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A few years ago I was listening to a woman describe an evangelism group in her local church. She spoke of how dedicated and sacrificial the group was and how they had hand-picked certain Christians whom they were confident would “give it all up” for the cause of saving souls. As she continued to speak about the dynamic of the group she mentioned a young couple with whom they had been sorely disappointed because they had dropped out of their evangelism meetings for a number of months. The reason? The woman had given birth. Soon it was revealed that there were others in the church who wanted to be in the group but were refused because their life circumstances and limited talents would hinder them from making the kinds of sacrificial effort required by the rest of the group.
To say the least, I was disturbed by these comments and I offered some words of caution to the woman and those who were listening. But these attitudes are not exactly uncommon, especially when we realize they come in different shapes and forms. The key to serving the Lord is balance. We have all seen it and sometimes practiced it – a person gets enamored with a cause (spiritual or otherwise), a hobby, a sport, a person, or a sin, and it consumes every part of their life. Worse, those who do such often look down on others who aren’t as passionate as they are about their cause. Passion is good, and passion for God is essential, but misplaced passion or passion that is not balanced with other responsibilities of life, is dangerous.
I have always been impressed with the counsel of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 9:7-10:
“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” (ESV)
Notice how the Preacher prioritizes life. First, one is able to eat and drink with a merry heart because God approves him. In other words, God is first, which results in the ability to enjoy the gifts of God in their proper setting. Closely connected to this are inner purity and a pleasant character, symbolized by white garments and one’s head not lacking oil. Following a relationship with God and a godly character is enjoying life with one’s spouse “all the days of your vain [fleeting] life.” To enjoy life with one’s spouse implies seeing after one’s marriage with care and not pursuing life independently. This is a special journey that is to be shared together. Though not explicitly mentioned, children would fit in right after one’s spouse. Finally, the Preacher commands diligence in one’s chosen profession or interest. As Paul later says, our labor is to be “as to the Lord.” Although we are to give due strength to our labor, the text implies that our time in labor does not compromise the responsibilities of God and family.
Therefore, a summary of how we ought to prioritize our life would look like this:
- Relationship with the Lord
- Relationship with one’s spouse
- Relationship with one’s children
- Career and Ministry
When Christians get caught up in personal passions and urgent matters of life, this order of priority easily gets shuffled. To illustrate, the evangelism group that was disappointed in the couple with a newborn unwittingly shuffled the list. While I am sure they would have argued that commitment to evangelism is equal with putting one’s relationship to the Lord first, more accurately, being committed to serving in the Lord’s kingdom must be first balanced with one’s responsibility to spouse and children. Ministry is not the same as passion for the Lord. In other words, God is my primary friend. Living with God is my ultimate hope. God is the one to whom I look to fill my inner needs and provide inner contentment and joy – “for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Eccl. 2:25). David said, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psa. 42:1). When our relationship to God is defined in these terms we will properly prioritize spouse, children, career and ministry. When ministry becomes so all-consuming that we compromise the time we should be spending with God (study, prayer, meditation) and time with our family, the ministry becomes idolatry from which will come a host of other sins.
Another example of shuffling priorities is when parents put their relationship with their children ahead of their marriage. Children easily monopolize time with mom and dad to the point where it is easy to pay more attention to the children than to one another. When children come, married couples often “triangulate” so that their involvement with each other is primarily through their children. But once the children leave the home, this kind of couple will find their marriage empty. The best thing a couple can do for their children is to first be passionate for God and next be madly in love with each other. A child’s maturity in Christ and security is the priority, not his or her “happiness.”
Again, this reshuffling of priorities is serious because it results in idolatry. We can easily see how a person’s career becomes their idol when God and spirituality is neglected to serve the job. Why? Because the job has become the number one passion. But it is also true that children can become our idol when their desires, their happiness, and their success becomes our number one passion. Do you think this isn’t common? In sports, who invented “traveling teams” that consume nearly every waking moment of a family’s free time? It wasn’t the children! Why are parents going nuts on the sidelines rooting for their children and screaming at coaches and referees when their children seem to be cheated out of their proper “glory?” When we carefully prioritize our life we realize the danger of any activity that consumes our time and creates passions that supersede God. In our secular world, children are especially vulnerable to this.
“Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” (Prov. 15:16–17 ESV)