In our new six-week message series, Holy Triage, we’re calling attention to areas in our lives that may need some healing or at least a booster shot of spiritual wellness. Though self-diagnosis is discouraged by doctors for most physical health conditions, we’re actually encouraging you to take your own spiritual pulse, probe soft spots in your spiritual life, and develop a wellness plan to get back on track with your faith.
During the course of this series, we’ll look at five different problem areas that tend to trouble people. This week’s hot spot is setting and keeping priorities. Deciding on what should be our highest priority is addressed here, while the companion piece on the next page offers some advice on maintaining priorities by avoiding distractions.
Most people do not struggle with identifying basic priorities. Ask any thoughtful and successful person to name the most important areas of life, and a familiar list likely will materialize with little trouble. The problem usually is not the relatively easy task of ranking what should take precedence over other considerations. The rub instead comes in actually setting priorities and causing them to become fixed, rooted, and permanent, with clear boundaries and a solid plan to let go of competing demands. Like parents “setting” a good example for their children, priorities require a firm commitment that is more than lip service.
The ancient Jewish people understood this well. According to the Law of Moses, love of God and obedience to his commandments were to be their primary focus. Identifying that priority was not difficult; setting it stone, however, was another matter. To help them remember God’s singular importance, the Hebrew Bible includes a prayer called the “Shema,” which from ancient times must be recited twice a day by every Jew.
“Hear O Israel,” it begins. “The Lord is Our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The Israelites were commanded to take these words to heart, drill them into their children, speak of them always and everywhere, and even wear them on their wrists and foreheads and nail them to their doorposts (6:6-9). To this day, orthodox Jews wear small leather boxes called phylacteries and attach decorative cases known as mezuzahs to their front doors containing the sacred text, in order to remind themselves that they must love and obey God above all things.
Jesus also spoke of priorities, perhaps most famously in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Seek first the kingdom of [God] and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). When we set that as our first priority, Jesus promises that God will take care of everything else and that our “house” will be built solidly on rock, never to collapse (Matthew 7:24-25).
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson