One of the blessings of keeping a lifetime journal is celebrating “special days” on my Life Calendar.
On July 19,1973, God spoke to me, a bewildered but passionate twenty-year old, to become a “teacher of his Word” as part of my calling. I have fulfilled that assignment for the past fifty years in many settings around the world.
The most provocatively titled teaching I’ve ever given is called “The Secret of Happiness.”
It has to do with putting Jesus at the CENTER of your life.
Keep Jesus At the Center
The “Secret of Happiness” message begins with a story.
Shirley and I were attending a home fellowship of about twenty folks. We were all asked to share with the group what “season of life” we were in. “Fall” meant that things were beginning to get difficult. “Winter” stood for a hard time in life. If we were in “Spring,” then things were looking up. And “Summer” symbolized that we were on a roll.
One by one, different people shared what season they were in and why. It was a great icebreaker. I happened to me one of the last people to share and almost got kicked out of the group for being what the Brits might call a little “cheeky.”
Being honest (as I normally am), I said something like this:
“I really don’t like the premise of the question. Yeah, we all go through different times in life, but I think that misses a greater truth. Our life is not defined by our circumstances or moods.”
You could almost hear the silent groans in the room. I continued:
“I stopped thinking about ‘seasons’ in life years ago because I consider myself in “Eternal Summer.” I’m no longer living for self and letting life’s victories of hardships define me. I’m dead to myself and alive in Jesus.”
Then I quoted one of my favorite scriptures, Galatians 2:20:
“It’s no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me. And the life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered himself up for me.”
This scripture teaches that “death to self” is the essence of salvation through repenting of our sins (self focus) and putting our faith in Jesus (God focus).
That decision brings us Eternal Happiness (Life).
At the small group meeting, it was fortunate there wasn’t a bouncer present because my answer probably would have led to the “right foot of fellowship” out the front door.
Later on, I developed a teaching on the subject of my outburst (you can watch the video “The Secret of Happiness” here). In it, after laying out the necessity of death to self in order to be saved (along with some great supporting quotes), I share that the essence of the life choice from self to God boils down to this:
A change of center.
Here’s what I mean.
Most believers are aware that in order to be saved we must make Jesus the Lord or Master of our lives. “Jesus is Lord” was one of the key statements of the Early Church during a time of rampant polytheism (many gods) including emperor worship.
Two thousand years ago, they clearly understood what having a “lord” or “master” entailed. Their culture was littered with benefactors and “lords” that demanded their allegiance, work, and attention to detail. Half of the Roman Empire were slaves–so they clearly understand what it meant to be responsible to a “master.”
We don’t understand that today because most of us have never served under “lords” and “masters” (though creeping totalitarianism is growing in the West). We’ve never experienced being absolutely beholden to a superior. It’s like trying to understand childbirth or flying to the moon. We can imagine it slightly, but never fully if we’ve never experienced it.
When you have a lord or slave master controlling you, you don’t worry about what season it is. You simply obey that person and build your life around their desires and your responsibilities to them. They are the center of your life.
The Early Church understood experientially what it meant to make Jesus “Lord” of their lives. Many were probably still have been attached to a lessor lord or despot, but Jesus was now their new center. Allegiance to him was paramount.
That’s why some of them were fed to the lions.
It’s also why they often faced death or torture with an out-of-this-world serenity and joy as martyrs. They knew they were in “Eternal Summer” because Jesus loved them and they would be his friend forever in Heaven.
On April 9, 1945, German freedom-fighter Dietrich Bonhoeffer shared communion with his fellow prisoners then went to the gallows to die with a smile on his face.
How could he do that? Because when you’re already dead to yourself (your life centered in greater reality) then no one can kill you.
Centering your life in obedience to Jesus Christ is the secret to happiness. It also is a step into the Reality of all that exists.
Jesus is the center of the universe in every way. He is the Creator (something we tend to forget), the Savior of the world (and worthy of our eternal praise) and the very sustainer of the universe. Everything revolves around him, his love and rule.
His centrality to the cosmos is more real than the breath that we breathe. It’s not fully seen at the present time, but will be one day.
Colossians 1:15-18 tells us:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Supremacy. The Head. Central to all of life.
Sarah Young captures the centrality of Jesus in her July 18 devotion in Jesus Calling:
Ask Me to open your eyes so that you can find me everywhere. The more aware you are of My Presence, the safer you feel. This is not some sort of escape from reality. It is tuning in to ultimate reality. I am far more Real than the world you can see, hear, and touch.
Jesus Christ, his love and his rule, are the central truths of Reality–which is the Kingdom of God. When we repent of our selfish pursuits and put our faith in Him, we make him the center of our thoughts and actions.
We wake up in the morning and thank him for the day. We ask him for our daily assignments in his Kingdom work on earth and do them with joy and his empowering. We call out to him in the hard moments of life. We sing his praises during seasons of blessing.
We must never center our lives on human celebrities, political commentators, athletic teams, other forms of recreation of pleasure, or even on family or our present employment. All of these must be peripheral to Jesus.
Doug Coe gave me a New Testament a few years ago that centers on Jesus. It says in 2 Timothy 2:8:
Remember always, as the center of everything, Jesus.
During these turbulent days, keep Jesus at the very center of your life.