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The Peace And Power Of A Prioritized Life

From the series Balancing Life's Demands

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Message Transcript

Well, as we get started, we’re going to talk about balancing life’s demands, and we’re going to talk about biblical priorities. We’re going to talk about aligning your life and your priorities, doing what’s important, in a way that God says, for two purposes, one, so that you fulfill His purposes and bring glory to Him, and, second, because when you do that, it is good for you.

His highest and best is achieved and accomplished when there is an alignment of your priorities with the way He has designed you and designed life to work. And when your priorities get out of whack, when the balance gets out of whack, it produces some painful things in you, in relationships, and often, significant damage.

Just so this isn’t theoretical 1983: I was a full-blown workaholic. Early thirties. Driven, focused, and disciplined. I learned some of that from my dad. I won’t give you all the family of origin, histories, and how children of alcoholics, you know, do stuff, but here’s what I’ll tell you. I just – I got focused early on about sports. I got – this is what you do: You set a goal and you get focused. And I was focused, I was disciplined, and I was driven.

And then I got – I came to Christ, and it took me a while to get going, but once I got going, I got focused, I was disciplined, and I was driven. And then, God called me into ministry, and so, once I started with this church, about two or three years into it, I was focused, I was disciplined, and I was driven. And how in the world, in a church of thirty-five to fifty people, you can work eighty hours a week, I don’t know, but I figured out how to do it.

1983, I was sitting in a doctor’s office and my wife went with me and he evaluated everything. He asked about my schedule. He asked what I did, why I did it. They had run some tests; there were some problems with my liver. And he just said, “You keep living like you live, and you’re going to die young.” And he said, “Your life is out of balance and out of control.” I’d never heard the word workaholic, but I learned about it, about then.

Now, because I was – had a couple of core values – one is, I did not neglect my time with God, and because of some real deep convictions, I did not neglect my wife or my kids. And so, that’s kind of a neat thing. So, what happens is, I got up earlier and earlier and earlier. And sometimes, I had three or four hours in before they ever woke up. And then I had breakfast, take them to school, do whatever, and then, man, I busted it. And then, I did – I was out all kind of times, and I was with them, and then they’d go to bed, and I’d work.

And this drivenness, this need to please people, this performance, this, “I’ve got to,” the search for significance, the search for security, the wondering, How do you ever please God? How much is enough?

And I mean to tell you, what I want you to hear is, it has been a very significant journey, and you don’t have to be that way, and you can change, and priorities can change, and you can be motivated and not driven. And you can have good priorities and discipline without being so focused that you’re out of whack. But all I say that so you know what I’m going to talk about is not, like, theoretical. Fast-forward twenty-five years.

And I was in a time of reevaluating, God, where’s my sweet spot? Where are my gifts? And so, I found myself in a room with eight or nine other guys, all who were very, very successful, all very wealthy, very powerful, had kind of been there, done that, with various levels of spiritual maturity, for twenty-six hours, evaluating, How should I spend the second half of my life?

Most of us would say they have what people look for. I mean, they kind of have it made. They’ve got the houses, the cars, the money, the businesses, the… And yet, there was, for some, major damage – lost families, lost kids, and pain – and now they’ve come to know Christ, and, How do I do it different?

For others, they were, really, pretty spiritually mature, but their focus was so in their business and so in things, and they were so – it was like, You know what? I’ve got more money than I’ll ever need for the rest of my life. How could I leverage my life for more of God’s kingdom, and use my gifts, rather than this rat race that I’m living in? And then some had a pretty balanced life, and it was, You know, I’m doing this for the kingdom of God. How do I leverage it? What are my gifts? What’s the unique purpose God has called me to? What’s that Ephesians 2:10, that good work that God has called me to that He’s prepared? And so, they take you through a process, for twenty-six hours.

And so, I only share that to let you know, whether you’re young in the Lord or old in the Lord, whether you have had a long history with God, or you’re relatively new in Christ, whether you’re super successful and need to reevaluate, or you’re in crisis and overwhelmed, you know what? Everyone needs to stop and look and evaluate at your priorities. Is your life in balance? Is it being lived the way God wants it to, for His glory and your good?

And so, to do that, here’s the format that we’re going to use. I’m going to give a little diagnosis. I’m going to give you six warning signs – you’ll see those – of misplaced priorities. So, I’m just going to go through – Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! – and you’re going to say, “Hey, you know, I think my priorities are here – good, good, good. Mmm, better check that one.”

Second, then, after the diagnosis, I’m going to give a little definition: What are God’s priorities for our lives? I mean, how do they fit together? What does God expect? What are the right priorities?

And then, third, I want to just get you started. I’m going to give you two tools, two tools to start getting a handle. When you hear these two tools – listen carefully, everyone – when you hear these two tools, don’t feel like, Ahhh! I’ve got to have that down tomorrow! You’re not going to get it down tomorrow.

You’re going to recognize God will give you a tool for this hand and a tool for that hand, and now, you will start on a journey, using these two tools to bring – they’re the beginning steps of bringing your priorities under the submission of God, to get them in line for His glory and your good. Okay? So, let’s jump in together, and let me give you the six symptoms of misplaced priorities.

The first symptom is busyness. You can write that word in. Busyness, but barren of fruit. If your life is characterized where you’re hurrying all the time, you’re rushing, you’re driven, you eat on the run. If I went into your desk and, if you have an office, or your dresser, and there are much piles of many things, and then, over underneath of it, there are piles on the floor, and if we went in the garage, we wouldn’t even want to go there.

If I went to your office at work, there is stuff, stuff everywhere, and you’re going to get to it, but you’re just putting it in stacks now because there are just too many balls to juggle. People who love you are saying things kindly and lovingly – some of them, you’re married to, others are business associates, others are people that just say it casually, when you say, “Hey, let’s get together,” and you say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” and you’ve been saying that for, like, eighteen months. They’re saying, “Slow down.”

