Setting Priorities – Part 3

Practical Priorities

We may have lived much of our lives feeling drained by the pressures and expectations placed upon us.  So much of our focus was spent on doing things that we weren’t even intended or supposed to do.  We took on everyone else’s priorities and needs, often at the neglect of our own.  As we face this new chapter in our lives, we need to take our schedules, commitments, and goals, and allow God to sift through them.

But how can we know where to begin?  Or what to keep and what to let go of?  First, we need God’s wisdom, which is why our relationship with Him must remain at the forefront of our priority list and daily schedule.  Through His perspective, we need to wisely manage our time, resources, and gifts.  We might consider the following questions as we evaluate the practical priorities in our life:

  • Why am I doing this? What are my motives?
  • Has Jesus asked, called, or moved me to do this? How do I know?
  • Who or what other than Jesus might be motivating this choice?
  • Is there any emotion that is affecting this? Is it a negative feeling, such as guilt, shame, or fear?
  • Who will be pleased if I do this? God?  Myself?  Or someone else?
  • By saying yes to this, who or what will I be saying no to?
  • If I’m taking on multiple things at one time, which responsibility should have the greater priority? Why?

This understanding – when combined with an authentic acceptance of our life passions and an understanding of our God-given spiritual gifts – empowers us to carry out the calling God has placed in our lives.

Rocks balancing on a boardA Balancing Act

If we look at all the concepts we have learned throughout this book, we are able to see two opposing paths:

  • God’s way
  • Our survival strategies

Many times, we have the tendency to attempt to externally change our behaviors and move to the opposite of whatever negative behavior we’re dealing with.  That sounds like a logical thing to do.  Without true heart change though, we may externally do the opposite thing, but the unhealthy, shame-based root is still what is driving the behavior. Author John Bradshaw states, in his book Bradshaw: On the Family: “The opposite of dysfunctional is just as dysfunctional.  Both extremes are driven by the same shame messages.”  We explored this idea at length in an earlier chapter, as I presented the “Equal and Opposite” model.  It may be worth your revisiting this in order to get a deeper appreciation for this concept now that you’re personally digging into the shame messages in your life.

When the Holy Spirit enters our lives in an experiential sense, He gives us the ability to take the many facets of our life, and perfectly balance and align them in accordance with His truth.  He deals with the root and applies the remedy, causing our behaviors to come into balance with our heart.  A change that only occurs from the inside out!

Here are some examples of how we may become imbalanced during the early (immature) parts of our transformational journey, assuming that the opposite of our old, dysfunctional patterns must necessarily be better.

  • We become independent. We realize that we were needy in relationships, therefore we cut ourselves off from others and seek to become independent and self-sufficient.
  • We become irresponsible. We see that we have been finding our security in our job performance, so we become lazy, apathetic, or stop trying altogether, causing us to become unproductive and irresponsible.
  • We become insensitive. We see how we’ve been enabling another individual, so we completely cut them off without notice, leaving them to fend for themselves.

In order to deal with the core of our dysfunctions, it is often hard to know where to begin.  Here are some primary root issues we might initially focus on to help us find a more balanced approach to heart change:

  • Balance truth with love. If we just focus on the truth of what we have learned in this journey, we could become self-righteous, insensitive, and critical. We must remember, we’re not better than others; we’re just better than we were.  Truth is a marvelous gift – it ultimately sets us free.  However, if we use truth as the standard by which we evaluate others and ourselves, we have negated the need of balancing truth with love.  In fact, 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 reminds us that all gifts we possess, including knowledge and understanding, are meaningless without love.
  • Balance our ability to see flaws in ourselves and others with our ability to give and receive grace. When God begins to reveal the areas in our lives that need to change, that doesn’t mean He expects us to change everything immediately or perfectly.  God may show us our selfish or ungodly tendencies continually in our daily life experience.  He uses this exposure of our behavior to allow us to confess, repent, and ask Him to change us, knowing that in most things, our nature can’t “just stop.”  As we continually confess and ask God to change us, we gradually move away from our unhealthy tendencies and learn to adopt a system of freedom and grace in our life and relationships.
  • Balance acceptance of people with the intolerance of sin. Through healthy boundaries, we gradually begin to learn how to reject and discourage sinful behaviors yet love people right where they are.  If people are sinning and committing acts of violation against us, we must set whatever boundaries we need to protect ourselves from those effects.  Sometimes these boundaries will have little to do with the person but will empower us to respond differently to negative situations.  If we are just becoming aware that we have allowed toxic people and negative situations into our lives, we could be prone to begin to “throw people out,” and maybe become rude, judgmental, or self-righteous in our approach – looking down at others for the very same attitudes or behaviors we ourselves had just a short time ago.  While we can defend and protect ourselves from spiritually and emotionally unhealthy people and their choices, we must remember that they too need to experience grace, mercy, and forgiveness, just like we did (and do).  Our focus should always be to pray for them.  As we grow in Christ, our heart should be loving and compassionate despite their behavior.  We will begin to see them through the lens of Jesus.
  • Balance our need to detach with the ability to be intimate. We may need to detach ourselves from toxic people or unhealthy relationship bonds.  These bonds were established on our sinful, need-based system of “love.”  Detachment may occur for a season but doesn’t mean we need to totally isolate ourselves from people.  Instead, detachment means we are removing the harmful way we are bonded in relationships.  These bonds were actually based on identity dependency, not genuine love.  Once we detach from toxic and unhealthy relationships, we can prepare our hearts for healthy attachments that will ultimately give us the opportunity to be emotionally intimate – possibly in healthier ways than ever before.  Our journey with Christ prepares our hearts to properly give and receive love.

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