I think God’s trying to give me a gentle reminder about what’s most important. This past Sabbath, the minister spoke about developing a Biblical worldview that begins with recognizing God is the highest authority in your life. Then the very next morning, the devotional I’m reading this year focused on making God “our primary passion” (Daily Moments of Peace: Inspiration for Women, p. 36). Together, those also make me think back to a video I watched on modern idolatry not that long ago. And thinking about this prompted a question.
What’s the most important thing in your life? And does what you just answered line up with how you prioritize your time?
I would answer God, of course. We know that’s what we’re supposed to say. And I could pat myself on the back if I liked since I read a devotional page and a few scriptures every morning, a chapter of the Bible every night, and I spend time studying and working on these blog posts almost every day. But right now, I’m spending more time thinking about and planning my upcoming wedding or fretting about trying to teach math to high schoolers.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean my priorities are out of whack. Pretty much all of us have to spend more time at work, for example, than in the Bible each day. Spending a quality half-hour in Bible study and eight hours on your workday doesn’t mean you don’t put God first; it’s just a necessity of how modern life is structured. But if you’re trying to Bible study or pray and you want to think about your to-do list, or your wedding, or whatever else (good or bad, happy or stressful) that you have going on instead, then maybe you’re not really putting God first.
Part of this I think just has to do with modern attention spans. We have more trouble focusing on one thing than we used to. It takes discipline and help from God’s holy spirit to focus and spend quality time with Him. But I think we’re also way too easily distracted from that one thing which is most important. And it’s a struggle people in the Bible had as well, even without smartphones to get in the way.
Choose the Best Part
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.Luke 10:38-42, NET
This is probably the best known example of someone in the Bible being distracted from spending time with God. I never actually read Joanna Weaver’s book Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, but I remember it coming up at young adult retreats I went to years ago. Women broke down crying, torn by desires and pressures to stay busy serving and the call to spend time with Jesus. No one wanted to be like Martha, who was so gently rebuked by Jesus, but someone has to make sure the food’s made and served, and the church hall is clean, and the kids aren’t getting into too much mischief.
Notice, though, that Jesus didn’t say it was wrong to do the work Martha was doing. It was wrong to be worried and troubled about things, resent that her sister chose to focus on something else, and let her work become a source of bitterness and a distraction. Serving is a good thing; “service” is itself a spiritual gift and even if our gift is something else we’re supposed to use it in serving others (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Pet. 4:9-10). But unless we have the right priorities and keep our service in perspective, we can start to resent the time we’re spending on it.
This can extend to other situations too. For example, someone came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” If you had one question you could ask Jesus in person, I dare say you wouldn’t pick that, but we can see where this man’s focus and priorities were. Jesus told him arbitrating disputes like that isn’t His job, then said, “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” It’s far better to focus on being “rich toward God” than on anything we could own in this human life (Luke 12:13-21, NET). In other words, focus on the more important things. When we remember what’s most important, then the rest of it will fall into its proper place.
The Danger of Forgetting
It might seem well-nigh impossible to forget about God, but we know from the Bible (and sometimes from personal experience) that people have done that many times. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that Israel’s history is recorded in the Bible “as examples and were written for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11, NET). One of the things we can learn from is how quickly they forgot about God’s importance. Even the ones who literally saw the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea were worshipping a golden calf only a couple months later. If they could do that having seen so much evidence of God’s involvement and reality, then we’re in danger of doing the same and the warnings to Israel’s descendants apply to us as well (Deut. 4:8-10; 23-24; 6:10-13; 8:10-20; 9:6-8).
