First Things First // A Guest Post by Stephen Westerman


I have had the pleasure of Stephen's friendship for a couple years now & I am so grateful for his words here on my blog, Seasons of Thought. 
He shared with me that he recently had the privilege of preaching lately & he was "preaching his heart out about relationships." He & I are both so passionate about promoting godly relationships by stressing the importance of a relationship with God Himself first and foremost. Knowing this, I knew his teaching would be great & I requested to read his notes. They were so good that I asked if I could use his notes for a post here on the blog. He obliged & I'm so glad that you, dear reader, get to hear Stephen's thoughts & examples from scripture on what the key is to building godly relationships & living out each season that you are in faithfully, fully, with thankfulness, & growing in relationship with our Savior.  ~ Jenn

When we look at the world, our movies and songs, it’s made out to be that romantic relationships equal happiness. They push the idea that being single is equivalent to a kind of disease.

Have you ever noticed when someone hasn’t seen you in awhile they always ask if you’re single? It almost implies you must be unhappy or incomplete if you're not dating. But interestingly enough some of the most unhappy people I know are in relationships and some of most content people I know are single.

In this modern age dating is complicated and often causes a lot of anxiety. Girls are confused, wondering if they should initiate, with all this girl power going on. Now with social media, people are wondering, "If I like them should I just like all their photos on Instagram? And what if I don’t just use the thumbs up but I use the heart? Yeah, yeah, I use the heart, then comment on their post like "this speaks so much to me." Yeah this will make an impression." 

Then we can wonder, "Is sending a message trying to enter their private world too soon? What do I do? Do I use the word 'date' or just say 'hang out?'"  But then no one understands what this is. "Are we just friends? Am I going to get friend zoned?  Where do I take them? To get coffee, or does it need to be a nice romantic dinner?"

When we bring up the topic of dating it can summon a lot of anxiety. Maybe for some it brings up good feelings of when it did go right. That time when you did get that text from the guy you liked and you showed all your friends. "Look, what does it mean?" You take hours to respond. The guy is just looking at bubbles thinking “What is she saying?"  Then she finally responds with “Yeah I’ll go."  The lucky guy just drops his phone and says, “Say my name, its on.”

But I’m not really going to talk about how to date. Rather I'm going to talk about where we need to start, whether you're single and looking to be in a relationship or if you're dating or married and you desire to get back to the right priorities.

There was a study done at Harvard where they followed 150 different people from all areas of life to find out what the cause of real happiness is. They found it wasn’t fame or making a lot of money. It wasn't having a ton of friends or having great success in your profession. Rather it was having real connected relationships and having people that you can count on no matter what.

God has given us this amazing gift called relationships and even more specifically, romantic relationships. It's crazy to think about. It's this amazing gift God gave us that can be the cause of so much joy. Some would say finding love is the greatest thing of all.

Why then do we see relationships that can cause so much pain? Nobody seems to cry like the broken hearted. Losing someone in death can be easier to handle to some than losing a relationship. Why is it that this thing we all seem to long for can be the cause of so much pain and destruction and that sometimes after a relationship ends people can seem like they have lost their very selves?

Proverbs says beauty is fleeting and charm can be deceptive (Proverbs 31:30).  That’s the problem with our dating now. They say most people now only meet at bars or online. The problem with that is that dating would be mostly based on what you look like and how charming you can be. Character isn’t sexy sometimes but this is what you want before anything else. I'm not saying you shouldn’t be attracted to them or they shouldn’t have charm but that shouldn’t be where you start.  

Here's a tip on how to find character. Look at how they treat the people that can do nothing for them. That’s a good way to tell how much character someone has. Anyone can try to impress the people that can do something for them. There was a war vet who had gotten hit by a bomb and had half his face messed up and one side drooped. He was lying in his bed and was listening to the conversation next to him between his buddy  who had also gotten injured by a bomb and his fiancé. She said that she could not stand the sight of him. She took off her ring and left. He was so scared because his wife was coming to see him and he thought this was going to happen to him. When she got there she looked at him and drooped her face like his and kissed him and told him "that will do." You want something like that. Someone who will love you no matter what, that even if your looks go or you don't always have something to offer, they still love you for you.

Character isn’t sexy sometimes but this is what you want before anything else.

I fear for you. I fear that you will buy into the idea that someone can complete you. That you fall victim to giving another human the responsibility to make you whole and to satisfy you. That you believe your identity can only be found in the arms of a lover. But how can you love if you’re not connected to love? God is love. How can you find security if your security is only found in a guy or girl? Human relationships were never made to be your source. Your source was meant to be our God and his perfect love.

First things first.

God has to be first. He has to be your number one priority.

Some of you have this idealistic idea of marriage. That marriage is going to be the thing that gives you everything you're looking for. Marriage is great and can be a great joy but it comes with its own challenges. We have a tendency to downplay the benefits of the stage we're in and envy the benefits of another stage. If you talk to someone who is married, sometimes they wish they were single because they want the freedom to do what they want again. Let's not miss out on what we have access to right now.

I want to challenge some of you who are pining away for the future because we’re waiting to find “the one." Jim Elliot puts it like this: "Let not our longing slay our appetite for living." It's okay to long for or desire to be in a relationship. That longing is good if it's of God but if you let that longing steal all of the joy of the present stage, you're letting it suck your appetite for living. That's not right nor healthy. If you're frustrated in your singleness it's because you're missing the point of why you're single.