If you’re a fairly young follower, or maybe you remarried and now you have some kids and you have some smaller kids – five or six or under – they hang on your knee, with their arms around you, as you’re leaving out the door, that’s a symptom that you’re doing too much and that you’re too busy. Busyness. I call it the “activity trap”.

Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators, said, “Emotion is no substitute for action, and action is no substitute for productivity.” Sometimes we get very, very active, very, very busy. I believe it’s the new worldliness. We are important because we’re busy; we’re on the move. I’ve got to do this; I’ve got to do that. I’m involved in this.

Second is emotional stress and pressure: anxiety. People whose priorities are out of whack have symptoms like an uptightness. They sometimes have chest pains, migraine headaches, trouble sleeping. You have this uneasy feeling. You feel restless a lot; it’s hard to sit still. You wish you could get your mind to slow down. Sometimes you find yourself going, [deep breath] I just need to take a deep breath. Because the RPMs inside your head – you’re multitasking about everything, all the time. There are no windows of real rest. You’re indecisive. Sometimes it’s hard to make a decision.

If the truth is known, you’re not very happy. You get fulfillment in little windows of when you accomplish things, and you love to check things off – Did that, did that, did that, did that. But when the things are done and when you’re alone and when the media is off, there’s this dis-ease, this sense that, I’m not really very happy. I don’t have a lot of joy.

For some, it ends up in burnout. Others break down, and others blow up. And the anger issues flare up, and then lots of big apologies follow. Often, it comes out in conflict with family, irritability. When there’s this emotional stress and anxiety, often, it’s characterized with a lack of intimacy and connectedness with your family, and especially in your marriage. You’re busy. And it’s going to change. It’s going to change soon – as soon as this big deal’s over, as soon as soccer season over, as soon as this happens, as soon as that happens. It’s going to change. And you’re sensing this drift in relationships. And you keep telling yourself, Well, it’s temporary.

The third is what I call “low-grade, nagging guilt”. You feel bad about yourself. Again, it’s not just the restless feeling but it’s “not fulfilled.” There are a lot of things that you know you’re supposed to do. In fact, you did them in the past. You actually tell other people they should do them, but you don’t do them anymore. But you know enough verses, and you have enough background spiritually, that you fake it well. But you hate this feeling of this duplicity, this level of hypocrisy.

Now, you know no one has it all together, but right now’s not the way it used to be. And you keep telling yourself, You know what? Those times in the morning that I had or those significant times in prayer, I’ll get back to that. But right now... And you just have this low-grade, nagging guilt. Relationships become superficial, little time for celebration. Daily pressures push aside the need to stop, envision, plan, think about the future.

The fourth is financial debt, financial problems. When priorities really start unwinding, you realize, You know, we were really committed to giving the first portion. We meant to do that, but then we had this little hiccup, and then this happened, and then that happened, and we had a little hospital situation over here. And the company, we thought, was going to do a little bit better, and that didn’t work out. And so, the debt begins to pile up; the giving begins to deteriorate.

And by the way, God speaks through your money. Jot down, just in your notes, Habakkuk 1, verses 1 to 10. God speaks to the prophet, and here’s a paraphrase of those ten verses: Because they were building their own homes and their paneled houses, and neglected the house of the Lord, God put holes in their purses. They made money, but it seemed to evaporate. God was lovingly trying to get their attention. You can’t figure it out. You know, we’re making this much money. We’re making more money than we ever have, but it just seems like… Oh, it seems like God puts holes in our finances. That’s because He loves you. He’s trying to get your attention.

The fifth symptom of misplaced priorities is prayerlessness, or leakage in the devotional life. If the truth is known – and you hope the truth doesn’t get known – but your deepest times in prayer are in the car, by yourself. Most of your prayers are very quick. Mostly, the best times are with other people. You have a hard time concentrating by yourself, because it’s been a very long time since you had an extended, honest, repentant, tearful cleaning of the slate with you and God. And you’re going to get to it – and you really are – and you’ve been there before, but just not right now.

There’s just too much on your plate. There’s too much to juggle. God, I’ll – I mean, you mean to, but the superficiality is with God. Down deep, you don’t feel very close to Him. You’re on a spiritual, kind of, up and down roller coaster. You have an experience at church or maybe a little something here, and – and then, it’s very up, down, emotional. And you realize, there’s leakage. There are just too many balls. There’s just too much. You feel under pressure.

The final one is – is escapism behavior. We do it in a lot of different ways: some thrill-seeking behavior, at least when you’re younger. You know, there’s just nothing like a good bungee jump to make you feel better about life, very temporarily, or going fast in a car. As you get older, it’s impulsive buying, vacations you can’t afford.

For others, you’re so daggone tired that you’ve got to take a pill to put yourself to sleep, and it takes a couple of pills to get you going. And you’ve never been a real heavy drinker, but you’re finding yourself drinking a little bit more than in the past. And you eat when you’re not hungry, but it makes you feel better just a little while.

And for us good Christians, it’s just a lot of excessive TV and a lot of time on email, and a lot of time doing things that make us feel like we’re accomplishing something, because down deep, we don’t know where we’re going. And our north star feels like it’s moved, and you don’t know, is there any way out? And I wish that did not describe an awful lot of believers’ lives, but I will tell you, as we get thousands upon thousands of emails, I hear it over and over and over and over.

In conclusion, these symptoms are always, in our minds, they’re temporary. They’re just small concessions. I mean, like, one or two of those things, it doesn’t mean you’re out to lunch and you don’t love God anymore; you’re ready for a divorce next week. They all start as just a little thing, and you’re going to fix them next week, and as soon as this season’s over, when this, you know?

