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About this series
Balancing Life's Demands
Biblical Priorities for a Busy Life
Are you busy, tired, stressed out, and stretched to the limit? Does life seem a little out of control? Are you running long on "to do's" and short on time? In the series, Balancing Life's Demands, you will learn how to put "first things first" and find peace in the midst of pressure and adversity. This isn't about cliches or quick fixes, just practical biblical insights to help you order your personal world.More from this series
Well, as we get started, we’re going to talk about balancing life’s demands, and we’re going to talk about biblical priorities. We’re going to 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 thirties. Driven, focused, and disciplined. I learned some of that from my dad. I won’t give you all the family of origin, histories, and how children of alcoholics, you know, do stuff, but here’s what I’ll tell you. I just – I got focused early on about sports. I got – 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 thirty-five to fifty people, you can work eighty hours a week, I don’t know, but I figured out how to do it.
1983, 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 going to die young.” And he said, “Your life is out of balance and out of control.” I’d never heard the word workaholic, but I learned about it, about then.
Now, because I was – had a couple of core values – one is, I did not neglect my time with God, and because of some real deep convictions, I did not neglect my wife or my kids. And so, that’s kind of a neat thing. So, what happens is, I got up earlier and earlier and earlier. And sometimes, I had three or four hours in before they ever woke up. And then I had breakfast, take them to school, do whatever, and then, man, I busted it. And then, I did – I was out all kind of times, and I was with them, and then they’d go to bed, and I’d work.
And this drivenness, this need to please people, this performance, this, “I’ve got to,” the search for significance, the search for security, the wondering, How do you ever please God? How much is enough?
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. But all I say that so you know what I’m going to talk about is not, like, theoretical. Fast-forward twenty-five years.
And I was in a time of reevaluating, God, where’s my sweet spot? Where are my gifts? And so, I found myself in a room with eight or nine other guys, all who were very, very successful, all very wealthy, very powerful, had kind of been there, done that, with various levels of spiritual maturity, for twenty-six hours, evaluating, How should I spend the second half of my life?
Most of us would say they have what people look for. I mean, they kind of have it made. They’ve got the houses, the cars, the money, the businesses, the… And yet, there was, for some, major damage – lost families, lost kids, and pain – and now they’ve come to know Christ, and, How do I do it different?
For others, they were, really, pretty spiritually mature, but their focus was so in their business and so in things, and they were so – it was like, You know what? I’ve got more money than I’ll ever need for the rest of my life. How could I leverage my life for more of God’s kingdom, and use my gifts, rather than this rat race that I’m living in? And then some had a pretty balanced life, and it was, You know, I’m doing this for the kingdom of God. How do I leverage it? What are my gifts? What’s the unique purpose God has called me to? What’s that Ephesians 2:10, that good work that God has called me to that He’s prepared? And so, they take you through a process, for twenty-six hours.
And so, I only share that to let 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 at 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 going to use. I’m going to give a little diagnosis. I’m going to give you six warning signs – you’ll see those – of misplaced priorities. So, I’m just going to go through – Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! – and you’re going to 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 going to give a little definition: What are God’s priorities for our lives? I mean, how do they fit together? What does God expect? What are the right priorities?
And then, third, I want to just get you started. I’m going to give you two tools, two tools to start getting a handle. When you hear these two tools – listen carefully, everyone – when you hear these two tools, don’t feel like, Ahhh! I’ve got to have that down tomorrow! You’re not going to get it down tomorrow.
You’re going to recognize God will 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 to bring – 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 much 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, eighteen 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”.
Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators, said, “Emotion is no substitute for action, and action is no substitute for productivity.” Sometimes we get very, very active, very, very busy. I believe it’s the new worldliness. We are important because we’re busy; we’re on the move. I’ve got to do this; I’ve got to do that. I’m involved in this.
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. You’re indecisive. Sometimes it’s hard to make a decision.
If the truth is known, you’re not very happy. You get fulfillment in little windows of when you accomplish things, and you love to check things off – Did that, did that, did that, did that. But when the things are done and when you’re alone and when the media is off, there’s this dis-ease, this sense that, I’m not really very happy. I don’t have a lot of joy.
For some, it ends up in burnout. Others break down, and others blow up. And the anger issues flare up, and then lots of big apologies follow. Often, it comes out in conflict with family, irritability. When there’s this emotional stress and anxiety, often, it’s characterized with a lack of intimacy and connectedness with your family, and especially in your marriage. You’re busy. And it’s going to change. It’s going to change soon – as soon as this big deal’s over, as soon as soccer season over, as soon as this happens, as soon as that happens. It’s going to change. And you’re sensing this drift in relationships. And you keep telling yourself, Well, it’s temporary.
