Devotion and Discipleship

That Isn’t On My Agenda: Realigning our priorities with God’s

Every now and again I catch myself saying “that isn’t on my agenda”

when someone suggests an activity or extends an invitation.  I have learned to readjust my schedule when my to-do-list is getting in the way of relationships, but I still have that initial “Nope, not on the plan” reaction.

We all have plans.  Things to do before tomorrow, next week, next month.  Another holiday or birthday meal to plan, another work project to finish, another 401k to build up, another milestone to achieve. Life is full of very human concerns. 

But Matthew 16:22-23 challenges our personal plans

Matthew 16: 22-23

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  “Never, Lord” he said.  “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

This strikes me profoundly. 

Wasn’t it natural that Peter would worry about the life of this man who he had come to admire?  Who at one time Peter had recognized confidently as the Son of God, the Messiah? 

How could a concern for the life of Jesus be so big an issue as to be from Satan, even if Peter had crossed the line and rebuked Jesus?

Satan had already tempted Jesus to place earthly priorities over God’s.

Before Jesus’ ministry even began Satan had tried to tempt Jesus away from God’s plan by offering immediate earthly authority – a kingship in the very human sense of the word  (Matthew 4:8-10.)  If Jesus had not fulfilled His mission of dying as the perfect sacrifice for sins, Satan would have been the winner of this epic spiritual battle.

So Jesus saw in Peter’s words the same temptation he had already faced and conquered.

However, I don’t believe Satan was himself using Peter to tempt Jesus here.  Peter had already acknowledged Jesus as his master and in no other place in Scripture does he appear to be influenced by Satan – only by his own human weakness. So while the temptation was parallel, the motivation was not.

Satan’s goal was to undermine Jesus’ ministry and once-and-for-all wrest control over the hearts and minds of people from God. 

Peter was just interested in seeing that Jesus be recognized for who he was and protected from harm.  He was interested in a future security for his people.

But Jesus said Peter’s mind was on human concerns

He was completely filled with human ambitions, without any mind of God’s plans at all, and that was how he ended up unwittingly aligning himself with Satan.

Human ambitious seem natural and even good to us.  Our priorities include finding things like

  • food to eat
  • a place to sleep
  • financial security for our future
  • protection from those who would try to physically harm us and our loved ones
  • recognition for our efforts and achievements
  • relaxation for our rare quiet moments

But these very human-centered concerns leave no room on the agenda for God’s priorities.

Immediately after rebuking Peter, Jesus went on to explain that we must deny our very own lives to follow Him, that we would need to “pick up our own cross”.

The point was that to follow Jesus our priorities have to be changed completely; our needs must be set aside in order to follow Him, just as Jesus set aside his own needs for personal safety in order to save us.

The disciples were expecting a physical kingdom with a triumphant, powerful king.  Our plans might be smaller (e.g., we plan to have an awesome children’s Christmas musical this year), but they still are our plans, and they can fill our minds until we have nothing left in them of God, all while we believe we are doing the right thing.

As long as we live in this world we will have human concerns, and Jesus did not rebuke his disciples for them.  However,

Jesus strongly rebuked them for allowing human concerns to blind them to God’s authority.

The disciples were right to recognize that the storm on the sea was a physical threat.

They were wrong to think that it could harm them when Jesus was with them.  (Matthew 8:23-27)

The disciples were right to see that the people needed food.

They failed to see that Jesus could provide it.  (Matthew 14: 13-21 and Matthew 15:29-39)

They disciples were right to see that they depended upon Jesus to provide for their future. They were even right to want to be a part of His future kingdom.

But they were blind to the fact that Jesus’ kingdom was spiritual, not physical (Matthew 19:27-30, Matthew 20:20-28).

It is easy to tell ourselves that our priorities are “only human”. But if we are Christ-followers, our priorities should be the same as Christ’s.

We should be focused on the priorities Jesus taught us, which are not human concerns, and then trust God to care for our physical needs.

This is easier said than done, and it will look different in every person’s life.  Perhaps it means giving up a lucrative job for an opportunity of service.  Perhaps it means giving up an entertaining hobby for the chance at volunteering.  Perhaps it means closing our book and giving full attention to a friend in need.

Regardless of the “how”, the “what” is clear:  our minds must be focused on God’s priorities, not our own.

Then the practical question becomes – what are God’s priorities?

The sermon on the mount outlines the most well-known principles of God’s kingdom (Matthew 5-7). Here are some other highlights of the priorities Jesus gives us in the book of Matthew.  I encourage you to spend time reading these passages over the next week to see how Jesus invites us to turn our priorities upside-down.

  • a dependence on Jesus as the only way to God (Matthew 11:25-30)
  • a passion for being part of God’s kingdom (Matthew 13:44-45)
  • personal purity of heart (Matthew 15)
  • faith in God’s power and compassion (Matthew 14:25-31, Matthew 15:21-28)
  • forgiving other people because we have been forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35)
  • having compassion on the needy (Matthew 15:32, Matthew 20:34)
  • working together in prayer and to maintain purity (Matthew 18:15-20)
  • working in God’s kingdom from the moment we are a part of it (Matthew 20: 1-16)
  • serving other people  rather than seeking elevated position (Matthew 20:25-28)
  • seeking holiness in all things, but especially in our worship (Matthew 21:12-13)
  • Turning away from former willfulness to obey God willingly (Matthew 21:28-32)
  • Loving God and others (Matthew 22:34-40)
  • seeking a chance to serve others instead of seek recognition for oneself (Matthew 23:1-12)
  • being prepared for Jesus’ return (Matthew 24:36 – 25:1-13)
  • putting any talent or skill we have to work for His purposes (Matthew 25:14-30)
  • honoring God by presenting Him with whatever we is beautiful and valuable in our lives (Matthew 26:6-13)
  • being companions and support to those who are in times of crisis (Matthew 26:36-45)
  • acknowledging who Jesus is (Matthew 10:32-33, Matthew 16:13-17, Matthew 27:54)
  • trusting that Jesus always has and always will do as He said (Matthew 28:5-10)
  • helping other people learn to follow Jesus, too (Matthew 28:16-20)

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