You may have heard the admonition, “You need to work on your priorities.” Or, “Your priorities are messed up. You need to decide what is more important.” But what does it mean to prioritize? Why should we? The dictionary definition of prioritize is: to designate or treat something as more important than other things. Another definition states: to decide which of a group of things is more important so you can deal with it first.
So, how then, do we choose our priorities? Is it something we sit down and write out, like a grocery list? Do we research the possibilities and choose from among them which we prefer? Or do we allow others to choose them for us? Our families, friends, colleagues, boss, even those at the periphery of our lives, can have a huge impact on our choices. Social media and those we friend or follow can influence that which we focus on. So, then, back to the original question. Do we really CHOOSE our priorities, or do we go along with those chosen FOR us by the culture, or our environments?
Regardless of your answer to that question, I propose that we should choose–and choose well– the thing or things we place in front of us as important. Here’s why. What we set in front of us becomes our filter. We see everything through that filter. We can’t look ahead without seeing the thing in front of us too. It affects every decision, every thought, every desire. It affects our joy.
Whoa! Hold on. I thought we were talking about priorities. We are. Our ability to feel joy, happiness, contentment and related emotions depends on our priorities–the things we set in front of us. Your priorities determine your joy. Let me explain.
If your priority is accomplishment, task completion, your satisfaction at finishing an assignment will be the same whether you do your best work or just enough to get by. If your priority is to gain recognition, your enjoyment in completing the task will be lower if no one tells you what a good job you did on it, or even worse, no one notices you finished.
When we place our priorities in things that depend on others, we also place our joy in their hands. When we prioritize getting likes on our Instagram or Facebook posts, we place our worth and our joy in the hands of our followers or friends. We can’t control it. It has little to do with us, yet we hinge our emotional stability on their actions. Is it any wonder there is so much anxiety and despair in the world today?
Too many people choose their priorities by looking around at the lives of others, by comparing themselves to others, or by looking at the past as a measure of the future. In a sermon I heard recently, Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church in North Carolina, said that “You cannot choose joy; you can only choose your priorities. Those priorities control our joy.” He used three main scriptural passages to support his statement.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.James 1:2-3 NIV
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 2:2 NIV
My choice is you, God, first and only.Psalms 16:5 The Message
What do these three verses have in common? They show that if we choose to place God first in our list of priorities, our filter through which we decide if something is joyful or not, changes. Jesus did not find joy in his suffering on the cross. He found it in the result of that suffering–the redemption of mankind. We are not asked to find joy in the trial. We are told that joy comes from the result of that trial in perseverance and endurance. If God is our priority, first above all else, the filter of His love and acceptance will change our view of what joy really is and how we develop it.