Determining Your Priorities
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 2, 2006

 

Main Passage: Luke 12:22-31 (NLT)

 

There’s a story I heard a number of years ago about Ivan the Great, a 15th century Tsar of Russia. Now, I’ve tried to verify this story, and I found only a few articles about it online. So it could be real, or it could be a myth. But either way, it will portray for us a clear example of what it means to have priorities.

Now, as the story goes, Ivan was so busy conquering new territory for his country that he had no time to find a wife. And his advisors had become quite concerned about this because Ivan had produced no heir to the throne. So they talked to Ivan about it and he instructed them to go and find him a wife.

Not something I would do, but apparently something Ivan would do. Anyway, his advisors took their task seriously and searched all over for a suitable mate for Ivan. And they finally found her in Greece. Which, you understand, would have taken a while to clean off of her.

Actually, her name was Sophia and she was the daughter of the king of Greece. So the advisors told Ivan about her, Ivan requested permission from the king to marry his daughter, and the king agreed… on one condition. Ivan had to be baptized and join the Greek Orthodox Church. Well, this didn’t seem like a big obstacle for Ivan, so he agreed and set out for Greece with 500 of his best soldiers.

When the soldiers heard what was going on, they said they wanted to be baptized also—just like their Tsar. So they all marched to Greece together, only to find out once they arrived that, in order to be baptized, the soldiers would be required to make a profession of faith and to affirm the articles of the Orthodox Church. And they agreed to do that except for one thing. The article they couldn’t affirm would prevent them from being professional soldiers. Well, this was obviously a major issue for them. They needed some time to think about that one.

So they got together and devised a plan and, in time, announced that they were ready to be baptized. So they marched into the water, all 500 of them, with 500 priests. But as the priests took the soldiers to be baptized and began to put them under the water, each soldier grabbed his sword with his fighting arm and held it high in the air. So each of them was completely baptized except for their swords and fighting arms. And so they became known as the soldiers of the unbaptized arm.

The soldiers had decided that they could give all of themselves to the church except for their fighting arms and swords. These would remain in possession of the state. It was clear what their priority was.

And so, I want to talk with you about priorities this morning… about the things that we see as important and the things we put value in. What things can be a priority for us? Help me out here. What are some of the things in life that can be a priority, either good or bad?

PARTICIPATION

Yes, all of those things can be priorities for us. And your priorities have a tremendous impact on your life… both here and now and into eternity.

“Priorities determine outcomes. Wrong priorities ultimately lead to frustration, ineffectiveness, and destruction.”
~ Steve Mills, Leadership Development Coordinator and We Build People Field Representative, Assemblies of God

Priorities determine outcomes. And ultimately, they determine who we are. So what I want to do this morning is make three observations about priorities in our lives. The first observation is this:

 

Three Observations about Priorities:

1. You Choose Your Own Priorities

No one else can do it for you. You choose your own priorities.

Joshua is one of the heroes of the Old Testament. He was the successor to Moses. Moses led the Israelites to the Promised Land, but he never set foot in the Promised Land. It was Joshua who lead the people into the land where they took possession of it. And he’s always been one of my favourite people in the pages of the Old Testament.

Well, about 25 years after he led the Israelites into the land, Joshua knew his days were drawing to a close. He knew he didn’t have much time left on this earth, and so he addressed the Israelites and presented them with a challenge…

Joshua 24:14-15 (NLT)
“Serve the LORD alone. But if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua made it quite clear what his priority was. And he encouraged every Israelite to adopt the same priority. But not even 25 years of leadership enabled him to dictate what their priorities should be. That’s why he told them to “Choose today whom you will serve.” Underline that sentence. When it came right down to it, it was up to each individual to decide who they would serve… where their priorities would lie.

You know, you may have been brought up in a Christian home, you may have been told about what’s important in life, or maybe you weren’t. It really doesn’t matter. Because what’s important in your life is not determined by anyone else. If your parents valued work over family, that doesn’t mean that you won’t value family over work. If your parents placed a higher priority on education than on experience, that doesn’t mean you will do the same. And if your parents saw a relationship with God as being important, that doesn’t mean you will. Whether they did or not is inconsequential as far as you are concerned. You decide for yourself whether God will be important in your life or not. The choice is yours. You choose your own priorities. So choose. Will it be the God of the universe, the creator of everything that exists, the one who knit you together in your mother’s womb, the one who loves you so much he died for you… or will it be the Holy Trinity of money, power and popularity? The choice is yours, so choose.

