It’s been less than 24 hours since I returned from my 6-day trip, and I’m already being harassed. My email account and my to-do list seem to take turns in either shaming me or bossing me around. “This is what you get when you ignore emails!” “You are too far behind to catch up.” “You don’t have time to hold the baby…” Sheesh! Even though I know that I’m a grown-up and fully in charge of my schedule, the noise in my head has me feeling like a seven-year-old who wants to shout, “You’re not the boss of me!” (CUE: Door slamming.) Does this happen to anyone else, or am I the only one who sometimes falls into the trap of allowing lists (or people) to dictate how to spend my time? This trap is a joy killer and a peace destroyer, so I am determined to not let my to-dos be the boss of me—no matter how far behind I am. How about you?
The problem is it can be challenging to stay in a place of peace when there are competing demands on your time. One of the best ways to do this is to be clear about your priorities. (By the way, if you didn’t read last week’s post on the importance of separating worry from problems, do yourself a favor and check it out. This practice also applies to your demands on your time.) While there are plenty of secular models and systems out there to help with the challenge of setting your priorities, the one I fall back on time and time again is what I call (God’s) Kingdom Counsel (KC). Kingdom Counsel uses a combination of God’s wisdom and inspiration from the Holy Spirit for setting priorities and making decisions about my time. By using God’s wisdom as a filter for daily tasks, I gain clarity as to what I should be focusing on and what I need to let go of. I also depend on the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit to help fine-tune the more broad filter of God’s wisdom. Let me explain how this works.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40)
In the scripture above, Jesus explains that the greatest commandment (or greatest priority) is to love God first and to love others as we love ourselves second. This command is the first and primary filter that I use when I set my priorities for my life (and, therefore, my day.) Put another way, loving God, myself, and others is the foundation for why and how I go about prioritizing goals and tasks each day. (DISCLAIMER: I am a work in progress and by no means do this perfectly. However, I know of no better filter to help me deal with all the demands on my time.)
If loving God is the greatest commandment, it only makes sense that this is the first filter that I need to run my to-do list through. Taking time to love God and be with Him is not negotiable. Most of the time, this means I get up and spend an hour hanging out with Him each day. Now before you balk at the idea of taking an hour to spend with God each day, I want to assure you that the amount of time isn’t what’s important. (I’ve gradually built up to that amount of time as I’ve learned how much I need it!) What IS critical, however, is the belief that loving God/spending time with Him is your top priority. While I understand that you may not feel like this is very important given all the other things you have or want to do, Jesus said loving God is the greatest commandment, so I suggest that you pay attention to this one. Oh, in case you object to being commanded to love God, keep in mind that God doesn’t need our love. He’s God, for goodness sake. Coming into a loving relationship with God is for our sake. It’s in loving Him and receiving His love back that we enter into a place of rest.
What this might look like on a practical level is really dependent on your current relationship with God. For those of you who already love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, I’m guessing that you may already have some sort of practical way of walking that out. However, if you are like me, my relationship with God can take a hit if I depend on a set routine too much (like a routine of only reading the bible followed by prayer) OR if I have to change the time that I usually spend with God. (I really like doing that in the morning, but sometimes this doesn’t work—like if I have to catch a very early flight.) While routines can sometimes be helpful when you are trying to build a habit, a routine without conscious thought can easily become a poor substitute for building a relationship. For example, although I eat dinner with my husband every night, that doesn’t guarantee that we will grow closer. If we make no effort or don’t put thought into what we’re doing, we can slide into a lazy pattern of engagement. I find that changing one thing—like eating outside instead of inside— can open the door to a new level of connection and excitement that wasn’t there before. (I know that may sound pathetic to people who haven’t been married as long as we have, so you’ll have to trust me on this one!) The same principle goes for how you engage with God. Consider changing how you meet with Him to build a greater level of love and connection. Here are a few things to try:
- Before getting out of bed, say, “Good Morning Father! I love you!”
- Consider dancing to your favorite worship song for a change. Imagine that you are dancing before the Lord. (If it’s good enough for King David, it’s good enough for us!)
- Start your day on your knees. Remember Jesus’ supreme act of love on the cross. Express your love and gratitude to Him for his sacrifice.
- Practice receiving God’s love by asking Him what He adores about you. Write down what you hear/sense Him saying.
- Instead of listening to music or a podcast, choose to sit or walk in silence so you can communicate with Jesus. Talk and listen.
For those of you who can’t yet say that you love God and have no idea what it would mean to walk it out, I have a couple of suggestions for you too:
- It’s sometimes said that love is spelled T. I. M. E., so try committing to spending some time with God each day. Start with 5 minutes. Say, “Here I am, God. I want to spend time with you. What do you want to say to me?” Then just listen. Notice what thoughts or pictures pop into your head.
- After listening to what God has to say, let him know what is on your mind. You may not think it’s necessary to tell God (since He knows everything), but communication is foundational for all good relationships.
- Spend time in nature. See if you can sense God’s presence there: It says this in God’s word: “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities —his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen…” (Rom 1:20). Talk to Him.
- Read the Gospel of John. What is God saying to you as you read through it?
Using Kingdom Counsel to help set your priorities for the day means that you commit to spending time with God to grow your love for Him above everything else. Jesus said this is the greatest commandment. Next week we will explore what it looks like to prioritize loving others as we love ourselves. Stay tuned!