Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Importance of Priorities (The Word “Study,” Part 7)

Whapp!  The flick of Jerusha’s tail in my six-year-old face reminded me to watch her back leg, for the cow may at any moment irritably insert her muddied hoof into the pail of sweet liquid I was squeezing from her.  Splish-splash, splish-splash, the staccato droplets echoed as the bucket filled, slowly, until my forearms, tired from the work-out, had extracted nearly two gallons of milk from the Holstein.   And so my daily milking routine continued, on and off, from the time I was six years old, until I turned thirteen.  Farm chores built character, and milking was no exception.
After I graduated from Kindergarten my dad had told me, “If you learn to milk the cow, you’ll get your own lunch box for school!” 
I would be in first grade that next year, and I knew just the kind of lunch pail I wanted—a Strawberry Shortcake one.
Daily I strove to complete this task and, by mid-August, was milking with good regularity and precision.  My parents and I went back-to-school shopping at Target that year, and I found the lunch pail aisle.  The one I selected was a two-handled box with a Strawberry Shortcake scene, complete with various characters and a picket fence.  In my six-year-old perception, it was beautiful.
The top one is the kind of lunch pail I selected.
It’s easy to work for a goal that’s tangible and an objective that’s measureable.  And with the eyes of faith, we can perceive that every task from God will also result in reward from our gracious Master. First Thessalonians 4:11 commands us to labor diligently—not only to be quiet (as we have discussed at length in this article series)—but also “to do [our] own business and to work with [our] own hands.”
More dishes in the sink; more laundry in the washing machine; more dusting on the coffee table; more, more, more of the same sorts of projects and tasks.  Too often, when our tasks become habits, we can endure—rather than enjoy—our work.  Consider the months of January and February.  Christmas break behind them, some Christian school teachers dread these months of endless days, with little time off.  They find their tasks becoming tedious, not thankworthy. 
But we must pursue doing our own business—those regular tasks before us on a daily basis—in such a way that brings, not drudgery, but disciplined delight.  As we ten children completed jobs around the house, my mother used to frequently quote, “Desire accomplished is sweet to the soul” (Proverbs 13:19a).
    One book I have found especially helpful in the pursuit of a life that prioritizes the I Thessalonians 4:11 attitude is The Disciplined Life by Richard S. Taylor.  Taylor illustrates the importance of believers living in a measurable, orderly way.  Dealing with priorities, he states:
“Selection, selection, selection!  This is the law of life!  We cannot join everything; therefore we must select.  We cannot participate in every good cause; therefore, we must select! . . . . Our stature as men and women, certainly our stature as Christians, will be determined exactly and entirely by our skill in selecting . . . if we give top priority to those pursuits which should have low          priority, if we “major on the minors,” if we show “first rate dedication to second rate causes,” if we allow friends and impulse and the convenience of the moment to dictate our priorities, while we weakly drift with the tide of daily circumstances, we will be shabby, mediocre, and ineffective persons” (pgs. 36-37).
Near the end of 2 Thessalonians, Paul rebukes those who have failed to heed previous commands to diligently pursue completing their daily tasks, bringing to light some serious consequences of avoiding this command:
“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.  For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.  Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (2 Thess. 3:10-12). 
              Thayer’s definition of the word busybody is especially visual.  It states: “to bustle about uselessly, to busy one's self about trifling, needless, useless matters; used apparently of a person officiously inquisitive about others’ affairs.” 
            Is part of a busy body mentality being busy about everything other than that which we most need to pursue?  Might Martha-like service fit here--that service offered to God when it is time to “sit still and wait for the salvation of God”?  What of a failure to busy ourselves with what we must accomplish at home—making that meal, keeping the home orderly, assisting our husbands in their own God-given responsibilities, being the help meets we need to be?
Daily tasks are part of life.  They should not be inordinately placed, but they should be done consistently and well.  The things in our home will not last for eternity, but the attitude with which we approach our work will shape our eternal souls.  Paul exhorts, “But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing” (2 Thess. 3:13).  Have your daily tasks become wearisome?  Let us be encouraged to pursue our daily obligations faithfully.  They are tasks “repeatedly and habitually” performed; they are, in fact, “our own business.”

How do we guard against the attitude of wearisomeness, especially when more of the same tasks regularly greet us?  I believe one way is by following our responsibilities with fervency. The spirit of the law intends that we pursue our every job with joyfulness, as Colossians 3:23 so aptly illustrates: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.”  God is to be the focus of our every endeavor; His glory is to be our motivation.  Therefore, whatever the task at hand, a God-seeking outlook should follow, with a spirit of whole-hearted devotion to the task.  One of the Apostle Paul’s commands in Romans 12 (service in the church) teaches just that.  In completing our ministry, we are to be “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”  If God is the end of all of our actions, if we truly live as if Romans 11:36 is our life philosophy (“For of Him and in Him and through Him are all things”), then will we not share an exuberance of spirit, which never tires of searching for God’s multitude of mercies in any given day? 
Today we build the habits that tomorrow will be part of our character.  Let us live our lives in a way that we carefully prioritize His way!

But what happens when our priorities become confused, when we’ve taken on too many tasks, when we’ve overcommitted ourselves and have failed to pursue the quiet heart?  How do we extract ourselves from the seemingly endless pressure of over-commitment or the strain of self-induced burdens?   Next week we will look at a truth connected with I Timothy 6:6 (“But godliness with contentment is great gain”) as we note some practical applications of what it means to pursue the right priorities in life, in order that we might best obey the command to “Study…to do [our] own business and work with [our] own hands.”


Naomi Sondergaard said...

Thank you for sharing these Bible devotionals. They are an encouragement to this former teacher (now homeschooling) and now mother of three, and one more on the way. And as a wife and keeper of the home.

Thomas & Heather Ross said...

Thanks for your encouragement! Congratulations on the upcoming new addition:-)