Saturday, April 02, 2005

Setting Priorities Straight

Last year, a friend asked me for my thoughts on how to organize priorities, especially in a Christian context (in his case, he was volunteering a lot with his church, and it was becoming quite overwhelming). Another friend asked similar questions today. And I am constantly battling those questions day in, day out. So I'll post the e-mail I wrote up here because it'll be easy to reference in the future. My SFU e-mail account will expire soon, and all the e-mails in there may as well disappear, since I have no intention of downloading them all to some e-mail client. His name has been replaced with the word "Dude." :)

The e-mail:

Hey Dude,

Luke chapter 10, verses 38 to 41.
1 Kings chapter 19, verses 1 to 18.

I would rather be a Mary than a Martha any day. Service is great, but I cannot find a single passage in the Bible where service is said to be more important than the relationship we have with Christ. Ironically, the service becomes more important than the one who we serve. Perhaps this is what Jesus was talking about when he said to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:3, "If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent." The Pharisees thought that their relationship with God depended on their works and their obedience to the law. As Christians, we know that the foundation of relationship with God is based only on faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, by whose blood we have mercy and grace. I know that James 2 talks about how works are necessary. But the logical statement used in verse 18 is "If I have faith, I will have works." Logically then, the statement is broken down as faith is sufficient for works, and works is necessary for faith. But the converse is not necessarily true, as it acts the same as any other "If p, then q" statement. Just because somebody has works doesn't mean that they will have faith. In conclusion, works starts in faith, which means that Jesus was right when he talked about abiding in the vine. We are the branches, and if we don't abide in him, we die.

But to the point. Below is a passage that was taught to me a few years ago. I have found it extremely helpful whenever I felt overwhelmed. I hope that it will help you.

1 Kings ch 19. Elijah just defeated all the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel and killed them all. Jezebel's really mad and wants to kill Elijah. And Elijah runs. He wants suicide. He asks God to kill him. He's tired of it all. God wants to teach him a lesson.

1st step: Elijah is made to rest and eat, for the first thing he needs is physical restoration. His body is shot. God is telling him that he needs to be physically healthy to go on the journey of life (or the journey on which he is about to go in this case).

2nd step: He makes the journey and God asks him what's up. Elijah complains about how much he's tried to serve and how he's so tired of it all, because it seems like he is the only one serving, and it's not worth the effort to him (especially considering that his life is at stake).

3rd step: God tells Elijah to go stand on a mountain and wait for God to pass by.

3a. A powerful wind comes and does amazing things. But God's not there.
3b. A big earthquake happens. But God's not there.
3c. A fire comes. But God's not there.
3d. A still small voice comes. God asks him again, "what are you doing here?" Elijah makes his case again, talking about how he has done everything God asked him to do, but he only gets hatred. God gives him a plan because God always has a plan. And most importantly, God makes Elijah realize in verse 18 that Elijah is self-centred in thinking that he is alone. God reassures Elijah that God is looking out for Elijah.

Quite often, I think we get so caught up with our service, whether it be for church, other volunteer activities, work, or even school, and we forget to listen to God like Mary listened. Instead, we're bustling around so hard trying to serve God like Martha did, except that's not what God wants. Mercy, not sacrifice. Grace, not the strictness of the Pharisees. If God has 7000 people to do the work Elijah does, why would he not have even just one other person to do what we do? Let's not be arrogant here. We're not particularly useful to God. God doesn't have us serve him because we have special talents, or because we're indispensable to him. God GAVE us whatever talents we have, and we are simply vessels for his cause. He CHOSE us. We didn't choose him and go to an interview hoping to get hired. He CHOSE us when we were not worthy. In fact, 1 Corinthians 1 says that he chose to the foolish to shame the wise, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (a hyperbole). Paul even talks in 2 Corinthians 12 about delighting in his weaknesses, for that is where God's power works. Our focus should not be on our service towards him, but rather our relationship. Because if that relationship suffers, we will be of NO service to him. If we don't abide in the vine, the branch will bear no fruit. Jesus said so. :)

The thing that I have found to be most important is the ability to say no. To know my limits and say no. God is more important to me than whatever service somebody asks me to do and if something starts to overburden me, I ask one of the 7000 helpers to help me out. This is partly what the church was created for. It's a community of support, we build each other up and help each other out. Jesus said that people will know that we are his disciples when we show love to each other. And even business authors like Max Bazerman agree that it's more important to stop a problematic path than it is to commit to it, no matter what you did or promised in the first place. We read his book in BUS 437, decision analysis. ;)

Here're some encouraging words. Picture the context. Jerusalem has just been sacked. Israel has crumbled. There is no hope left for the nation of God's chosen people because they have disregarded God's words for many years. Jeremiah is seriously at the end of his rope and doesn't know what to do, just like Elijah, because the nation has been almost destroyed.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations chapter 3, verses 21 to 26
And if I REALLY feel tired, I say no to everything and sleep for 16 hours. Seriously. Step 1 of God's routine for Elijah. Physical restoration.

God bless, Dude.

End e-mail.

I hope it helps people out there. I need to read it over and over again myself. Hehe.

1 comment:

  1. wikis aren't a bad paper topic idea. i could talk extensively about open source technology as well, as it's a fairly similar concept (user-wise). i might stick to blogging though and see what happens -- in any case i am going to be applying a social capital or political economy slant to the topic.

    if you want that article i got out of the National post though, i'll be happy to let you photocopy it... it goes to lengths to discuss that thing we were talking about earlier, i.e. workplace relations and corporate conflict with bloggers.