Scripture is replete with important principles, lessons, and guidance on how to live a truly godly life. If I had to boil it down into just a few essentials, though, there are eight that I would choose. These critical components of the spiritual life are at the very core of what it means to live the Christian life:
- Ambition to Please God
- Love Jesus
- Thought Life
- Practice God’s Presence
- Trust and Obedience
- Grace Rather Than Law
- Gratitude and Contentment
- Living Each Day Well
Uniting all eight of these essentials is one crowning essential: abandonment of self-centered living for Christ-centered living. We see this theme clearly in 2 Corinthians 5:15:
. . . and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Indeed, this is at the crux of what it means to follow Jesus.
Jesus asked three questions during his ministry that similarly pierce at the heart of spiritual matters:
- “What do you seek?” (John 1:38; “What are you looking for?” in some translations)
- “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41)
- “Do you love me?” (John 21:16)
How we answer any one of these questions is indicative of our true desires and affections. Do we really want to follow Jesus, or do we want to live for ourselves?
Whoever does not long for and love God will live a self-centered life. Only when our desires are turned away from ourselves and toward the living God will we be able to live the Christian life.
Only when our desires are turned away from ourselves and toward the living God will we be able to live the Christian life.
Even lifelong Christians, though, easily shift back and forth between Christ-centered and self-centered living every day. The eight “essentials” in this series, therefore, are meant to center or re-center your desires and affections on Christ in day-to-day life.
In this post, we’ll examine the first of these essentials. Subsequent posts will examine the other seven.
Essential #1: Ambition to Please God
The first spiritual essential is an ambition to please God. Ambition is what provides purpose in life. You may recall the following scene from Alice in Wonderland:
Alice (to the Cheshire Cat): Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where—
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.1
Perhaps you’re in the same situation as Alice. Despite outward appearances of success, you may not really know where you’re headed. As the Cheshire Cat’s point illustrates, the way you live your life depends a great deal on your ambition (“where you want to get to”). Perhaps this is why one of the first questions Jesus asked His disciples was, “What do you seek?” (John 1:38). In short, Jesus was asking, “What is your ambition?” The answer to that question will define your life.
Everyone gives their life in exchange for something. The question is whether that something will be mere trivial pursuit or something that will endure and last.
Everyone gives their life in exchange for something. The question is whether that something will be mere trivial pursuit or something that will endure and last. —Ken Boa
The apostle Paul certainly believed that the only lasting ambition is the ambition to please God:
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:9–10)
The first step in aiming to please God is faith: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him,” Hebrews 11:6 says.
An ambition to please God also has a second outworking. It makes a person “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14 ESV). For those who trust in the Lord and aim to please Him, obedience to God’s commands is not onerous or painful. It is a joyful thing to love others, serve them, and pray for them, because we know these things are pleasing to God.
For those who trust in the Lord and aim to please Him, obedience to God’s commands is not onerous or painful.
When and how do we please God? Paul’s instruction in Colossians 3:17 gives us a clue:
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
Whatever you do; do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. In short, everything matters. It’s not only in the big things but also in the little, ordinary acts of life that we please (or displease) Him through the attitude and motivation of our hearts.2
Here are a couple of practical ways to make it your ambition to please God today:
- Everything Matters: Pick an ordinary, mundane chore or task to do “in Jesus’ name.” It may be taking out the trash, cooking a meal, picking up the kids at school, or any number of things. Thank and talk to God as you go about this activity. (Note: This is one of the Lifestyle exercises in my book A Guide to Practicing God’s Presence.)
- Audience of One: Every time you’re about to make a decision, call to mind these words from Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the favor of people, or of God?” Make it your single-minded goal to please Him above people, playing for an “audience of One.”
In the next post, we’ll consider the second spiritual essential: loving Jesus.READ PART 2
- From Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, accessed May 25, 2018, at http://www.open-bks.com/alice-71-72.html.
- This is a major point in my book Life in the Presence of God (IVP, 2017).