Why We Can’t Have Priorities

Why We Can’t Have Priorities

We have a very peculiar relationship with time. We find ourselves needing to kill time and make time. We experience time flying by and standing still. Sometimes we want time to slow down and other times we want it to speed up.

Before the advent of the watch, people told time by the sun, which led to the development of sundials. And it’s very interesting to note that in ancient cultures, from Egypt to China to Europe, sundials would often have some kind of motto inscribed in them. And more often than not those mottos typically had a more despairing tone.

Here are just a handful of them.

Look upon the hour, and remember death

Of the last hour, beware!

As time and hours passeth away, so doth the life of man decay

I did nothing good today; the day is lost

Can you imagine if Garmin decided to inscribe Look upon the hour, and remember death on the back of every watch they made?I think it’s interesting that when we talk about time, schedules, calendars, and plans, we speak of our priorities. But how can we have multiple priorities?

A priority, by definition, implies that there can’t be priorities. There can only be one greatest, one best, one favorite, and one priority.

In Luke 14 Jesus teaches on the parable of the great banquet. In this parable He gives examples of people who offer varying excuses for why they did not attend the banquet.

As Jesus unpacks His parable, He lays out the responses of three invited guests who have had ample time to plan, prepare, and respond to the host. And each of them gives an excuse for why they cannot attend the party. 

Just imagine if you were the host. What would you conclude about the way your guests viewed their relationship with you? You might just think that your friends are terrible planners. But at some point you are probably asking yourself why they don’t prioritize your friendship.

The point Jesus is making is that these guests have a greater priority that is dictating and determining their involvement and commitment to the host and his party. They are claiming to be too busy to attend the banquet feast. But the real issue is that they have a higher priority which sets the order of the rest of their roles and responsibilities in life.

Perhaps part of the reason you and I struggle with busyness, overcommitted schedules, and the tyranny of the urgent is because we don’t know how to prioritize.

You can’t have priorities without a paramount priority. Or to use the line from Lord of the Rings, we need one priority to rule them all.

What is the one, overarching, foundational, cornerstone priority that drives, defines, and dictates everything else you do? That priority is what will determine the purpose of your time, how you view time, and how you use time.

In this parable Jesus is presenting himself as the greatest good, the greatest gift, and the greatest priority in all of life. And if that is true, then he cannot simply be a priority or a good in life. But he must be the priority and the good in life. To live for anything less will misorder and distort our priorities, and actually leave us empty at best and corrupt at worst.

CS Lewis describes this concept in his essay entitled First Things and Second Things

“The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping…You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.”-CS Lewis

Jesus has extended His invitation to join Him at His banquet. To be with Him in His kingdom on His mission. But are we too busy and too distracted with lesser things to even respond? Have we set a priority over and above Him that has made us so busy and overwhelmed that all we can do is offer lame excuses for why we aren’t living with Him and for Him?

So let me offer a few things for us to consider as we ponder the details of the invitation that Christ has offered us, and continues to offer us. 

  • Identify your priority

Honestly ask yourself what is the governing priority in your life. Not what it should be but what it is functionally. And don’t think about it too long because odds are your gut reaction answer to that question is the correct one. 

But if you really struggle to identify your priority, perhaps consider looking at what fills your calendar, what appears on your credit card statements, and how you spend your free time. You may also consider asking a trusted friend what they think is truly your priority in life.

  • Eliminate hurry

The late Dallas Willard was once asked what is needed to truly grow in spiritual maturity. His simple yet profound answer was  “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” 

We may have the right priority identified but it is functionally pushed down the list because we are so frantically rushed in getting from one thing to the next. So perhaps what we need in order to say yes to our greatest priority is to learn how to say no to things that may still be good. 

  • Plan intentionally

If we get to a point where we can truly identify Jesus as our priority, then we need to find ways to continue making Him our priority. Maybe that looks like forming the specific and intentional habit of daily Bible reading. 

A great way to start this would be to have a clear and specific answer to the questions of What, When, and Where. What will you read? When will you read? Where will you read? When we lay out specific answers to these questions for forming habits and making priorities, we significantly increase the chances of the habit sticking.

Another great resource would be to sign up for theFormed.life. When you sign up we will provide you with helpful resources and prompts to take small steps toward intentionally cultivating various spiritual habits in your life.
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We all feel busy, overwhelmed, stretched thin, and stressed. And I am convinced that so much of our problem with time and busyness is due to the fact that we don’t know how to prioritize. And we don’t know how to prioritize because we don’t know our priority.

