In the late 1970s and early 1980s the bus ministry was a really strong work among churches of Christ. On many of the buses would be a sign that said, "J.O.Y." It didn't take long to learn that J.O.Y. stood for Jesus-Others-You. "Jesus first, others second, yourself last" was the popular mantra. It was a good way to teach a basic set of priorities to the kids. This is still a great reminder for us today about where our priorities should be. But we've grown up now. As Paul said, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." As we've grown older and learned more about the complexities of the world, we've learned that there is a plethora of distractions that we face each day that, in essence, challenge that basic priority structure. The mound of items through which we sift only grows larger as we gain more responsibility in the world and increasingly distracts us from true priorities. In order to survive in such a din we must move beyond simply knowing the mantra to identifying our behaviors and appropriately prioritizing our time and tasks.
Several years ago I had the privilege of studying the Stephen Covey course "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People" and also studying his course "First Things First." There are three illustrations that I took away from those classes that really exemplify the need to set priorities in our life. 1) The clean and green story about how Mr. Covey sought to get his son to keep the yard in good shape. It taught that you've got to have clear goals and break bad personal habits to get things accomplished. 2) The rocks in the container story about how you put in big rocks in a container first so that you can fill what's around them with the little rocks. The big rocks were the important things in life. The little rocks were simply little unimportant things that just took up time. The only way to get the big rocks in is to put them in first. 3) Answering the telephone in front of someone in your office when you don't know who it is simply tells them that an unknown entity is more important than they are. The most important person is the one who you are with.
So, what do these things have to do with priorities? God must be our first and most important priority (Matthew 6:33). God wants us to be "clean and green" and that means not sloughing off on the job that we have to do as Christians but having clear goals and objectives to work toward (Romans 12:11). God wants us to set priorities in our life and then organize our time and our tasks so that they reflect those priorities and not allow the little details to overwhelm us (Colossians 3:1-17). Those things can wait until some other time when a priority comes around. Finally, God wants us to understand that the most important person is the one that we are with, Him! He's with us all the time (Hebrews 13:5). Of course, when we are with other people we need to let them know how important they are to us as we seek to teach them the gospel as well (Philippians 2:3). We can just as easily impress them with how unimportant we think they are by our bad behavior as we can by our good behavior.
Behavior is really the key here. We behave like we believe. If we put other things before God, then we betray what our true beliefs are. Our behavior has to change when it comes to setting and keeping priorities priorities in our lives.