Let’s make the Lord a priority this year.
Have you heard this exhortation before? It’s a common point in many a new year’s sermon or—ahem—bulletin article. And it is a point upon which many a Christian would nod their heads and say, “Amen.” Matthew 6:33 gets quoted a lot: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The story of the three would-be disciples of Luke 9:57-62 gets cited as irrefutable proof (and it is) that following Jesus needs to come before anything else. Even the wonderfully dedicated expression of the apostle Paul’s focus in Philippians 3:8 gets brought up: “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,” And we all march out of the church building saying that we have renewed dedication and courage.
But then something happens—or more to the point, doesn’t happen to our priorities. Despite our “renewed dedication and courage,” they remain the same. The same hobbies continue to get in the way of worship or Christian activity. The same weariness after work, the same TV programs, the same hurt feelings, the same fear of what worldly friends might say or think about our faith, the same family pressures, the same “stuff” jumps right back to the first place in line.
I’ve started to wonder, do we as a culture have two different definitions for the word priority? In the work-a-day world we understand “priority” a certain way, when the boss gives us an assignment and tells us, “This is priority!” We understand him to mean that all other work has to wait until after this “priority” has been accomplished. All other things are to be delayed. When we agree to make a child’s event (e.g., play, game, concernt) a priority, we mean that work appointments will need to be cancelled or delayed, opportunities to do other things we like will be postponed, and unless we’re coming down with the plague we’ll be there. It becomes something that is non-negotiably placed at the head of the cue.
But oddly enough, when we apply the word “priority” to faith, church assembly, discipleship, or Christian service, the definition seems to morph. The word “priority” in a religious context sometimes seems to mean “an appointment that theoretically should be kept, unless something else comes along.” That something else could be sleeping in, recreation, optional work, taking care of chores around the house, games, social obligations, hobbies, out of town guests, vacation, a mild headache, homework, a hard day at work, or a million other things. With such a definition in view, Jesus’ parable of the great dinner party comes to mind:
“But [Jesus] said to him, ‘A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, “I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.” Another one said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.” Another one said, “I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.” And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”’” (Luke 14:16-21)
I don’t know how you read this passage, but it looks to me like the angry head of the household is God. And it looks to me like He gets angry at the lame excuses, at the insults of getting dropped over lower priority matters, and at the heartbreak of being an “also ran” in the list of men’s priorities. And what’s worse, it looks like, when we offer such excuses, He starts looking for others to take our place at the great dinner.
Let us give the same meaning to the word “priority” in both our work-a-day world and our spiritual lives. We were the Father’s priority; no price was too high to rescue us from Hell. We were Christ’s priority; He died the death of a crucifixion with all that it includes to provide the costly grace that we enjoy. All for us. For us. Dare we offer less?
So, here we are kind of where we began in this post: “Let’s make the Lord a priority this year.” Let us truly seek first His Kingdom.