Your very salvation depends upon the priorities you set in your life as a Christian.
Do you know how to set priorities? When several things need to be done, are you able to decide which ones should come first in order of importance? Suppose you're sitting peacefully in your living room watching the news on television. Suddenly you notice that the room is filling with smoke. Your house is on fire! What do you do first? Do you get down on your knees and ask God for His help in stopping the fire? Do you call the fire department? Do you dash through the other rooms of your house to see if some other member of your family is caught in the fire? Do you run outside to get the hose and try to put the fire out? All of those things may be necessary, but what do you do first? That is the big question! Let's take another example. One evening, you are in the middle of housecleaning. Your rooms are in disorder and neither you nor the other members of your family look presentable. The phone rings. It is your employer. He tells you that he will be over in a few minutes because he has something important to tell you. What is the first thing you should do? Do you hurriedly put the house in order? Do you change your clothes and put on something more appropriate for the occasion? Do you check the kitchen to see if there is something you can offer your boss when he arrives? Once again, all these things may be necessary, but what must you do first? It's a question of setting right priorities. Priorities play a major role in our lives. We all have good intentions, at least most of the time. But what really counts is executing an intention at the appropriate moment — doing the right thing at the right time. As Solomon wrote, there's a time for everything under heaven (Eccl. 3:1-8, Revised Standard Version throughout). Growth results from learning to put first things first.
Right and wrong priorities
Remember the story of Martha and Mary, the two sisters Christ visited? Both sisters liked and respected Christ very much; both of them did what they thought was most important when He came to see them. "Now as they went on their way, he [Christ] entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving" (Luke 10:38-40). There is nothing wrong with "much serving," is there? All of us are called to serve — Christ Himself was the greatest servant of all. However, in this instance, priorities were at stake. "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?" Martha asked Christ. "Tell her then to help me:" Christ answered: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful [at this moment]. Mary has chosen" the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her" (verses 40- 42). Just then, the most important thing Mary and Martha could do was listen to Christ's teaching. When Christ called His disciples, some of them hesitated. Others followed Him right away because they had their priorities straight. Simon Peter, for instance, "fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man'" (Luke 5:8). Why did Peter say that? Because he and his fishermen friends had witnessed, a few moments before, an astonishing miracle Christ had performed (verses 4-7). Simon Peter and his companions had their priorities right. Upon hearing Christ tell them, "'Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.'... they left everything and followed him" (verses 10-11). No wonder James, John and Simon later became apostles! However, not everyone reacted the way these three men did. Not everyone had the right sense of priorities. For instance, a man who had expressed a desire to follow Christ turned away from Him when he heard Him say, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head" (Luke 9:58). Another man turned Christ's offer down, arguing that he first had to bury his father (verse 59). Now what's wrong with that? Nothing! But Christ set the man's priorities straight. He told him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (verse 60). Yet another man, upon being called, told Christ, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home" (verse 61). Again, there is nothing wrong with saying farewell to those dear to you. But much more was involved in this particular case. First, God didn't come first on this man's list of priorities. Second, you can almost detect a feeling of sorrow in his answer. He seemed to regret being called there and then and perhaps hoped his loved ones would convince him not to leave them for the sake of the Gospel! That's why Christ told him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (verse 62).
Priorities and your calling
Do you remember the circumstances of your calling? How did you first react? Did you perhaps want to bury someone or something before deciding to really follow Christ? Did you hesitate to turn away from the world, finding it hard to choose between those of your household and Christ? What was your attitude then — and what is it now? Unfortunately, some in the Church are still burying their dead fathers! Some are still looking back and trying to pursue their personal ambitions before deciding to follow Christ! Time is running short. Rearrange your priorities before it's too late! If you put first things first, God will always take care of your needs. This doesn't mean you should neglect your part and stop taking care of your household. It simply means that you are to put first things first — be filled with God and His Work. You must endeavor to please Him with your attitude and growth. As Christ said, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [all that you need] shall be yours as well" (Matt. 6:33). Do you believe this promise of God? If so, live by it! Your baptism was symbolic of your decision to put God first in your life, no matter what the circumstances. Do you still feel the same way today? You accepted the condition to love God more than anyone or anything else, "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37). This is the greatest commandment of all. Does it have first priority in your life? And after that, does the second great commandment — loving your neighbor as yourself — have all priority in your life (verses 38-39)? As you, can see, even love has priorities! First, you must love God, and then love your neighbor. This doesn't mean you should neglect loving your neighbor because you love God first. It's just a matter of priority. Actually, if you really love God — if you obey His commandments and do His will you automatically love your neighbor, because you cannot love God without loving your neighbor (I John 4:20). Remember not to neglect anything on your list of priorities.
God came first in Abraham's life
If you had a child whom you loved with all your being — if he was your only child, and you had eagerly waited and prayed for years for him — would you be willing to give him up? Abraham was put to such a test. Humanly speaking, it didn't make much sense. Why did God give Abraham such a seemingly cruel order, saying, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering" (Gen. 22:2). Abraham must have spent a sleepless night struggling with his thoughts, wondering why God demanded of him such a sacrifice. He loved God, for sure. But he also loved his son Isaac very much. He had to choose between his love toward God and his love toward his son. The choice was all the more difficult since he did not understand its purpose. Nevertheless, whatever his thoughts and concern, he set his priorities right. He "rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac … and went to the place of which God had told him" (verse 3). Would you have done this? Would you have obeyed God to the point of being willing to sacrifice your only son, whom you loved? Abraham passed the test. How about you? Does God come first in your life, before anyone else, even members of your family? If you cannot put God first in your life today, how can you put Him first tomorrow, when things will get tougher?
