means of grace’, the gospel and sacraments. Meditation or diligent, reverent study follows. Aspiring and seasoned theologians alike will meditate faithfully on God’s objective Word, for they know that God does not give the Holy Spirit … without the external Word. … Finally, one confronts the spiritual assaults of tentatio or Anfechtung. Here Luther is nothing if not realistic. ‘As soon as God’s Word takes root and grows in you, the devil will hurry you, and will make a real doctor of you, and by his assaults will teach you to seek and love God’s Word.’” (pp. 85-86)
Though we are not all called to be great scholars, and we all have many and varied gifts, I do believe that all Christians are called to be theologians – people who read, share, and live God’s Word of the Gospel. Our first things first for life in Christ goes something like this: “As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the messenger of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3.14-17)
Another author defines those three Latin words like this: “heart to heart conversation with God, the rigors of intellectual discipline, and the struggles of coming to grips with life’s problems in the hard school of experience.” While all three are equally important parts of putting first things first, it is often the third one – tentatio – that catches us off guard and causes us to stumble. I call it simply “learning to live in the promises of God in the midst of the failures and disappointments of life.” I was reminded of this on another occasion this week.
Tuesday morning Monica woke up after a great night’s sleep with no energy. As the day went on, she also noted feeling light-headed. Our strategy was to have her lay low and have me drive to Walmart for a blood pressure monitor. During the 20-minute drive I prayed and contemplated upon the promises of God. I realized that, though the potential outcomes of this day were many, God’s promise was clear – his goodness and mercy would be present with us in Christ and that we will dwell in his house forever (Psalm 23.6). Thankfully, upon my return, Monica was still alive (thought not dancing), and her blood pressure was simply low, but not at a danger point.
In the midst of all the complexities of our life in these times, peace, purpose and hope are all contained in these three words – first things first. And those first things, on a daily basis, remain the same: prayer, receiving God’s Word of the Gospel, and living in the promises of God through all the failures and disappointments (and everything else) of life. Jesus puts it even more simply, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15.7-8)
Now, in case you are wondering about Sunday afternoon, God had us working together as a team, giving each person a primary role. Rachel (mother and DNP) attended to the wound – cleaning, treating, and getting a prescription. Matt (father) comforted Brooklyn. Monica (Gigi) prayed. Joel (mannie) filled in the gaps and held things together. My role simply was to drive to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription. Within two hours Brooklyn was holding up her gauze covered hands saying, “Look at my super gloves.” God@Work in putting first things first.