Summary: Where do your priorities lie? Originally written as a Thanksgiving sermon, most of this sermon would be appropriate to challenge people to examine their priorities (e.g. beginning of the year, Lent, etc).
Thanksgiving Eve Service - November 22, 2000
A Money magazine article several years ago told of the life of a woman who saved 80% of everything she earned, investing it all in the stock market and turned it into a $22 million fortune within 50 years. It sounds like an incredible success story, doesn’t it? But as you read the article, you begin to wonder whether her sacrifice was worth it to make all her money.
It’s not that she made the money by illegal or immoral means. It was all honestly earned. But she alienated her family and made no friends. She walked to work to save the cost of bus fare. She wore clothes for years until they were tattered and worn. She limited herself to spending only a few dollars a week on groceries. In the middle of all this thrift though, she never bothered to invest in any relationships. She died without a single friend. In the last five years of her life, she didn’t even receive a personal phone call. Her broker says, "A big day for her was walking down to the Merrill Lynch vault near Wall Street to visit her stock certificates." Though her financial portfolio sounds successful, this story is a tragic illustration of a life driven astray by a misguided set of priorities.
So where are your priorities? Are you living simply to pad your bank account? What is the most important thing to you? Paul Tillich, a twentieth-century American theologian, says that whatever our highest priority is functions as a god for us. He calls it our "ultimate concern". Whatever is our ultimate concern, that is our top priority. That is what functions like a god, whether we outwardly worship it or not. No matter what we say is most important, it is the thing that concerns us most which functions as a god for us. So what is your ultimate concern? Is it your family? Your church? Your job? Your wallet or pocketbook? What is your ultimate concern? Do you know?
How can you tell where your priorities lie? How can you determine what your ultimate concern is? Jesus gave us a clue when he said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Stores and manufacturers understand it when they take inventory on a regular basis. Taking a personal inventory of time, talent, and treasure may help us to see what those things of ultimate concern are for us.
How many minutes are there in a year? If you’re a fan of the hit Broadway show "Rent" (like I am) you can tell me that a year includes five-hundred-twenty-five-thousand-six-hundred minutes. How have you spent that 525,600 minutes since last Thanksgiving? What have you spent your time on? Have you consciously evaluated your priorities and taken steps to change things you don’t like? Have you sought the kingdom of God in the time since last November? How do you measure that year?
Try this exercise at home sometime. Make a chart of your week. Mark off the time you sleep and time you work at your job. Now take an inventory of the other sixty some hours in your week. How many of those do you spend watching TV shows you could really care less about? How many of those hours do you spend on a hobby - maybe bowling or racing or cycling or camping or movies or whatever? How many of those hours do you spend in quality time with your spouse, parents, or children - not just existing in the same room with them, but engaging in conversation or interaction with them? Then just for a shocker, add up all the hours you spend either in worship, Bible study, prayer, service, or personal devotion. Compare those numbers to see what your expenditure of time says about your priorities. What does the way you spend your time say about you?
Or try this exercise sometime. Look at the entries in your checkbook or computer budget program. Factor out bills like utilities, and compare how much money you spend on certain categories each week. How much money do you spend eating out or getting coffee from 7-11 or snacks from vending machines? How much money do you spend on hobbies - like racing, cable TV, cycling, camping, bowling, or movies? And then look at how much you give as an offering to God. What does the way you spend your money say about you?
Before you start jumping to conclusions here, I have nothing against any of the hobbies I’ve named. I have no problem with people having outside interests besides church and family. It’s healthy to be involved in enjoyable things. But when those things direct your life, it’s time for a change in priorities. When you are spending more time, energy, and money on those hobbies than anything else, they have become your ultimate concern. Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all the things that really matter will be added to you.