Clovis Chappell, a minister from the early 20th century, used to tell the story of two paddleboats. They left Memphis about the same time, traveling down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. As they traveled side by side, sailors from one vessel made a few remarks about the snail’s pace of the other.
Words were exchanged. Challenges were made. And the race began. Competition became vicious as the two boats roared down the mighty Mississippi.
One boat began falling behind. Not enough fuel. There had been plenty of coal for the trip, but not enough for a race. As the boat dropped back, an enterprising young sailor took some of the ship’s cargo and tossed it into the ovens. When the sailors saw that the supplies burned as well as the coal, they fueled their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport. They ended up winning the race, but burned their cargo.
Our word of the week is “priorities.”
The young sailors in Cappell’s story allowed competition, rivalry, and pride to take precedent over the priority of the cargo they were entrusted to deliver. I wonder how many of us allow the emotions of the moment to displace our spiritual priorities?
While the word priority is not used in the Bible, the concept is taught with reference to realizing the importance of some things over others. Jesus often taught the value of proper priorities in life.
In His Mountain Message, Jesus admonished, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt 6:33).
He taught the priority of relationship in reconciliation with a brother even before you go to worship God (Matt 5:23-24).
He demanded the priority of discipleship instead of attending to physical matters (Lk. 9:27-62).
When Jesus entered the home of Martha and Mary for a meal, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to hear his teaching while her sister was “distracted with much service.” When Martha became irritated that Mary wasn’t helping and complained to Jesus, He responded with this gentle rebuke.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Lk. 10:42-42).
The meal was important. Preparation was necessary. And serving was a good thing. But in this case there was something to be valued that was of greater priority.
This teaches that we even need to prioritize our priorities. All the commandments of the Lord are important. But some things come before others. When Jesus was asked “which is the greatest commandment in the law?” He didn’t hesitate. Nor did he say, “They’re all equally important.”
“Jesus replied: ‘’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.’”
Then he added, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matt 22:37-40).
Peter Druker, the father of business consulting, is often quoted as saying, “the main thing, is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” That’s just not true in business. It’s true in life. And it’s critically vital in our spiritual relationships.
What are your priorities? What do you think about? What do you talk about? How do you spend your time? How do you spend your money? Who are your closest friends?
“A weakness of all human beings, ” Henry Ford said, “is trying to do too many things at once. That scatters effort and destroys direction.” Determine what’s the most important, then prioritize.
We, too, are entrusted with precious cargo as we sail the sea of life. Relationships with family, friends, brethren, and children. Talent, skills and abilities we’re expected to employ. The stewardship of resources. And the precious commodity of time.
Myles Munroe was right when he wrote, “Our life is the sum total of all the decisions we make every day, and those decisions are determined by our priorities.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman