“Get to your calendar before everyone else does.” One of my mentors says this often and I find it to be a helpful way to think about how we plan our time. That statement is basically saying to prioritize the things that you deem most important before other things take all the time away in your schedule. We already do this. Whether we are consciously prioritizing or not, we are prioritizing something. Those priorities shine through in how we spend our time regardless of what we say we actually do consider priorities. We could say that our actions display our apparent priorities. I think that many of us would probably say that our true priorities are different from our apparent priorities. I have found this to be most prevalent for myself in two particular areas: church life and my marriage.
Most people that consider themselves Christians would probably say that church is important to them. They would probably also say that spending time in church events and ministries is important to them. If you are a Christian reading this then you know from slimly attended Bible studies, worship services and other events that clearly many of us have a disconnect from what we are saying we value and what we actually value with our time. This becomes even more apparent when you begin to lead or help lead Bible studies, worship services or other ministry events. When you are a part of leadership, you are counted on, thus you are going to be regularly attending these events. What you begin to notice is the vacuum of people that aren’t making the same things a priority in their lives. You begin to notice some inconsistencies for people, apathetic outlooks on ministry events and a general sense that “everybody else” will go and participate.
As my wife and I look back on our past church experiences when we were new Christians and the years following that, we were those inconsistent, apathetic, “somebody else will take care of it” Christians. Our lives were changing, we loved Jesus, we expressed devotion to Christ, but our lives didn’t completely look like that. What this comes back to is what we are centering our lives on. It also has to do with what we are considering priorities and what we are just trying to fit in around our priorities. For us, church stuff was under the category of what we fit in around our priorities. We’ll go if we get up. We’ll go if we feel like it. We’ll go if it sounds good. We’ll go if nothing better comes up. The point is that I get it. I was there. My life was not centered on the church. I fit it in when it was convenient or when I felt like it.
Families struggle now because kids are in sports that require them to be in practice on Sundays and during just about every other waking moment throughout the week. These kids are playing school sports and on travel teams. The school teams have all but required the kids to take part in travel teams if they want to play. The kids want to play and may have hopes of a scholarship. The parents may also have hopes of a scholarship and are generally proud of and supporting their kids. Meanwhile, these families that would consider church to be an important part of their lives aren’t in church. Kids are on a field or in a gym practicing a sport that will steal much of their time throughout school and that they very likely will not play after high school. They will have gone through some of the hardest, strangest, awkward and formative years of their lives apart from the church because apparent priorities won out over true or intended priorities. As a qualifying statement, I love sports and think they are a fine thing to be involved in, but somewhere along the line it has become a distraction and an unnecessary burden on kids and parents.
Another struggle that seems to arise with this idea of priorities and church is the involvement issues in the 18-30 crowd (I guess we are all calling them millennials). I know this particular struggle because I’m part of that crowd and have gone through this myself. While it is true that millennials are typically part of the “none” category (meaning they claim no religious faith), there is still a large number of millennials in church. Perhaps the same hesitancy that keeps the “nones” from committing to religious faith is the same hesitancy that keeps millennial Christians from being involved in the church? The hesitancy keeps both sides from different things, but at its core the hesitancy seems to be an aversion to submission and commitment. Ordering our lives around church rather than fitting church into our lives takes submission and commitment. This is why the church has to continue to call people to submission and commitment to Christ through His body, which of course is the church.
A second area that I have found that my apparent priorities are different than my true or desired priorities is in my marriage. Something my wife and I have often discussed is that any difficulty we have experienced in our marriage in these almost eight years has not necessarily been between the two of us, but due to external circumstances, busyness and obligations. Those things get to the calendar way before we can set aside time to invest in our marriage. Then when we have free time, we spend it melting like blobs into the couch because we are exhausted. We go through cycles where we realize that things have slipped, we haven’t been prioritizing our marriage and we need to get back on track.
As my above mentioned mentor also says, “whatever we say yes to, we are saying no to everything else.” I find this to not only be a helpful statement in thinking through what I commit to, but it is also a convicting statement that usually shows the root cause of the stress that I find myself in at times. We can do lots of good things, but we cannot do lots of good things well. We should probably only focus on one or maybe a few good things to do well. When good things come along, I tend to say yes to doing them or being a part of them. The next thing I realize is that by having said yes to these things, I have by definition said no to things that I really did not want to say no to. One of things that I end up saying no to in this process is setting aside time to invest in my marriage.
I see so many marriages that really don’t seem leave any time to invest in the relationship. They are essentially two people living separate lives in the same house and many of these people are Christians. This is not just a circumstance where those in the church can look out into the world and comment on how the world is failing at marriages. It is a problem in the church and of course it is. What a great place to attack the church but in its families. We cannot be so foolish as to not see that.
What do we do?
We have probably all read a whole gaggle of posts and books about topics like this. We have probably all tried this book and that method only to continue to have to come back to the drawing board with this. I don’t have a stellar nugget of wisdom that is waiting for you at the end of this post. I have the answer that we probably all already know. This is going to take consistent work for the rest of our lives. That is the true news, as one of my friends says. We are going to need to put some kind of method into practice that helps us. I pray this is helpful and let’s pray that God would help us in this.
- Defining our true priorities: This can’t start with the question, what is most important to me? That is as silly of an idea as saying that we should all follow our hearts. As Christians, we have to start with what God would say is most important. For example, Jesus sums up the Ten Commandments by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, ESV) I would say that this is a pretty good place to start in defining our priorities. What things help support this? What things bring me closer to Christ? What things help me in loving God with all of my being and loving others as myself? We would probably say our own relationship with Christ, our marriage (if we’re married), our kids (if we have them), the church, our vocation and so on.
- Actually prioritize them: We need to do what my mentor says and get to our calendar before everyone and everything else does. We should specifically factor in time that supports our priorities. Maybe we need to specifically plan time for scripture reading and prayer (both privately and with our families). We need to factor in time to invest in our marriages and kids (if we’re married and have kids). We need to prioritize church and the ministries thereof. This will mean that certain things may not make our calendar that used to make our calendar.
- Act on our priorities: Many have said something to the affect that a procedure is only good when it is followed. The same can be said for priorities and plans. They are only useful and beneficial if they are followed. We must do what we plan and what we commit to, not because of obligation but because those things support our priorities.
- Be held accountable for our priorities: We need to share our priorities with our mentor, pastor, accountability partner, friend, parent, spouse or whomever that we go to in our lives for accountability. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea if we shared those priorities with a few people. My wife and I had a wonderful date night this weekend and we spent lots of time talking about our marriage, how things were going and what we needed to get better at. Within those conversations we talked about our priorities and we brought them before each other so that we can tackle them together. Trying to do anything worthwhile without accountability is not a good idea.