Your top four words

Published 10:30 am Friday, July 4, 2014

by Andrew Book

As a pastor beginning at a new church — Courtland United Methodist — I have a unique opportunity to share those things that are most important to me in my first weeks here in Courtland. I have spent considerable time thinking, praying and reading scripture as I have sought to figure out what my first words would be to the people of Courtland UMC. It is no mistake that my first sermon series here is titled “First Words!” I have identified four words that pull together what I am about as a disciple of Jesus Christ and one who is called to lead the church as we seek God together.

But I am not writing this column to tell you about my first words.

Instead, I am writing to challenge you to think about what your first four words would be if you were given the chance to explain who you are and what really matters to you. Would your words be words like, “money,” “power,” and “influence?” Would your words be words like “family,” “friends,” and “mercy?” Would your faith make it into your top four words?

One of the benefits and challenges of serving as a pastor is that each week I prepare a message for the church that will help make sense of scripture and how I have seen God at work.

Some weeks, the words flow easily and the preparation is a lot of fun. Other weeks, crafting a sermon is akin to the process of giving birth: long and painful. But, when I am through, I am confident that something beautiful has come about as a result. Other weeks, I feel as though I should stop talking after simply reading the scripture, because I’m not sure I have anything to say!

Regardless of what kind of week I am having, the benefit of preaching a sermon each week is that I cannot escape taking a hard look inside myself in order to see what is truly important. I could preach a dozen sermons or more from any passage in the Bible, but the sermon I preach is what bubbles up from within me as God’s Spirit works in me — and it teaches me a lot about what matters to me!

Now most of you are not going to be preaching this week. Most of you are not beginning to pastor a new church or have any public place to share your first four words. The thing is, knowing what your first four words are is much more important than having a place to share them. You need to know what is most important to you. You need to wrestle with the question of what matters. You need to decide what is going to help you make decisions in your life because your first four words are going to shape how you live your life.

Jesus understood what mattered to him based on a passage in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. He quoted these words:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me.

He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,

to proclaim release to the prisoners

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to liberate the oppressed,

19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

-Luke 4:18-19

His words might have been “good news,” “release,” “recovery,” “liberate,” and “favor.” When you read the rest of the stories of Jesus’ life, those words sum up what Jesus was about pretty well. Jesus knew who he was. As a result, he was able to live focused on what mattered.

What about you? Could someone look at your life and know what matters to you? If you asked your friends and family to say what they think matters most to you, what would they say? (I actually think you should ask them what they think is most important to you! What they say may be hard to hear, but it will help you know if your life really does line up with what matters to you.)

At Courtland United Methodist Church this Sunday at 11 a.m., I will be preaching on my second word: Engage. Some of you will join us for worship. Others will be celebrating at the beach or visiting family. Regardless of where you are this Sunday, my hope and prayer for you is that you would engage your life. Take a hard look at yourself. Understand what is important to you. And then live as if those things really matter!

P.S. As someone who loves Jesus, I hope Jesus makes your top four. However, don’t put him there just because I told you to. This is your life, your faith, and you have to decide where God is going to fit on your list.

ANDREW BOOK is the new pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or