Imagine with me that someone asks you to write down your priorities, starting with the most important first. Would your list look something like this?

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Church
  4. Work
  5. Social life/extracurriculars

That’s kind of the universally accepted “biblical priorities pattern.” 

Here’s the question I’d like you to ask yourself with me: Are your “on paper” priorities really your priorities? How can we know if they’re truly our priorities when the rubber meets the road? And what can we do about it if not?

Saying one thing and doing another

I don’t want to say God is my number one priority and not be serious. I don’t want to be hypocritical. But there’s something about us humans that James calls “double-mindedness” (James 1:8). We’re complex creatures with divided hearts. We rarely do something with only one motivation.

So I find myself saying God is my highest priority and acting differently. I see others doing things that make it seem like they have God as priority number one, but it’s exhausting to try to do what everyone else is doing.

I try to change my schedule, habits and activities to reflect the priorities I have on paper— but something is still off. 

Here’s the kicker: priorities aren’t primarily about the stuff we write down in our planners. We tend to think: “Priorities = activities.” So we try to adjust our activities to reflect the right priorities— but that doesn’t really get to the heart of things.

Priorities are the product of worship

You are always worshipping. Your heart— your inner being— was made to worship. You ARE a worshipper by nature and your kids are, too. 

Priorities are the product of worship. The worship that takes place deep in the inner heart gives birth to the actions, attitudes, decisions, and preferences that we show in our daily living.

This transforms the way we think about ourselves. If I know and accept that I am always worshipping something or someone, I can get down to the heart of things when my priorities are out of order.

A family pow-pow to adjust family activities so they conform to family priorities is a wonderful idea— as long as it goes deeper than just talking about activities. We must address the deep worship of our hearts. God is more concerned about the deep worship of our hearts than our daily schedules

God is more concerned about the deep worship of our hearts than our daily schedules

How can we know what our true priorities are? 

First, please remember: we are complex creatures. Discerning the thoughts and intents of our own hearts is impossible for us to do on our own, and impossible to “finish” doing. It’s an ongoing process best carried out by the Holy Spirit in the driver’s seat, maneuvering the Word of God in and out through the back alleys of our hearts.

That said, we can use the following questions to help us see what our daily lives say about our true priorities:

  • What gets you up in the morning? What deep motivation drives what you do on a daily basis? Your kids’ success, your own successful career, money for a better life in some way, recognition or admiration, plain old comfort— these are some common ones. This is priority number one in your life.
  • What factors most impact your decisions? When you and your spouse are deciding about a certain purchase, what are the points you take into account? How are school options decided on in your family? What determines whether you make it to church on Sunday? Or whether you buy yourself those expensive shoes?
  • Where do your mind and heart go running when you come to any sort of crossroads in your day or life?

How you answer those questions will reveal what you worship. And what you worship determines your priorities. 

What can I do if my priorities are misaligned?

The problem with asking these tough questions is that, most of the time, they’ll reveal misaligned priorities— what the Bible refers to as idols. 

Idols are often good things that have moved too high on the priorities list of our lives. We end up worshiping the idol— whatever it may be— over God. We worship the gift instead of the Giver.

So when we ask these tough questions and we realize we’re worshiping something other than God— the first step must be repentance. Confess your foolishness to the Lord— he is faithful and just to forgive (1 John 1:9). Ask the Holy Spirit to change your heart. Dive into His Word for wisdom and seek the counsel of other believers.

Then and only then— begin to look critically at your schedule.

Practical application

Here’s an example to help us think through this: 

If I worship my kids’ earthly success, we might have very little time because of all the extracurricular activities I feel we need to do. Family worship, church attendance, participation in a godly community with other believers— these things are on the backburner so that we can pursue our real priority: the temporary, fleeting, earthly “success” of my kids.

Or maybe it manifests differently. Maybe Mom or Dad (or both) work long, long hours to provide their kids with everything they think they “need.” And so there’s no time, energy, or resources left to personally disciple their kids.

If my kids’ success in life is what I really worship, my greatest need is to replace that with true worship of God. I need to ask Him to help me desire His glory— and my kids’ salvation and sanctification— more than their career success. 

This is at the heart level. 

Then, after first dealing with the heart level, I probably need to change some things on a practical level. 

  • We might so “no” to some activities so we can engage in spiritually-focused activities like church, youth group, family devotions, etc. 
  • We might seek out and commit to a community of believers that reminds us of the Gospel and helps us in our discipleship efforts.
  • Maybe we decline extra shifts or overtime because we come to realize that we have more than enough— and we value God’s glory and the discipleship of our kids more than the bells and whistles.

He’s totally worth it

We need God’s help to detect how and where we are worshipping other things more than Him. 

Then we need His wisdom to know how our daily activities should reflect our priorities. 

In other words, we need to pray a lot and read the Book of Wisdom a lot!

As you take steps to become a more God-worshipping parent, God will shake you up a bit. He may ask you to give up things that seem really important at the moment. But He will replace them with treasure that lasts forever (Matthew 6:19-20)!

Let him reorganize your priorities, even if it feels scary. May your kids learn alongside you this truth: He’s totally worth it.