Set Your Priorities for God!

 

Clock, almost 12, in color

 

Richard Hollerman

If you are like most of us, you never seem to find the time to do all you would like to do.  Your activities, duties, and responsibilities crowd your schedule so that you just can’t seem to do all you want to do or even need to do.  We know that we need to find time for necessary activities, such as sleeping, working, eating, hygiene, and traveling.  But many other things also compete for inclusion in the schedules of many people—sports events, television viewing, music listening, home upkeep, visiting, shopping, and education.  Many of us feel overwhelmed when we consider all of these time-consumers!

Maybe you have tried to solve this time crunch in different ways.  I’ve tried to work as efficiently as possible, cut out unnecessary activities, and other time-saving techniques, but there continues to be lack of time for important matters.  Some years ago, I read books that offered suggestions on how to save time.  One proposed that we could save time by sleeping less each night.  The author pointed out that the average American sleeps about seven to seven and a half hours a night.  If one were to reduce his sleep time an hour less—obtain six hours a night—he could immediately receive seven extra hours each week or an extra 365 hours a year.  This is equivalent to nine 40-hour work-weeks!  This seemed logical and probably some people can do it, to their advantage.  On the other hand, sleep also is important for our physical and emotional well-being.  Many would not be able to cut hours to this extent.

Sadly, most people try to solve this time problem by cutting back or entirely eliminating their important family relationships and spiritual pursuits.  They either entirely stop reading their Bibles or relegate it to a very insignificant portion of their day.  Instead of having a rich fellowship with and worship of God during the day, they seldom pray or minimize their prayer time.  They devote very little time to study Biblically-related literature.  They may cease going to Christian gatherings.  They eliminate spiritual fellowship.  All too often, they reduce the spiritual portions of their life to very little.

These people may also have very little meaningful contact with their children.  A CNN news report states: “A typical youth of today receives less than 10 minutes of positive communication per day.”  Another source charges:

In too many children’s lives, there is little family communication: only 1 in 4 children ages six to twelve reports that the family engages in house-hold conversations during the week, and in those the conversations averaged just thirty minutes—just four minutes a day.

Most parents don’t make a deliberate attempt to teach and train their children in the Scriptures and the ways of God.  Family devotions, worship, and Bible teaching are generally eliminated.  Additionally, married people don’t spend quality time with each other.  National surveys reveal that husbands and wives only spend a few minutes in meaningful conversation each day.  In these ways, people excuse their sins of omission by pointing out that they have too many other things to do—and there just isn’t enough time to do everything!  Their priorities determine how they use their time and what they choose to put in first place.

Make Time for Your Priorities


God knows us better than we know ourselves and He has made His will known to us.  Since He is God our Creator, Sustainer, and Father, He knows what is best for our life now and our life to come.  As we read through the written Word of God, we can see the priorities that God has established for our life.  A priority is “the right to precede others in order, rank, privilege, etc.; precedence.”  To prioritize means “to arrange or do in order of priority” or “to give a high priority to” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary). We need to recognize the priorities that God wants in our life.

Paul the apostle prays that the Philippians may “approve the things that are excellent” (1:10).  This may be translated, “distinguish between the things which differ” (margin) or “decide what is best” (NET Bible).  We need to be able to look at the alternatives and choose what is most pleasing to God, what is for our spiritual wellbeing, and what would be a blessing to others.  With this known, we can better prioritize the numerous activities that compete for our attention.

When we seek Scriptural priorities, we discover those relationships, activities, and pursuits that should precede others in term of rank and order.  God does want us to prioritize all of the possible activities in life according to these spiritual priorities.  What does God’s Word say should be our priorities?  The following scriptures should help us to establish the chief ones:

·       The Kingdom of God.  “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

·       Love for God. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

·       Love for Jesus.  “He who loves father or mother more than Me [Jesus] is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).

·       The Lord Jesus Christ.  “He Himself [Christ] will come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18).

·       Spiritual things in heaven.  “Keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

·       The spiritual goal of heaven.  “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

·       Love.  “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8; cf. Colossians 3:14).

·       The glory of God.  “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

·       Eternal things.  “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

·       Good deeds.  “Learn to engage in good deeds” (Titus 3:14).  “. . . zealous for good deeds” (2:14).  “Be careful to engage in good deeds” (3:8).

You may be able to find other scriptures, but these do show where our priorities lie.  They contrast markedly from the kind of priorities that people in the world have.  If we really do put Jesus Christ first in our life, if we exalt God above everyone else, if we consistently seek first the kingdom of God, and if we strive for love and every other spiritual fruit, then our life will reveal this perspective.  Our life will give clear evidence that our perspective on life is radically different from those around us.  We will walk in Christ-likeness and order our life according to God’s Word.

