In First Things First, Stephen Covey tells a story that one of his associates heard at a seminar. The presenter pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar and placed it next to a pile of fist-sized rocks. After filling the jar to the top with rocks, he asked, “Is the jar full?”
The group replied, “Yes.”
He then got some gravel from under the table and added it to the jar. The speaker jiggled the jar until the gravel filled the spaces between the rocks. Again, he asked, “Is the jar full?”
This time, the group replied, “Probably not.”
The speaker then added some sand and asked, “Is the jar full?”
“No!” shouted the group.
Finally, the speaker filled the jar to the brim with water and asked the group the point of this illustration.
Someone replied that you could always fit more things into your life if “you really work at it.”
“No,” countered the speaker. “The point is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, there won’t be any room for them.”
This illustration speaks to the issue of priorities. What are the big rocks in your life?
Although the Bible doesn’t use the word priority it is implied throughout Scripture. Some things are more important than others.
In His famous Mountain Message, Jesus spoke about priorities in Matthew 6:19-34. He began with this challenge. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The Bible teaches that we ought to work, provide for our families, use our resources to support the Lord’s work and give to the needy, but some matters take a higher priority over others. Our relationship with God is more important than physical relationships, even family ties (Matt. 10:37-39).
For Christians whose values are guided by spiritual principles, some issues ought to be obvious. People are more important things. Time invested with family should take priority over our own selfish pursuits. Dedicating Sunday to worship instead of recreation is more important. And preparing the soul for our eternal home should take precedence over our physical home.
Regarding the priority of the spiritual over the physical, Paul put this way. “Exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:7-8)
Our priorities reveal our values, are founded on the principles we hold dear and are exercised by proper time management. The Bible admonishes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).
Furthermore, our priorities expose our character. Who we really are. What motives drive us. They are an issue of the heart. This is why the wise man advised, “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov 4:23).
Over the triple doorways of the cathedral of Milan there are three inscriptions spanning the splendid arches. Over one is carved a beautiful wreath of roses, and underneath it reads, “All that which pleases is but for a moment.”
Over the other is sculptured a cross, and there are the words, “All that which troubles us is but for a moment.”
But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, “That only is important which is eternal.”
The axiom “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” is apropos. Don’t be distracted by pleasure. Don’t be dismayed by pain. But stay directed by promises of God that remain permanent.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman