Priorities

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:21

I don’t know much. It’s not a statement of humility; it’s just a fact. I take comfort in knowing that some of the men whom I highly regard in the work of God have expressed the same sentiment. It’s not that we aren’t learning, but the more we learn, the more we see how little we know. That is why it is important to hold fast to the things we have learned and found to be true. Walking in the light we have will lead us into further light. I’m making this qualification because on subjects like this, it’s easy to come across as being either overly critical or as one who has it all figured out. Neither is the case. I hope these observations serve to help you run your own inner diagnostic on your life to see where your are and what might need adjusting. All of us are in process and in need of periodic calibration to keep our spiritual life running at its highest efficiency.

When it comes to what we value in life, our priorities are probably more transparent than what we’d like to believe. The truth is, it’s easy to see what we value. To paraphrase the scripture above, Jesus told us that our hearts are in the things we treasure. If it really means something to us, we make it a priority. We find time for it. In fact, all we have to do to find out what we really value is to look at where we spend our time and money. Our day timers and credit card statements tell more accurately than our words what is truly important to us.

We’ve all heard the statement, “Put your money where your mouth is,” which is to say that if you say something is important to you, you should be willing to back up your commitment with more than words. If you really believe in something, it will be obvious by the level of investment you’re willing to make. I have been doing church a long time, and I have found that believers know, for the most part, what’s truly important. The problem is, however, that we often struggle with our priorities; with putting first things first. Jesus once told a parable of a man who prepared a feast for his friends. It’s a story about priorities.

Then He said to him, “ A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘ Come, for all things are now ready. ’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused. ’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused. ’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. ’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind. ’ And the servant said, ‘ Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room. ’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper. ’” (Luke 14:16-24)

There is much we can take away from this parable if we’re willing to embrace the plain truth of it. In fact, I don’t think we could find a parable more relevant to the busy, congested lives we seem to live today. There’s always something that needs doing, and often one thing must be sacrificed so that room can be made for another. But it’s what we prefer and what we sacrifice that says everything about our priorities. If indeed the man who prepared the feast represents God, then we can see from His reaction to his guests’ excuses that no matter how reasonable they may have seemed, they were not acceptable. It’s not that unavoidable things don’t come up in life, it’s that we often don’t value the things of God enough to budget them into our lives like we do other things. Very often, God’s things are given whatever discretionary time we have left over, after we’ve done the things we value most.

No one is suggesting that fitting everything we need to fit into our lives is easy, but if we truly value the things of God, why is it that so often they are squeezed out of our lives altogether while other, lesser important things, are given priority? In my years of ministry, I have seen many wonderful “banquets” passed over by God’s people, even though they knew far in advance they were coming. Ministers learn not to plan their church schedules around people’s initial excitement over programs and events, as they can be an unreliable barometer of what they’re really willing to commit to. If many of us had been that man who had prepared the feast, we would have made some phone calls or sent scathing letters to express our hurt and disappointment, but not God. All God does is cast the circle of invitation wider. You see, there are always those who are hungry for God, and if there is one thing I have learned about God, it is that He responds to hunger. “For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9). Rebuffed by his friends, the man who had prepared his banquet simply set out to find those who were hungry and would appreciate the feast.

Today, while much of America is busy redrawing the lines of good and evil to match their own subjective values, finding ways to further shut God out of our society and legislate Him out of the cultural landscape, other nations who have been bereft of the witness of the gospel for years are starving for a mere scrap from the table that God long ago prepared for us. The longer we pass over that for which others are starving, the more likely we are to find one day that God has moved His table to another room, where there is a greater appreciation for the feast.

I love America and I want revival in the community in which I minister, but I struggle with the apparent indifference in our nation when there are those in other countries crying out for a mere taste of what we’ve so taken for granted. Don’t misunderstand me; I am grateful for my church, and I happen to pastor a great group of people who are themselves hungry for God. I rejoice with every new face I see, and even more so over every face that keeps returning each week to hear the Word of God. I am committed to the people and place in which God has planted me, but my appeal is for we who are the Church in America to recapture our hunger and passion for Him. We receive invitations weekly; believers in other nations asking us to come and help them reap a harvest with which they can scarcely keep pace. Hungry, committed believers in difficult places of the world are paying the ultimate price to advance the cause of Christ while we here seem to give ground daily to the incessant voices of those who want to distance us from the very God who shed His grace on this nation to make Her great.

God showed us our value to Him when He invested Heaven’s best that we might live abundant lives of significance and spend  eternity in the endless joy of His presence. If we truly want the most out of this life, does it not stand to reason that the way to find it is to invest our lives into the purposes of Him who loves us most? Can we really build a better life for ourselves by following our own set of priorities than we can by laying our daily agenda at His feet?

The disciples left their nets and followed him. However that lands in your world is for you and God to determine. I’m certainly not saying you should quit your job to read your Bible and pray, but I am saying that there are some things, even “important” things, that can be left behind in order to give God His due. If you want the best fruit out of any tree, you have to prune out the excess so that the life and energy of the tree can go into the fruit-bearing branches. It’s likely that if we’ll surrender our calendar to God, He’ll do some surgery to our schedule and trim our lives of those things that are more a hindrance than a help. He may even help us learn to say no to some people and some things to which we’ve said yes for far too long. For many of us, simply cutting our time on social media sites in half would be more than adequate to give us quality time to invest in our relationship with God.

It’s hard to share these thoughts without realizing that many people are already grappling with these very issues and doing their best to get this figured out. There are things like family and work which we cannot, should not, ignore. It’s a balancing act we all have to learn for ourselves. I’m no different. I am always struggling with these same things, trying to discern when it is time to shut off the computer, close the books, and simply spend some time relaxing with my family. Like I said at the top, I don’t know much, but I’m doing my best to learn. What I do know is that sowing our lives into God and His purposes is always a great investment, and in this world there will always be something or someone trying to keep us from making that investment. I believe if we’ll give the “tithe” of our time to God that is due Him, He will bless us and make our lives more meaningful and significant than we could ever find hours in the day to accomplish on our own.

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