Why You Need to Stop Making God Your First Priority
- Gregory Coles
- 2016 13 Dec
If you love Jesus, I’ve got some advice for you that’s going to sound like heresy: Stop making God your first priority.
Before you start booing and throwing eggs at your computer screen, maybe I should explain. I’m not saying God should be demoted to a lower slot on your priority list. I’m not saying He should be Priority #2, or #3, or #67 (right between “#66: stylish wall decorations” and “#68: organic breakfast cereals”). I’m not saying your life would be better off with less God in it. Not at all.
I’m saying that God is much too important to be just your first priority.
Here’s the trouble with priority lists: the things on them are all supposed to be different, distinct, competing for your time. That’s why they have to be ranked. If you say, “I prioritize family, then friends, then my job,” it’s because your family and your friends and your job are all different things. You’re not getting paid to go on dates with your spouse or watch football with the gang on Sunday evenings. (Or if you are, please email me an application to your job ASAP.) If family and friends and job were all exactly the same thing, they’d only have to go on the priority list once.
So if God is #1 on your priority list, that means there are a bunch of other things on the list that have nothing to do with Him.
When God is your first priority, you’re at church every Sunday and Bible study every Wednesday. You make time for devotions each morning or evening. You join service projects. You go on missions trips. But since God is only your first priority, you’ve got other priorities, too. You’ve got to earn a living, care for a family, maintain friendships, get exercise. You’ve got stylish wall decorations to hang and organic breakfast cereals to eat. And all those things, because they’re lower than God on your priority list, must somehow be not God.
When God is your first priority, He might get 10 or 20 hours a week. But then real life kicks in, and you’re back to the grind, trying to take care of all those other priorities you neglected while you were giving God your best.
A few years ago, I attended a Christian leadership conference with a friend. The keynote speaker, a full time Christian worker with a big personality and an even bigger beard, told us during one plenary session that he spent three hours a day doing devotions. My friend, inspired, announced that she would start doing the same.
She called me a week later. “I can’t do it!” she said. “Three hours a day? I’d have to do it in the middle of the night, instead of sleeping.” She hesitated. “But if I sleep seven hours a day and I can’t even give God three hours, does that mean I’m making sleep a higher priority than God?”
I laughed. “Do you think God wants you to sleep? Do you think He designed your body to function better when you get the sleep you need?”
“Sure,” she said.
“And does God want you to do your job diligently, to love your family and friends well?”
“Sure,” she said.
“Then doing those things is part of loving God,” I said. “I don’t think God is surprised that you only have 24 hours in your day. Sure, you might need to sacrifice some things or disappoint some people in order to serve God faithfully. But there must be a way of loving God completely in the amount of time you’ve been given.”
Hear me out. I’m not saying that having long devotions is a bad thing. Spending time alone with God is important, and many of us do it far too little. But we also need to remember that being disciples of Jesus is about more than our devotional lives. Giving God three hours a day simply isn’t enough. He wants all 24 hours.
In Matthew 22, the Pharisees ask Jesus to make a priority list. “Teacher,” they say, “which is the greatest commandment in the law?” In other words, Which priority is number one?
But Jesus gives them an answer that breaks the rules of their list. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” he says. “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
To the Pharisees, this answer must have felt like a bundle of contradictions. First, Jesus tells them to make their top priority into their only priority. They need to love God with everything, holding nothing back. There can be no second priorities.
But then Jesus keeps talking, and things get even more confusing. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is also on Jesus’ list of greatest commandments. How could that be true? the Pharisees must have wondered. If we love God with all our heart and soul and mind, how could we have any love left for our neighbors?
The secret the Pharisees never understood is that God designed us to love Him by loving others. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” says Jesus in John 13:35, “if you love one another.” Following God wholeheartedly is supposed to change the way you do everything else. If you love God with all your heart and soul and mind, you’ll love Him in the way you serve your family, the way you build friendships, the way you earn your paycheck.
God wants more than just the top line of your priority list. He wants the whole list. He doesn’t want to be sequestered to a single part of your life. He wants to be the substance of every part, the logic behind every choice you make. Whether you’re singing a worship song or taking a nap, God wants His kingdom to be your ultimate goal. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
So stop making God your first priority. Live a life that’s more radically biblical than that. Give Him everything.
Gregory Coles is an author and an English instructor at Penn State University. Learn more at www.gregcoles.com.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: December 13, 2016