People are wired to respond to their environment. This trait is natural and has benefits for our preservation. But as we grow up, we discover that there are also ways that we react that are not beneficial and that we need to learn to control those reactions. Our reaction is our response to an event; it can be at a thought level, emotional level or a physical level. We will also react at various levels of intensity based on how close our connection is to an event. When I watch a sporting event and the team I like loses, I will be a little disappointed, but move on quickly because I’m not very connected (I do realize that some of us are more intense than others in this example). If my daughter were to have a medical emergency, I would react by immediately dropping everything else in order to get to a doctor because I’m very connected. If we take some time to think about it, our reactions and the intensity of the reactions can tell us a lot about our own priorities.
When we drive we use gauges on our dashboard to let us know if there is anything wrong with the way the car is running. It helps us to know when to stop for gas, or if the engine is overheating and need more coolant. Similarly, our priorities are the engine that keeps us moving down the road and our reactions can function like a gauge letting us know if something is wrong. If you wanted to control someone, all you would have to do is learn what they will react to, and then manipulate events to cause the desired reaction.
If we want to learn to react in a way that honors God, we will be forced to adjust our priorities and resemble His. When Jesus came, His concern and priority was the Kingdom of Heaven. That was His primary motivator. In the temptations in the wilderness, Satan’s first attempt to cause Jesus to react was out of hunger.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:1-4)
Jesus’ response placed His priorities with that of knowing that He relied on God for his sustenance, and wouldn’t react out of His genuine earthly need for food. What this did was take away Satan’s ability to use physical need for food as a tool of manipulation.
Another point of leverage that Satan tries to use is what we feel close to. Here is a passage that goes with little notice: “While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”
But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matt 12:46-50)
In the society that Jesus was raised in, clan and family were the top priority. Even today, many loyalties are ‘clan’ based. The family or clan is the inner circle of intimacy, and the expected response is that family takes priority over outsiders. Jesus’ doesn’t respond based on society’s values, His response creates a circle of intimacy that is deeper than blood relations; it is the ‘family of faith’ that takes priority. He points to His disciples, the ones who follow Him day to day, and says: “Here are My mother and My brothers!” Jesus is showing us by example what our priorities need to adjust to.
Today we hear many calling out for ‘Justice.’ Just like our other examples, like eating in response to hunger or intimacy of family, ‘justice’ is not a bad thing, but as events happen- let us closely examine whether we are just reacting to manipulation. When Jesus was judged by those who sentenced Him to death, He knew that He was in the center of God’s will, and that God is sovereign. Even though those who were judging Him were being unjust, Jesus is not interested in justice in His circumstance; He is wholly submissive to the will of His Father. His priority was the Kingdom of Heaven, and that seeking justice from the kingdoms of men was futile.
Jesus gives us an example that forces us to examine our priorities. It is our reaction and the intensity of our response that will tell us where our priorities lie. As we allow ourselves to examine our responses, we may discover that much of our peace is taken away in areas where our priorities don’t line up with that of the Kingdom of Heaven.