The Most Important Thing About You

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth (Isaiah 40:28).

What is the most important thing about you?

Maybe you need a moment to think about that. Even with a little thought, I’m guessing that your answer to that question will gravitate to some basic aspects of life that top the list when we try to give expression to who we are and what matters to us.

You might say that the most important thing about you is the people you love, your children, your spouse, your parents. As old-fashioned as it might seem, family is still a powerful piece of our identity.

Perhaps in addition to family you’d mention your work. This one won’t be true for everyone since there are plenty of people who get up every day and go to a job they don’t like. But if your job happens to be an expression of something larger – the calling or purpose that makes your work meaningful – then you might be inclined to say that your work is the most important thing (or one of the most important things) about you.

Of course, other things could make the list: ethnicity, the faith tradition to which you belong, the hobbies or recreational pursuits that truly bring you joy, a cause to which you are passionately committed. Indeed, all those things are important. All of them, likely a combination of each, might be the way you would tell a stranger the most important thing about you.

Those are good answers. Important answers. But they are not the best answer.

The Best Answer        

In 1961 a Chicago area pastor by the name of A. W. Tozer wrote a small book that has become a modern-day classic, still in print today. The book is titled The Knowledge of the Holy, and in the opening pages Tozer makes the following claim:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us . . . and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he deep in his heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God” (Tozer, 9).

That’s probably not an answer that came to your mind when you thought about how you would articulate what’s most important about you. Family, work, hobbies, your Myers-Briggs type – of course, those answers make sense. But what you understand God to be like? You might not dismiss it outright, but it hardly seems to define who you are. Tozer, however, would insist that so much about your life will be determined by your concept of God.

Is there a ‘God’ to begin with? And if so, what is God like?

Is God the angry watchdog of heaven, waiting for you to screw up?

Is God the doting granddaddy of heaven, benevolently smiling at our human foibles?

Is God actively involved in the world, guiding and governing the course of history and the plans you’ve made for this day? Or is God distant, watching us and pulling for us to do the best we can with what we’ve got?

Let’s be willing to interact with Tozer’s claim about us. What comes to your mind when you think about God?

An Invitation

In the weeks ahead we’ll be giving our attention to God – who God is and what God is like. Today I’m inviting you to join me in seeking to give an honest answer to Tozer’s question.

Our efforts to do this will lead us to consider what has traditionally been called the ‘attributes’ of God. Since we’ll only be doing this for a few weeks we’ll barely scratch the surface of this formidable subject. Throughout the Bible, the Hebrew prophets and the New Testament apostles labored to give expression to what God is like. None of them did so completely or exhaustively, and neither will we.

My concern for most people, and especially people in the church I serve, is not that their ideas about God are ‘wrong’ but that they have never really thought much about God to begin with. People can go to church week after week, and God is assumed without being thought of. Our awareness in worship is dominated by the music we hear or something we get from the message that’s spoken, but we don’t come away consciously sensing that we have been with God. God becomes the backdrop to so many other good things that churches do.

The prophet Isaiah questioned God’s people: “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” His questions seemed to imply an answer. You should know. You have heard.

I’m posing those same questions to you. Do you not know? Have you not heard? Maybe you’ve heard but you’ve forgotten. Maybe you’ve never really thought about it. Maybe it’s time to revisit some of the basics about God.

So . . . what does come to your mind when you think about God?


Create within us, O God, a desire to know you in a deeper way than we do right now. Cause us to seek you and help us to give the energies of heart and mind to exploring who you are. Unless you help us, we’ll live our days distracted or stuck in ruts of familiarity. So open our eyes in these coming weeks, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Most Urgent Prayer You Can Pray

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking (James 1:5 NLT).

Plenty of very intelligent people have made a mess of their lives. Maybe you know that all too well.

Still, we’re often surprised when reasonably well-educated, successful, capable, put-together people do stupid things. Or maybe we’re not. After all, we’ve all done stupid things. We knew better, but what we knew somehow failed to translate into what we did. What we all come to learn (hopefully) is that there’s a big difference between being smart and being wise.

