Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
There is a created order to all things; an intentional design. When that created order is followed, life is the result. But whenever that created order is not adhered to, there is chaos. That's why Jesus, when he was asked by "an expert in the law" in Matthew 22 which commandment was the greatest, immediately responds (from Deuteronomy 6:5): "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." For there is even (and most particularly) a created order to our "loves." For unless we love God with all of our being first, we can never truly love anyone or anything else with the love that we were created to love them with. As Henri Nouwen put it years ago, "The second love, can only be a reflection of the first." Therefore when we love something or someone more than we love God, we have gone against the created order; which produces all kinds of disorder and chaos. The saints and the poets knew this well, and have discussed it in detail through the ages. In fact, centuries ago Ignatius spoke of this very phenomenon when he used the term disordered affections. It is a phrase that has really had some life in me lately.
I actually think that's what Jesus was getting at when he was talking to the rich young ruler. He looked at him and loved him because He realized that the real issue was that this young man's affections were disordered. And Jesus wanted so much more for him than that. That's why He tells him that there's still one thing he lacks. One thing. It is the same one thing that Martha lacked (in Luke 10). That one thing was making Jesus his one thing. That one thing was having Jesus as his first and truest affection. For if Jesus is our first and truest affection, then the other things (or the many things in the case of Luke 10:41) of this life seem to fall in order behind that. Our lives become centered on and rooted in the love of Jesus.
Unfortunately disordered affections can be a very difficult thing to recognize. Because the things that end up occupying most of our time and energy (which is a very good way to tell what's really in the center of our lives) are often very good things: job, work, accomplishments, reputation, service, ministry, achievements, hobbies, exercise, even family activities. But Jesus was pretty direct in saying that when anything takes precedence over our affection for him (one thing), we have made that thing the center of our lives--a spot that was designed only for Him to occupy. So the questions I am left to answer regularly are: What occupies most of my time and energy and focus these days? What is my one thing right now? And what does it really look like to hold Jesus as my first and truest affection? The answer to these questions can give me a pretty good idea about whether my life, and my affections, are properly ordered.