But here’s what I want you to hear: They all begin a process. The big falls always start with little things like this. And one or two that you juggle, and then, pretty soon, there are three or four. “He who is faithful in a very little thing will be faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing” – Luke 16:10 – “will be unrighteous also in much.” And, “We’re going to get reconnected as a couple when… And the family will start some of that devotional stuff again, and we’ll get our finances in order and I’ll be able to give like I used to, and, you know, I know we need to have a budget, but, I mean, those credit cards – hey, you know what? Everyone has a window like this, but it’s real temporary because…”

And, yeah, it’s not a life-or-death deal, but 2 Samuel 11, verses 1 and 2 says, “At the time when kings went out to battle,” priority issue. After great success, “At the time when kings went out to battle,” when a king did what a good king is supposed to do, David decided he’d stay home. And then, Bathsheba and Uriah get penned in his autobiography.

And that’s the way it happens with good people, people who make great moral, financial failures: Families split, divide; churches get killed; kids wonder what happened. They don’t wake up and go, You know something? You know, I got this great marriage. I love my wife. I love my husband. I got a couple kids. I got one grandchild – whatever it is. You know what? I just think I’ll take about two hundred grand from the company. That CFO and I are good buddies, and I think, together, we could embezzle a little money and just have a lot of fun!

I mean, no one wakes up and does that. Or – that’s Thursday. You know, Saturday, I think I’ll have an affair. I’m going to put that on my calendar, just so I don’t forget. I’m just going to…

That’s not how it ever happens! These symptoms start to weave into your life, and you get vulnerable, and you get hurt, and you just want some relief. And you never think it’s possible for someone who loves God the way you love God – for any of that to ever happen.

But the right place, at the right time, in a weak moment, with these things happening – Bang! And all of a sudden, you’re the feature film in your own nightmare.

Those are the symptoms, and it raises a very important question then: If those are the symptoms, then what are the right priorities? I mean, God, help! What are the right priorities? And I’d like to say that I would like you to turn in your Bibles to 1 Priorities 1:9, and – but I don’t have that.

But there are two books that were written about the same time. They’re called the “twin epistles” – and I put a chart in your notes. And the twin epistles, one is written to say, “Church” – first three chapters – “this is what Christ has done for you!” Last three chapters of Ephesians: “This is how to live it out!” Colossians: “Church, this is the preeminence of who Jesus is, and this is how He wants you to live.” Last two chapters: “And this is how you live it out.” Written about the same time.

Now, what I want you to see, sometimes the structure of a book can tell you as much as the content. And so, the first half of both those books are all doctrine: This is who Jesus is. This is your relationship with Him. This is who you are in Christ. This is your adoption. This is your inheritance. This is what you actually possess.

And then, if you look at those charts, when they start talking about how to live it out. Chapter 4 opens – I love chapter 4, verse 1: “I, Paul, a prisoner of the Lord” – what’s he say? – “urge you, command you to walk in a manner worthy of your calling.” And that word for worthy, we get our English word axis.

And it’s this idea of, “For three chapters, I’ve told you all that you possess – beliefs. Now, let your behavior bring it into balance, so that your beliefs and your behavior tell the same story.” And the whole rest of the book is how you do that.

And it’s really interesting – and this is why small groups are so important. He doesn’t tell you, right after that, to go to church, read your Bible, or… He starts with relational issues. Then he says, “With all gentleness and humility, bearing with one another with patience, making every effort to maintain the bond that you already have, of peace.”

And so, what I want you to see is, when he opens up each of those chapters, notice the topic: Colossians 3 – how it starts. How it starts. You have God, mate, family, work, ministry. And it’s not in here, but implied elsewhere is, you have re-creation. You know, there’s a need to get recharged.

And so, I think it’s just interesting, as you go through those passages, it’s, okay, you know, Ephesians 5, we’re going to learn that, Hey, I need to be filled with the Spirit, my relationship with God. It goes right there to my marriage, to my children, to my work, and then to my ministry.

And by the way, everyone’s in full-time ministry. Some people are called in a vocational way, and what we do is we pay their time so they can study the Word to give us what we can’t get on our own, but you are a priest. You’re an ordained, full-time minister of the gospel, posing as housewives, soccer moms, computer operators, business owners, lawyers, doctors, and nurses, and grandmas.

And God has you – as in Ephesians 4: The leaders of the church equip the church to do the work of the ministry. All of us are ministers until the church fulfills our calling. And so, these priorities are for all of us.

Now, the problem, I think, when we look at priorities, however, is, we tend to view them linearly. You know what I mean? Like, in a straight line? And so, here’s how I used to think about priorities – the problem is, it didn’t work. God is first in my life – good. I love You, God. Okay, my wife is second. Theresa, okay, I love you. God, God/Theresa, God/Theresa. I got that one down. Okay, hold up. What’s it – what’s it going to say? Oh, family. Family. Kids. Kids. Okay. God/Theresa/kids – that’s good. Good.

Okay, now, what comes after that? Ministry? No, no, no. It doesn’t say that. What’s it say? Eh, oh – work. Work? Yeah, because that’s your first ministry. That’s where you spend sixty, seventy percent of your time. Okay. And then, it would be like, Well, wait a second. Theresa’s sick, but – “Well, Theresa, I would love to you; I know you’re vomiting on the couch. But God is more important. So, I’m going to have my quiet time. See you later, honey.”

Or you have a crisis at work; the plant blows up. “Yeah, I’ll be there in a couple of days. I’m getting refreshed with my wife. Yes, we’re in Maui. Uh-huh. Having a great time. Yeah. Well, you don’t understand. See, it’s God, then…”

See, they don’t work that way. Life’s very confusing. It’s very demanding. You’re pulled in different ways. And so, I put a picture – this is a picture that has really, really helped me with priorities. It’s a fountain. Okay? It’s a multi-tiered fountain.

And here’s what I want you to – and let me read one verse, and jot this passage, because it’s really powerful. Jesus is speaking to the woman at the well. And I’m in John 4. I’ll read both 13, for context, and 14. And He says to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks the water – this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst again. Indeed, the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” “Welling up to eternal life.”

You might jot down Proverbs 4:23. Solomon would say the same thing: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the issues of life.”

And so, what I want you to see is, I want you to imagine that top rung, where it has “God.” I would like you to imagine there are little slits in it, little “Vs.” And some of you will get this. I learned this when I was a kid. Does anybody remember, before icemakers, what an ice cube tray was? This is a great group. Those of you, under some age, are thinking, ice cube tray…never heard of that.