Being smart can get you into an ivy league school, earn you an advanced degree and land you in an enviable career. Being smart can make you savvy and successful in the world of commerce and business. But smarts alone will not help you live a life that’s meaningful and rewarding. For that we need something more. For that we need wisdom.

In his introduction to the book of Proverbs in The Message, Eugene Peterson explains wisdom with these words:

“Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves. It has virtually nothing to do with information as such. A college degree is no certification of wisdom . . . Wisdom has to do with becoming skillful in honoring our parents and raising our children, handling our money and conducting our sexual lives, going to work and exercising leadership, using words well and treating friends kindly, eating and drinking healthily, cultivating emotions within ourselves and attitudes toward others that make for peace.”

A Short Prayer for Wisdom

Today we’ll focus on two questions regarding wisdom. First, what does wisdom look like? Second, how do we get it?

Let’s start with the question of how to get it. The New Testament letter of James wastes no time in giving us simple instruction that addresses this question. If you want wisdom, if you know you need it and sense that you lack it, then pray. Ask God for the wisdom you need.

I’ll get more specific. There’s a wonderful prayer for wisdom found in Psalm 90:12 – and it’s short. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

I’d urge you to memorize this verse of scripture. Repeat it often, but never mindlessly. Think about what you’re praying. If you do, here’s what you’ll notice.

Teach Us

None of us born innately wise. Wisdom doesn’t come naturally to some like athletic ability or being able to curl your tongue. Wisdom is acquired and usually it is acquired over time. But again, time alone doesn’t mean we’ll inevitably become wise. You can make it to a ripe old age and still lack wisdom.

Wisdom is passed on. It is taught. In the opening chapter of the book of Proverbs – the definitive biblical literature regarding wisdom – you can hear the way wisdom is passed from parent to child. Someone who has gained wisdom is speaking to someone who needs it. Yes, you can gain wisdom from experience. Experience is a powerful teacher. But it sure helps to have someone in your life who can share wisdom with you, or at least walk with you as you seek to acquire it.

Of course, when we pray, we’re asking God for the wisdom we need. “Teach us.” We’re pleading with God to use parents and mentors and scripture to teach us what wisdom is and what it means to live well.

Number Our Days

We don’t like this part of the prayer. The idea of numbering our days strikes us as depressing or even morbid.

The idea here is not that we should be overly concerned with knowing exactly how many days we have on this earth. We don’t need to know that. It probably wouldn’t be good for us if we did. However, what the Bible tells us repeatedly is that we are finite. When it comes to your days, you don’t need a precise number. You just need to know a number is there.

Newsflash people: You don’t have all the time in the world. Wisdom embraces this. As we number our days, we get clarity on our purpose and on our priorities. Perspective changes. Numbering our days doesn’t make us anxious. It makes us focused. It makes us grateful.

Heart of Wisdom 

The final clause of this short prayer tells us where all of this is headed. We need to be taught to know the truth of our limitations so that we may ‘gain a heart of wisdom.’

The heart is where wisdom resides. Wisdom involves the mind and it requires you to engage your mind in clear thinking. But wisdom’s natural habitat isn’t in your brain. Wisdom sets up shop closer to the core of your ‘self.’ As we grow in wisdom God works on both the heart and the mind. The mind gathers knowledge and information. The heart is better able to grasp the insight that helps us know what to do with the information the mind gains.

So where do you need wisdom? What are you facing that has you stumped, or at least confused?

Do what James urges. Just ask. Pray. Look to God and seek the wisdom you need. And use the words of Psalm 90:12 to do this. God is a good and faithful teacher, and he’ll give what you need.


Generous God, our desire is to live well. We don’t always know how to do this, or what we think we know doesn’t lead us to the life we want. So give us the wisdom we need. Be our teacher. Help us to make peace with our limitations of strength and knowledge. Give us a heart of wisdom, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

My Big Fat Mouth

All kinds of animals . . . have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue (James 3:7-8).

The things we say.