The second observation about priorities is this:

 

2. Your Actions Prove Your Priorities

I receive about 50 emails a day, most of them spam. But I also receive a number of emails that have been forwarded to me. Now, I don’t read everything that’s forwarded to me. I just don’t have that kind of time. Oh, there are plenty of cute stories and funny anecdotes, and when I read them I do enjoy them. But that just doesn’t happen very often.

However, once in a while I do read them and sometimes I discover something that’s worth keeping. This is one of those things I received a while back… It’s simply titled, “Priorities”:
 

Priorities

Funny how $20 looks so big when we take it to church
and so small when we take it to the store.

Funny how big an hour serving GOD looks
and how small 60 minutes are when spent playing.

Funny how hard it is to read a chapter in the Bible
and how easy it is to read a best-selling novel.

Funny how we believe what newspapers say
but question what the Bible says.

Funny how we can't think of anything to say when we pray
and don't have any difficulty thinking of things to talk to a friend about.

Funny how we need 2 or 3 weeks to fit a church event into our schedule,
but can adjust it for a social event at the last minute.

Funny how prayers longer than 60 seconds seems like an hour,
but talking to a friend makes an hour seem like a few seconds.

Funny how we don't have time to study our Sunday lesson for five minutes every day,
but we wouldn't miss our favorite TV show.

Funny how difficult it is to get to Church on time at 10:30,
but we can make it to work at 7:00.

Funny how we expect to enjoy spending eternity living with God in Heaven,
but we have trouble spending an hour in his house every weekend.

Funny how we tell others how much we love the Lord,
and spend so much time laughing with shows that make fun of him.

Funny how we claim that we believe Jesus is coming soon!
But we spend more on retirement and life insurance than we do telling others the Good News.

Funny how many spend more on turkey at Thanksgiving
than they spend on the Lamb of God.

Funny how a sermon that goes longer than expected is unbearable,
but a football game that goes longer than expected is exciting overtime!

Funny how most of us spend more on re-decorating and recreation
than we do on revival.

Funny how we want our friends to think we are rich, insightful, fashionable people,
but the coming King says we are poor, blind, and naked.

Funny how we think these things are funny,
but they really aren't.
 

Our actions prove our priorities. You know what, though? As I was reading through that this week, I realized that really doesn’t describe most of you. Most of you have some pretty good priorities and are striving to act on them. This is a church and you are a people that I am honoured to be associated with.

But the key is that you are acting on the right priorities. You see, while it’s true that you choose your own priorities, it’s also true that they only really become your priorities when you put them into practice in your life. For example, I might say it’s a priority for me to meet deadlines at work, but if I’m constantly late it’s obviously not a priority. If I say spending time with Shera is important but she only sees me on holidays, well, it’s not quite as important to me as I might think. Or if I believe that spending time with God is important but every time I talk to Him I have to re-introduce myself, then my actions aren’t backing up my talk.


Your actions prove your priorities. Here… let me give you some questions you can ask to further clarify what your priorities really are.

 

Questions That Reveal Your Priorities:

A. What would others say your priorities are?

They may not know you as well as you know yourself, but they can certainly be more objective.
 

B. What do you think about?

When you let your mind wander, where does it go? What preoccupies your thoughts? Whatever it is, good or bad, that is a priority for you.
 

C. What do you talk about?

What topics seem to keep coming up in casual conversations? That’s a good indication of what your priorities are.

Matthew 12:34 (NLT)
“For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.”
 

D. How do you spend your time?

Even though you might not have much, what do you do with your free time? How do you spend your vacations? You do what you want to do, and what you want to do is a priority for you.
 

E. How do you spend your money?

Taking a look at your bank statement is a great way to discover where your priorities really lie. Jesus made this clear when He said…

Matthew 6:21 (NLT)
“Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.”
 

F. What “gives” when you face a conflict of priorities?

When you have scheduling problems, what wins out? When you only have so much money to spend, where does it go?
 

 

Your actions prove your priorities.

The Bible says:

Matthew 7:20 (NLT)
“Yes, the way to identify a …person is by the kind of fruit that is produced.”

What you do with your time, money and talents speaks volumes about who you are and what your priorities are.

The third observation is…

 

3. Your Priorities Should Be God-Centered

If you are a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that means everything about you is completely committed to Him. Everything you have, everything you are, everything you hope to be. He’s Lord of all, or He’s not Lord at all.

Problem is, this is where a lot of people fall down. Because they don’t want to give up control. But to believers, Paul writes these four verses…

Romans 8:9 (NLT)
You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all.)

1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NLT)
Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until that day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.

Underline the words, “in every way”. You are called to be made holy in every way, not just in the ways that you’re comfortable with. Everything you have and everything you are needs to be His. That’s no small order, but that’s exactly what He asks for. It say, “In every way.”

