It is natural that we have priorities in our lives, because priorities bring order to our lives. Our priorities help direct our day-to-day lives, so we don’t lose focus on our goals. Unfortunately, priorities often get skewed, and things that are really NOT important are made into items of importance.
I want to look at some common “universal priorities”, and for each, ask the question “Do we rule this priority, or does it rule us?”. What I am calling “universal priorities” are things we, as Americans, take for granted as being “necessary”.
Money: We all have to live, and it takes money to live, so doing what it takes to gain our livelihood must be a fairly high priority. For those who are retired, earning a living isn’t even on the chart, provided they can live within their means. Our desired standard of living often determines how much money it takes to live. While many of us would consider ourselves “broke”, at whatever income level, those with a higher income are often just broke at a higher level. Is your income requirements a slave to your lifestyle, or is your lifestyle geared to your income level? The secret is living within your means.
Food: We must all eat to live, because if we quit eating, we will die eventually. As we look around us, it is obvious that some people don’t eat to live, they live to eat. Some of us are quite happy with a simple “home-cooked” meal, while others absolutely HAVE to eat out all the time. I know a couple that eats out, or eats take-out, seven days a week, because she is dangerous even trying to boil water. They have the income…he is a doctor, and she is a registered nurse, so they are able to satisfy their food needs in that way. They are not overweight, so they are obviously not chow-hounds. I have no desire, nor could I afford to eat out all the time. Do we eat to live, or do we live to eat?
Home: We all need a place to call “home, and for many of us, a place to live is a large part of our income expenditure. It is also a major part of our debt-load. Part of it has to do with our lifestyle…where we want to live and how we want to live. I want to mention briefly a couple of polar-opposite lifestyle/housing examples I was personally acquainted with. As the manager of a bicycle shop in a small community, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with some of the “homeless” veterans who called the woods not far from the shop “home”. By conventional standards, they were “homeless”, but they would have preferred to be called “address-less”, because they had no fixed address. Their needs were few, and simple, and a tent-camp in the woods was all the “home” they needed. There was a day-labor place nearby, so they could do a bit of work when they needed some money for food, cigarettes, liquor, etc. None of them would have bemoaned their lot in life, because they were quite content with the little they had. A the other end of the spectrum, there was an exclusive, gated, golf and country-club community just a few miles from there. This community had been founded by a retired top-executive of Digital Equipment Corporation, a manufacturer of scientific and business computers. He was down-to-earth and humble…a true gentleman. I was privileged to get to know him. One of the most “prominent” men in that exclusive community was a dermatologist, who I met as both a customer and as a patient. He owned and flew his own private plane, and drove expensive cars. He also had a large home built for himself and his family. It is several thousand square feet in size, and cost 6.5 million dollars. It took two years to build. He is a slave to his home, which is a slave to his dermatology practice. Were his dermatology practice to fold, he would not be able to continue to afford his home and lifestyle. He is a slave to his lifestyle. What a sad way to live, and he thinks he is really “living”. I am much closer to the poor end, lifestyle-wise, but I am quite happy with my home…a travel trailer in an RV park. Do we live within our means, or does our living stretch our means, and make us a slave to our lifestyle?
Clothing: Most people would agree that clothing counts as a “basic-necessity” of life. There are, however, tribes of indigenous peoples throughout the world for whom there is no need or desire for clothing. They are quite content living their lives au naturale. In between the two extremes is naturists, of which I am one, who believe that clothing serves some useful purpose…for comfort or protection from the elements, but have little or no use for it otherwise. A naturist dons clothing only when necessary, if it is cold or to go out in public. The real problem with clothing is not its basic use, but with an obsession with clothing. A person is deluged constantly with “new fashion choices”, and if they succumb to having to have the “latest and the greatest”, they are slaves to their clothing. I had a sister-in-law who was a slave to clothing. She lived in a four-bedroom home, which was essentially a four-bedroom closet. She shopped for new clothes compulsively. I have seen her queen-size bed piled so high with new clothes that she only had a small corner to sleep on. She was clothing-obsessed, although not fashion-obsessed. While clothing may be a “basic-necessity”, do we dress as necessary to live, or do we live to dress? Are we slaves to our clothing?
Transportation: Americans have a love-affair with wheels. We have wheels of all shapes and sizes, and it is a rare community that doesn’t have a car dealer, a motorcycle dealer and a bicycle shop. For some of us, our wheels are just basic transportation. For others, their wheels are a social-statement, and advertisement of their perceived place in society. People take out loans every day to buys cars, trucks and motorcycles that cost more than my first house did. We took out a 30-year mortgage to buy the house, but a person can’t get a 30-year loan on a vehicle, so I would hate to see their payments. Even some bicycle buyers sniff the rare-air of over-ten-grand bicycles. I assembled a new bicycle a few years ago that cost nearly as much as the vehicle I drive. It had a custom paint-job, and his name in script on the frame. The buyer was a well-healed lawyer whose social-statement was expensive cars, expensive motorcycles, and expensive bicycles. I used to work with a fellow who seemed to get an oil-change by trading vehicles, and after he finally bought a pickup he liked, he traded motorcycles almost as often as he changed his underwear. It was no wonder that he was also deeply in debt, because motor-vehicles lose a serious chunk of their “new-value” the moment they are driven off the lot. My basic question is “Are we buying transportation, or are we advertising our social status?”. There is a LOT of the latter going on, and those people are slaves to their status-symbols.
This list could go on, but these items are the basics. As believers, it is imperative that our priorities be molded by Scripture, not by society.
Jesus said “24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:24-34)
“Do not worry” means “do not be obsessed”. Are we obsessed with material things, so that we have become their slaves, or are we seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness? If the latter is true, God will provide for our true needs. I pray that the latter is true of you, and of me.