Monday, June 5, 2017

Puzzling Through Our Priorities

If someone were to ask you, “What are your priorities in life?”, how would you respond? Have you ever consciously tried to define them, or do you prefer the “knee-jerk reaction” approach?

We all have priorities, even if we can’t list them specifically. For instance, you’re in an important meeting at work, but you receive an urgent phone call that someone in your immediate family has been hurt in an auto accident. You probably wouldn’t say you’ll get to the hospital in a couple of hours, and proceed to the next agenda item, right? Personal emergencies usually take precedence over just about anything.

What are your priorities?
Sometimes, however, priorities aren’t as easy to sort through. Imagine you’ve made a commitment to attend one of your children’s school events. You’ve promised. But at the last minute your boss gives you an assignment that conflicts directly with your attendance at that event. Which do you choose? Do you tell the child that, even though you’d love to be there, work responsibilities must come first – hoping he or she will understand?

Or maybe you’re getting ready for church, just about to go out the door, when a neighbor calls in obvious emotional distress, asking for your advice. Do you assure the neighbor you’ll be glad to talk with her later, but sorry, you need to get to the worship service first?

Years ago, a man I greatly respected would often speak about proper priorities for a follower of Jesus Christ, and he would list them this way: 1) God, 2) marriage/family, 3) work, 4) ministry, 5) everything else. At first glance this seems correct. After all, the Scriptures tell us we’re to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:30). From a biblical perspective, putting God first in our lives shouldn’t be a matter for debate.

However, I see one problem with ordering priorities in this way. There’s a temptation to devote some time to “God stuff” – like spending a few minutes reading the Bible, praying a bit, maybe attending church or a Bible study – and then we shrug our shoulders, thinking, “Well, I’ve got the spiritual things out of the way. Now I can get on with the rest of my life.”

Instead, I would suggest a similar priority list, with one significant modification: 1) God, 2) God and marriage/family, 3) God and work, 4) God and ministry, 5) God and everything else.

Maybe it’s a uniquely American tendency, but it’s easy for us to compartmentalize life. We have a “God section,” separated from other parts of our everyday pursuits. If we take the Scriptures seriously, this isn’t at all what God expects. That doesn’t mean we must spend every waking hour walking about in flowing robes, hands folded in prayer, speaking soft, religious-sounding platitudes wherever we go. It does mean we’re not to set Him aside when we show up for work, go to the golf course, or visit the local mall.

As the apostle Paul said in explaining his faith in Jesus Christ to the Areopagus, an esteemed council of Greek leaders, while visiting the ancient city of Athens, For in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Similar to breathing, in which we cannot exist without an environment of oxygen, the apostle saw his life fully enmeshed with his relationship to Christ.

In several other passages, Paul stated our focus on God should be a distinctive of everything we think, do and say: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:17,23). Elsewhere he wrote, So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Applying these teachings to the matter of priorities, it seems our relationship with the Lord should be foundational to everything we undertake, whether weighing personal commitments, making sales calls, deciding how to maintain and strengthen relationships with our mates, competing on a tennis court, or evaluating spending decisions.

As Jesus urged His followers, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). He seemed to be saying, either God is everything in our lives – or He is nothing.

In some respects, this seems like a hard saying, but not when we consider, For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). It’s all about priorities.

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