Well, let me give you a little lesson in sociology. People would take these plastic little trays, and they had all these little square boxes. And you would fill them, but it was real hard, and you usually spilled them, especially when you tried to get them in the refrigerator. So, some brilliant person made little plastic trays, and they put a little “V” between all the little boxes. So, you could put it under the water, and when this one got filled, it would fill this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and it wouldn’t spill. And then, you would put it in, and it was great.

I want you to imagine a fountain, and each one of these – God, your mate, your family, your work, your ministry – and so, I want you to imagine that they have those little slits. And here’s how priorities actually work: Living in you is the Spirit of God. In John 6, He would say, “The Word that I speak to you is Spirit and it is truth. And dwelling in you is the same power that raised Christ from the dead.” And what our priorities are really all about is, what do you need in your relationship with Jesus, and the Father, and the Spirit, so that you’re full of Him, so that there is connection and abiding, so it can overflow into your relationship with your mate? And He’ll show you, what’s it look like? How much time?

It’s different for every couple. I mean, my poor wife, she married this super high-need guy. I mean, I’ve seen couples that, you know, they have a couple of good talks a week; man, they’re both doing great. Poor Theresa – I mean, I come home; I’ve got to have fifteen minutes: “I’ve got to tell you what’s going on with my day. You know, how are you doing? What’s going on?” I’ve got to have one date a week. Two or three times a year, I want to get away from everybody. I mean, I’m really high-need. But that’s to be filled up for our kids. I mean, even in all those young years, we’d eat, and I’d tell the kids, “I love you. Scram. And I’m going to spend some time.” And we’d sit and have coffee at the table. Or take a little walk.

But just listen: What do you need? Is it fifteen minutes in the morning and practicing the presence of God? Is it an hour in the morning? I don’t know what you need! But I know it’s the Word, it’s prayer, it’s the community of believers, and it’s application.

And you walk and abide with Christ, and then the overflow of that is you treat your mate, empowered by the Holy Spirit and then that overflows to your kids, and that overflows to a high capacity, nurtured, loved husband or wife, who walks through the door and goes to work. And then, your work is done in the power of the Spirit, with the support of those relationships, and people wish they had a boss like you or an employee like you, because of who shows up.

And then, your work is a testimony, and then your ministry, in local church or kingdom expansion – do you see the difference? And so, it’s a fluid thing. And it’s the Spirit of God leading and showing you, in this situation, on this day.

Now, you develop certain structures we’re going to talk about. I mean, there are certain things I need to do with my time on a regular basis, certain things I need to do develop that with my wife, with my God, with my kids, in my work, and we’ll talk about those.

But don’t think of them as just linear. It never works that way, just a linear one, two, three, four. Think about it as, what do you need in every relationship so that the Spirit of God can allow love that you possess in your relationship with Jesus to come out of you into that relationship, and so you, if – especially if you’re married – with your wife or husband, love in such a way that that flows into the life of your kids.

And you know what? If it’s not happening here, don’t export it. See, what people do is, they get the flow in their relationship with God and maybe – but often not – with their mate, and then, since you get a lot more strokes at work, then they take all that energy and take it to work.

Or what a lot of women tend to do is, they may have it with God, and pretty soon, there are all these needs, and there’s such fulfillment in, “Mommy, I love you and I need you, and you helped my knee, and you did this, and you helped me with my homework. You’re the most wonderful person,” and that nurturing – and pretty soon, her second priority becomes the kids.

And so, he goes to work, she loves the kids, and they reconnect after twenty-five years of marriage. And that’s why, other than the first five years of marriage, the most dangerous zone of divorce is about twenty to twenty-five or twenty-five to twenty-seven years, depending on when your kids leave the nest. Priorities are about walking in the Spirit, and you can see a clear structure, but you don’t necessarily do them one, two, three, four.

Dwight Eisenhower made an interesting comment as president. He said, “The urgent is rarely important, and the important is rarely urgent.” The things that matter most, the things that will just take you down the road and help you become the person you long to be – there’s no gun to your head that says, “Develop a deep, intimate relationship with God. Study His Word,” when there are fifteen emails or a hundred and fifty emails to answer.

Well, how do you get a hold of them? I mean, how do you get a grip on it? We’ve looked at six ways that say, “You know what? These are indicators. These are, like, six lights on the dashboard of your life, telling you what’s going on in your soul.” And you know what? If you’ve got two or three of those flashing, God’s saying, “Hey, time out.”

And by the way, something I want you to hear. It will require – this is not one of those issues that you say, “Oh, I heard from God. I’m going to start tomorrow, and everything’ll be fine.” You didn’t get your priorities where they are, that affect so many relationships, overnight. They don’t change overnight. Someone has said, “Significant, lasting change never occurs without serious, prolonged thinking.”

The issue is not tweaking something. I’m not an expert, but I can just tell you, this is a smart group of people. If tweaking your priorities worked, they would already be fixed. because you’re smart people! I’m telling you, for many of you, what you have to realize is, What is my purpose? Why am I here? What season am I in? And it’s not tweaking, it’s saying, “I’ve got all these things on my plate. That doesn’t belong on my plate. That’s not God’s will; that’s expectations. That doesn’t belong on my plate. That was for the last season, but now, this doesn’t belong on my plate. Wait, this does, but I’ve got to make room. But that’s really good, and I’ve always done it, and I love it, and people give me so many…” Lordship. “Okay, Lord, this does.”

So, it’ll take time to think, to ponder. Priorities and balancing your life really have to do with getting really clear on who you are, what God wants you to do, and then getting a sense of holy urgency and realizing life is passing. And you’re going to die. And I’m going to die. And this unconscious, human thought that we have that, You know, I’m going to work on that next week, and so we spend our life responding to details and data, and feeling good about, I answered seventy-five of the hundred and fifty emails. I returned all the calls. I did my list. Is it the right list?! Are you doing the right thing?!

