Well, as we get started, we’re gonna talk about aligning your life and your priorities, doing what’s important, in a way that God says, for two purposes. One, so that you fulfill His purposes and bring glory to Him, and, second, because when you do that, it is good for you. His highest and best is achieved and accomplished when there is an alignment of your priorities with the way He has designed you and designed life to work. And when your priorities get out of whack, when the balance gets out of whack, it produces some painful things in you, in relationships, and, often, significant damage.
Just so this isn’t theoretical: 1983 I was a full-blown workaholic. Early 30s. Driven, focused, and disciplined. I got focused early on about sports – this is what you do: You set a goal and you get focused. And I was focused, I was disciplined, and I was driven. And then I got – I came to Christ, and it took me a while to get going, but once I got going, I got focused, I was disciplined, and I was driven. And then, God called me into ministry, and so, once I started with this church, about two or three years into it, I was focused, I was disciplined, and I was driven. And how in the world, in a church of 35 to 50 people, you can work 80 hours a week, I don’t know, but I figured out how to do it.
Nineteen eighty-three – I was sitting in a doctor’s office – and my wife went with me – and he evaluated everything. He asked about my schedule. He asked what I did, why I did it. They had run some tests; there were some problems with my liver. And he just said, “You keep living like you live, and you’re gonna die young.” And he said, “Your life is out of balance and out of control.”
And I mean to tell you, what I want you to hear is, it has been a very significant journey, and you don’t have to be that way, and you can change, and priorities can change, and you can be motivated and not driven. And you can have good priorities and discipline without being so focused that you’re out of whack. I say that so you know what I’m gonna talk about is not, like, theoretical.
You know, whether you’re young in the Lord or old in the Lord, whether you have had a long history with God, or you’re relatively new in Christ, whether you’re super successful and need to reevaluate, or you’re in crisis and overwhelmed, you know what? Everyone needs to stop, and look, and evaluate your priorities. Is your life in balance? Is it being lived the way God wants it to, for His glory and your good?
And so, to do that, here’s the format that we’re gonna use. I’m gonna give a little diagnosis. I’m gonna give you six warning signs of misplaced priorities. So, I’m gonna – just gonna go through – Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! – and you’re gonna say, “Hey, you know, I think my priorities are here – good, good, good. Mmm, better check that one.”
Second, then, after the diagnosis, I’m gonna give a little definition: What are God’s priorities for our lives? I mean, how do they fit together? I mean, what does God expect? What are the right priorities?
And then, third, I want to just get you started. I’m gonna give you two tools, two tools to start getting a handle. When you hear these two tools don’t feel like, Ahhh! I gotta have that down tomorrow! You’re not gonna get it down tomorrow. You’re gonna recognize – God’ll give you a tool for this hand and a tool for that hand, and now, you will start on a journey, using these two tools – they’re the beginning steps of bringing your priorities under the submission of God, to get them in line for His glory and your good. Okay? So, let’s jump in together, and let me give you the six symptoms of misplaced priorities.
The first symptom is busyness. You can write that word in. Busyness, but barren of fruit. If your life is characterized where you’re hurrying all the time, you’re rushing, you’re driven, you eat on the run . . . If I went into your desk and – if you have an office – or your dresser, and there are piles of many things, and then, over underneath of it, there are piles on the floor, and if we went in the garage – we wouldn’t even want to go there . . . If I went to your office at work, there is stuff, stuff everywhere, and you’re going to get to it, but you’re just putting it in stacks now because there are just too many balls to juggle . . . People who love you are saying things kindly and lovingly – some of them, you’re married to, others are business associates, others are people that just say it casually, when you say, “Hey, let’s get together,” and you say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” and you’ve been saying that for, like, 18 months . . . They’re saying, “Slow down.” If you’re a fairly young follower, or maybe you remarried and now you have some kids and you have some smaller kids – five or six or under – they hang on your knee, with their arms around you, as you’re leaving out the door, that’s a symptom that you’re doing too much and that you’re too busy. Busyness. I call it the “activity trap.”
Second is emotional stress and pressure, anxiety. People whose priorities are out of whack have symptoms like an uptightness. They sometimes have chest pains, migraine headaches, trouble sleeping. You have this uneasy feeling. You feel restless a lot; it’s hard to sit still. You wish you could get your mind to slow down. Sometimes you find yourself going, [deep breath] I just need to take a deep breath. Because the RPMs inside your head – you’re multitasking about everything, all the time. There are no windows of real rest. There’s this dis-ease, this sense that, I’m not really very happy. I don’t have a lot of joy.
