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Of course, Christians know the Lord is number one, and nobody will supplant His throne-entitled position. Looking out for yourself assumes that you have the Lord as number one. Common sense says that if He’s not number one in your life, you can’t look after yourself well. When I talk about looking out for number one, I’m speaking of the human kingdom, which implies that you have your divine kingdom priorities in ship-shape.
Making you the number one priority in your life is not a nod to the self-esteem worldview that our culture passionately touts as the path to success. Their perspective is a penchant for being the top dog, who eats all the other dogs while embarking on a quest for self-inflated greatness. They live within an ecosystem that exalts a competition that is in-line with their evolutionistic, survival of the fittest mandate.
When I talk about looking out for number one, my worldview begins with a Bible, which sends you in an antithetical, counter-cultural direction. This concept is straightforward: if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to fulfill your mandate of loving God and others as you should. Neglecting yourself will reduce your effectiveness in God’s world.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).
Eleven hundred and eighty-nine chapters reduced to four words: love God, love others. Jesus had a way of putting things on the bottom shelf for us. What is the most concise mission statement you can have? Four words. If you can successfully pull off the two great commandments, you will have the most remarkable life an individual can have.
The question I want you to think about is how you can have this kind of life. The place where I want you to start is with you. You have to look out for number one. If you don’t, your life’s effectiveness will weaken in proportion to how much you ignore yourself. Let my redundancy sink in: the only way you can successfully pull off a vibrant Christian life is to take care of yourself.
As you rest and rejoice in God’s sovereignty and grace over your life, think about your role in cooperating with Him. How are you stewarding your faith walk? What are you doing to keep yourself in optimal spiritual and physical shape so that you can do your part in cooperating with God’s grace and power? Isn’t it great that we’re not programmable robots but relational beings who can interact with our Creator?
As you think about your relationship and responsibility, will you first address your motive? All of life finds its headwater in the heart (Proverbs 4:23). What is your motivation for taking care of yourself? Your answer should set you apart from how the world thinks about physical fitness and spiritual disciplines. They want to be rich, famous, healthy, smart, or whatever value propels them to self-actualized greatness.
The Christian’s motive for spiritual and physical fitness is to position them to love God and others in the most effective way possible. Our worldview is worlds apart from how the world thinks about these matters. If your passion for taking care of yourself is to fulfill the two great commandments, the next reasonable question is how are you doing it?
We are two parts—physical and spiritual or material and immaterial or organic and nonorganic. To fulfill the two greatest commandments, Christians should take care of both components. Perhaps it would help to think of yourself as a car. Let’s say that you have a new car, and you want it to have a long and productive life. What are some of the things you would do to make sure you got the most for your money? What about your life? What would you do to be all you should be?
Most Christians would start by talking about their Bible reading and prayer life—two vital necessities without question. Those are the obvious answers. What about a few other areas in your life that need your attention so that you can operate at optimal levels? Here’s a big one: your pace of life.
One of the most significant hindrances in too many Christian lives is their time management practices. They are too busy doing the wrong things. The tyranny of the urgent and the cares of life (Mark 4:19; Luke 21:34) have so encroached into our time and relationships that Christ becomes a part-time add-on. If this is you, it’s vital that you understand how this problem did not start after you became an adult. Today’s lack of time traces back to the days when they weren’t so busy.
Our habits have a history. If you have outstanding time management principles, you learned them before you became busy. For example, we’ll have a Mastermind student enter our program and not know how to blend the training into their preexisting lives. They like the thought of what the program can do for them, so they bite the bullet and enroll. Then they realize they’re too busy and can’t manage it all.
Alternatively, another student will enroll and busy themselves with the program because they know how to make (1) proper choices, (2) prepare for a new thing, and (3) pace their life without burying themselves under the weight of their decisions. Your ability or inability to perform a task reveals the previous prep you put into doing something well.
Suppose I wanted to join the local track club. I love running and want to hang with those who have a similar passion, so I join the club. On the day of the first practice, I realize it was a terrible decision. Why? Because I had not been preparing myself in such a way that I could perform what was required. My inability to keep up traces back to a lack of disciplining myself. Knowing how to pace yourself or manage your time does not come by osmosis.
There used to be a time when teenagers received the training they needed to live well in God’s world as adults. When they stepped into independent adulthood, they hit their stride quickly because their parents and church had been teaching them for twenty years how to be a grown-up. Most modern teens live a different life than one that equips them for the rest of their lives.
Parents cart them off to never-ending sporting events and other activities that they will leave once the curtain falls on their teen lives. Some folks will read this as me throwing teen activities under the activity bus. I’m not—unless the things your teen is doing is not teaching them how to love God and others most of all. There is nothing wrong with events in and of themselves.
There could be something wrong with them if they are part of the reason your child is not ready for life and you “ain’t got no time left in your day or week.” There are two parts to the busy teen problem. One is that it can be something to preoccupy the kid without a redemptive, forward-focus. The other potential trap is the parent who becomes the child’s Uber driver, research assistant, financier, and entertainment director.
My point is that an adult who does not manage his time and life well does so because it’s a learned behavior. It is as though people expect the “life gods” to bestow these skills on them after they become adults. They won’t. If you don’t train your children to manage their lives as adults, there is a high chance they will become slaves to their choices like so many who have gone before them.
“I’m too busy” is one of the biggest deterrents to the sanctified life. People make too many choices without proper, biblical reflection, like the obese person standing before the buffet. There is only one way it’s going to go for him: he will do what he has always done.
Poor decision-making that leads to a complicated life is one of the more remarkable things about Christ’s life because nobody had a to-do list like His, which had only one item on it: save the world (John 1:29; Luke 19:10). Yet, He always had time. He would not over-extend Himself, and He lived a doable pace.
Who controls you? Who runs your calendar? My questions have two-parts. You should be free from the power of others, but you must have clear priorities so you can make the right decisions. See John 11:6; Matthew 12:48; John 6:38.
Jesus was free from the fear of others, and He was always ready to do His Father’s business (Luke 2:49). Jesus knew where He was going (Luke 9:51), which gave Him a way to make decisions. He lived in the perfect balance between structure and spontaneity.
Are you free from the manipulation of others managing your life? Are you clear on your priorities? These questions are significant and life-altering. Perhaps you have over-obligated yourself. Maybe you have said “yes” too many times. If you have, you’re not taking care of number one, and you have some tough decisions to make.
I talked about your dichotomy, so let me wrap up by talking about your health. Christians should be the most motivated people on the planet to take care of themselves. This need is where the world outshines too many of us. They pursue health like there is no tomorrow (Revelation 20:15). We should pursue health because there is tomorrow. God has given us the most profound message a person will ever hear (Matthew 28:19-20). The call to share the gospel should motivate us to be more zealous than our culture (Romans 10:9, 13).
We want to maximize the opportunities and possibilities of communicating this great message to the world. Eating the right foods, getting enough rest, and taking care of our bodies should be part of every believer’s life. There has never been an age where how to care for our fearfully and wonderfully made bodies has been more plenteous (Psalm 139:14).
We should be spoiling the Egyptians by taking their knowledge and using it to take better care of our bodies so that we can be more productive in God’s mission field (Exodus 12:36). How we take care of ourselves is not a trivial thing. Taking care of yourself should be of utmost importance because you are number one (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
I’ve covered a lot of ground in this article, though it’s not exhaustive. Here are a few questions to help you think through what you’ve just read. Perhaps getting with a friend and talking about these things will be the impetus you need to spur you on to greater freedom in Christ that releases you to work in a way that has more redemptive and eternal value and impact.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).