If I hear another pastor, teacher or speaker proclaim, as if from Mount Sinai, “Put God first, your family second, your ministry third and your self last,” my “self” is going to put them very last on my priority list! Here’s why:
Let me be clear: putting God at the center of our lives is essential. But if I put time alone with God as first in the hierarchy mentioned, I’m never going to get to my family. I’m going to be a monk cloistered away reading my Bible, praying, journaling, worshipping, and if I’m really spiritual, fasting. If my choice is to read the Bible or read to my kids or grandkids, I’ve got to choose God’s Word if I’m locked into this rigid ranking of priorities.
If I put my family over my ministry, I will never get a word written or leave the house to speak at a conference. My wife has a “honey do list” that will keep me busy until Jesus comes. And pastors would never have time for sermon prep, board meetings, hospital calling, and the thousands of other tasks assigned to them by the congregation.
And if put my ministry over myself, there’s not going to be much of me left except a burnout shell of a person with high blood pressure and ulcers.
That’s why this ranking system is so unrealistic and unworkable. Those who attempt to implement it end up conflicted and stressed—and probably alienated from their family. So, here’s an alternative.
Think of your life as a wheel. For a wheel to work it has to be moving by having regular contact of all its circumference with the surface it’s traveling on. If it stops turning, it stops performing the way it was designed.
So visualize your tasks or roles as the outer surfaces of that wheel. As you’re regularly having time with GOD, FAMILY, MINISTRY and SELF your life is in balance. If it locks up with only one role—having contact with the road for too long—your life will come screeching to a halt.
To me, this makes much more sense than the rigid hierarchy with its demanding priorities. And it give me tremendous freedom.
For instance, just last week I was waiting for Lois to get home from a trip to visit her relatives out of state. I had been speaking at a conference while she was gone. Instead of warm welcome when she got home, I gave her a quick kiss at the door and said, “Victoria’s in ER with stroke symptoms. I’m headed to the hospital.” If we were locked in a rigid hierarchy, I would have ignored this young mom and her husband. And I would have cancelled my speaking engagement to go to Wisconsin with Lois. (See what a dilemma the “priority” model causes?!)
Instead, I had a great time of MINISTRY at the conference. Had a couple of days at home to relax and recuperate (SELF) and have some time alone with GOD. It turned out Victoria was simply having a severe reaction to a migraine and I spent the next day with Lois (FAMILY). I kept the wheel rolling and was able to accomplish all I needed to do without a lot of stress.
I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Matthew 11:28-30:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Keep the wheel of your rolling by making sure that all sides of the wheel are getting the attention they need in the long run. Some days, you may have to slow way down for a particular task. But, make sure that when that crisis is past, you continue moving on to the other areas that have been temporarily neglected. I try not to look at my life in smaller sections than a month. This past summer, I spoke at three conference in three weeks. (I know, complete crazy!) And I always get up early every day to have time alone with God. My week home, then, was devoted to my family—and me.
So, ignore the rigid hierarchy of priorities someone may try to force on your life. Just keep rolling through life!
Copyright © 2012 James N. Watkins