In this year of pursuing wholehearted living, I’ve continued to explore what “wholehearted” means for me and how that will play out in my life. The conclusion I find myself returning to again and again is that wholehearted means Jesus must have my whole heart—my life must be entirely committed to Him, and He must take precedent over all. This is much easier said than done, of course, and in addition to inviting the Lord into this process with me on a daily basis, I am seeking out wisdom from faith leaders who have walked this path and can speak into this Jesus-first way of living.
Lisa Whittle grew up as the daughter of a prominent pastor, and has spent most of her adult life in ministry, but she hasn’t always held a Jesus Over Everything mentality. Years of selfishness and poor decisions have taught her that a Jesus-first life is the only one worth pursuing. Lisa’s walk with Christ has involved setting aside all the deadly “overs” (overdoing, overapologizing, overexplaining, overanalyzing, overindulging, and overworking) in order to let Jesus take the throne over her life. It is this process that Lisa outlines in Jesus Over Everything.
In each chapter of the book, Lisa unpacks a daily choice that supports the Jesus-over-everything lifestyle: Real over pretty. Love over judgment. Holiness over freedom. Service over spotlight. Steady over hype. Wisdom over knowledge. Honesty over hiding. Commitment over mood. Every one of these dichotomies involves counterintuitive and countercultural choices. They are a laying down of self and an offering up to God. They are challenging and convicting and run against what the world (and sometimes even the Church) is telling us to pursue. Ultimately, though, these choicse lead to the kind of fulfillment that can only be found when Jesus is Lord in our lives.
There was not a single chapter in this book that didn’t speak to me in meaningful ways. Quotes were highlighted and made their way into my journals, prayers, conversations, and internal narratives. I’d love to share a key takeaway or two from each chapter.
Real over pretty. We need to change our ideas about what is truly worthy and attractive: being who we are meant to be (flaws and all) is by far the most lovely pursuit because, unlike superficial prettiness, being real does not demand that we lie. “There might be nothing more detrimental to a soul than daily overanalyzing how we appear to others and overworking to control it. Choosing real over pretty is choosing to free our souls from the grip of an overfocus on self.” When we make the choice to be real, we are trusting Jesus’ creative instincts in who He made us to be.
Love over judgment. Often our acts of “love” are really just self-preservation. “We have spent time trying to get people to love us by largely staying out of their lives or compromising to a place of comfortable agreement. The gospel, on the other hand, promotes accountability and unified community. Uniformity isn’t love. Unity comes through humility, not in morphing to all look and sound the same.” True love can’t tolerate watching people live un-well.
Holiness over freedom. Holiness isn’t about rules, it’s about spiritual relinquishment. When we choose holy over free, God rewards it by providing more freedom. in pursuing Jesus, we must regularly ask ourselves 1) Is this a Jesus-first choice or a me-first choice; and 2) Will this help me become more like Christ? Holiness is a lifelong quest, but we make progress by daily denials of our freedom. “When we decide to follow Jesus, life is no longer about our liberties. It is about our responsibilities to Him. It is not about our cans. It is about our want-tos. And in that healthy relationship with Jesus, liberties live at peace with convictions; there is no constant war—we are still doing what we want. Our wants are just different.”
Service over spotlight. We crave the spotlight, but only service can transform us. All service is important in God’s Kingdom, where value and worth are not attached to scope or number. “Everything in the kingdom is big because God is big even if God asks us to do a small task. Anytime He asks us to do anything, it’s life-altering even if it alters only ours.” God’s plans for our service are not about us and our desires but about Him and His sovereign plan that is more vast than we could hope to understand.
Steady over hype. Hype is led by emotion, not faith or fact. Steadiness is the key to quality of life because it is grounded, stable, and deep. Hype leads us to be swayed by culture rather than convictions, and its flashy appeal diminishes the perceived importance of a steady, enduring gospel. Hype causes us to be impressed with religion and people instead of Jesus. Unlike hype, the steadiness of God allows us to carry on despite worldly instability.
Honesty over hiding. Honesty about our sinfulness allows us to break up with who we have become but never wanted to be in the first place. We may fear others’ response to our honesty, but “better for people to love us knowing the absolute truth than for us to live with the troubling mental struggle that they love us under false information. If who they think they love is not really who we are, we don’t want the love they offer.”
Wisdom over knowledge. Knowledge is good, powerful, and important, but wisdom is better because it is God-given. Relying on our own knowledge over God’s wisdom is a form of human arrogance. The beginning of wisdom “is to ask ourselves this question, even now: Who and what influences me the most? If the answer is anything other than Jesus and the Word, we are face-to-face with something in dire need of adjustment.” Wise people give action to their knowledge, hold valid reason and understanding behind a belief, are able to self-regulate, listen well and are eager to learn.
Commitment over mood. “It is a false idea that commitment is more than a choice. If we wait for a feeling, we will likely wait too long or jump into something too soon.” In this life our faith will be tested, but God can be trusted. Our commitments will keep us tied to Him when we feel like pulling away.
Don’t read this book if you aren’t willing to be stretched outside of your comfort zone. This book WILL convict you, and it WILL stir a fire in you to begin putting Jesus first. Lisa Whittle is an excellent mentor in this, unafraid of saying the hard things but humble in her approach and encouraging in her delivery. What a valuable guide this book is for those of us who are ready to begin letting Jesus be over everything.
My Rating: 5 Stars.