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? 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 going to 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. Jot down, just in your notes, Habakkuk 1, verses 1 to 10. God speaks to the prophet, and here’s a paraphrase of those ten verses: Because they were building their own homes and their paneled houses, and neglected the house of the Lord, God put holes in their purses. They made money, but it seemed to evaporate. God was lovingly trying to get their attention. 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 because He loves you. He’s trying to get your attention.
The fifth symptom of misplaced priorities is prayerlessness, or leakage in the devotional life. If the truth is known – and you hope the truth doesn’t get known – but your deepest times in prayer are in the car, by yourself. Most of your prayers are very quick. Mostly, the best times are with other people. You have a hard time concentrating by yourself, because it’s been a very long time since you had an extended, honest, repentant, tearful cleaning of the slate with you and God. And you’re going to get to it – and you really are – and you’ve been there before, but just not right now.
There’s just too much on your plate. There’s too much to juggle. God, I’ll – I mean, you mean to, but the superficiality is with God. Down deep, you don’t feel very close to Him. 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. And you realize, there’s leakage. There are just too many balls. There’s just too much. You feel under pressure.
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. You know, there’s just nothing like a good bungee jump to make you feel better about life, very temporarily, or going fast in a car. As you get older, it’s impulsive buying, vacations you can’t afford.
For others, you’re so daggone tired that you’ve got to take a pill to put yourself to sleep, and it takes a couple of pills to get you going. And you’ve never been a real heavy drinker, but you’re finding yourself drinking a little bit more than in the past. And you eat when you’re not hungry, but it makes you feel better just a little while.
And for us good Christians, it’s just a lot of excessive TV and a lot of time on email, and a lot of time doing things that make us feel like we’re accomplishing something, because down deep, we don’t know where we’re going. And our north star feels like it’s moved, and you don’t know, is there any way out? 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 going to 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, “We’re going to 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 is 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 two hundred 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 going to put that on my calendar, just so I don’t forget. I’m just going to…
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! What are the right priorities? And I’d like to say that I would like you to turn in your Bibles to 1 Priorities 1:9, and – but I don’t have that.
But there are two books that were written about the same time. They’re called the “twin epistles” – and I put a chart in your notes. And the twin epistles, one is written to say, “Church” – first three chapters – “this is what Christ has done for you!” Last three chapters of Ephesians: “This is how to live it out!” Colossians: “Church, this is the preeminence of who Jesus is, and this is how He wants you to live.” Last two chapters: “And this is how you live it out.” Written about the same time.
Now, what I want you to see, sometimes the structure of a book can tell you as much as the content. And so, the first half of both those books are all doctrine: This is who Jesus is. This is your relationship with Him. This is who you are in Christ. This is your adoption. This is your inheritance. This is what you actually possess.
And then, if you look at those charts, when they start talking about how to live it out. Chapter 4 opens – I love chapter 4, verse 1: “I, Paul, a prisoner of the Lord” – what’s he say? – “urge you, command you to walk in a manner worthy of your calling.” And that word for worthy, we get our English word axis.
And it’s this idea of, “For three chapters, I’ve told you all that you possess – beliefs. Now, let your behavior bring it into balance, so that your beliefs and your behavior tell the same story.” And the whole rest of the book is how you do that.
And it’s really interesting – and this is why small groups are so important. He doesn’t tell you, right after that, to go to church, read your Bible, or… He starts with relational issues. Then he says, “With all gentleness and humility, bearing with one another with patience, making every effort to maintain the bond that you already have, of peace.”
And so, what I want you to see is, when he opens up each of those chapters, notice the topic: Colossians 3 – how it starts. How it starts. You have God, mate, family, work, ministry. And it’s not in here, but implied elsewhere is, you have re-creation. You know, there’s a need to get recharged.
And so, I think it’s just interesting, as you go through those passages, it’s, okay, you know, Ephesians 5, we’re going to learn that, Hey, I need to be filled with the Spirit, my relationship with God. It goes right there to my marriage, to my children, to my work, and then to my ministry.
And by the way, everyone’s in full-time ministry. Some people are called in a vocational way, and what we do is we pay their time so they can study the Word to give us what we can’t get on our own, but you are a priest. You’re an ordained, full-time minister of the gospel, posing as housewives, soccer moms, computer operators, business owners, lawyers, doctors, and nurses, and grandmas.
And God has you – as in Ephesians 4: The leaders of the church equip the church to do the work of the ministry. All of us are ministers until the church fulfills our calling. And so, these priorities are for all of us.
