Saturday, September 22, 2012

How Do You Get to Heaven? REPENT! REPENT! REPENT!

The old joke goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!” I heard this joke each Fall Semester during College. I was a music major in the University of Colorado College of Music, by far the best place to study music if you REALLY want to know, and every year during orientation, the Dean told this joke trying to inspire us to practice every day. He was attempting, through humor, to inspire us to set our priorities correctly as music majors hoping for a career in music. Of course I didn’t practice every day and well…I’m obviously NOT a professional musician. I wonder if that is a coincidence.

Over and over again we wonder why things in our life aren’t quite working out as we planned. And it isn’t because we’re not good at what we’re doing. I wasn’t a bad musician; I just wasn’t a very disciplined one because I didn’t enjoy practicing enough to be good enough for a career. I didn’t have my priorities straight…or did I? Over and over again Jesus asks what people want. “Do you want to be made well?” “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20.32) Jesus then gives clear and concise instructions on how to get there. “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew19.17) Over and over again we find ourselves walking away from God rather than toward Him.

Since I was 8 years old I knew I wanted to be a Priest. So during college, although I LOVED being a music major and although I LOVED playing my trombone and singing in the choir, deep down inside I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional musician. So long as music was enjoyable, I was all for practicing, but as soon as it became work or required effort, I looked the other direction. My priorities weren’t set for a music career.

So there were these fishermen. We know them as Peter, James and John. (see Luke 5.1-11) They had just finished a night of fishing and caught absolutely NOTHING. They were spending time cleaning and repairing their fishing nets when Jesus appeared to teach the crowds. Was it a coincidence that Peter’s boat was in just the right location for Jesus to teach? I doubt it. Jesus suddenly comes and commands them (He doesn’t ask) to push their boat out a bit into the water so He could teach. At just that moment they were forced to decide….between following Jesus or cleaning their fishing equipment.

You may be surprised to know they were WAITING for Jesus. You see these three men were disciples of Saint John the Baptist (see John 1.35-45) and had already set their priorities on finding the Messiah. So when Jesus, the Messiah, appeared next to their boat, they recognized Him. Since their priority was to find Him and follow Him, when He commanded them to put their nets aside for a moment and push the boat out so He could teach, they acted upon His command immediately. It wasn’t a difficult decision because they were just following their priorities.

You see, setting your priorities on finding and following Jesus doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work or that you shouldn’t provide for your children’s education. It DOES mean that when you are faced with choices, especially life choices, you should make your choices based upon your priorities. Of course you do already; it’s just that you may not recognize your priorities.

These three fishermen knew that following Jesus was, at that moment, more important than cleaning their nets. Once Jesus was finished teaching, He turned to them and said, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5.4) AH! Jesus knew, of course He did, that they were about to use their fishing gear again, so there would be time for cleaning AFTER the fishing was finished. Of course they were still confused. Peter said, “Master [notice Peter called Him Master because he recognized Him as his Master] we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” (Luke 5.5) The Gospel continues, “And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish.” (Luke 5.6)

Herein lies the “deep” they were asked to enter. Saint Ambrose asks us to consider the deep water as symbolic of the deep faith that is needed to seek and follow Christ. It requires deep faith to follow (or even set in the first place) your priorities on finding and following Jesus Christ. In a world filled with people with priorities other than finding and following Jesus Christ, it won’t be easy for anyone to remain dedicated to this priority.

That is where repentance comes in. Each believer in Jesus Christ and many others who for their own reasons do not believe in Him, have at one time had the priority of finding and following God. The reality is that many times, life takes a turn toward different priorities, and people eventually either abandon their original priorities and establish new ones, normally pointing away from God, or they temporarily forget what their true priority was in the first place. Either way, they find themselves in a place where life just doesn’t work like it should.

What do I mean by life not working as it should? Often times, wealthy people find loneliness rather than joy in oversized homes; many teachers find it unfulfilling to teach despite being knowledgeable teachers. I wasn’t fulfilled playing music in college so I rarely had the desire to further my talent, which was God-given at that! In my life, I couldn’t feel fulfillment until I repented (changed my priorities) and focused my life on what God wanted for me rather than what I thought I wanted for myself. There were still times that I practiced and there were many times that I succeeded in music, so I’m not saying that things will never work, just that they won’t work like they are meant to work until  the priorities are correct.

How do we know the difference? Well, for starters we have to be willing to look inward and ask, “What ARE my priorities?” “Do I even want to find and follow Jesus Christ, God?” If the answer is “yes” and I pray that it is (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this blog, and you probably wouldn’t be reading it) then when choices are presented in your life, you’ll have to choose based upon your true priorities. Only YOU know your priorities. Only YOU can decide if you want to find and follow God. Then the choices will be easier, not always easy, to following the Commandments of God and live in Communion with Him.

If you look into your heart and realize that either your priorities weren’t finding and following Jesus Christ, or that you have temporarily forgotten your priorities, now is your chance to repent and refocus your priorities on finding and following Jesus Christ to heaven. It really is that concise. And if things in your life aren’t working as they should, or as you thought they should, maybe that’s God’s way of telling you that your priorities are in need of correcting. Maybe your current struggle in life is God’s way of speaking to your heart and reminding you that He is waiting for you to follow Him. Maybe He knows, like He did when He commanded Peter to push the boat out, that a great catch is coming your way. You just have to put down what you’re working on and pay attention to God for now. The rest will come later.

If on the other hand your priority is to make lots of money have lots of lovers, well I suppose you just read the wrong blog…but I might suggest there’s a better way. There’s always a better way than walking away from God.

May your search for priorities and your journey to fulfill them be blessed by God. If not…REPENT! REPENT! REPENT!

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