To the skeptic, holding out the hope that prayer will bring divine guidance is to become a “meat puppet.” This is unfair for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that smart predators make life a lot more complicated for us that it should be. Sometimes we just run out of thoughts at the end of the day, and it’s nice to have other sources of insight to fall back on.
In trying to find a balance here, the pronouncements made by Jesus on the road to Jerusalem can be troubling. They include Luke 9:60 and 62:
Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.
No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.
but most distressingly is Matthew 10:37:
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Does this God sound a little needy to you?
We can certainly interpret those quotes from that point of view, but think of it from the other direction. Let’s say that it was your father demanding that he come before your relationship with Christ, the one that tenders to you a perfect, healing love. Would a father that loved you deny you that gift?
And if your father already possessed that gift, would he not want to purify and refine it so that he could share it to its fullest with you? In fact, would he not believe that it was in fact his walk in the presence of that perfect love that empowered him to love you? When you walk into that space of love the he has called to him, all the hurts and pains of the past fall away, and he sees you exactly as you are, and offers you only those things that will make you stronger.
In “My Father’s Eyes”, Eric Clapton shares this experience of nurturing a child:
Where do I find the words to say?
How do I teach him?
What do we play?
Bit by bit, I’ve realized
That’s when I need them,
That’s when I need my father’s eyes.
From this point of view, the reason that Jesus asks us to put him first is because when we do that we become better able to bring his love to others, and that also makes us better at loving them. As with the servants in the parable of the talents, this is what makes us worthy of Jesus: not to hoard his love, but to give it to those around us that need it most with the faith that they will return it to us in our time of need.
So what this leads us to is this: when we fail to put love (which is Christ) first in our relationships, we not only become unworthy of Christ, but we become unworthy of those that we claim to love. In fact, we are lying to them when we say “I love you.”