Monday, March 23, 2015

Perplexed By Priorities?

If variety is truly the spice of life, then 21st century living is truly one spicy existence. There’s no end to the possibilities for spending, investing – or squandering – our waking hours. Between work, family responsibilities, community activities, and an ever-growing number of options for occupying “leisure” time, we each could easily fill a 48-hour day – if there were such a thing. Maybe Congress should enact that into law.

So much to do, so little time
in which to do it!
Young men being mentored often ask (or imply), “Can you help me with my priorities?” They’re getting started with careers, perhaps newly married or beginning a family, and find themselves overwhelmed with commitments and obligations. And that’s not even counting fun stuff they like to do (or used to do) – fishing, golf, video games, fantasy football, mud runs, attending sporting events, going to movies, etc. How’s a person to balance all those things?

Much of the time, juggling facets of everyday life seems like trying to find balance on an old-fashioned seesaw. Now you’re balanced – and then you’re not.

So what’s the answer? How can we remain true to our priorities when many demands and opportunities make the task so perplexing?

There’s no simple solution, but here are some considerations. For instance, what are your priorities? Do you even know? What’s most important to you? If it’s your career and achieving success, that will dominate your time. But at what cost, especially if you’re married and/or have children? Are you willing to sacrifice time – quantity and quality – with them to pursue career dreams?

On the other hand, if family relationships are paramount, prioritizing those will affect your handling of work demands and aspirations. If acquiring wealth is your focus, it’s bound to impact other areas of your life. Because there’s a cost to making money. As Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon (money)” (Matthew 6:24). In other words, decide what your priorities are.

There are other considerations as well. For instance, whether at church or in an organization you belong to, there are always projects to be done – and somebody needs to do them. Is that somebody you? If you decide it’s not, do you still find it difficult to say no? Maybe you’re reluctant to disappoint the person who asks you, or afraid they’ll think less of you if you decline.

I’m an avid reader of Oswald Chambers’ writings, and one of his recurring statements is helpful: “A need doesn’t constitute a call.” In other words, just because something must be done doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the one to do it. The church might need singers in the choir, but if you can’t carry a tune in the shower, don’t feel badly about not volunteering. However, if there is something you’re well-suited to do, whether it’s working with children, doing repair work, or mentoring adults, that need might be calling you.

Another consideration is the level of commitment required. If you desire to excel at playing a musical instrument, for example, it won’t do to practice only 15 minutes a week. If you have want to compete in and complete a triathlon, you better be willing to devote many hours – every week for months – running, cycling and swimming. Either that or you’ll start something you have no chance of finishing.

Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer has said, “Because of our limitations on time and energy, it is difficult to be completely dedicated to a large number of endeavors.” If you want to be a champion in one pursuit, you’ll have to neglect or ignore a host of other alternatives.

Os Chambers also wrote, “Good is the enemy of the best.” There are many good things we can do, but what are the best things, those we’re most qualified, experienced and gifted to do? Why attempt to be a jack-of-all-trades when you can become a master of one?

A couple of important principles have guided me in coping with the perplexities of competing priorities. One is to recognize for whom I’m ultimately doing things. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24). Is it acceptable to give God a half-hearted effort, or second best? No. At least not for me. So I’d better be certain I’m doing what He would want me to do, and then do it as well as I can, to please Him foremost.

And to avoid the procrastinator in me, another passage reminds me not only to pursue what I’m doing with gusto, but also to do it when the opportunity presents itself: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Why postpone to a tomorrow we might never see?

It’s still not easy to resolve the problem of too much to do in too little time. But knowing and pursuing our bedrock priorities is a step toward determining what we should be doing with the time we have - and what things are little more than distractions.


Bob Miller said...

Dear Bob:
This is a subject that Ted Demoss taught. He advocated using the model of Col. 3 as the proper ranking of priority categories - 1. Relationship with God, 2. Family, 3. Vocation, and 4. Ministry. This is repeated in Eph. 5 as well.
No. 1 is the vertical relationship with the Father and Jesus which must be kept strong. Some, he said, get No. 1 and No. 4 confused. He used this structure himself to good effect. I also have used it to resolve time management conflicts. Categories 2 thru 4 are the horizontal dealings we have in the world based on the vertical relationship.
Just a thought, not a sermon.

Bob Miller

Bob Tamasy said...

Bob, my only difference with Ted is that I don't see a division between God and other aspects of life. To me, priorities should be 1) our relationship with God, 2) our relationship with God and family, 3) God and our vocation, and 4) God and our ministry. There is a tendency - particularly in American thinking, to compartmentalize and fail to see the link between our spiritual lives and everything else. From a biblical perspective, they should all be integrated into one whole, 24/7.