If You Want to Put God First, Stop Doing Devotions

Keeping your nose in a book isn't spiritual, it's selfish.

Everyone wants to hear that they should put themselves first. After decades of a culture that demanded sacrifice and servitude from men to their jobs (for their families) and women to their homes (for their families), the concept of "me time" is refreshing.

Taking time for yourself is also considered healthy. Previously, those who derived sole benefit from their actions were thought to be self-centered, but today, an army of Facebook memes will tell you that putting yourself first isn't selfish, it's necessary.

Even the Christian community has jumped on this bandwagon. Self-love and self-care may sound self-involved, but Facebook wisdom declares that you cannot help others until you help yourself. It's not an illogical equation: if your own cup is empty, then you have nothing to offer the cups of others.

At least there's a vague understanding that Christianity involves helping other people. Jesus said the very foundation of the faith (the law and the prophets) was fulfilled by loving others and treating them as you would want to be treated. The question is whether we're to do that at the expense or the surplus of ourselves.

Paul often wrote about this regarding meat sacrificed to idols. Eating it was a point of contention in the early church with some discouraging it and others leaving it to personal discretion. Paul understood that it was a matter of conscience. However, he also said that we should care about the consciences of others so much that we seek their good over our own.

It can't be missed that Paul was suggesting we sacrifice our own freedom of conscience for the sake of another's weakness. In fact, he said that bearing those weaknesses is exactly what Christ did. Just as he didn't seek his own pleasure or look after his own interests, so are we to put the needs and interests of others first. Period.

Of course, many Christians would disagree saying we should always put God first. Jesus himself said that loving our neighbor is secondary to loving God. But it's important to ask ourselves what we mean by putting him first.

It can't mean putting his needs first because he doesn't have any. It could mean putting his time first. Things like daily devotions, routine prayer, and regular church attendance usually make us feel particularly righteousness even though we've done no actual good deed. Indeed, the prophets were frequently critical of religious rites and how useless they were compared to things like justice and mercy.

God can't be first if his commands come second. Even one of the religious leaders in Jesus' day understood that loving one's neighbor was more important than playing religion. As Valerie Tarico for Raw Story rightly observed, "The way you know you're doing well on Commandment 1 is if you're doing well on Commandment 2." Thus, putting God first doesn't mean putting others second; it means putting yourself second to others.

In truth, the reason many of us use meaningless acts of piety to "put God first" is because we know, deep down, that what he really wants is sacrifice. He doesn't want us to conform to the selfish pattern of this world because selfishness doesn't require trust. The world tells us that if we don't put ourselves first, no one else will. Sacrifice, on the other hand, destroys selfishness. It calls us to help even when it hurts. Sacrificing primetime television for quiet times only proves that we're still putting ourselves first to avoid serving others.

Like the rest of the world, we're quick to fall into the trap of self-preservation. We're quick to justify filling our own cup for the sake of everyone else. But we don't need to help ourselves to help others--doing so indicates a lack of trust. If God called us to care for others, that means he intends to care for us. He told us not to worry so that our own needs wouldn't distract us from the needs of others. And with us out of our own way, we're free to be true Christians, not those in name only.

People often look to religion to be part of something bigger than themselves, but Christianity is the only religion that doesn't try to find that within the self. It doesn't offer self-fulfillment through obedience or self-discovery through meditation. It's offers something bigger called others: an entire world full of needy people.

The Christian life is a humble one marked by self-sacrifice and selflessness. You might find fulfillment in it or you might not. You might even discover some things about yourself or you might not. Neither of those things are guaranteed because you are not the focus, everyone else is--the something bigger is. And if you want to be part of something bigger, you have to be small enough to fit into it.

photo credit: Have your nose in a book via photopin (license)