With our words we can endear ourselves to others and in the next breath embarrass ourselves in front of the same people. With our words we can cast a vision that inspires, and we can cast a cloud that disheartens. Words allow us to compliment and complain, to express gratitude and share the latest gossip.

The things we say. Some of them were worth saying and others weren’t worth saying at all. And very often what comes out of our mouths surprises us, not to mention those to whom we speak. Most of us, at one time or another, have grieved the unruly nature of our ‘big fat mouth.’ Our words pinball here and there, one moment this, one moment that.

James observed that humans have proven competent at taming all kinds of threatening beasts, but when it comes to our words – what James calls ‘the tongue’ – we are weak and impotent. ‘No one can tame the tongue,’ James writes.

That’s a conclusion that doesn’t offer us much hope.

Those Not-So-Finest Moments

But there is hope. And the Bible is full of stories that are meant to encourage us whenever we reach the limit of our own best efforts.

There’s hardly a bigger fatter mouth to be found in the New Testament than the mouth belonging to one of Jesus’ closest friends, Simon Peter. Let’s briefly survey some of his not-so-finest moments.

At Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his disciples ‘who do people say I am?’ They reported what they had heard, the word on the streets about Jesus. And then Jesus asked them directly, ‘But what about you . . . who do you say I am?’ Peter answered boldly with God-given insight, ‘You are the Christ.’

And then within a matter of minutes Peter rebuked Jesus as Jesus set forth God’s plan of the salvation of all people, a plan that involved his suffering and death (Mark 8:27-32).

On another occasion Peter swore his loyalty to Jesus, loyalty to the point of death. And then on that same night Peter denied that he knew Jesus or had ever been in his company. Not just once but three times. And the last time, just to make himself perfectly clear, he spiced up his denials with cursing (Matthew 26:35, 74).

James was so right on. ‘Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing’ (James 3:10)

Powerful Words

But there are some other stories about Simon Peter that we need to remember.

After the crucifixion and resurrection, after Jesus had ascended to heaven, his followers were gathered in a room in Jerusalem (James was likely among them). They were reflecting on all that had taken place and they were constantly in prayer. Then we are told that in this moment ‘Peter stood up’ and spoke words of direction and leadership. Peter proposed the plan that led to the replacement of Judas.

Not long after that, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on this same gathering of Jesus-followers. Peter again ‘stood up’ and addressed a crowd in the streets of Jerusalem. As a result of this sermon, a bold proclamation of Jesus, three thousand people came to faith and were added to the community of believers on that day (Acts 2:41).

Fast forward some years, and Peter commits his words to writing as he pens letters of encouragement for struggling communities of Christians throughout Asia minor. We have those words in our New Testament and they remain a source of teaching and encouragement for followers of Jesus today.

The Wideness of God’s Mercy

Here’s the point in all of this: God was able to use Peter’s big fat mouth. And he can do the same with yours.

Don’t assume that somehow Peter suddenly became a model of self-discipline. There’s no reason to believe that Peter discovered the secret to taming his tongue. What seems to have clearly made the difference for him was a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

For today, let’s land it here: The harm you’ve done with your mouth doesn’t define you. The things you’ve said that should have been left unsaid do not render you unfit for use in God’s work and they do not nullify the work of God in your life.

Peter had to clear the air with Jesus after the resurrection. Those cursing denials didn’t get erased by time or by being silently ignored. Jesus was able to bring them up without throwing them in Peter’s face. ‘Peter, do you love me?’

And Jesus won’t throw your words back in your face.

If you need to, go make amends. Make apologies. But claim the wideness in God’s mercy. A wideness that more than covers your big fat mouth.


Merciful God, heal the harm I’ve done with my words. Forgive the way praise and cursing can come from me, words that bless and words that bruise. In your grace, give me words that might be used to show who you are and draw others closer to you, I ask in the name of your son Jesus. Amen.

The Words You Wish You Hadn’t Said

. . . humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls (James 1:21 NLT).

Most mornings I’m the lone coffee drinker in my house.

