We all like to hear the conclusion of a matter; when complex issues are synthesised into a simple sentence and we get the main essence of the discussion in just a phrase.

There are a number of instances in the Word of God where this kind of summarisation occurs. David expressed the one thing that he desired most in his life. Paul summarised his goals with just one thing that he strove after. Jesus pointed out the one thing that was needful in a person’s life. The blind man in the gospel of John expressed the one thing that impressed him the most about his healing.

In each of these incidents the expression “one thing” is used in such a way as to allow our minds to settle on the singularly crucial part of the narrative; to reflect on the essence of the issue under discussion.

If someone asked us what is the one thing we need to do to please God or what is the one thing we need to do to reform our lives in Christ, what would our answer be? Could we put our finger on the pulse and express with absolute clarity what that single, individual thing would be? Perhaps the incidents which highlight that “one thing” may help us answer those questions.

The first occurrence of our theme can be found in Psalm 27:4 where David writes; “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.”

What a beautiful expression describing the hope that burned within David! It is likely that this psalm was written with the background of Absalom’s rebellion in play. If this is the case how great is this one desire. The king was being expelled from the city and had sent the ark of the covenant, a symbol of the beauty and glory of Yahweh, back into the city.

And it was this that he yearned to be connected to. He was being forced to leave the presence of God; he was being surrounded by hostile forces and yet he had full confidence that Yahweh would hide him in the secret of His tabernacle.

As he climbs the ascent of Olivet, he bears his heart before the nation and expresses his one desire—to dwell with his God for evermore in perfect harmony and continual fellowship. He is a king who seeks to dwell forever in the house of God, drawing nigh in song and praise, finding perfect peace and assurance. Here he could gaze at the beauty of Yahweh. The Hebrew word means kindness, pleasantness, delightfulness, beauty, favour. He wanted to reflect upon God’s delightful kindness and come to understand the essence of God’s character and glory.

Do we have that same yearning—to be in the kingdom of God, close to our Lord, beholding the majesty and beauty of God and His Son? To David it was more than just a passing thought; “that will I seek after” he exclaims. It was something that drove him; a singular ideal that he strove to fulfil.

The next occurrence of our theme can be found in the time of our Lord’s ministry. Jesus was approached by an earnest young man who sought to know what he could do to inherit eternal life. The Lord responded by drawing the man’s attention to the fact that there was no inherent goodness in man; there was nothing that a man could do to proclaim that goodness as a basis for any reward from God. He then proceeded to outline some of the things that the man shouldn’t be doing and we can sense the young man’s frustration when he proclaimed that he had observed these things from his youth; “what lack I yet?”

It was then that the Master revealed what was missing; “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21).

The one thing was in fact four things, but they are all connected. He needed to remove a singular stumbling block from his life—his trust in riches. The next step was to continue on in that life of sacrifice and surrender himself to the agony of the cross; and finally, to follow the Lord’s example of service and love. He couldn’t do it. It was just one thing, but it was too difficult for him. What about us? Are we prepared to give up those things that we put our trust in and follow a path of sacrifice and commitment that our Lord seeks from us?

Our theme continues in the incident described in Luke 10 where Martha had invited the Lord home to share a meal in her house. She was busy and in obvious need of assistance in preparing the meal and felt frustrated that her sister, Mary, was oblivious of her plight. It was then that she said, “Lord does thou not care?” (v40). It was hasty and ill-advised; but the Lord chose to focus on the real issue. He didn’t say that Martha’s work was not necessary or unacknowledged, but he did say that “one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (v42).

He was serving a different kind of portion and that food was the one thing that was needful for spiritual growth and development. Mary had chosen that one thing and we too must make the same choice. The Lord isn’t relieving us of the responsibility of providing for our families. His gentle rebuke to Martha was that she was “careful and troubled about many things”; that is, she was overly agitated and anxious about providing for him, when her focus should have been on receiving food from him. Mary had chosen that one thing that was absolutely necessary—the word of God proceeding from the Lord’s mouth.

Sometimes incidents occur in our lives when the instructions of life come into sharp focus and we begin to understand the essential lesson God is teaching us. This is certainly the case with the blind man in John 9. He is caught up in a web of debate as the Jews resist the genuineness of the miracle and try to persuade him that Jesus is a sinner and therefore couldn’t have performed the healing. The pressure to bow to the persuasion of the Jews was intense. They had the power to crush and humiliate anyone who stood in their way. But in the face of all that, he stood his ground. “He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (v25).

He had a single, unassailable fact—he could now see. This one piece of logic was enough to spur him on to resist all the pressure emanating from these evil men. He had a dogged determination to stick with the truth, come what may, and when the Lord found him in the temple, cast out and forsaken by the religious leaders of the day, he asked a simple question; “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” (v35) and he received a simple answer; “I believe” (v38).

Sometimes it is important to keep in mind the simple things that we believe and know to be true; the one thing that we have all experienced—the care shown to us by our loving Father in taking us out of the nations to become a people for His Name. Our eyes have been opened to the unassuming but profound truths of the Scriptures. We know whom we have believed (2 Tim 1:12) and we have known and believed the love that God hath to us (1 John 4:16). May that single idea encourage us to see clearly as we tread in the way of life.

The final thought along the lines of our discussion can be found in the words of Paul to the Philippians. “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14).

He is likening life in Christ to a footrace; a long-distance race in fact. Discipline, energy, concentration, a focus on the finishing line—these are all the hallmarks of great runners, and Paul’s application to the things of God was no less real. He had a single goal—to press forward to that crown of life at the end of his course. It was his own personal “one thing.”

Nothing else was important; nothing else was in focus. He had removed the distractions; he had left the past behind. All that mattered was the great reward in view. May we follow his example and choose that one thing that is needful in Christ.