The third is what I call “low-grade, nagging guilt.” You feel bad about yourself. Again, it’s not just the restless feeling but it’s “not fulfilled.” There are a lot of things that you know you’re supposed to do. In fact, you did them in the past. You actually tell other people they should do them, but you don’t do them anymore. But you know enough verses, and you have enough background spiritually, that you fake it well. But you hate this feeling of this duplicity, this level of hypocrisy. Now, you know no one has it all together, but right now’s not the way it used to be. And you keep telling yourself, You know what? I’m – you know, those times in the morning that I had or those significant times in prayer, I’ll get back to that. But right now . . . And you just have this low-grade, nagging guilt. Relationships become superficial, little time for celebration. Daily pressures push aside the need to stop, envision, plan, think about the future.
The fourth is financial debt, financial problems. When priorities really start unwinding, you realize, You know, we were really committed to giving the first portion. We meant to do that, but then we had this little hiccup, and then this happened, and then that happened, and we had a little hospital situation over here. And the company, we thought, was gonna do a little bit better, and that didn’t work out. And so, the debt begins to pile up; the giving begins to deteriorate.
And by the way, God speaks through your money. You can’t figure it out. You know, we’re making this much money. We’re making more money than we ever have, but it just seems like . . . Oh, it seems like God puts holes in our finances. That’s ‘cause He loves you. He’s trying to get your attention.
The fifth symptom of misplaced priorities is prayerlessness, or leakage in the devotional life. You’re on a spiritual, kind of, up and down roller coaster. You have an experience at church or maybe a little something here, and – and then, it’s very up, down, emotional.
The final one is – is escapism behavior. We do it in a lot of different ways: some thrill-seeking behavior, at least when you’re younger. As you get older, it’s impulsive buying, vacations you can’t afford. You eat out a lot, rent a lot of videos.
And a lot of time doing things that make us feel like we’re accomplishing something, ‘cause down deep, we don’t know where we’re going. And I wish that did not describe an awful lot of believers’ lives, but I will tell you, as we get thousands upon thousands of emails, I hear it over and over and over and over.
In conclusion, these symptoms are always – in our minds, they’re temporary. They’re just small concessions. I mean, like, one or two of those things, it doesn’t mean you’re out to lunch and you don’t love God anymore; you’re ready for a divorce next week. They all start as just a little thing, and you’re gonna fix them next week, and as soon as this season’s over, when this – you know . . .
But here’s what I want you to hear: They all begin a process. The big falls always start with little things like this. And one or two that you juggle, and then, pretty soon, there are three or four. “He who is faithful in a very little thing [will be] faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing” – Luke 16:10 – “[will be] unrighteous also in much.” And you – “We’re gonna get reconnected as a couple when . . . And the family will start some of that devotional stuff again, and we’ll get our finances in order and I’ll be able to give like I used to, and, you know, I know we need to have a budget, but, I mean, those credit cards – hey, you know what? Everyone has a window like this, but it’s real temporary because . . .”
And, yeah, it’s not a life-or-death deal, but 2 Samuel 11, verses 1 and 2 says, “At the time when kings [went] out to battle” . . . Priority issue. After great success, “at the time when kings [went] out to battle,” when a king did what a good king’s supposed to do, David decided he’d stay home. And then, Bathsheba and Uriah get penned in his autobiography.
And that’s the way it happens with good people, people who make great moral, financial failures: Families split, divide; churches get killed; kids wonder what happened. They don’t wake up and go, You know something? You know, I got this great marriage. I love my wife. I love my husband. I got a couple kids. I got one grandchild – whatever it is. You know what? I just think I’ll take about 200 grand from the company. That CFO and I are good buddies, and I think, together, we could embezzle a little money and just have a lot of fun! I mean, no one wakes up and does that. Or – that’s Thursday. You know, Saturday, I think I’ll have an affair. I’m gonna put that on my calendar, just so I don’t forget. I’m just gonna . . .
That’s not how it ever happens! These symptoms start to weave into your life, and you get vulnerable, and you get hurt, and you just want some relief. And you never think it’s possible for someone who loves God the way you love God – for any of that to ever happen.
But the right place, at the right time, in a weak moment, with these things happening – Bang! And all of a sudden, you’re the feature film in your own nightmare.
Those are the symptoms, and it raises a very important question, then: If those are the symptoms, then what are the right priorities? I mean, God, help!
