Did you hear the one about the hunters? A dozen guys go deer hunting and, as is common, head out into the woods in pairs. At the end of the day one hunter returns without his partner, but carrying a twelve-point buck on his back.
“He passed out about three miles back.”
“You left him, but brought the deer?”
“Well, nobody would steal Joe.”
We all can recognize misplaced priorities—in other people, at least. The problem with misplaced priorities is that it’s hard enough to do what you need to do, without wasting time on things that aren’t going to be important in the long run. You may have a spouse, perhaps children, friends, not to mention professional or academic responsibilities. There are lots of things to do. Some of the more pious among us might deny this, but we all have felt the frustration that Solomon well expresses in the inspired book of Ecclesiastes: “All is vanity and vexation of spirit [or perhaps ‘striving after the wind’].”
That’s OK. God’s providence, even His hard providence that brings pressure into our lives, is good, and He provides what we need in order to do what He has called us to do. But the pressure reinforces the thought that we had better not be wasting our time doing things that don’t matter.
Lots of things are important. But what’s most important? What will you never sacrifice? Are there things more important for the student, for example, than good grades?
On May 21, 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that under the pressure of performance-based teacher evaluation, some 75 California teachers helped their students cheat in order to get higher grades on standardized tests. Was it worth it?
Suppose that the students actually remembered for a lifetime the answers that their teachers had given them. They learned, didn’t they? Now was it worth it?
What is the most important thing? More than grades? More than efficiency? More than perfect appearances? It’s been summed up in a lot of ways, but it all comes down to godliness. We should want to be what we should be, as well as to do what we should do.
The Scripture identifies three key sources of spiritual growth in every believer. Theologians call them the “means of grace.” More simply, they are avenues through which God gives us the ability to be what we should be and do what we should do:
Paul calls the Scripture “the word of His grace” and says that it “is able to build you up” (Acts 20:32). The Book has a power all its own, and we need to stay in it all the time, reading, memorizing, meditating, applying. This is spiritual calisthenics—not always fun, but always profitable. We must not be a generation of Christians who know “what they’ve always been taught” but are spiritually flabby.
The Bible calls prayer “the throne of grace,” where we “find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). The American church is largely a prayerless church, and believers routinely demonstrate the weakness to prove it. How real is your prayer life? Paul describes his companion Epaphras as “laboring fervently for you in prayers” (Col. 4:12). The Greek word is agonizomai, from which we get our word agonize. When was the last time you took prayer that seriously? (I speak to my own shame.)
The fellowship of believers
Paul says that our words to one another in the body “minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). We are placed together in the body for the primary purpose of building one another up. We were placed where we are because God has designed us with something that fellow believers need to be more Christ-like. That’s why example is so much more powerful than words. That’s why what the California teachers did was far more damaging than if their students had done it on their own. And that’s why our first priority must be to live godly before our brethren.
Misplaced priorities. Nobody wants to waste his precious time. Even as you do less important things, focus on what matters.
This article originally appeared here.