Beware lest you forget Yahweh your God, in not keeping his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I command you today; lest, when you have eaten and are full, and have built fine houses and lived in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; then your heart might be lifted up, and you forget Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage … and lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth.” …
It shall be, if you shall forget Yahweh your God, and walk after other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you shall surely perish. As the nations that Yahweh makes to perish before you, so you shall perish, because you wouldn’t listen to Yahweh your God’s voice.Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17, 19-20, NET
I know this doesn’t describe all of us, but based on what I know about the countries where most of my readers live (U.S., U.K, and Canada, among others) I’m guessing most of you can eat enough to be full, live in some type of house, and have money enough at least for necessities. Many of us are in a position where we could say, “My power and the might of my hand has gotten me to the place where I am today.” But if we did say that, it wouldn’t be any more true than when ancient Israel said it. We’re where we are by the grace of God and every good thing in our lives comes from Him (James 1:17). We must guard ourselves against forgetting that.
“Can a virgin forget her ornaments,Jeremiah 2:32, WEB
or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me for days without number.”
Forgetting God is as insane as me forgetting to put on my pretty wedding dress when I get married in June. Yet people did forget Him and it broke God’s heart, as He said over and over to prophets like Jeremiah and Hosea. We also looked at this in our in-depth study of Isaiah 40-66 last year. In particular, I’m thinking of the first post, “God is Incomparable and Irreplaceable.” There, we studied passages where God addresses the insanity of Israel’s idolatry in the light of His incomparableness (Isaiah 40:12-31; 43:10-13; 44:6-20; 46:5-11; 57:3-11; 63:7-14; 64:4). The Creator of the Universe wanted to claim them as His people, yet they bowed down to carved wood or stone instead? It just doesn’t make sense.
For he said, “Surely, they are my people,Isaiah 63:8, 10, WEB
children who will not deal falsely;”
so he became their Savior. …
But they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
Way Too Important To Forget
We’re not likely to toss out our Bibles and pick up some statue to worship instead. But we might not spend as much time in God’s word as we ought. In the U.S., only about 50% of adults are “Bible Users—defined as individuals who read, listen to, or pray with the Bible on their own at least three or four times a year” (Barna, 2021). Three or four times a year isn’t that much–you’d lose your job real quick if that’s how often you bothered showing up for work, and we ought to honor God a lot more than we do our bosses (Mal. 1:6-8).
According to the same Barna report, the number of near-daily Bible readers is increasing–“one in six U.S. adults (16%) reads the Bible most days during the week, up from 12 percent in 2020.” That’s the group we ought to be in. You can’t have a close relationship with someone unless you spend time with them, and prayer and Bible study are two of the primary ways we can spend time with God. We also need to spend time in the Bible to understand how we ought to live and deepen our understanding of God’s way of life.
But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror; for he sees himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of freedom and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does.James 1:22-25, WEB
We need to do something with the knowledge God gives us about Him and His way of life. We need to be actively involved in our relationship with Him. Forgetting to put our faith into action means we’re forgetting the whole basis of our faith.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love. For if these things are really yours and are continually increasing, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately. But concerning the one who lacks such things—he is blind. That is to say, he is nearsighted, since he has forgotten about the cleansing of his past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin.2 Peter 1:5-10, NET
The Christian life is a growth process. Without that growth, Peter says it’s like you forgot Jesus died for your sins. People who remember what is most important spend time cultivating their relationship with God and becoming more and more like Him. That’s not the only thing they do, but it is their top priority. When God is truly the most important thing in our lives, His supremacy contextualizes everything else. With this perspective, when I think about the difficult things, I also remember to pray about them. When I think about the good things, I thank God for them. Instead of distractions, they can become reasons to remember God’s presence.
God is way too important for us to forget. At the end of our lives, it’s not going to matter what color the tulle was at the wedding, whether Mary helped in the kitchen, if you get an A or a C on that test, that your brother divided the inheritance with you, how many followers you had online, or if your wealth multiplied. It matters far more that the marriage grows from your relationship with God, that you treated the people you interact with well, and that you used your possessions in a godly way. And all of those things happen when we properly prioritize God as the most important and respect Him as the one who’s in charge.
Featured image by Shaun Menary from Lightstock
Song Recommendation: “Lifesong” by Casting Crowns