Monday, November 27, 2017

Deciding Priorities .......... Parables 672

June 13, 2000

It was 9 a.m. and the south side lab was already filled with patients waiting for their various tests. A young man rushed in and slapped his medical requisition on the counter. The receptionist placed it under the pile. He looked around anxiously then blurted, “Do I have to wait long? That is a problem. You see, I’ve been fasting fourteen hours.”

She smiled and said, “So has everyone else.”

Fasting all night is not a problem for those who normally skip breakfast but even then, some folks have trouble getting started without their morning coffee. For others, self-denial is difficult no matter what time of day it is.

Ours is a self-indulgent society. For years, we have heard that we need to be individuals, independent, and put number one first, meaning ourselves. Selfishness, in Ayn Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged, is even promoted as the greatest virtue.

Christians are told the opposite. While the Bible says, “each one should carry his own load” it means we ought not be freeloaders. It also says, “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Sometimes deciding priorities based on those commands becomes a difficult balancing act.

Every now and then my to-do list gets out of control and I want to unplug the phone and stay home until everything is caught up. At the same time, needy friends may call. Sometimes a family member wants help with something. If everything happens at once, which is the most important? Some are more appealing but if the list is long enough, each can seem a sacrifice.

FIRST, THE MOST DIFFICULT? Household chores can be a challenge, so it is tempting to go shopping, but some days shopping seems more difficult and the chores become an excuse to not do it. For me, deciding the most difficult is too subjective and unreliable.

FIRST, THE GREATEST NEED? If someone breaks their arm, that is one thing, but not all needs are as easy to evaluate. How would a lab decide which fasting person was the hungriest? Not only that, the demands of others are sometimes best left unanswered so they can learn to handle their own problems. Maybe I am not the best person to help. Maybe it is not the best time to get involved. The greatest need is a hazy issue.

FIRST, THE PERSONAL SACRIFICE? Some Christians say we should do first that which requires the most unselfish action. The idea is that most of us tend to pick the easiest, the most familiar, whatever is within our comfort zone. Challenges produce a sense of inadequacy and no one likes that feeling, but they do urge us to trust God and sacrifice our personal comfort.

FIRST, WHATEVER FEELS RIGHT? This would work if our feelings were reliable and if we belonged to ourselves. Feelings come and go and Christians do not own their own lives; we belong to God. He asks that we be led not by whimsy, but by His Spirit.

FIRST, WHAT DOES GOD WANT? When God asks a thing, that must be our priority. He considered the difficulty level and knows the need. He also knows He is our greatest resource and that we “can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.”

It is not a matter of what we discern is hardest or easiest, the most important or the least selfish. Besides, we generally have no real insight into those issues, at least not like God. Instead, we need to seek and listen to our Lord. He says “The mind (and the life) controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” Doing His will is worth it.

Note that Ayn Rand’s lead character disagrees. He says, “A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altar of others is giving you death as your standard.” Nevertheless, Jesus followed that standard and spent His entire life controlled by the Holy Spirit. Then by obedience, Jesus conquered sin and death and bids us to follow His example. The criteria is not whether the thing is easy or difficult, a delight or a challenge. Instead, we need to ask ourselves: Does God want me to do this?

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