God wants our attention. He wants to secure an undistracted devotion to Himself. He knows that if relationships are our source they will fail us because people will fail you. God wants us to be anchored in Him because he knows He is the only one who can complete us. Colossians 1 says we are made by God for God. Augustine said, "We are restless until our heart finds rest in thee."

Look at the woman at the well who married five guys then was living with the sixth whom she was not married to. Jesus came to her and told her "You've misdiagnosed your need. What you've been thirsting for is a real thirst but the living water you need is me." 

You saw it when Adam and Eve had a right relationship with God. There was peace, vulnerability and safety. But when God was out of the picture what do you get in the rest of Genesis? You get violence, loveless sex, and the abuse of women. You see brokenness and a godlessness.

This shows us that we need our relationship with God right first. There is a lot of damage done when we look for a guy or girl to to give us what only God can. There's a lot of hurt when you look for relationships with a guy or girl to do what only your God can do. It's unfair to ask someone else to be God. 

First thing first.

God has to be our number one priority if we want the gift of great relationships. We need the right order. 

Relationships can be the greatest gift you'll ever receive or they can be the cause of your greatest destruction.

Where are your priorities?

We want to put identity in relationship. We think we will only feel love if we are in relationships. But in truth our identity is only found in Him.

I want to look at the first relationship ever which was Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:25 says, “Adam and his wife were naked and felt no shame.” Now you might be wondering, "This is weird. What does being naked have to do with this talk?" But naked is more then just no clothing. Here it’s talking about being completely vulnerable, transparent, having another see every part of you and feeling no shame. Isn’t that what we're looking for in our relationships? But then why were they able to show each other their nakedness, who they are with vulnerability, feeling no shame or regret, then later they are naked and feel shame? What the eating of the forbidden fruit did was separate them from God. Sin separates us from God. Once they were separated, after they ate the fruit, they felt shame. In Genesis 2 their security was in God. They were connected to God so they didn’t need to be good enough in and of themselves for each other. But then what happened? the serpent came and asked, "Did God really say that? saying that you won't surely die? We will be like God and know good and evil." What was the serpent saying here? Who needs God when you can be God.

You may wonder why they ate the forbidden fruit. But you do everyday when you say "I don’t need God." Bite. "I want to control my own relationships or life." Bite. "I want to give everything but I'm holding onto this one area." Bite. The problem is when you’re your own God you are responsible for your own security and your own identity, but there is no hope within yourself. We are nothing without God. Adam and Eve realized this and they were left with the knowledge that they had sinned against the God who gave them everything. They could not fix it in themselves and as a result felt shame.

We look for relationships to be the thing that we hope will fix this.

"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." And he said, "Who told you that you were naked?"  (Genesis 3:8-11)

God just didn’t come once they sinned. It's implied that God had a daily relationship with them. If you want to know how to have great relationships then you must realize that for God to be your identity you need daily relationship with him.

And aren’t you glad there's a God who calls out to us in our brokenness and in our sin? That no matter what we've done, how far we've gone, God still comes and finds us and calls out to us?

My favorite here is the question, "Who told you were naked?" I believe God is speaking to a wrong identity. The lie we believe that keeps us from seeing who we are.  God is saying, "Who told you that?"

Who told because you failed at everything before you’re going to fail again?

Who told you that?  

Who told you that you don’t have anything to offer? Who told you you’re not enough?

Who told you that?

Who told you that you're not worthy to be loved?

Who told you because of what you’ve done now you deserve less?

Who told that because of what happened to you or what you’ve been through now you can’t have the best?

Who told you that?

Who told you that because you didn’t have a father or mother you’re now destined to fail in relationships?

Who told you that?

Who told you that you're not beautiful?

Who told you that you're not pretty enough to have great relationships? Who told you that you’re not enough or that you're not wanted?

Who told you that?

It wasn’t God who told that.

If we aren’t careful we believe these lies and they begin to shape us. They lead us to make decisions we don't want to make. They try to fill the void only God can fill. They lead us to relationships we should never enter because we listen to lies in our head.

This leads us to the cross.

Jesus saw you.

He said, "I see all your pain. All of your not good enough's. I know the only way to give you your connection back to me is take all this from you and pay for it."

Jesus knew that it's only Him; it's only God who completes us and gives us everything we need.

He saw you. He loves you. With one final breath He said it was finished. It's finished with all your not good enough's. It's forever now completed your identity with Him if you allow God to be first. Your identity is now secure. It gives us our true identity.

This is why we sing and why we celebrate. Because we're found now. We have hope.  There is a love so perfect we can now truly be complete.  This is the very thing our soul longs for. Don't miss it in search for a human relationship. You were made to connect with God. This is your greatest of relationships. Without God being first all your other relationships will never be able to be all they could be.

First things first. 

If our connection isn't in God, we will never find the truth of who we are. Make him your priority. Not putting our hearts in fleeting things and imperfect people. The more you let God in and put him first the more the relationships around you can have life.

Some of you are just waiting for something to happen. But your single years are meant for doing. This is the most freedom you will ever have. Be someone who uses it wisely.

We miss what it says in Psalm 37:4. “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." If we take delight in Him he will give us the desire of our heart. That means first things first. He can’t give you the desire in your heart if you don’t have first thing first because God is a good God and can only give good gifts. If God gave you your desires with out first things first then you will look for that to validate you and you would try to get from that what only God can give you.

God knows that it's only when we align our hearts with His that He can give us the gift of relationships and its then that they will be blessing to us.

First things first.

- Stephen