Scripture is filled with references to what can be boiled down to the term “priorities” – whether it be prayer, faith, obedience, service, faithfulness, etc. Jesus made reference to priorities in His responses to young men who came asking about becoming followers. In Matthew 19 we can read of the rich young ruler who asked what he must do to obtain eternal life. Jesus’ reply was, in essence, to “keep the law” – but the heart of the matter, after the young ruler said he kept all those things – Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor… Christ’s point was to rely on HIM, not all the wealth and property he had.
In Luke 9, we read (vs. 57-60) of two who would follow Jesus – the first is warned that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” To the second, at the call to follow, had the excuse that he had to go and bury his father (nowhere does it say his father was actually dead). Jesus’ response: “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”
And we certainly cannot leave out the words of Jesus in Luke 14:25-26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” While we know the LORD wasn’t espousing actual “hate” – He was putting an almost shocking (the term is “hyperbole”) illustrative point on His call to priorities – the love for Christ, the passion for following Him, should be such a high priority, that all else should fall well behind that.
Even the Apostle Paul had desires to visit churches and people that the LORD had not allowed him to enjoy because the priorities of God’s mission had to come first.
Priorities in our lives are put on display all the time. Whether it is the activities we engage in, the entertainment the indulge in, or the way we invest and use the time, skills, and resources (including talents) He has blessed us with.
Sadly, there has been a growing trend over the years of compartmentalizing our faith – “doing church” has become ever more a shrinking block on our busy schedules. An hour
or maybe two each week – or for the truly “faithful” -another hour in the middle of the week.
But then what happens? Life?
I once heard a deacon talk about how he would be in church Sunday morning if the mule didn’t end up in the ditch. He then went on to say – everyone (including God) understands when circumstances beyond our control prevent us from assembling together with the church on Sunday, the problem is when WE PUT THE MULE in the proverbial ditch! When it wasn’t “beyond our control”, but was our own doing that set up the barrier.
A friend who is also a minister at another church got himself in a bit of hot water a few years back. He opined on social media how he had passed a soccer complex on this way to morning services – and recognized quite a few vehicles parked with participants. His post was asking about the priority given to Sunday athletic competition over assembling together with the church.
Likewise, I found myself in similar trouble in my first pastorate when I posted a cartoon that brought an interesting question along the same lines: In the single-pane ‘toon, it depicts a family. In it, the child is asking the parents “why do they cancel church every time we have family to visit?”.
It gets back to priorities. If we as parents don’t demonstrate the priority of God on the day set aside for corporate worship, we shouldn’t be surprised when our children grow up to not have God as a priority in their life at all! If your job requires you to sometimes work on Sunday, that ought to put even more weight to the priority of being with your church family on the days you don’t have work! Further – not only do our children see our priorities in action, but so do our friends and families. If you have family that come to visit, do they see Sunday as a day to spend with you including corporate worship time at church, or have they learned that you will give up church time for them? What about friends? Do they know you by your dedication to the church and either won’t come to visit during church time on Sundays (or other ministry days), or come with the expectation of attending WITH you?
Absolutely nobody in their right mind begrudges a church member going on vacation, taking care of genuinely pressing/emergency circumstances. But do know that if you are a member of a local church (as all believers are called to be), you will be missed. Just as the Apostle Paul used the language of a physical body and it’s need for every part, so is the local church – indeed a convincing case against huge, numberless churches where people hide among the masses. We are built to come together and to serve and grow together. Our presence when we attend corporate ministry time is designed to edify others. When we miss, we leave a gap that no-one else really fills.
Let us also consider the stumbling block set in the path of our own children, families, and friends by our misplaced priorities when it comes to church attendance and participation, but the picture it paints to both fellow church members and to visitors who see your empty seat or pew.
From a pastoral perspective, I cannot help but be discouraged by those who seem to have a regular case of “mule in the ditch”. Further, when we see the far-reaching impact of being all-too-willing to set aside corporate worship, fellowship, and service for the world, it grieves me – and not just me, but your fellow church members.
Far too often, I have seen a willingness to miss corporate gatherings of the church grow to the false concept that one doesn’t “need” church at all – that they can commune with God, grow, and glorify Him and never step foot in a church building. Being a born-again, repentant, growing child of God involves active discipleship, accountability, corporate worship, and regular fellowship among the “saints” – indeed it implies such.
The writer of Hebrews laid it out as part of the picture of the “New Living Way” of those called from Death to Life:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another;and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25
Our priorities in life often speak far louder about our hearts and faith than any quantity of words. Our children see them, our family and friends see them, the local church sees it, and this lost world that is in need of a Greater Hope – sees it.
Where to our priorities come from? They come from our heart. Jesus laid out the most fundamental priority list of all when He spoke of the greatest command:
‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ Matthew 22:37
Be an active participant in your local church. Make assembling together a top priority. Yes, every once in a while, your mule can wind up in the ditch. Just be sure you aren’t the one who put him there!