Setting Priorities

In Luke 14:28-30 Jesus says  “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him,  saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”

One of the greatest difficulties in life is setting priorities and making a plan according to those priorities.  Personally, I can manage priorities for only about a week at a time.  Each week I know that there are certain things that need to be done and other things that I want to get done.  It’s a good week if I accomplish all of those things.  But to apply that same principle to a month or an entire year?  For me at least, it seems impossible to know how to pace myself.

There are some things in life that are relatively easy to plan for.  If your priority is to go to college, you know that you need to work in high school to have grades that are good enough to get into college.  If you want to go on vacation, you need to save for that vacation (or suffer the credit card debt after the fact.)

On the other hand, there are a lot of curveballs that life throws at us.  A friend of mine went to college to be an elementary school teacher, only to reach the end of the curriculum and have to do student teaching.  There she discovered that she didn’t enjoy the kids as much as she had anticipated.  Likewise, you may make a major purchase only to unexpectedly lose your job six months later.  Or have your house damaged in a storm.  Or deal with a serious illness.

The point is that there are some things that we can plan for and others that we can’t.  There are times that we encounter speed-bumps in life and we need to maintain the course and keep our priorities and goals ahead of us.  Other times we need to recognize when our goal is not reachable or at least currently detoured.

I’ve recently read some of my previous posts regarding goals for Spreading Light Ministries.  I’m quite proud of the things that I’ve accomplished with the site but there are times that my goals have been laughable.  I’ve made reference to pages and sites that I hoped to launch in a month and they haven’t been launched four years later.  There are a multitude of reasons why and ultimately they’re not that important.

In the past month I have completely re-evaluated my online ministry.  There are times when I got away from my priorities.  Other times I had a new priority only to discover that it wasn’t as important or as successful as I had hoped.  In the last month or so I have shut down six websites with plans to close another two.  For the most part I’m not doing away with the content of the sites, just rearranging things in a more logical order under and a smaller footprint.  It does little good to have a dozen sites with fifteen pages each if I can logically reduce them into three sites with sixty pages each.

In church and in our personal lives, we should periodically evaluate our priorities.  We often do this when things are going well but it’s just as important when things are going well.  What worked for us in the past may not be serving us well now.  And even more importantly, it may not serve us well in the future.

This week I got to spend time with my mentor.  He was saying how much he uses Powerpoint in his sermons and presentations and ten years ago he never would have thought about it.  This isn’t someone who is afraid of technology either.  This is someone who had a job offer from IBM in the early 1960’s but ended up being drafted instead.  The point is that times change and we must be willing to adapt with it.

We need to remember that as Christians and a part of the church our main priority never changes.  Jesus Christ is always the main priority.  The difference is how we pursue Him.  Water hasn’t changed since creation but we certainly don’t get it the same way that someone did even 150 years.  We need to constantly be asking ourselves if our priorities are still in line with the direction God wants us headed in.

What Should a Christian’s Priorities Be?

Christians have a problem with priorities today like in no other time.  There are so many things that are demanding our attention and many of them are good things.  But none of us have unlimited time.  We are all given the same 24 hours in a day.  The difference comes down to how we choose to spend our time.  Because we can’t do everything we have to make choices and make sacrifices according to what is the most important.

Our priorities should be God, family, and then church in that order.  There’s obviously some need for clarification with these priorities though.  The fact that God should be our biggest priority in our life shouldn’t be a surprise.  In Matthew 22:36-38 Jesus explains our biggest priority.

 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘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.

Our first priority is to love God.  There are many things that are entailed in this which includes worshipping God, praying and building a relationship with Him, and following His commands.  There are a lot of Christians who can’t even get this first priority right. 

When you love somebody, it’s pretty easy for others to see it.  You want to spend all of your time with that person and do everything you can to please that person.  If Christians’ love of God were judged based on these criteria, how many of us could be convicted by a jury today?  I’m not talking about do people know you go to church.  I’m talking about do people know that you love God.  Do people see that you want to spend time with God and want to do everything you can to please God?  How many can honestly say that God is first in their life if that is the criteria?

Jesus also establishes the next criteria in our life.  Other people come after our love for God.  In Matthew 19:29 Jesus tells His disciples about the sacrifices they would have to make to follow Him.  “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

Also in Luke 9:61-62 it is written: “Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’  Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'”

Family is important but it is not to take precedence over God.  This means that family functions should not pull us away from our worship of God.  God instituted the family as the most important relationship we have on earth but He never intended it to have precedent over Him. 

This is a fine line to walk and it is not easy.  But we must carefully decide what is a need for our family and what is simply a comfort.  We honor God by honoring our family.  When there is a need within the family, it is right to attend to those needs, even if it means missing out on church.  Our worship of God is not limited to the confines of the church and can be done at any place and time.

On the other hand, family should not be an excuse for not following God.  Jesus dealt with people who wanted to follow Him but wanted to wait until it was more convenient for them and their family.  Christianity is often not convenient for the family, particularly as it relates to those who are not Christians.  I know of too many people who don’t come to church on Easter because they have to cook dinner for their family.  My opinion is that if the family can’t come to church with you, let them wait another hour for their meal.  God comes before the conveniences of the family.

Before I go much further on this, let me tie in our third priority.  Our third priority is church.  And this is even more difficult than the tightrope we walk with regard to God and family.  God is obviously a big part of the church.  Attending church honors God.  Being an active participant honors God.  But the church and God are not the same.

The church is an institution.  This is not the way it began but it is what the church is now.  The church is full of programs that are good but are not found in the New Testament.  This doesn’t mean that they are bad, just that they are not a foundational part of the church and our worship of God.  The church is built upon the worship of God, the study of God’s Word, and the fellowship of believers – Acts 2 makes this pretty clear. 

We are always called to worship God.  That is why church attendance is important because corporate worship can’t be replaced with anything else in life.  But worship does not have to take place in a church and as a matter of fact shouldn’t always because worship is not an hour a week thing. 

The individual church should not be held at the same level as God.  The church is a living organism, it grows, changes, and sometimes dies.  People fight for the church – or most often against change in the church – harder than they are willing to fight for their beliefs in God.  People are more likely to become mad at the church because the worship style is becoming contemporary or the service times have changed than they become mad because the church has taken a liberal stance on a theological or social issue. 

Christians should absolutely be devoted to their church or they should find a church that they can be devoted to.  But this devotion should not come at the expense of the needs of their family.  And Christians should not confuse showing up at church with serving God which is a constant thing rather than a once or twice a week occurance.