Surely we will recognize God’s written Word as a daily priority and we will devote ourselves to reading and studying its sacred contents to learn about God, His truth, and His will for our life.  We will want to be consistent in our prayer life, for it will be our delight to glorify God, confess our sins, plead for God to work in our family and friends, and request Him to be active in our own experience.  We will want to sing to the Lord, meditate on God’s truth, share the good news of salvation with others, and be busy in manifold good deeds.  If our priorities are straight, we will give evidence of this in all that we do from day to day.

Setting Priorities is not Simple



Some people attempt to simplify the matter of priorities by saying that we should gather all that Scripture says and condense it down to a certain order.  They suggest the following scheme:

God and Christ

Personal

Family

Extended family and friends

Body of Christ

The World

This scheme does have some merit, but it also raises questions.  We may remember the teaching that says God is first, others are second, and we are third.  This doesn’t fit well with the above scheme.  Others would suggest that God must always be first, one’s physical family would be second, the body of Christ would be third, and others would be fourth.  Still others would suggest that this should be changed since the spiritual family of God should come before one’s physical family (unless they are also saved), in light of Christ’s statement that God’s family takes precedence over the physical family (cf. Matthew 12:46-50; 10:34-38; Luke 14:16-20, 26-27).  In this case, the scheme would be:

God and Christ

Body of Christ (saved)

Physical family (unsaved)

All others (the world)

And where do we—personally—fit into such a scheme?  If we don’t care for ourselves, we won’t be able to adequately care for others or work for God.  Probably it is impossible to accurately portray the priority structure that God would want, although wrestling with these matters can be helpful.  Real life presents some challenges that complicate this matter and we can only call out to God for wisdom on how to prioritize every relationship in life.

Priority Scriptures

 Many passages from the Bible speak to this matter of establishing proper priorities, ones that would please God.  They reveal that God is not silent on this very important topic.  Jesus is interested in what and whom we regard as our priorities.  Notice the following:

1.     Luke 10:38-42.  Martha invited Jesus to her house.  While Jesus was occupied in teaching, Martha was distracted “with all her preparations” (v.40), whereas Mary was “seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word” (v. 39).  The Lord said, “Mary has chosen the good part” (v. 42).  This suggests that in such a context, listening to Christ’s teaching was of higher priority than feeding Him. (This was not to disparage food preparation in other circumstances.)

2.     Matthew 12:46-50.  The Lord Jesus was speaking to the crowds but His mother and brothers were outside the house, seeking to speak to Him.  The Lord asked, “Who is My mother and who are my brothers?”  He then pointed to His disciples and said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”  Christ gives higher priority to those who eagerly seek His Word and obey His will than He does to any physical relationship, including the precious relationship He must have had with His physical mother.

3.     Luke 9:59-60.  Christ called a man to discipleship by saying, “Follow Me.”  The man replied, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”  The Lord then said something very important: “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”  Although we don’t know for certain, it may be that the father had not even died and he was willing to wait for a long while before that would happen.  “Jesus told him that the spiritually dead could bury the physically dead and that the spiritually alive should be busy proclaiming the kingdom of God” (NASB Study Bible).  God’s kingdom must come before one’s physical family.

4.     Galatians 6:10.  Paul the apostle wrote, “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”  Notice that Christians are to give higher priority to brothers and sisters in the household of the faith in doing good than they are to give to the unsaved in the world.  Our resources are limited and we should give greater importance to fellow-believers.  (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:15.)

5.     Matthew 23:23 (cf. Luke 11:42).  The Lord Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”  Although God wanted Israel to tithe (give 10 percent) all garden items, Jesus said that the far higher priority should be given to the basic inward principles of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

6.     Matthew 22:35-40.  A lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the law?”  Jesus replied, “You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He then added, “This is the great and foremost commandment.  And the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”  This shows that love for God and others is the basic principle on which all other commands are based. Love must be given the priority.

7.     Matthew 5:23-24.  In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”  Our Lord’’s words would indicate that in such a situation, it is far more important to confess our sins against a brother than it is to worship the Lord.  Jesus says that we need to observe this priority.

8.     Matthew 11:2-7; 12:10-12; Luke 13:14-16; 14:3-5; John 7:21-23.  In these passages, Jesus taught that it is more important to pull an animal or son out of a well, to circumcise a child, and to carry on priestly duties than it is to strictly observe the Sabbath Day.  Although the Sabbath was vital to the Israelite and part of God’s will, there were priorities that superseded strict Sabbath observance.

9.     Mark 3:20-21 (cf. 6:31).  Mark says that Jesus was so busy preaching and healing that “they could not even eat a meal.”  His own people heard of this and “went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’”  They thought that Jesus had “lost His senses” because He recognized that preaching had a higher priority than eating!

10.  1 Samuel 15:22.  Samuel said to Saul, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”  The prophet says that obeying God is of higher priority than offering sacrifices to Him while disobedient.

11.  Acts 5:29.  When the Jewish leaders commanded the apostles to cease preaching Jesus to the people, Peter declared a basic principle, “We must obey God rather than men.”  Although it is important to obey governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14), it is far more important to obey God and His authoritative instructions when there is a conflict.

