What do you need to prioritize this week?
“‘You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?’” Matthew 23:23-24 MSG
It was another Monday morning and I was already overwhelmed before I even got out of bed. Maybe you know the feeling. I felt like my to-do list was a mile long and I had more hours of work to do than I could ever possibly pack into my normal week, plus extra responsibilities and the normal everyday stuff. I had gotten into a rhythm when I first started pursuing writing more seriously, and I was religiously following my list of goals and self-made calendar to track the tasks I was completing and checking projects off of my list.
But I couldn’t shake this sense of overwhelm. I was on the phone with a mentor and when she asked about how I was doing, I just said honestly I feel like my priorities are all over the place. I don’t know how to prioritize the stuff that really matters.
I felt like everyone around me was dictating my schedule, and at the end of the day, I left feeling unaccomplished, overwhelmed, and kind of like I failed.
My mentor kindly talked me through my addictive practice of planning my day. What she said was simple, but it really shook up my outlook on my plan for the week. “What if you let God set the to-do list today?”
When I think about our priorities and what God says about them, the first verse that comes to mind is, “seek first the kingdom…” from Matthew 6:33. But this passage with the Pharisees really spoke into my priorities, and I wanted to share how. If you’re familiar with scripture, you probably recognize this theme. Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees who were incredibly religious, but often got things wrong because their focus was a bit off. I know I’ve been there before…
What I love about this version in the Message translation is this: do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?
Jesus isn’t saying it’s wrong to be detail oriented, but He is drawing the Pharisees attention to a simple fact that they’re paying attention to small details before they’ve figured out the big picture. Their priorities are wrong.
Personally, I love this as a writer. I know that I write messy first drafts, but my concern isn’t to make sure the grammar is perfect at that time. It’s just time to start forming the message and face the challenge of a blank page. Then, I start revisions. Revising is getting the big picture stuff right. It’s paying careful attention to the voice and the flow and the overall communication of the message. Then, it’s editing. (Luckily, I usually entrust that job to other people…)
That’s when we look at the little things, like the commas, but we start with the story. That’s what Jesus was saying—focus on the big things first.
I think I often get overwhelmed, because my temptation is to set my own priorities and to make my own to-do list. I want to be in control of my day and I want to check off boxes and feel accomplished when it’s over.
I think that is actually what ends up leaving me overwhelmed, because what I’m left with is a lot of nitpicked commas and semicolons, but I still haven’t written the story.
I think there’s a better way. I think Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees is the same to us. We need to get the big picture stuff right first, and then care about the details. I actually think God does want us to invite Him into the process of prioritizing. For me, prioritizing my life often feels like a daunting task. But God knows what is most life-giving, most fulfilling, and most productive for me to be doing even if it doesn’t make sense to me yet.
Maybe you’re hoping to build a deeper community with your coworkers, and that might mean prioritizing scheduling to go out to lunch with someone each week. Maybe you’re needing to prioritize your time with God, and that might mean thinking creatively about how your schedule can move around that, instead of the other way around. Maybe, you need to prioritize time with your family and time away from screens. Whatever it is, approach it with intention and approach it first. Focus on the big picture things, then let the rest fall into place afterwards.
I don’t want to watch my week pass me by when I’m checking off boxes on my to-do list but neglecting the things that are a part of the bigger picture. I want to pay more attention to the things that impact the kingdom of God, and then get to the other details later. What do you need to prioritize this week?
-What do you feel like God is calling you to focus on this week?
-What is taking up most of your time and your attention? Is it something that should be taking up that space?
-Write about what you think your schedule would look like if God had complete control.
There’s lots of research about how writing something down can really impact the outcome of whether or not it gets done. So, write down something God is calling you to focus on this week on a sticky note, and place it somewhere you can see it. Every time you see it, ask Holy Spirit to realign your priorities with His.
Hey God, thank you for being a God who cares about both the big things and the little things. Help us to shift our focus this week to the things that are top priorities in your eyes. Guide us into a schedule that keeps our focus on you, and on the work you have for us that is most honoring and glorifying to you. Amen.