That’s not always the case. From time to time we’ll have an overnight guest, or maybe the kids will be home (it still seems odd to me that my children drink coffee), or maybe we’re hosting a dinner gathering where coffee goes well with dessert. But usually that pot of hot life-giving brew is all mine.

That means that I’m often the only one paying attention to whether we actually have coffee in the house. Few disappointments annoy me more than waking up to discover that there’s no coffee. I have no one to blame but myself. I probably saw it coming for days. The previous morning exhausted what little supply was left, and I knew it was time to get more coffee – but the day got busy and, well, you know the story.

Perhaps the only thing more disappointing than having no coffee is having plenty of coffee, a perfectly functioning coffee-maker, an abundance of water – but no filter. You can’t make coffee without a filter. Try it, and you’re likely to get a bitter mess.

Filters matter. They matter for good coffee, in your air-conditioning unit, and under the hood of your car.

And we also need a filter in our mind that can sift through what we speak with our mouth.

Words from a Good Heart

It might be a stretch, but maybe the filtering process is what’s happening when James counsels us to be ‘quick to listen.’ We’ve already considered the ‘slow to speak’ part. Concurrent with that is our eagerness to pay attention to others and what they’re trying to say to us. We listen to assess and evaluate, to learn and understand. To listen is to make space within ourselves for the words of someone else before speaking our own.

Perhaps that space, that listening moment, is a filter. It allows us to speak what is good and helpful rather than what is bitter. I think we’d all agree that just like good coffee, our words need to be filtered.

But here’s where we need to pause. Here’s a place for us to be careful.

If we leave the matter here – reading James 1:19-20 and coming to a hard stop at that point – we might walk away thinking that what God wants from us is a good filter for our words. God desires that we be quick to listen and slow to speak, considering and carefully considering what we say so that the words we speak are good and pleasant and edifying to any who hear us.

Of course, God is honored by good and edifying words. But God wants more than that. God wants good words that flow from a good heart.

Soap Is a Waste of Time

Generations ago it wasn’t unheard of that a child might be disciplined in the area of words and speaking by ‘washing the mouth out with soap.’ I’m not exactly sure how that was done, and I can say with gratitude that my parents never chose to discipline me in that way, even when my words probably deserved it.

Washing out the mouth with soap might have made a lasting impression on the child. For a time, it might have effectively made a difference in the way the child spoke and the words the child used. Beyond that, such a disciplinary practice was a waste of time.

Here’s why: a bar of soap won’t come close to cleaning the heart – and that’s truly where all our speaking originates.

Quite a few years before James wrote his letter, Jesus stated the matter in a simple and direct statement. ‘Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Luke 6:45). Jesus helped his listeners understand this statement by using the image of a fruit tree. You know the tree by the fruit it bears, and the branches of a good tree will be heavy with good fruit.

I’m no farmer. I have no experience gardening. But even I can make sense of what Jesus is saying. Fruit is simply the outer visible evidence of the essence of the tree. Similarly, our words are fruit and they reveal what’s inside of us.

This takes us back to James. James doesn’t tell us to be careful with our words as if we can do this by trying hard or just keeping our mouth shut. James goes to the heart of the Christian good news. God’s word is what saves us. God’s word gets planted in our heart, and we speak differently because God’s word changes us from the inside out.

The Word that Saves You

Here’s the gospel, the good news for all of us today.

You are not saved by the words you speak. You are not made right with God by exercising diligent watch over your outbursts and your choice of words, the things you say about others and to others.

You are saved by the word spoken to you. You are saved by God’s word, planted in your heart and bringing forth life giving fruit. We don’t manage this or manipulate it and make it happen – but we can prepare the soil. We do that every time we open God’s written word and humbly invite God to speak to us.

So roll up your sleeves and do the work. Open your Bible. Ask God to help you hear whatever he wants to say to you. God is always speaking, and his word is the word that saves us.


Our prayer today, O God, is simple. Speak your saving word to us. Plant that word deep in our heart that it might produce good fruit. And let that fruit be seen by all to whom we speak today, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.