And here’s how priorities actually work: Living in you is the Spirit of God. In John 6, He would say, “The Word that I speak to you is Spirit and it is truth. And dwelling in you is the same power that raised Christ from the dead.” And what our priorities are really all about is, what do you need in your relationship with Jesus, and the Father, and the Spirit, so that you’re full of Him, so that there is connection and abiding, so it can overflow into your relationship with your mate? And He’ll show you, what’s it look like? How much time?
It’s different for every couple. I mean, my poor wife, she married this super high need guy. I mean, I’ve seen couples that, you know, they have a couple of good talks a week; man, they’re both doing great. Poor Theresa – I mean, I come home; I gotta have 15 minutes: “I gotta tell you what’s going on with my day. You know, how are you doing? What’s going on?” I gotta have one date a week. Two or three times a year, I want to get away from everybody. I mean, I’m really high need. But that’s to be filled up for our kids . . . I mean, even in all those young years, we’d eat, and I’d tell the kids, “I love you. Scram. And I’m gonna spend some time –” And we’d sit and have coffee at the table. Or take a little walk.
But just listen: What do you need? Is it 15 minutes in the morning in the presence of God? Is it an hour in the morning? I don’t know what you need! But I know it’s the Word, it’s prayer, it’s the community of believers, and it’s application. And you walk and abide with Christ, and then the overflow of that is, you treat your mate, empowered by the Holy Spirit… Now, what do you need in your relationship? You get that before you go and give it, and then that overflows to your kids, and that overflows to a high capacity, nurtured, loved husband or wife, who walks through the door and goes to work. And then, your work is done in the power of the Spirit, with the support of those relationships, and people wish they had a boss like you or an employee like you, because of who shows up. And then, your work is a testimony, and then your ministry, in local church or kingdom expansion – do you see the difference? And so, it’s a fluid thing.
But don’t think of them as just linear. It never works that way, just a linear one, two, three, four. Think about it as, what do you need in every relationship so that the Spirit of God can allow love that you possess in your relationship with Jesus to come out of you into that relationship, and so you, if – especially if you’re married – with your wife or husband, love in such a way that that flows into the life of your kids.
And you know what? If it’s not happening here, don’t export it. See, what people do is, they – they get the flow in their relationship with God and maybe – but often not – with their mate, and then, since you get a lot more strokes at work, then they take all that energy and take it to work. Or what a lot of women tend to do is, they may have it with God, and pretty soon, there are all these needs, and there’s such fulfillment in, “Mommy, I love you and I need you, and you helped my knee, and you did this, and you helped me with my homework. You’re the most wonderful person,” and that nurturing – and pretty soon, her second priority becomes the kids.
And so, he goes to work, she loves the kids, and they reconnect after 25 years of marriage. And that’s why, other than the first five years of marriage, the most dangerous zone of divorce is about 20 to 25 or 25 to seven – 27 years, depending on when your kids leave the nest. Priorities are about walking in the Spirit, and you can see a clear structure, but you don’t necessarily do them one, two, three, four.
The things that matter most, the things that will just take you down the road and help you become the person you long to be – there’s no gun to your head that says, “Develop a deep, intimate relationship with God. Study His Word,” when there are 15 emails or 150 emails to answer.
Well, how do you get a hold of them? We’ve looked at six ways that say, “You know what? These are indicators. These are, like, six lights on the dashboard of your life, telling you what’s going on in your soul.” And you know what? If you’ve got two or three of those flashing, God’s saying, “Hey, time out.”
And by the way, something I want you to hear: It will require – this is not one of those issues that you say, “Oh, I heard from God. I’m gonna start tomorrow, and everything’ll be fine.” You didn’t get your priorities where they are, that affect so many relationships, overnight. They don’t change overnight.
Someone has said, “Significant, lasting change never occurs without serious, prolonged thinking.”
The issue is not tweaking something. If tweaking your priorities worked, they would already be fixed. ‘Cause you’re smart people!
Priorities and balancing your life really have to do with getting really clear on who you are, what God wants you to do, and then getting a sense of holy urgency and realizing life is passing. And you’re gonna die. And I’m gonna die. And this unconscious, human thought that we have that, You know, I’m gonna work on that next week, and so we spend our life responding to details and data, and feeling good about, I answered 75 of the 150 emails. I did my list. Is it the right list?!
You know, you gotta stop. I mean, that’s why coaches call time out. The momentum’s going this way; they scored three times in a row. “Hey, I don’t know what we’re doing, but it’s not the right thing.” And some of us, we’re not being smart. We have those misplaced priorities, and some of you have four or five of those symptoms, and instead of stopping and saying, “Whoa, I gotta really reevaluate,” we go faster.