You know, you’ve got to stop. I mean, that’s why coaches, they just call time out. The momentum’s going this way; they scored three times in a row. “Hey, I don’t know what we’re doing, but it’s not the right thing.” And some of us, we have those misplaced priorities, and some of you have four or five of those symptoms, and instead of stopping and saying, “Whoa, I’ve got to really reevaluate,” we go faster. “I’ll multitask more.”
Let me give you two tools. There are two things we have to do to get a hold of our priorities. Two ways. They hold the key to enjoying the peace and power of a prioritized life. And by the way, I think that’s – when your priorities are in line, those are the two big characteristics: personal peace and you experience God’s power.

Number one: In order to get a hold of your priorities, you must start with your time. T-I-M-E. I’ll give you an Old and New Testament passage. First, it’s the only psalm that Moses wrote. Toward the end, he says, “The length of days is seventy years – or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Who knows the power of Your anger? For Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due You.” Application: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

If we were doing some quick Bible study, verse 10, he says, basically, life’s brevity – it’s going to be short. Verse 11: There’s coming judgment. You’re going to give an account for what you do in this life. Verse 12: Therefore, pray, “God, give me wisdom. Show me how to live this life.”

I mean, this is written by Moses, who did maybe – I’m not sure how it all worked out, but he probably did about a million or a million and a half funerals. That’s sobering. You get a little perspective on what matters. Right? I mean, I don’t know when the last time, I’ve done a lot of funerals. I’ve never done one, to date, that I didn’t just get a gut check about my own mortality.

I have a friend I was doing a little mentoring with – and he’s a very zealous guy – and his boss couldn’t do something, so he got this project. And his project was to interview people that were a hundred years old or older.

And so, I saw him later, and I said, “Well, hey, how’d it go?” He said, “It was really amazing. They all had one thing in common.” They said, universally, two things. Number one, “We way overemphasized our accomplishments, and all the things that we thought were such big accomplishments, after four or five or six decades, we realized they weren’t such a big deal. And we underestimated the value of our families and relationships.”

You’re talking, now, former workaholic, driven, focused, disciplined – why? Because I’ve got to impact, I’ve got to make a difference, I’ve got to prove to me, probably, and maybe to God, or to someone, that I’m worthwhile, that I’m significant, and you ought to like me, and my life matters, and I’m going to make a difference.

And God wants us to make a difference. But He wants us to make a difference according to His calling. He wants us to use our time wisely. He wants us to discern and to number our days. And you know, Moses is a guy, too, that, for – at about forty, with a lot of zeal, said, “You know what?  I think I know God’s will. He wants me to deliver.” And Moses, in his great strength and his flesh, killed one Egyptian and didn’t have the wherewithal to even bury him well. Really?

And so, he went on – you know, sometimes we think, Well, life’s passing by. I’ll never accomplish what God wants me to. Forty years of training about learning how to trust God and discover who He was, and then out of trust, God says, “Moses, watch this. I can bury them all, the entire army, and no one comes up afterwards.”

And a lot of us have to discover, are you going to live your life and seek to do – and by the way, with people like us, it’s not like we’re usually out doing all these bad things. It’s all these good things that are killing you, that you’re doing good things for the wrong reasons that aren’t God’s unique calling for you.

And so, you’re multitasking, and you’re overloaded, and you’re overextended, and you’re – all those meals in those cars and going to all those practices and doing all that stuff and attending stuff you don’t even like, that you just feel you ought/should, ought/should, ought/should, expectation, visible – where’s it come from? I don’t know. You just do it. Just do it. Just do it. Just do it. You know? And then you – you crash, and then you’re tired, and so you put on the TV, and, you know, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.

My wife watched me watch TV one time, and she goes, “You make me dizzy.” This is before they had letters behind your names and talked about what you were like. I said, “You know, honey, what I’ve realized is, when I get tired, when I lose focus, and when I don’t want to think, when a commercial comes, I’m bored. So, I’ll watch part of this, part of this, part of this, part of this. You know what? It drains me.”

One of the disciplines I’m going into right now is realizing, one, I have to limit even really good media, and I have to realize: quit trying to – I’m trying to control everything. Part of – quarter one of this, part of one of this, part of an old movie. And in my brain, hey, I’m kind of watching them all. Wonder how that one’s coming over here?

Now, the reason you’re laughing is, there are other people that are as wacko as me! This is true, in this room! He says, “Our time.”

Notice what the apostle Paul would say. He says, “Therefore” – he’s talked about who we are in Christ. He’s talked about being different from the world. Verse 15 of Ephesians 5, “Therefore be careful how you walk.” It’s that metaphor for the way you live, or your whole life.

Negatively, “Not as an unwise man but as wise.” Do you get that idea? Wisdom. Discerning God’s will and doing it God’s way. “Making the most of your time” – circle the word time in your notes. Why? “Because the days are evil.” And he thought it was evil then, what do you think about now? “So then do not be foolish.”

When you have misplaced priorities and you’re spending your life, instead of investing it, it’s foolish. “Don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

And that word, time – in the New Testament, there’s a couple of different words for it. One is – we get our word chronologychronos. You know, it’s time, like, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, eleven minutes. The other is a different word called kairos, and it has the idea of a window of opportunity. It’s like during this window of opportunity.

Do you know what? There’s a window of opportunity, when your kids are between about two and six or seven, of unique spirituality of training. I text my boys, they all have little kids, and you know, I try not to be too pushy, but it’s like, “Hey, guys, I just want you to know, whatever you do, keep reading those Bible stories at night. Tuck your kids in; don’t let your wife have all the fun. Tell them stories about you. And then there’s a window of time in pre-teens and teens. There’s a window of time in early adulthood. There’s a window in time in your life, and you’re in it.

