Courtship, to use an old-fashioned term, can be an intriguing process. Boy meets girl, they look into each other’s eyes and sense a strong connection. So, they go out on a date for the first time, to get acquainted and see if there’s “chemistry.” At that moment we could say they are “present” in one another’s lives.
They agree to move to stage 2, which involves going out together on a regular basis. If they continue to enjoy one another’s company, they may decide to make the other person “prominent,” even though there’s no formalized commitment. They can still see others if they wish, but are moving toward becoming a “couple.”
In stage 3, things get serious.
They become exclusive to one another, perhaps become engaged, and when they feel the time’s right, exchange “I do’s” and marry, hopefully to begin what will become a lifelong journey together. At this point they’ve shifted from prominent to “preeminent,” seeing each other as the one and only, fully committed to each other.
This serves as a simple metaphor for the kind of relationships people have with God – present, prominent, and preeminent. It’s not always easy to identify which of these three stages others are in; we might even struggle to discern in which we ourselves fit. But I’d like to offer some observations to at least give us something to think about. The Bible has much to say about this, but the examples of three churches described in the book of Revelation might be especially instructive.
For many people, God is present. They believe in him, at least in an intellectual sense. They might be “C and E’ers,” going to services every Christmas and Easter without fail. Or they may attend church with some consistency, aiming to give the Lord an hour or two of their time as often as is convenient. The rest of the time, however, they may or may not look and act as if they believe in Him at all.
That described me for the first 30-plus years of my life. Unless I could think of something better to do, or if I was too tired from the night before, I’d show up, figuratively punching my attendance card. Then after an hour or two, I’d walk out the doors back into “the real world” where I felt I was pretty much on my own.
The ancient church in the city of Laodicea, addressed in Revelation 3:15-16, might fit this category: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Not a very flattering description. God doesn’t much like complacent, apathetic people.
Far fewer people have a relationship with God in which He is prominent. For them, this might involve aiming to attend church on a weekly basis, or even more often. They might also participate in prayer meetings or Bible studies. For them, worshipping the Lord is a significant part of their lives. One important question for them is, what role does God play in their lives when they’re not in religious gatherings?
For an example of this, we can consider the church at Ephesus, described in Revelation 2:3-5, where God declares, “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you. You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
At first glance, we might think the folks in the Ephesian church weren’t doing too badly. They had persevered, clung to their faith despite unspecified hardships. But then come the crushing words, “You have forsaken your first love.” Maybe early on they were filled with zeal, but over time other concerns and interests had captured their attention, relegating Jesus Christ to second place – or lower – in their lives. Kind of the way some folks are after the honeymoon stage of marriage.
Then there is the last group of Christ followers, ones we could classify as making the Lord preeminent in their lives. There are many ways of looking at this. For some it means answering a call to full-time vocational ministry, such as pastors, worship leaders, missionaries, or parachurch ministry. But it doesn’t necessarily require such a step.
I’ve known many people of incredibly strong, unwavering faith who lived for Him in the so-called “secular world.” They understand that from God’s perspective, there’s no distinction between sacred and secular. As His followers, we’re all called to serve Him, not just on Sundays but seven days a week, 24 hours a day. “Full-time Christian service” can apply no matter where we work or live.
Meeting this description, it seems, was the ancient Greek church in Philadelphia. God says in Revelation 3:8-10, “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you and open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name…. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”
Present. Prominent. Preeminent. Three very different types of relationship with the Lord. The question for each of us is simple: “Which one describes mine?”
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is email@example.com.