Last week we talked about wrestling with priorities in life – what comes first when two needs collide? Sometimes it’s bedeviling, isn’t it? We can’t be two places at once or always please everyone. Yet, for the believer in Jesus, our top priority, at least, is obvious.
The Bible teaches that God is to come first. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus, the Son of God said: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;”
Jesus is talking extreme commitment here. Our loyalty to God is meant to override; to trump, our loyalty to everyone and everything else. How does this look in actual practice?
What does it look like to put God first?
1. Putting God first means that His priorities will come ahead of other priorities which contradict His
Often, what God desires is in harmony with our other priorities. My wife wants me to treat her kindly and God agrees (Eph. 5:25-33). My boss wants me to be honest and God agrees (Proverbs 11:1).On the other hand, if my friends want me to share in their raunchy behavior, God doesn’t agree (Ephesians 5:4). I have to choose between my friends and God on this matter.
2. Putting God first may mean putting His priorities ahead of other good but conflicting priorities
Our world is full of many worthwhile uses of our time, far more than we can ever participate in. To choose one opportunity often means turning down another – there’s just not enough time for both. We can’t have it all. So, for example, if I want to build and maintain a close relationship with God I must set aside time for devotional practices – praying, meditating, Bible-reading, etc. In order to do this I may have to reduce the time committed other worthwhile activities—like home improvement projects, or watching local sports or chatting with old buddies. Nothing wrong with these but I don’t always have time to do both.
3. Putting God first means letting Him guide how I approach all other priorities
Although priority lists have some usefulness it can also be misleading to see God as distinct from all of our other priorities. Actually, many of our priorities are God’s priorities too. An important part of putting God first, for instance, involves helping others. He’s called us to make disciples (Matt. 28:19) and to be servants of all (Mark 9:35). I would even go so far as to say that the more we love God the more we will love others as well. When these other priorities are done in a way that honors God, and advance His purposes, they’re just another way of putting God first. It’s when they’re done without reference to God that they become conflicting priorities and even idols.
Finally, as we all know, it’s easy for our priorities to get out of whack.
What are some typical realignments I need to make to my priorities?
1. I put God back in first place
This is the big one—and the hardest. God wants our greatest
loyalty to be to Him. It isn’t easy though, since God is, for the most part, silent and invisible. Furthermore, His ways are often different than ours (Is. 55:8). There’s usually a more immediate, tangible reward if we please our spouse (a kiss) or our boss (a good job review) than if we please God. Yet God wants to come first.
What does God coming first even mean? Some of this can be defined more concretely – obeying God’s commands, going to church, doing ministry stuff, praying, and so on. Yet, it’s more than this. It’s possible to be very religious/ and yet be distant from God. Is He really the great love of our lives? Do we care most about what God cares about?
2. I make others more important
Did you notice that “me” wasn’t on that first Christian priority list I started the article with? It’s a curious oversight, but reflects the Christian culture’s uncertainty about what it means to look out for ourselves. Where do we fit on this list? Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Paul goes even further, saying “. . . in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). What does this all mean? Are we to always defer to others—always giving up the last parking space, always letting others have their way in disputed decisions, always putting their needs ahead of our own?
Obviously, this approach could quickly get out of whack. If I don’t take care of my own needs, at some point, my life could fall into shambles. I may have to go to work even if my neighbor wants me to fix his sink or to get some time alone even if my kids beg me to play with them all day. Nevertheless, the reason for this biblical teaching is that, by nature, we tend to be self-centered. So it’s often necessary to stop and remember that others matter just as much as we do. It’s unlikely that doing this will make me too other-centered. Given my natural selfish tendencies this will probably only bring me to a healthier me/you balance.
3. I value people more than stuff
I’m not suggesting that it’s inappropriate to attend to our “stuff” needs. Obviously, if I don’t pay my bills and maintain my possessions it jeopardizes my ability to function. It’s just that it’s helpful to remember that, in the end, people matter far more than money or things. Think of Jesus who lived a life of relative poverty while he travelled, preaching the good news (Matt. 8:20) or of Paul, who worked long hours as a tentmaker in order not to burden the churches (1 Thes. 2:9). When we’re dealing with people vs stuff it’s always good to have a bias toward people. Jesus died for people. Only people are going to Heaven.
As you can see, maintaining a wise priority list isn’t always easy or clear-cut. A certain amount of fluidity and adaptability is required. Making God our first priority allows His heart and purposes to flow into how we approach all of our other priorities. Putting our most important relationships (marriage, family, close friends, church) high on the list means that they’ll get a significant amount of our time and energy (which is essential to maintain and grow these relationships). The ranking of lower priorities on the list (work, self-development, exercise, recreation. . .) will vary from person to person. Your priorities, on the lower level will match your personality, gifts, and goals. We can’t do everything equally well. I recall Dr. Warren Wiersbe, a famous preacher, telling me once that he could have chosen to play more racketball, but he decided instead to just read a ton of books. He didn’t end up with an athlete’s muscular physique but his mind was deeply muscled. And his extensive learning has benefitted me and many others. In the end God will help us to choose wisely as we deal with the business of priorities, of saying: “Yes.” “No.” “Maybe later.”