You have established priorities whether you meant to or not. There is always a first place and a last place in life. You have first place activities and last place activities… You have first place restaurants and last place restaurants… You have first place clothes and last place clothes… You have first place looks and last place looks… You have first place cars and last place cars… You have first place relationships and last place relationships…
So what is the determining factor in all of these?
If you think about it, priorities are simply the organization of values. Ordering what is most important to you. Someone has wisely stated that there are two things that are most difficult for people to do: to think and to do things in order of importance. These two things are the difference between good and great. These two things are the difference between existing and living. These two things are the difference between boredom and passion.
But here is what makes living a life of priorities so difficult: priorities never “settle.” They continually shift and demand attention because life is ever-moving and demands attention. Anything worthy of top place in your life will have to be fought for. Ask anyone married and they will tell you that the fact that you are married doesn’t mean that your spouse is the automatic priority. Ask anyone with children and they will tell you that the fact that you have children doesn’t mean that your child or children are the automatic priority. Ask any Jesus follower and they will tell you that having a relationship with Jesus Christ doesn’t make Him your priority. And just because being a leader worth following is important to you doesn’t mean it is a priority. You will always have to fight for the purity and priority of your mission.
We would propose that living a life of priority is “planning neglect.” Most of us can prioritize when it comes to right and wrong, bad and good decisions. Where it gets really difficult is when there are two good choices. For example….
This is easy: exercise vs. smoke.
This is hard: exercise vs. spend time with your friends.
This is easy: relationship with God vs. go to hell.
This is hard: spend time with God vs. get more sleep.
The essence of leadership is building bridges of relationship strong enough to bear the weight of truth we have to give. Making disciples can only happen in that paradigm. But it takes time. So what do we do? We sacrifice the essential for the immediate. We decide good is best.
And there is a chasm between better and best.
What we are learning is that good and better are the enemies of best. Unfortunately, we all tend to neglect the things that should be priority. Maybe this is why Charles Spurgeon said, “ I have so many things to do today, I must spend another hour in prayer.”
So what do we do with this?
More than any other question, the Pharisees tested Jesus with a question about priorities. The Pharisees had an emphasis on teaching that was much more ethical rather than theological. The Pharisees were convinced that Jesus was teaching a message He considered greater than that of Moses.
They wanted Jesus to hang Himself on this question, therefore exposing Himself as an apostate… To contradict Moses was to contradict God and therefore be guilty of heresy. Here is how Matthew records the encounter:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “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 command. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The Greek word for love here is not phileo, which expresses friendly affection, but agapao, the commitment of devotion or priority that is directed by the will and can be commanded as a duty. Jesus says that loving God should be your priority to the extent that it consumes your whole being: heart, soul, and mind. Jesus seems to contradict Himself: The first commandment or priority is love God…and the second, which is just as important, is love people.
Of the many radical things said and done by Jesus, his unflinching emphasis on love was the most radical of all. Love was the greatest commandment . . . his prime directive —love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, as he himself modeled. The new commandment of love (John 13:34) meant that neither beliefs nor words, neither taboos, systems, structures nor the labels that enshrined them mattered most. Love de-centered everything else; love relativized everything else; love took priority over everything else—everything.
So how does that work?
Whatever you prioritize in life will eventually materialize as life. We all gravitate toward what we focus on. Eventually you will exhale what you inhale. Focus on food: you will either be a chef or overweight. Focus on sports: you will either be a player or a fanatic. Focus on money: rich or greedy. Focus on God: Godly or passionate about Him.
Some investments do not have immediate return, but just because it is not immediate doesn’t mean it will not shape you.
Consider this as we start 2021: if you’ve ever been to a circus and witnessed an animal trainer in a ring with a wild animal, you may have noticed the animal trainer carrying a stool when they go into a cage. Most of the time those same animal trainers have a whip in hand and pistols on their side (which brings the word trainer into question), but more times than not they carry a stool.
It is the most important tool of the animal trainer. Here’s why….
The animal trainer will hold the stool by the back and thrust the legs of the stool toward the face of the wild animal. The trainer will slowly twist the stool. Those that know say that the wild animal tries to focus on all four legs at once. In an attempt to focus on all four, a kind of paralysis overwhelms the animal, and it becomes tame, weak, and disabled….
Because its attention is fragmented.
As we enter a brand new year, we at INFLUNSR. want to challenge you to spend some time this week considering your priorities. Priority determines capacity. What you put in first determines your capacity for fruitfulness and usefulness. Your potential in life is determined by your priority. If you put the right thing first, it’s amazing what God will do in you and through you.
What are the firsts in your life?
Do you see those things materializing as life to you?
And if so, does whatever is materializing as your life really matter?
Or are you so focused on multiple things that you’ve rendered yourself weak, disabled, tame?
Happy New Year from INFLUNSR.
Be anxious to matter.