By Brent Amato
Do priorities have a priority in your life? Always a good and fair question, but especially at the start of a new year.
Maybe this is because it is so hard a topic to get our minds and hearts around. When you think about life, aren’t there too many "things"? Too many things to do in our personal lives: too many things with our families, too many things in our other relationships, too many things around the house, too many responsibilities, too many challenges. Too many things to do in our professional lives: too many demands, too many clients, too many files and papers, too much at the office and in court. Too many things to be. Even in our spiritual lives don’t you feel sometimes there are too many things? Too many things to do, too many things to be. How many sermons have you heard in the last year with three points, exhorting us to all sorts of applications. No shortage of spiritual input. Too many things! What to do and be and when!
Truly, one of the challenges of life, including the spiritual life, is priorities. According to the dictionary, a priority is "something which we give precedence by assigning a degree of importance to it." Speaking from personal experience and observation, it can be said that many people have not settled the issue of what their priorities should be. Among those who do know, too few constantly and unwaveringly live according to these priorities. Wrong or unwise priorities lead to confusion, worry, failure, and, in some cases, moral failures. Priorities involve focus and concentration, which then unleashes great power. Consider the power of the beam of light from a flashlight compared to that of a laser beam. The difference is in the fact that the laser beam has concentrated, not defused, light particles.
Thankfully, the Bible continually frames the issue of priorities. Consider the teachings of Jesus Christ: "The Greatest Commandment" (Mark 12:28-30); "What to seek first" (Matthew 6:33); and a "Christian’s First Love" (Revelation 2:4). But beyond that, did you know that the Bible talks about "one thing"? Consider the stories of six individuals: a rich young ruler, a healed blind man, David, Martha and Mary, and Paul. What do these stories all have in common? An issue with "one thing"!
The first story is of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22).
Did you note the "one thing"? "One thing you lack." At issue here is this: what is the greatest hindrance to your relationship with God? Jesus reaffirmed the issue from the tenth of the Ten Commandments: "You shall not covet…" (Exodus 20:17). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referenced possessions and taught "No one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24). The rich young ruler is contrasted in Scripture with the fisherman-disciples of Jesus, His call to them to follow Him, and their response to that call (Matthew 4:20, 22; Luke 5:11b, Matthew 19:27). Each of us is like the rich young ruler in at least one respect. He was doing pretty well religiously; I’m sure you are too. But like the rich young ruler, is it possible you and I are lacking at least "one thing" in our relationship with God? What might it be for you?
The second story is of the healed blind man (John 9:1, 6-7,10-12, 15, 17, 24-25).
Did you note the "one thing"? "One thing I do know." At issue here is knowledge of Jesus Christ.
How well do you know Him and is that knowledge growing (II Peter 3:18, Philippians 3:10)? The healed blind man is contrasted with the Pharisees (John 9:16, 27, 34, 40). Each of us is like the healed blind man, all with some knowledge of Jesus Christ that is important to remember. It is what the healed blind man clung to in times of great stress and trial. What is the "one thing" you know about Jesus Christ that you will cling to when life gets real confusing or challenging?
The third story is about David (Psalm 27:4).
Did you note the "one thing"? "One thing asked for and sought after." At issue here is choices: Moses counsels the people about choices (Deuteronomy 30: 15-17, 19-20); Joshua also counsels the people about choices (Joshua 24:14-15). In answer to the question of what is the greatest commandment, Jesus teaches the ultimate choice (Mark 12:30). In Judges 2:11-13, David is contrasted with the nation Israel. In Philippians 3:19 and Colossians 3:2, David is contrasted with those who have set their minds on earthly things. You and I are like David in that we have fervently asked and sought, but for what? What is the "one thing" you have most fervently asked for and sought after?
The fourth story is about Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42).
Did you note the "one thing"? "One necessary thing." The issue here is, at any given time, what is the most important thing to do? Where are you on the spectrum between Martha, in the midst of diligent and good activity (the urgent thing), and Mary, listening at the feet of Jesus (the necessary thing)? Note, it isn’t good versus evil. Both were being good hostesses. Martha was attending to hosting activities. Mary was focusing on who they were hosting. Different agendas. In Mark 7:14,16, Jesus made the impassioned plea for this very thing to those who encountered Him. This is contrasted with what has been described as "The Tyranny of the Urgent," a booklet published by The Navigators. We are always tempted to pursue the urgent, sometimes tyrannical, maybe at the expense of the essential. There will always be time to spend doing something good and important, but there may always be something else of a higher priority that God desires be done right now. There will always be time to spend with God, but we are many times distracted from the one thing that always needs to be done. You provide the specifics. The "urgent" or the "one necessary thing"? Which gets your attention? At different times, we all are like Martha and Mary, but to which example are we more prone? I’m more prone to be a Martha. After all, I have the spiritual gift of administration! I’m called to get things done! My family, in past years, nicknamed me "The Bulldozer" because we would get done any task given on my "watch." Oh, there may be casualties along the way, but the job would get done! What is the "one thing that is necessary" that might be neglected?
The fifth story is about the Apostle, Paul (Philippians 3:12-14).
Did you note the "one thing"? "One thing to forget and one thing to do." At issue here is refocusing: what do you need to forget about in your past and what do you need to do right now to move you to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus? Some people are trapped in the regrets and failures of their past. Hear these words about your life in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). Some people are ensnared in "neutral" and are not going forward; some have "dropped out of the race" like Demas who in II Timothy 4:10 is described by Paul as someone who had deserted Paul for the love of the world; some have slowed down to coast in the race, like the Church at Laodicea which was described by John in Revelation 3:16 as ‘lukewarm"; and some have fallen into running the race lazily and with a lack of diligence, as described in Proverbs 12:27. This is contrasted with Paul’s charge in II Peter 1:5-10. Is there something about your past that you need to prune physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually and what do you need to do right now to head in the right spiritual direction?
"One thing"! One thing you lack; one thing I do know; one thing asked for and sought after; one thing that is necessary; one thing to forget and one thing to do. What are the "one things" for you? "One things" that result in transformation for you, moving you toward your full potential as a child of God who happens to be a lawyer or law student!
Brent Amato is CLS' Barnabus Fellow for Chicagoland, as well as a former CLS national president and board member. He meets with lawyers, law students, and other professionals in the law in and around Chicago. He also is looking for others like himself to train and do the same work in other big cities.
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