I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.
I spent two nights backpacking with my sons late last week on a whirlwind trip to the mountains of western North Carolina. There's something about following a trail for dozens of miles with everything you need on your back (and nothing you don't), that helps you recenter your life. Only a few things matter out there... and they matter greatly. And other things that once seemed important are completely irrelevant.
One of the interesting moments came a few hours into our trek. We realized that the exact time of day was meaningless on the trail. One of my sons asked if we could just take our watches off and keep them in our packs for the rest of the journey, because they didn't matter anymore. We should eat when we were hungry, go to bed when we were tired, and rise when it was light out. Then we could be more in tune with the things that really mattered. Were we keeping up on our water supply? Were we navigating correctly? Did we know where to look for a campsite? Was our gear holding up? And of course- were we noticing all the beauty around us!?!
Paul's prayer for the young church in Philippi was that these first generation disciples would "understand what really matters" (v10) so that their lives would be beautiful and pure expressions of love (v9) until they met Jesus face to face.
That prayer is striking to me. I have a deep desire to understand what really matters. But as a human, as a Christian, and as a middle class American, I can't help but think that my time and energy are often spent on things that just don't matter, while other things may matter greatly that are overlooked.
And as a pastor, I so deeply feel Paul's prayer for my own community. I want them (YOU) to understand what matters, so that they (YOU) can live beautiful lives with Jesus that overflow with love.
I think one step toward "what really matters" is realizing that everything we do matters--meaning that it moves us in some way. Possibly for good, possibly not. Perhaps we need to admit that, and adjust with fresh intentionality.
The buttons on a remote and pixels on a flat screen have no inherent good or evil within them. But after watching an hour of the news, you will always be impacted in some way. It's not neutral. Social media is not inherently moral or amoral... but scrolling for an hour on your phone will take you in a direction. Checking your email, taking a trip, buying a smartwatch, going for a walk, and shopping for a new car... these things will take our minds, our wallets, and our spirits in somewhere.
Everything we do will either move us nearer to the love expressed in Jesus, or further from it. We will either become more in tune with God's heart, or more distracted from it. Each word we speak, each decision on how to spend time, is an opportunity to learn what matters. Without being overly dramatic, that means that even our smallest decisions deserve reflection.
Are we aware? Are we discerning what helps us move toward the things of true value?
So our job becomes discernment, so that we can be the kind of people that Paul is praying towards. And as we learn to discern what really matters as Jesus people, we will get very good at asking next level questions.
Will this move me toward love or away from it?
Will this open me up to meaningful relationships?
Will this choice help me reveal God's love in tangible ways?
Is this bringing life or hindering it?
Is this the right way to have this conversation?
Am I letting the character of Jesus lead me here?
Is this choice contributing to the oppression or minimizing of others?
Am I convincing myself this is neutral, when I know it's not?
Now, we don't need to be so analytical that we can't relax and enjoy ourselves- quite the opposite. If we ask wonderful questions and understand the impact each choice has on our lives, we will be more intentional to do the things that really matter-- to us and to Jesus. And that's the kind of stuff that eternal life really consists of.
Jesus, my life is full of the tension between what matters and things of little value. Today, let me leave behind all that is unhelpful, so that I can live fully present, with an overflow of your love.