There are certain things that happen in this season – some that are in the twenties, some in the thirties, some in the forties, some in the fifties, some in the sixties, some in the seventies, and beyond. But there’s a window. There’s a window for activity; there’s a window for mentoring. There’s a window for risk. There’s a window of time. Buy up the opportunity. And what we tend to do is have some success in the last window and hang on to it, and God is always asking us, “Take risks. Trust Me.” So, you’ve got to get your time under control.

I spoke on a title called “Good to Great, in God’s Eyes,” and we were talking about – it was a group of people that had been successful in their endeavors, and I was encouraging them that the temptation, when you have done some things that have come out pretty well, is to rest on your laurels, instead of that your best days are out of your windshield, instead of your rear view mirror. When you find yourself always talking about what you did, what you did, what you did, what you did, pinch yourself. That ain’t now. Faith is always futuristic. What are you trusting God for? You’re here. What can you do today, so that…?

And I didn’t mean it to be all that challenging, but it was really fun. They were really warm. And I love it. This couple came up, and they said, “You know, man, God really spoke to me.” And I said, “Well, great,” you know, and we talked a little bit – five, ten minutes – and then the guy goes, “Well, how?” I said, “Well, what do you mean?” He said, “Well, how?”

He said, “You know, I own my own business; she’s doing this. We got so much stuff, so many people, so many commitments, so many committees, so much stuff.” I mean, they’re just pillar people. They’re on this committee, and they’re doing this in the church, doing this, doing this, dzzzzzz. I said, “You’ve got to hear from God.” “Well, I don’t have time to hear from God.” I said, “Did you just hear yourself?”

I’m going to give you a very brief – and this may be elementary. The greatest single gift God gave me, as an early Christian, was a bricklayer with a high school education. More than anything I’ve learned in seminary, more than any travel I’ve had, any book that I’ve ever read, any mentor I’ve ever known – the single greatest gift God has ever given me was a bricklayer, who came on Tuesday morning, after I was a Christian for three months. I did not usually want to meet with him early on.

And he knocked on my door, and he taught me how to have what he called a “quiet time.” It sounded kind of weird to me, but nobody else was up at seven in my dorm, so I guess it was quiet.

And I struggled, and I couldn’t get up, and finally, my roommate set an alarm and finally I got to where I could get up in the morning. And, unlike many people, I like breakfast. And so, I just made a rule, not legalistically, but just because I wanted to, but I was so undisciplined – I just said, “No Bible, no breakfast.” And I developed the habit – and it was only, like, ten, fifteen minutes, early on.

And then, after a year or so, it was fun. And God was speaking to me. And all of a sudden, I thought, He knows everything, and I could ask Him about that test at one o’clock, and I could ask Him about, you know, this relationship’s not going so well. I think I’ll check in with Him on that. And pretty soon, I started talking to Him, and no one told me, but I went and got, at the bookstore, one of those little simple, spiral notebook things – eighty-nine cents – and then I started just writing stuff down. I’d never read the Bible before. “Hey, God, this is Chip. What do You think about…?” And I would write these things down, and, “Would You help me with this?” And then I would go back and read it. I started checking them off.

I started doing that about thirty years ago, and it was hard, at first, and then, probably fifteen, maybe eighteen years ago or so, I just remember saying, “God, I don’t know how much time we need. I just love being with You now.” It was diligence, diligence, duty, duty, “I’m going to meet with You when I don’t feel like it; I’ll meet You when I do, and sometimes it’s really good, and sometimes okay, but God…”

And I remember just going to be a little early, “You wake me up.” And He woke me up pretty early. And I got up and made a pot of coffee, and I found a corner, and I just said, “Thank You. What would make You happy today? You want me to sing to You? Want me to thank You? You got something for me?

And all I can tell you people is it just clears the junk away. All those pressures, all those demands, all that dysfunction, all that expectation, all that list of “got-tos.” Most of my list of “got-tos” – literally, in my journal, and I’ll just think, sometimes I can’t pray because there are all these things to do, and I’ll just start writing them up, and I put a little box.

And so, instead of “I’ve got to do,” “God, will You please help me with the following this day, and show me how to…?” And then I list the eleven things that come – at least that come to my mind – Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And then I take those, and I give them to God. And then I pray.

And then, instead of the “to-dos,” God will bring to my mind some of the “to-bes”: How’s Theresa being in this area? What about that guy that you met on that trip, how’s he being?”

And here’s all I want to say: If you will give the first portion of your time to God, He will clear away and show you what to do and what not to do, where to go and where not to go, what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to, and give you the courage to say “no” to it.

And so, I put in here, actually, a little simple, simple way. I don’t believe you need to meet with God in the morning, first. I know some of you are night owls, and you just really turn it on at midnight, when I’ve been in bed for a while. So, I don’t mean this legalistically.

But I will say, if you have a hard time, and you’re really inconsistent, my theory was: do what matters most, first. Do what matters most, first. No matter what happens in the day, if I meet with the God of the universe, I’ve had a pretty good day. Get hit by a car later? Okay, you know, I’ve had a good day.

To me, when I stop, when I pray, when I discipline myself and say, “God, I’m going to be here, and I want to be with You first,” what I’m saying is, “I’m humble. I can’t do it. I can’t make the decisions.”

Checking my email, checking the stock market, making sure this is done, making sure that is done – wait a second, what’s that about? I don’t control the world. All that stuff will be there an hour later, or a half hour later. Stop! Cease striving. Literally.

Literally, my translation of that one is, “Knock it off!” I mean, that’s kind of – that’s the Chip Hebrew: “Knock it off! Quit trying to make so much happen and orchestrate everything and know that I’m God. I’m in control. And by the way, I’m not only in control, I love you. And I’m good, and I’m for you. And I miss you.”

And so, there are a lot of ways to study the Bible, but one of the early ways that gets you in the text – because my fear in our day is we have everybody eating predigested, Gerber’s spiritual food. That means someone else studied real hard, and you read what they say, and there’s a little verse at the end, and you say, “Praise the Lord, amen.”