12.  Luke 6:12 (cf. Mark 1:35).  Luke tells us that Jesus “went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.”  Although it is important to get sufficient sleep to maintain our health, sometimes it is of higher priority to pray—even to the point of losing sleep to seek God and His will.

13.  Luke 11:27-28.  A woman said to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.”  The Lord replied, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”  We know that many places in God’s word, the virtues of childbearing are extolled.  Surely to bear and raise Jesus from childhood should be considered an honor.  However, Jesus said that there is something of higher priority: obeying God!

These are some examples of how the word of God illustrates His priorities in life.  They show that God’s priorities are far different from those of the world.  Let’s form our perspective on life from God Himself rather than from what “feels right,” or “seems good,” or agrees with religious practice.  Let’s have priorities that please God!

Seek to Minimize or Eliminate the Expendable Activities in Life

 As we mentioned earlier, we cannot eliminate many parts of our life.  We need to sleep sufficiently to maintain our health and strength.  We need to eat well enough to sustain good nutritional health.  We need to exercise regularly to promote energy, good health and wellbeing.  We need a certain amount of relaxation, although this can often become misused.  We also need to cultivate good relationships with people.  A husband should love, care for, nurture, and bless his wife.  A wife should help, serve, and bless her husband.  Parents need to bless, teach, train, and provide for their children who are gifts from God.  Children need to recognize their own place of submission and obedience in the family.  We all need to relate to our extended family, according to God’s own directives.  We should be looking for opportunities to show a blessing to neighbors, friends, and especially brothers and sisters in Christ.  All of this takes time and somehow we need to find—or make—time for it.  This can be a challenge!

But are there any daily activities that consume our time and energy?  Indeed, there are.  Some of these are necessary, in a limited measure, while others can be eliminated.  In fact, many things should be eliminated if we value the health of our spiritual life.  Consider a few things that may consume an inordinate amount of your time that could be adjusted or even abolished:

·       Television.  The average person wastes between fifteen and forty hours a week watching worldly programs that consume vast amounts of time (as well as harming his spirit).

·       Sleeping.  Sufficient sleep is necessary or our health, but some people obtain far more than necessary.  If you are getting nine hours or more, you can probably greatly decrease your sleep and have more time for your higher priorities.

·       Eating.  Most people can eat meals that take less preparation time (but don’t fall into the junk food and fast food trap).  Only spend the time that is necessary to eat at the table.

·       Working.  Some people devote much more time on the job than needed.  Evaluate whether you can work fewer hours and still provide for your basic needs.

·       Reading. Some readers spend far more time reading the daily newspaper and worldly magazines than they do the Bible.  Much that is in print is not worth reading, especially worldly magazines, when this competes with God’s Word.

·       Sports.  We all need some daily measure of exercise for our physical welfare, but some people devote themselves to sports (both participating and viewing) which can be negative to one’s spiritual life.

·       Playing.  Adults spend much time occupied in entertaining activities that have little or no spiritual benefit.  There is a legitimate place for some recreation, but be on guard against negative entertainment that can lead us astray and waste our time.

Try to keep in mind your priorities as you go through your day.  Make choices in light of those priorities.  You might want to sit down at a table and write out your priorities on paper, for seeing all of this in print will help to solidify your commitment before God to use your time well.  Don’t be swayed by the enticements of the world to change your priorities when you are in a tempting situation.  “Yield not to temptation,” says the old song.  Remember the priorities to which you have already committed yourself and make your decisions on your use of time in light of those priorities.

Look for practical ways to implement your priorities even when you are doing necessary activities.  You can listen to recorded teachings or maybe even pray or sing during your commute time.  You may be able to use your lunch time to read and eat at the same time.  You can listen to teachings, mediate on Scripture, pray, or plan your day during your exercise time.  You can take a walk with your spouse, your family, or a brother or sister in Christ and thereby accomplish two activities at once.  We’ve written a booklet that can offer much more advice on time saving.  It is entitled Helpful Hints on Saving Time: The Principles and Practical Suggestions.

Live in Light of Eternity

 Our time on earth is shockingly brief in light of everlasting life that looms before us.  We are here for a day and then must face eternity!  It is utterly foolish to waste the precious gift of time that God has given to each of us.  Let us be wise in light of the brevity of life and the fact that we will one day stand before Jesus Christ and give an account for what we have done in our body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. Ecclesiastes 12:14).  Now is the time to establish our priorities and stay with them in the coming days, months, and years.

Take some time tonight to get on your knees before the Lord and confess your foolish waste of time and squandering of opportunities in the past.  Plead with him to help you discover His own view of life’s priorities and ask for His strength to do what you know you should do.  Then spend some quality time at your table, without interruption and noise, determining how you can change your life in light of your priorities.  “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).  With God’s help, you can be a wise, strong, godly, and spiritual man or woman who has godly priorities that please and glorify Him.

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Check further: Are You Putting Jesus First?

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