Every month I receive a journal titled First Things.” It is a scholarly magazine representing a wide variety of perspectives on spiritual, social and political issues. Recently I noticed that several months’ worth of this magazine had piled up, waiting for me to read. I had to smile. “First Things” is obviously not my first thing in terms of reading material.
That pile of magazines illustrates something that we all face. What are our priorities? Do we consciously choose what comes first? We make daily decisions about priorities whether or not we know it. The New Year is a good time to take a hard look at “first things” and how we choose them.
Prioritizing—most think of it in terms of a list of items going from most to least important. This “hierarchy of priorities” is often expressed as God first, then family, work, then service or ministry. Others say it should be God, service, family then work. And often there seems to be a disparity between people’s stated priorities and the way they live their lives, so that many end up devoting most of their time and energy to work, the least to God, with family and community service somewhere in the middle. There are inherent problems with the hierarchical model of priorities.
Yeshua (Jesus) says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). I don’t think He is giving advice on making lists. He is talking about lives that are centered on God.
We need God at the center of our lives as the first step in determining first things. If we view our priorities as a wheel, the “first thing” is the center. In a life lived for God, we have the hub of Christ’s supremacy. Emanating out of that hub we can picture three basic spokes or aspects of life: private time as individuals, personal/relational life (family and friends), and professional life, involving work as well as those relationships at work.
In a hierarchy, inevitably, the top items on the priority list get our best effort and those further down get less. In the wheel model, all spokes or aspects of our life have equal access to the resources of Christ’s supremacy. Each is plugged into the strength, wisdom and power He provides. Each plays a part in balancing us so that as the rim of the wheel—that is, our daily lives and actions—meets the road, we will move ahead in a balanced and efficient way.
Any spoke or aspect of life that is not plugged into a central commitment to God will have us rolling along on an unbalanced wheel. That will make for a bumpy ride at best. Eventually, a disconnected spoke will weaken the wheel to the point where hitting a rock or some other obstacle will break it.
Some may feel that their priorities are so out of alignment that the wheel of their lives is just about ready to come bouncing off. Christ’s supremacy and the order He brings has been pushed off center by the busyness of life. Have you noticed how often we complain to one another of how busy we are or how tired we are?
Gordon MacDonald wrote a book titled Ordering Your Private World in which he said, “How strange it is that we as a people are so often complaining about busyness and general fatigue when we live in such a leisure oriented society.…So why is there so much exhaustion and fatigue today? Is it real? Imagined? Or is the contemporary form of exhaustion evidence that we no longer understand genuine rest, which is different from the pursuit of leisure?”
There certainly were times when Yeshua Himself was burdened with pressures of ministry to the point where He worked long hours without a break. But He compensated for those busy times by calling His disciples to withdraw to a quiet place. Yeshua clearly understood His mission, His priorities; and He understood His own limits. He set aside time for communing with the Father; He set aside alone time with His disciples.
We must follow His example in setting aside those kinds of times. We can’t make up for a deficit in our spiritual lives by working harder. C. S. Lewis said, “There can be intemperance in work just as in drink. What feels like zeal may be only fidgets or even the flattering of one’s own self importance.”
The stress and imbalance that we feel often stems from neglect of spiritual disciplines. We all need a quiet place of contemplation and serenity in the midst of the storms of life.
Perhaps you have heard Martin Luther’s remark, “I have so much to do today I will have to spend the first three hours in prayer or the devil will get the victory.” John Wesley said, “Though I am always in haste I am never in a hurry because I never undertake more than I can go through with calmness of spirit.”
These men are seen as giants of the faith. They were able to change the world and help shape the spiritual destinies of so many throughout history. Perhaps it’s because like Yeshua, they figured out the secret to first things.
When our hearts are fixed upon God, then the outer circumstances of our lives have less impact on how we feel and how we conduct ourselves. When our hearts are fixed upon God, His priorities become ours. When our heart is fixed upon God, we can no longer be indifferent to the world around us. His passion for the lost will become ours, His love for His lost creation will translate into an undying love for others that will fill our hearts, too.
May God grant us all wisdom in this new year to make Him our “first thing,” that all these things may be added unto us.