Daily demands, like nature, abhor a vacuum. Give them an opening, and they will rush to fill it, regardless of their importance (or unimportance). Along the way, more important matters get nudged to the margins.
The Bible deftly illustrates how priorities get shifted:
As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)
The passage makes clear that Martha’s heart was in the right place. Her intentions were honorable. She busied herself making sure her guests were properly cared for—which, in a culture that prized hospitality, was no small matter. Yet along the way, she lost sight of what mattered even more.
The way to combat such derailment in the coming year is to eliminate the vacuum—to make a conscious decision to give proper time to the most deserving matters first. Here’s how.
1. IDENTIFY YOUR CURRENT PRIORITIES
How you spend your time is the truest indicator of your priorities—not what you say or mean to do. If you say your family is your top priority, yet you regularly sacrifice family time for work, then it’s time to come clean and admit that your work matters more to you than your family. If you spend most of your family time staring at your phone, then your social media friends matter more to you than your family since they get the lion’s share of your mental energy. The more transparent you are in assessing your current priorities, the more effective you’ll be in changing them.
2. CREATE YOUR IDEAL PRIORITY LIST
This is the place to project your good intentions and best-case scenarios. In a perfect world, what would your priorities look like? Where would God rank? How about your family, your job (or education), friends, social media, pastimes, fitness regimen, free time, and so on?
3. IDENTIFY CHANGES YOU CAN MAKE TO REORDER YOUR PRIORITIES
Compare your two lists. Identify one or two things that need to move up or down, and brainstorm practical ideas for making that happen. For example, if social media needs to become a lower priority for you, brainstorm a set of rules to govern your screen time. You might consider banning all personal devices during family time or restricting their use until just before bedtime.
Let’s say you want to make family a higher priority, but you’re finding it difficult due to the demands of your job. Brainstorm ideas for connecting with your family during your downtime at work. For example, you could occasionally meet your spouse or children for lunch or use breaks to text or call them. If you can’t always give them your physical presence, at least devote your mental and emotional attention to them.
4. MAKE YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE FOR YOUR PRIORITIES
Share your plans for rearranging your priorities with someone you trust. (Your family is the most obvious choice to serve as accountability partners, since they have the biggest stake in your success.) Give them permission to confront you when your priorities get out of order. Invite them to help you stay on track in the new year.
This blog post was adapted from Unlock the Bible's Secrets, which is a special-edition that is now available in stores.