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Priorities Chapter 4: Priorities for Our Souls

14040344199_4c1c070a97_oThe morphine that quieted Art’s pain did little to quiet his troubled thoughts. He tossed and turned, unable to escape the accusing glare of the pictures from his past. Unfortunately, Art never reached for the one medicine that could have given relief—the message of forgiveness in Jesus. He had become just another statistic, succumbing to the deadly combination of selfishness, materialism, and greed that had hurt his marriage and his family and that would eventually be the ruin of his soul.

It is sad when the joy of the wedding day eventually gives way to the ache of loneliness, when a well of love dries up and a marriage shrivels, or when a lack of attention crushes a child’s spirit. But the same skewed priorities that yield a harvest of broken dreams and anguished hearts can be the cause of even greater ruin—the loss of souls. Jesus’ parable of the sower illustrates the sad consequences of priorities gone wrong.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up” (Matthew 13:3,4). The seed represents the Word of God. The paths are the hardened hearts that won’t let the seed of God’s Word penetrate. We can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness as we read Jesus’ words, because we know we have met some of these people.

“I’m not interested in anything religious,” the lady says politely but firmly when we offer an invitation to the Christmas service. The grand house, the nice neighborhood, and the luxury car in the driveway all reveal where her priorities lie. Those things are what life is about for her. She has no time or need for “religion.”

“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root” (13:5,6). The membership rosters of most congregations are sprinkled with the names of people who have drifted from their fellowship. Some of them probably even served with great enthusiasm at one time. Later, because they didn’t sink their roots into the life-giving nourishment of God’s Word, their enthusiasm—and their faith—expired. Perhaps jobs, sinful relationships, hobbies, activities of their children, or other impediments became so important that eventually these distractions consumed their lives. The faith that once lived, died just as Jesus described in his parable. In the shallow soil between the rocks, the seeds spring up quickly. But because they can’t sink their roots into nourishing soil, they wither and die—just like the once vibrant faith which failed to sink its roots into the nourishing Word.

“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants” (13:7). So many people are caught in snares of worry or concern—often over the minor details of this life. Eventually these worries loom menacingly over them and strangle their faith. Jane’s is a typical case. As a single Christian, Jane yearned for a husband. She worried that she would never marry. When a man finally showed some interest, she readily accepted his marriage proposal—even though he was an atheist who resented her love for her church. To please him, she stayed away. Without life-giving support from the Word, her faith ebbed, flickered, and finally perished.

The list of worries, concerns, and misguided priorities that can choke a person’s faith is as endless as the supply of weeds and thorns that can strangle a farmer’s plants. A farmer, facing the kinds of obstacles the parable mentioned so far, might grow discouraged. But this farmer found that his work was not in vain. “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (13:8).

From the time we first heard this parable, we have probably hoped this fourth soil—the good soil—would always represent us. But do our priorities always reflect that hope? That question is too important for just a passing thought. We need to stop and ask: Do our eyes regularly scan the pages of God’s Word? Do we take every available opportunity to go to the Lord’s Table to receive strength from his body and blood? Do we take the time to talk to our children about the things that are important to them and to us—and equally as important, do we listen? Do our lives demonstrate the comfort, strength, and contentment we have found in God’s Word? Do we seek the counsel of our pastors or fellow Christians when faced with challenges or opportunities? Yes, ask the question: Do our priorities reflect our hope that God’s Word will produce a harvest in our hearts?

When our eyes regularly scan the treasures found in God’s Word and our ears listen attentively in the sanctuary of our church, we discover very important truths. We learn that the well-being of our own souls and those of our spouses and children is of the utmost importance. It becomes a priority that we share a common faith with our spouses, that we rejoice together in the Savior, and that we share a goal of bringing our children to him.

The more we feast on the Bread of Life, the more we learn to trust in God and to rely on the guidance he has given in his Word. Then, when an offer for a job promotion arrives at our desk, we can recognize the important issues. If the new job requires an inordinate separation from our family or from a church of our fellowship, we can choose what will be best in the long run—and trust that God will take care of us. We can pass up the higher salary confident that God can provide for us as we seek first his kingdom.

If God’s Word is always close to us, we will cherish God’s guidance, especially when challenges touch our lives. We will rejoice in the wise counsel of our pastors and fellow believers as they share God’s Word with us. We will recognize that the world’s trophies of success are nothing compared to the joy of being able to teach our children “when [we] sit at home and when [we] walk along the road, when [we] lie down and when [we] get up” (Deuteronomy 11:19) in order to lead them to Christ and to heaven. We will thrill as our family worships together, a united expression of our trust in God.

As the light of God’s grace shines brightly in our hearts, we will recognize the privilege God gives us to be able to serve him. Though we are sinners, caught for a time in this world, we long to use our time to serve a higher kingdom. We want to use our talents to glorify God and to use our treasures to spread his Word. Realizing that the soul that dies without the Savior is lost for eternity, we recognize the privilege that God gives us to point others to eternal life. We are jars of clay, simple vessels entrusted to carry a precious gospel treasure to relatives, to neighbors, and to coworkers.

And when telltale signs of age remind us that we won’t live forever, we will find comfort in the promise of the heavenly mansions our Lord has prepared for us. The world can offer nothing even close in value, certainly nothing worth the price of exchange.

In the rare moments when he could focus through the morphine induced haze, Art noticed that the nurses were very quiet. In hushed tones they informed visitors that Art’s organs had begun to shut down. It wouldn’t be long.

The headline in the waiting room newspaper the next morning was rather blunt: “Millionaire business guru succumbs to cancer.” The words beneath, scribbled by an anonymous reader, were even more telling: “He paid too much for his whistle.”

Let’s talk about this

Read Numbers 13:17–14:4.

  1. Why did the Israelites refuse to take the land God was giving them?
  2. Imagine that you are one of the spies who believes you should enter and take the land. Point out the reasons you might give in your argument against the rebellious spies.
  3. How do you explain the fact that the majority wanted to find a leader who would take them back to Egypt?
  4. Agree or disagree: Our skewed priorities often result from a lack of trust in God. Explain your answer.
  5. In what areas of your life does a lack of trust affect your priorities?
  6. Why do we have every reason to trust that God can provide for our every need?
  7. What assurance does Romans 8:32 give us that shows we can trust God to take care of even the routine issues of our lives?
  8. Evaluate your life. What changes do you expect to see in your life as your priorities fall in line with God’s promises?

Image by Lane Pearman is licensed under CC BY 2.0.