And you know what? It’s not that it’s bad. It’s a great appetizer. Strength and convictions and power and courage to do the will of God is when your nose gets in the Word for yourself, and the Spirit of God takes it off that page and does something in your heart and gives you the strength to say, “Yes! Thus says the Lord for me.” Not, He said it through some other person – and God bless all the great teachers and all the great ways, I love them all. But there’s no substitute.

And so, this little 2PROAPT. You know, I put it here, if you’re a newer Christian, I encourage you to start in the book of Mark, and if you’re an older Christian – just because it’s so application oriented – James.

So here, here, are you ready? I’ll just go through it real quickly. You start, and you [P]pray, “Dear God, will You speak to me today?” And then [Preview] I don’t want you to read a whole lot, maybe a couple of paragraphs, at the most, and then you [R]read it slowly, and preferably out loud. It’s amazing what happens the second time.

And then the next, the “O” is for observation. You read it a third time. See, you don’t take so much. You slow it down, and you dig into it. And this time, if there’s a word that’s repeated, you underline it, or if something sticks out to you, you might circle it.

And so, you’ve previewed it, then you’ve read it slowly out loud, and then you read it real slowly, making some observations, and then the “A” is for application. And it’s only a couple of paragraphs, but you say, “God, speak to me.” And then, just think, Well, let’s see, this is a letter of encouragement. Nothing really stuck out, but it was encouraging... This guy, hold it, do I know anybody that needs encouragement? Before I go, I tell you what – I’m going to jot a note to Bob. I haven’t seen him and… And do something. Spiritual growth is not about getting more Bible knowledge in your head; it’s about responding to the truth and the light that He gives you.

Isn’t that what Jesus said at the parable of the seed and the sowers? Here’s how life works. You respond to the truth God gives you, He gives you more truth. You don’t respond to the truth and the light that He gives you, then even what you have will be taken away. We’ve got a generation of people that know so much about God but don’t have an epiginosko – an intense, personal, relational knowledge of Him, because that doesn’t come through the head. That comes through application and the heart. At the end of the day, you want to hear God. You want to hear His voice. What’s He want to say to you from the Word?

And then the “T” is, you tell somebody. because there’s just something – and you don’t have to go, “Hey, everybody, I want you to know I spent fifteen minutes in God’s Word today. I did the 2PROAPT method – dut, dut, dut. Now, I want you to know, here’s what I want to tell you.” You know, they’ll just run you off the job.

But you know, in a casual way, to people that you know – and it might be – you know, there’s a guy lives in Texas; he’s a good buddy, we speak couple of times a week.

And we’ll just say, “Hey, what’d you read? Where’s God speaking to you?” And he’ll share, and I’ll share. Or, often, in the car, I’ll say, “Honey, where’d you read this morning?” And she’ll tell me, and I’ll tell her. And it’s not like I’m checking up on her. You kidding? She’s way further down the road than me. But it’s just, when you tell, it kind of seals it. So that’s a little method that’s been very helpful for me.

So, tool number one – and this is just to get you started. Tool number one: If you’re going to get a hold of your time, I believe you’ve got to start by saying, “God, I got all these pulls, all these demands. I’m going to give the first block, or the best block, of my time” – whenever that is, for me it’s the morning – “to You, and I’m going to ask You to start sorting out my life.” And I will tell you, it’ll be dramatic.

The second tool that will help you get a hold of your priorities is your money. Jesus spoke more about money than heaven and hell, combined, and I think He could actually care less about your money. He needs none of it. But your money reflects your values. Your money reflects your heart. Wherever your money goes – imagine, just every time you put that credit card down, every time you write a check, every time you spend money, every time you invest money, what you’re saying is – here’s your heart. There’s a little chain connected to it. And wherever your money goes – your treasure – that’s where your heart goes. Your heart always follows the money.

And that’s why, sometimes, when I’ve wanted God to change my heart – I’ve actually had a problem with someone, you know, they kind of did something bad to me, and I didn’t like them very well, and I’m having trouble forgiving them, and they were involved in ministry, I started giving a little to their ministry. I’ll tell you what, your heart always has to follow your money!

And so, what He wants is, He wants your heart. “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops. Then” – notice, this isn’t a prohibitive – “then your barns will be filled with overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” Proverbs 3:9 and 10. You all know, probably, many, many verses, and by the way, the giving is not about just giving. God owns it all, correct? The earth and all thereof is the Lord’s.

So, He evaluates the ten or fifteen or twenty or eighty percent that I give away – wherever you’re at in your life – and all that I keep. I’m a steward of it. I’m just the manager. Your money will tell you – I will tell you this, if we didn’t know each other at all, you give me your PDA for a half hour, or your calendar, your canceled checks – however you work it – you let me see your time and see your money, and I will give you a diagnosis of where you’re at in your life, that, if you were honest, you’d say, “Oh, my lands, that is so true.”

And that’s why, what we’re going to talk a little bit later about the need to have relationships where people – it’s amazing to me – where people can really talk about this with one another. I mean, I’ve done a couple of these big men movement things, you know?

Now, we’re secure men. We’re talking about accountability like never before. “Hey, hey, Jim! Let’s all get around here and be real men. Let’s share, you know? So, how’s your sex life? You been on the ‘Net? No, I…” I mean, guys will talk about sex, struggles, all kind of things now, but you look at a guy and say, “Excuse me, we’ve been friends for quite a while. What percent of your income do you give, and where do you give it?”

You know what? Next year, you know what’d be helpful in our Bible study? Let’s do this: Let’s all bring our tax statements, and we’ll pass them. I’m dead serious. I’m dead serious. Let’s pass them to the left and let the other person give an evaluation of how – you tell me why that is off limits. It’s because it reveals the very heart and the very values of who we really are.

One of the biggest steps for me was, there’s a guy in California that just, he kind of has this picture of how things might develop. And so, he says, “Chip, this is what’s going to happen to you.” He says, “Someday, if that happens, some books are going to sell, and you might get some money.” And he said, “Okay, I’m helping you start this radio ministry” – he was the first guy, and one other guy – “and I really believe in it. But here’s part of the deal. I want you to tell me, so what are you doing with your money?”