The reason Jesus is to be our priority is because while we so often replace Him with lesser things, He replaced us on the cross with Himself that we might receive the life we long to live. A life that is not characterized by competing priorities but rather a life that is lived under the priority that shapes and forms every aspect of our lives.

How will you make Jesus your priority this year?


Sloth vs. Diligence

We are always being formed. We are formed by vice or by virtue. Either way, these are the habits that shape us. Are we living with vice or virtue, sloth or diligence?

The vice of sloth is easily misunderstood. Sloth is not just a lack of productivity or ambition or hard work. It’s not about how busy or exhausted we are. Sloth is not just laziness. Rather, sloth is laziness with what matters most.

Sloth is more than inactivity. Sloth is the misordering of our endless activities which leads to death.

Sloth hides best in busyness

In Luke 10 we see that Martha is caught up in her busyness. Despite her efforts, Jesus rebukes her.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” Luke 10:38

Oftentimes, we choose to do the lesser things. We do what’s easy instead of what’s necessary or best. That’s sloth. We hide our sloth behind a flurry of activity. We prefer the distraction of busyness over the real work of loving and being loved. We move away from God, thinking we are moving toward Him.

Be diligent: slow down

The first step in the fight against sloth is to slow down. And, it’s not just “slow down and do nothing” or even just do less. It’s slow down from being busy. It’s slowing down to reorder activities and give ourselves over to the right things.

Sloth is too lazy to change

Sloth is more than general laziness. It’s a lazy soul. The slothful person looks at God’s transforming love and says, it’s too much work.

It’s easier to be Martha, harder to be Mary. Mary’s doing what’s necessary. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) There are a lot of things we could do, but one thing is necessary. Luke tells us that Mary chose the good portion: she…sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. (v.39) Jesus calls us to listen first, and then to service.

We need a relationship with Jesus. All relationships take work, and if we refuse to do that work, it’s not going to work. Not only will the relationship be in serious jeopardy, but we can miss out on the joy offered to us through that relationship! But the hard work of a relationship can at times make us want to give up or distract ourselves with something else.

Be diligent: don’t give in

When sloth rises up, following Jesus can feel too hard. Don’t give in. Like Mary, sit at His feet, listen to what He says. The only antidote to sloth is diligence, perseverance, working at the relationship—which is the hardest thing in the world when we are feeling slothful! Our souls are bent towards laziness.

We say we want to change, but do we? I don’t want to be so angry or lustful or greedy. Change is not just going to happen. Peter said, practice these things. We must realize that practice makes virtue. Discipline makes virtue. And our motivation is not to earn His grace (you can’t do that) but because of His grace!

Early church fathers talked about how the best way to fight sloth is with the discipline of “staying put.” What they mean is doing what you know is right even when you don’t want to. Diligence. Instead of drifting, choose to step further in. We should do what we should be doing, not what we want to do, even when it feels like drudgery.

We’re busy with many things. So many things. One thing is necessary. God wants to make you whole, to transform you into the person He created you to be. Don’t you want that? Don’t give in to sloth. We need Jesus.

Sloth is too lazy to love

Sloth refuses to do what love requires. This is why it destroys families and workplaces and communities. It’s not just laziness; it’s being too lazy to love! Jesus isn’t telling Martha to stop working and go to Bible studies all day long. No! God loves us so that we will love others. When we don’t, sloth impacts everyone around us!

When we choose sloth (or drift), it may feel innocent. And sure, we need rest and downtime. Workaholism is not a virtue! But if we’re becoming slothful persons, we are robbing the people around us. It’s a failure to love. Your family needs you. Your neighbors and your friends need you. Your church. Your community. Your clients. Your classmates. Sloth sees the needs and opportunities for love and says, nah, it’s too much work.

Be diligent: love your neighbor

Find places to serve your community and your church. Volunteering is good. And the primary work God has for you is the place where He’s put you. It’s the work you do day-in and day-out, whether you get paid for it or not, whether you like it or not. Practice diligence. Then you’ll begin to see your work not simply as a collection of tasks, but as an opportunity to love.

Life is meant to be spent. This is why Jesus came. And He spent His life for you and for me. He longs to change us with His love. He constantly works on our behalf. And yes, He died for lazy people too. But He rose again to turn our sloth into love. To bring dignity and joy to our work and to our lives. To bring forgiveness when we fail and hope that we can change. This is the work He does. And it’s the work He invites us into. Let’s be diligent with what matters most.

Listen to our sermon series on the Vices & Virtues, the seven deadly sins and their corresponding virtues.