And then Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6… read it with me…

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)
You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.

And read this…

Galatians 2:20 (NLT)
I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

Underline the phrase, “Christ lives in me.” Do you see what I’m getting at? Do you see the common theme through all those verses? Let me try to summarize them… in your notes…
 

Jesus does not want to be FIRST in your life.
 

He doesn’t. That may come as a shock to you, but He doesn’t. He doesn’t just want to be first.
 

Jesus wants to BE your life.
 

And if you want to enjoy life to the fullest… if you want to discover meaning and purpose in life… if you want to experience the blessings of God found in a relationship with your Creator… Then Jesus Christ needs to be your life. That’s the way God designed us. He designed us to live in community with Him.

For you and me to enjoy life the way it was meant to be enjoyed, we need to base our identity in our relationship with Jesus… with God. That means He impacts each and every area of our lives.

You know, there are really three ways that you can envision God’s role in your life. I shared this with you a couple of years ago, but I think it’s time to take another look at it. And so to do that, I want to show you three images that portray how we might view God in our lives.

 

Three Pictures of the Role of God in our Lives:

The first is kind of a pie chart. You have God as one part of your life, and then you have all the other parts. I put a few of them in the chart… Family, Career, Recreation… and you can add whatever else is part of your life… The future, Retirement, Goals, Marriage, Thoughts, Travel, Friends. Whatever. The pieces of the pie would probably be different for you than for me. Because we all value different things. But regardless, this is not a Biblical picture of what our lives are meant to be. In this concept, our lives are compartmentalized… fragmented.


So put an X through that diagram. And let’s look at another. This one’s a hierarchy… an order of priorities. And I’ve seen this model a variety of times in my lifetime. I’ve been told that in order to put God in His rightful position in my life, He needs to be tops. He needs to come first. He is the most important part of my life… Everything else pales in comparison. And that’s pretty tough to argue with. So this is the picture…

 

According to this hierarchy, you put God first. And everything else falls into place below Him. Normally, I’ve been told that Family should come second. Then the Church, Career, and whatever else. Sometimes those are mixed up a bit depending on who you’re talking to, but God is always at the top.

But what I’ve found is that this just doesn’t cut it. This may sound good, and it looks good on paper. But I’ve found that there are times that I have to put my wife before the Church, and times when the Church needs to come before her. For example, if Shera and I have an evening reserved for each other, but if I get a phone call from someone whose child is critically ill, that may need to take precedence. But if someone calls and wants to get together to talk about a new colour scheme for our website, it can wait… I’m going out with my wife.

So putting God at the top of this chart seems to make sense, but you quickly find that in practice all these other things are shuffled around from time to time. So put an X through that chart. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s not practical.


One more diagram. This is the best I could come up with to describe to you the role that God wants to have in your life… the role He needs to have.

 

In this model, God is the center of your life and everything else revolves around Him. Just like the orbit of a planet is influenced by the Sun, all the different parts of your life need to be under the influence of the Son.

And sometimes orbits can cross. From January 1979 until February 1999, Pluto was actually closer to the sun than Neptune! But then the orbits crossed again and Pluto will be the outer planet for the next 200 years. At times one area of your life may be more important than another, and then at times they may be reversed. But always under the influence of Jesus.

Get it?

Earlier in our Worship Celebration we actually sang several songs which express our desire for Jesus to be our focus and for our lives to be completely devoted to Him. Is that really what you want? Is that your heart’s cry?

William Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army and lived a remarkable life himself. One time he was asked what the secret of his incredible life was, and this was his response:

“I told the Lord that he could have all there is of William Booth.”
~ William Booth

Does He have all that there is of Greg Hanson? Does He have all there is of you?


I want you to close your eyes and answer that question for yourself. Does He have all there is of you? Does He occupy the place of priority at the center of your life? Do you allow Him to orchestrate and influence every other part of your life? Or are there other things, even good things, which you have held from Him?

I’m going to pray a prayer, and you’re welcome to pray this silently right where you are. Perhaps you want to say for the first time, “God, You can have all of me.” Or perhaps you just want to reaffirm that in your life this morning. You can pray something like this…

Jesus, I know that you know best for me. I know that you want to help orchestrate my life according to Your wisdom and goodness. And I also know that you’ve asked me to trust you and to give you all of myself. And so this morning I do that. I want to honour you in every area of my life. I want to love You… with my heart, soul, mind and strength. I want You to be the center… seated on the throne of my life. I trust You, and I choose to live for You. Amen.

 

 

 

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