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Priorities Chapter 1: The High Cost of Misplaced Priorities

Creative IgnitionWhen Benjamin Franklin was seven years old, a houseguest gave him some coins. Later, when he saw another boy playing with a whistle, Benjamin offered the boy all his coins for it. Young Ben played the whistle all over the house, enjoying it immensely, until he discovered he had given the boy four times as much as the whistle was worth. Instantly, the whistle lost its charm. When he grew older, Franklin generalized a principle from this experience. Whenever he saw a politician neglecting his family or business for popularity, or a miser ignoring friends so he could accumulate wealth, he would say, “He pays too much for his whistle.”

That story mirrors so many lives—all too often it mirrors our own. We work hard, but the goal of our hard work often goes beyond providing an adequate living for our families. We work hard to attain a sense of fulfillment and achievement in our lives; or we work hard so we can steadily advance our careers, so we can take pride in the lifestyle we provide our families, so we can live in houses on the “right side” of town, so we can have freezers full of the finest foods, so we can afford cars that befit the garages in which they park, so we can bask in the aura of respect that the mention of our names evokes, so we can send our kids to the most prestigious colleges, so we can provide our daughters with unforgettable weddings—we don’t just live our lives, we expend them. But a sober look back often reveals the sad truth that the cost was high. We paid too much for our whistles.

The cost is tabulated in skeletons of dead family ­relationships and marriages—and sometimes in souls lost for eternity.

Our families pay a high price for our achievements. The cost is exacted every time a teen mutters about her father, “Like he cares!” And every time a child interprets his parents’ busyness as personal rejection. The cost is exacted every time children reject our heavenly Father—turned off by the model their own fathers have given—and every time children question the love their mothers express—mothers who are so preoccupied that her children wonder if she loves them at all.

Paying too much for our whistles also costs our marriages dearly. One marriage after another, surrounded by the finest trappings, silently rots from the inside out. Then one day it bursts—leaving family, friends, and church spattered with the stinking residue.

Sometimes individuals pay a price almost too unbearable to consider. We ache as we stand beside a casket, truly at a loss for words that could comfort the grieving family. As earnest as the children may be as they reflect on the great example of love their deceased father showed, we find no hope in their words. As far as he may have climbed the ladder of success, we don’t know what to say. Though many view his life as a model worth following, we shudder at the truth. He neglected to nurture his soul. There is little comfort we can offer. We fear he paid the ultimate price.

That very fear launched one of the most piercing questions ever, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Many thought that the person who asked that question had his priorities all mixed up. Indeed, he didn’t lead a typical life. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests,” he said, “but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). By his own admission, he didn’t have much to show for his life. And yet he was the one person qualified to talk about priorities.

When Jesus said these things, he was speaking to a stranger who, caught up in the emotion of the moment, wanted to follow him. Jesus was asking him to evaluate his priorities. Were they right? Jesus, the only one who ever had his priorities perfectly in order, wanted the man to understand that following him meant more than restored health and baskets full of food. If such things were his priorities, Jesus was suggesting that he might as well go home. There would be treasures and glory in following Jesus, but not necessarily the kind this stranger imagined and not necessarily here on earth.

Following Jesus would mean taking a path that was sometimes dangerous and often disappointing—a path that was shunned by most of the world. No luxury resorts or health spas would grace their journey, only one note­worthy stop at a dismal hill—Calvary. That wasn’t the path most people expected Jesus to take.

But Jesus wasn’t concerned about comfort or luxury or the price of mutton at the local “stock” market. He could see beyond the hunger, sickness, and oppressive Roman government to souls that were dead in sin, plagued by the results of sin, and headed for eternal doom in hell. He had come to earth to save sinners from that doom. That was the goal and purpose of his life. That was his top priority. He knew there was nothing more important that he could do for humankind. There is nothing more important that could be the focus of our lives either, or that would affect the way we nurture our families or the way we live in our marriages. Without his work, our marriages and families would be doomed, and we would be lost.

The works of our hands, the words from our lips, and thoughts of our hearts have destroyed our fellowship with God. We may have committed murder or given a place in our hearts to murderous thoughts. We may have sunk to adultery or glanced wistfully at another’s spouse. We may have robbed others or silently coveted their belongings. In any case, our sin has earned God’s eternal anger and our unending suffering in hell. The respect of the world, titles of honor before our names, fame, or the wealth of the wealthiest could do little to make our lives happy if the prospect of eternal damnation were hanging over our heads. By his sacrifice, Jesus has given meaning to our lives. His redemption has brought us back into fellowship with God. Through his work of redemption, Jesus has put hope back into our lives. His command to share the good news with others has given purpose to our lives. We express this hope, and we carry out this purpose also within the context of the family and marriage into which God has placed us. In Jesus we find the priorities of our lives.

Let’s talk about this:

  1. Take a moment to evaluate your life. What issues receive the focus of your time and energy and thus, good or bad, are the priorities of your life?
  2. Are these priorities wise or foolish? Why?

The following questions will help us focus on the things that are really important for us:

  1. Read Romans 3:23 and 6:23. What is the common condition of all people?
  2. What beautiful hope do all Christians possess as a result of Jesus’ work? (John 3:16 and Romans 8:1.)
  3. List ways that our lives are different from what they would be if we didn’t know that Jesus freed us from the guilt and deadly consequences of our sins. (Refer to Matthew 7:7-11 and John 14:2,3.)
  4. What messages do we hear that lead us to lose sight of the things that are truly important?
  5. The freedom from punishment for sin and the promise of eternal life are more important than many of the things that receive the focus of our attention. What can you do to focus your life on the things that are truly important? What can you do to help your children focus on the things that are really important for them?

Image by Creative Ignition is licensed under CC BY 2.0.