And he talks to me like this. “So, you’re not thinking you’re some big shot now, are you, and all this jazz, right? Right? Right? I mean, you’re not believing all that press, okay? Just us chickens here.” He said, “So, how much you make last year? I mean, include if there’s any book sales. Now, remember, you pre-decided to give away that big chunk of anything that ever comes in. Are you still doing that? So, how much, total? How much – now, where are you giving it?

And – I mean – but he’s direct with me. And you know how safe it is to open up my finances to someone?

You know what? It’s a good thing! I want to have a good report! But the heart is – what? Deceitful. And that is where a lot of us… you have to get a hold of your time; you have to get a hold of your money. And this is not a legalistic, “I’m now giving ‘X’ percent, and now…” No, I’m talking about your money, as it relates to your heart. You know, it’d be interesting – some of you, you know, have your nice, black American Express, or your Platinum Express, your Gold Express, your lead or your mileage or… and then, at the end of the year, they give you that list of, “Okay, here’s your end-of-the-year credit card statement,” unless you have sworn them off and are free and liberated and debt free and figured out other ways to do it, which is a good idea, too. But have you ever seen where they have the categories? So much in food, so much in travel, so much in… You know, if you just looked at that and said, “Wow! Exactly right! Can you eat that much in one year? I mean, can you shop that much? I mean, how much…?”

And all I’m saying is, let’s get off of being down on ourselves. Let’s try just getting real with ourselves, getting honest with God. He loves you so much that He wants you to learn to give, so that He can give, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, back into your lap.

He wants you to learn to budget and say, “This is Yours, and I want to be a good steward.” He wants you not to fix your hope on the uncertainty of riches, but – are you ready? – He wants you to richly enjoy every good thing He gives you. He wants you to take a great vacation and have a great steak and have some real fun and have your priorities in order, so instead of going, “Oh, I feel guilty about this,” where you enjoy it. because, you know, it’s the blessed hand of God upon your life.

And you’re not making excuses. I’m just so tired of someone saying, “Oh, well, you know, I got it on sale.” Or, you know, “The only reason we got that swimming pool – that swimming pool is for baptisms. Baptisms… you know? And, you know, that house in the mountains – our pastor – our pastor’s really tired. The house in the mountain, it has nothing to do with, you know, it’s a good real estate investment and I like to get away, and God has blessed me. I’m giving a ton of money away, and I love the mountains, and my family’s there, and it’s really wonderful, and I just have a blast there. No, it’s uh, pastoral staff, we felt that they needed a place to get away a couple of times a year.”

By the way, let him go there, though, okay? I have benefited greatly from some of you doing that. God loves you guys. He wants you to look at those six areas and be honest. How you doing?

So, how do you get your money under control? Four steps. Number one, give the first portion of each paycheck to the Lord. And for some of you, you’ve got to have a really hard talk, and you’re going to say, “Oh, my, and how can we do it?” It’s a faith step. Give the first portion to the Lord.

Second, pay your bills next. Don’t take a vacation. Don’t spend your money. Don’t go to Costco. Don’t buy something on sale. Okay? Money comes in. Here are all your bills in one spot.

Give to God the first; pay all your bills next. Novel idea. Live on the rest. You don’t have it, don’t spend it.

I mean, we can well afford it now, but we have a blue folder that Theresa and I – we do the bills together, because we both don’t like it. And every two weeks, I get a paycheck. We open a blue folder. In one pocket is all the bills that have come in. We pull them out and put them in the middle. We have a wonderful cup of coffee to make it fun.

I write out all the checks. She puts them in the envelope, and she does the little ledger so that it’s accurate, because I sort of am not as accurate. And then, we give first, we pay all of our bills, and then we talk: How much is left? And then I write a check that has our gas money, our recreation, and two or three other things, and she goes to the bank later, and we put that money in an envelope that says “Budget.” And we put it under the duck. So, if you ever want to rob my house, it’s under the duck, all right?

And you know what? When there’s no money in the envelope, you don’t go out to eat. Now, can I still afford to go out to eat? Of course, I can, at this stage of my life. But do you understand that the average person in America is spending about seventeen percent more than they bring in every month?

Do you understand, last year, more college students – I heard this on the radio, so don’t ask me to quote it, but, I mean, if it’s on the radio, you know it’s true. I mean, it’s almost as reliable as the Internet. I mean, if it’s on the Internet, it’s got to be true! You know. But seriously, it was one of those Dave Ramsey programs. More college students went bankrupt than graduated from college last year.

So, give to the Lord first, pay your bills, live on the rest, and then get out of debt.

The very busiest day of Jesus’ life is recorded in Mark 1:35, and He has healed, and there are demands and there are pressures, and you think you’ve got a tough life. He’s pulled on from everyone. And it says, “A great while before dawn, He went out and found a solitary place, and there He prayed.” I believe Jesus is modeling for us the demands to keep your life in focus.

I believe I think I know what He prayed. I think He prayed, “Lord, I’m being pulled, and everybody wants Me to do everything. They want Me to go to these towns, and everyone is sick, and they have these demands, and they’re pulling on Me. They want Me to heal them. They want Me to feed them. They want Me to do everything. Will You please remind Me while I’m here?”

You know how I know that? Because the disciples came and said, “Jesus, You were a hit last night. It was awesome! All those healings. It’s going crazy. There’s a big crowd. I mean, they are getting – we are big time, and we’re glad to be on Your team.”

And remember what He said to them? “I must” – and in the Greek, it’s a must of Dei, it’s a divine necessity – “I must preach the gospel, and we must go to other villages, for the Son of Man” – Luke will tell us later – “came to seek and to save that which is lost.” Jesus prayed to remember, “Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? I need to hear the Father’s voice in the midst of all the noise.”

That’s God’s will for you and me, and we’re on a journey and a process. It’s not going to happen all at once. Six symptoms, two tools – time, money – an open heart. Let’s go there together, okay?