Kings David and Saul had totally different attitudes. David's attitude made him a man after God's own heart, whereas Saul's caused him to be rejected. Have you ever considered that one of David's most important qualities, far outweighing his mistakes, was his sense of priorities? Saul was jealous of David and had gathered 3,000 men out of all of Israel to seek David and kill him. Strangely enough, the circumstances changed, offering David a unique chance to capture and kill Saul when the latter was resting in a cave. What an exceptional opportunity! After all, the two men were at war with each other — Saul had proved himself to be merciless. "And the men of David said to him, 'Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, "Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you",' (I Sam. 24:4). It would have been only natural, humanly, for David to kill Saul and justify himself by saying that God had promised to make his enemies fall into his hands. But David didn't reason that way. He "arose and stealthily cut off the skirt of Saul's robe. And afterward David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt" (verses 4-5). Why? Why should David's heart smite him? He didn't commit any crime! No, but on his list of priorities obedience to God came first. "He said to his men, 'The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord's anointed' " (verse 6). There you are! Even though Saul wanted to kill him, David refused to do any injury to the king. Respecting God's anointed came before fighting for his own life. David's tremendous attitude is an example to all of us today. Is there any wonder why he will be a king in the soon-coming Kingdom of God? As for Saul, he carnally sought his own selfish interests, going after power and personal exaltation. That's why God rejected him.
Obey God rather than men
The disciples of Christ, before receiving the Holy Spirit, did not have the necessary power and faith to fight the enemy. They forsook their Master and fled when the Roman soldiers arrested Him. The promise they had made to Christ, a few hours earlier, to never forsake Him was not engraved on their list of priorities. But after their conversion, the disciples learned their priorities. Faithful to their mission, they preached the Gospel, despite threats and persecution. On one occasion when they were brought before the council, the high priest condemned them, saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name." But they answered, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:27-29). A question of priorities! The disciples' lives were at stake, but they were willing to follow Christ's instructions even if it meant death. They had learned that "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39). On your own list of priorities, do God, His Church and His Gospel come before your own life? Or do you perhaps desperately cling to your own life for fear of losing it? Remember Christ's words! Unless you get your priorities straight, you may end up by losing your life.
Bible study and prayer
As a true Christian you should be aware that Bible study and prayer are two indispensable tools in your growth to become a Child of God. But how often do you use these tools? How much time do you spend with God and His Bible each day? Some in the Church consider Bible study a hard chore! They don't seem to find time for it in their daily schedules. They don't realize that the more they study the Bible, the more they learn about the will of God and the way to please Him. If you are truly Christian, the Bible must have priority over all of your other readings and studies. You are doing yourself a favor when you study the Bible. Bible study is a privilege, not a chore or a task. And how is your prayer life? Do you look forward to speaking to God every day? Do you actually enjoy praying? Or has prayer become for you just a routine, a duty that you have to perform? If your priorities are straight, prayer automatically comes first in your life. It becomes the happiest moment in your day, because it enables you to spend some time with the Supreme Creator of the whole universe, the almighty God who loves you and finds time to listen to you. Think of it! If He has time to listen to you, why wouldn't you find time to talk to Him? It takes much effort to faithfully respect your priorities. It takes thinking and hard work. If the Church today is not quite ready for Christ's return, it is because, as a whole, we don't push hard enough and often lose our sense of priorities. In a world that has cut itself off from God, Satan wants you to reverse your priorities or cast them aside altogether. Don't let that happen! Follow God. Obey Him, put Him first — and you will be much happier.
Tithing is a law. It's a blessing. When you tithe, you don't do God a favor; you do yourself a favor. How do you pay your tithes? What's your attitude? Do you pay the first tenth of your check as soon as you receive it, or do you pay it only after you have paid your other bills? I remember Herbert W. Armstrong telling us during a ministerial conference that he always pays his tithe first, as soon as he receives his check. His other bills have to wait. The first check he writes is always to give God what is God's. What a wonderful example for all of us to follow! Put God first in your life. Some of God's people have lost the blessings that result from paying tithes, because they bargain with God. They have lost their sense of priorities. They don't realize that tithing is a privilege and a blessing, not a burden. Today, some people try to abide by the letter of the law and not the spirit. They try to bargain with God when paying their tithes. They will cut corners to see how much they can save, or how little they can possibly give. With that attitude, tithing becomes a chore and not a blessing. God loves a cheerful giver and He is able to provide you with every blessing (II Cor. 9:6-7). Are you a cheerful giver?
The purpose of your calling
Do you really know and understand the purpose of your calling? Did God call you specifically in order to save you at this time, or to entrust you with a certain task in this world? That's a question every Church member should ask himself — and understand the answer. You were not called just to be saved, but to be part of a team to do a job. That's a priority — a priority for your being called! Your own salvation for the moment is not a priority; your fulfilling the task is. If you faithfully do your part and persevere until the end, you will be saved. However, if you neglect your share and turn away, God will raise someone else to do your part. We in God's Church today are the firstfruits. In a sense, it's like having received a birthright from God. We are the first ones called before the big harvest, with a mission to prepare for that big harvest. Unfortunately, some have sold — or are selling — their birthrights, just like Esau did. But once Esau lost it, he ended up despising it. In like manner, once you lose your sense of priorities, you lose your sense of values. Don't neglect your birthright. Don't disdain it. Set your priorities straight. Perhaps one of the hardest priorities of all is to humble yourself, and count others better than yourself (Phil. 2:3). Satan wants you to be puffed up. God wants you to be humble. Satan will do everything in his power to make you feel that you are better than others. But God wants you to count others better than yourself. That's the difference between God's teaching and the teaching of the world under Satan's influence. As God's people, we need to learn our priorities. The, Bible is our manual. The Teacher is God, through the writings of the prophets and the apostles. Whatever the circumstances, let's live to please God. That's our first and foremost priority!