Now, the problem, I think, when we look at priorities, however, is, we tend to view them linearly. You know what I mean? Like, in a straight line? And so, here’s how I used to think about priorities – the problem is, it didn’t work. God is first in my life – good. I love You, God. Okay, my wife is second. Theresa, okay, I love you. God, God/Theresa, God/Theresa. I got that one down. Okay, hold up. What’s it – what’s it going to say? Oh, family. Family. Kids. Kids. Okay. God/Theresa/kids – that’s good. Good.
Okay, now, what comes after that? Ministry? No, no, no. It doesn’t say that. What’s it say? Eh, oh – work. Work? Yeah, because that’s your first ministry. That’s where you spend sixty, seventy percent of your time. Okay. And then, it would be like, Well, wait a second. Theresa’s sick, but – “Well, Theresa, I would love to you; I know you’re vomiting on the couch. But God is more important. So, I’m going to have my quiet time. See you later, honey.”
Or you have a crisis at work; the plant blows up. “Yeah, I’ll be there in a couple of days. I’m getting refreshed with my wife. Yes, we’re in Maui. Uh-huh. Having a great time. Yeah. Well, you don’t understand. See, it’s God, then…”
See, they don’t work that way. Life’s very confusing. It’s very demanding. You’re pulled in different ways. And so, I put a picture – this is a picture that has really, really helped me with priorities. It’s a fountain. Okay? It’s a multi-tiered fountain.
And here’s what I want you to – and let me read one verse, and jot this passage, because it’s really powerful. Jesus is speaking to the woman at the well. And I’m in John 4. I’ll read both 13, for context, and 14. And He says to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks the water – this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst again. Indeed, the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” “Welling up to eternal life.”
You might jot down Proverbs 4:23. Solomon would say the same thing: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the issues of life.”
And so, what I want you to see is, I want you to imagine that top rung, where it has “God.” I would like you to imagine there are little slits in it, little “Vs.” And some of you will get this. I learned this when I was a kid. Does anybody remember, before icemakers, what an ice cube tray was? This is a great group. Those of you, under some age, are thinking, ice cube tray…never heard of that.
Well, let me give you a little lesson in sociology. People would take these plastic little trays, and they had all these little square boxes. And you would fill them, but it was real hard, and you usually spilled them, especially when you tried to get them in the refrigerator. So, some brilliant person made little plastic trays, and they put a little “V” between all the little boxes. So, you could put it under the water, and when this one got filled, it would fill this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and it wouldn’t spill. And then, you would put it in, and it was great.
I want you to imagine a fountain, and each one of these – God, your mate, your family, your work, your ministry – and so, I want you to imagine that they have those little slits. 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’ve got to have fifteen minutes: “I’ve got to tell you what’s going on with my day. You know, how are you doing? What’s going on?” I’ve got to 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 going to 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 fifteen minutes in the morning and practicing 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 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. And it’s the Spirit of God leading and showing you, in this situation, on this day.
Now, you develop certain structures we’re going to talk about. I mean, there are certain things I need to do with my time on a regular basis, certain things I need to do develop that with my wife, with my God, with my kids, in my work, and we’ll talk about those.
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 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 twenty-five years of marriage. And that’s why, other than the first five years of marriage, the most dangerous zone of divorce is about twenty to twenty-five or twenty-five to twenty-seven 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.
Dwight Eisenhower made an interesting comment as president. He said, “The urgent is rarely important, and the important is rarely urgent.” 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 fifteen emails or a hundred and fifty emails to answer.
Well, how do you get a hold of them? I mean, how do you get a grip on it? 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 going to 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. I’m not an expert, but I can just tell you, this is a smart group of people. If tweaking your priorities worked, they would already be fixed. because you’re smart people! I’m telling you, for many of you, what you have to realize is, What is my purpose? Why am I here? What season am I in? And it’s not tweaking, it’s saying, “I’ve got all these things on my plate. That doesn’t belong on my plate. That’s not God’s will; that’s expectations. That doesn’t belong on my plate. That was for the last season, but now, this doesn’t belong on my plate. Wait, this does, but I’ve got to make room. But that’s really good, and I’ve always done it, and I love it, and people give me so many…” Lordship. “Okay, Lord, this does.”
So, it’ll take time to think, to ponder. 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 going to die. And I’m going to die. And this unconscious, human thought that we have that, You know, I’m going to work on that next week, and so we spend our life responding to details and data, and feeling good about, I answered seventy-five of the hundred and fifty emails. I returned all the calls. I did my list. Is it the right list?! Are you doing the right thing?!
You know, you’ve got to stop. I mean, that’s why coaches, they just 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 have those misplaced priorities, and some of you have four or five of those symptoms, and instead of stopping and saying, “Whoa, I’ve got to really reevaluate,” we go faster. “I’ll multitask more.”