Charles Stanley - Life's Number One Priority
Do you often feel the tension between doing what you want to do and what you feel like you should do? Well, what areas of your life do you feel that tension the most often? And how do you respond? That is, which one wins over the what you want to do, or what you know in your heart you should do? And when you do what you want to do, rather than what you know you should do, how do you feel? Do you feel guilty? Feel defeated? How do you feel? When you do what you know you ought to do, rather than what you want to do, how do you feel? Victorious? Like you've conquered temptation? Feel good about yourself?
Well, life is full of decisions and, therefore, life's gonna be full of tension. And sometimes when these decisions are absolutely crucial in our life, and we have two alternatives and one looks just as good as the other, or we know that one is right and one is not right, what we want to do versus what we should do and the tension is so strong, oftentimes we discover the strength of our heart; the strength of our life. And so, since life's just full of those things, there's one of those areas that all of us have felt and do feel tension in in our lives. It's something so very simple, but something so profound. It's the one area that has the most awesome impact upon our life of everything else. And yet you would think that after we've been saved for a while we would have learned and, therefore, there wouldn't be any tension in this at all, but there is.
And that's the area that I want to talk about in this message. And I want you to turn, if you will, to the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It's amazing how God could put so much truth in so few words in something as simple as this incident to identify to us what is the number one priority in the life of the believer.
Now, if you should ask people what is the number one priority, you'd probably get lots of answers. But it's very clear in this passage, from Jesus's perspective, what is the number one priority in our life. So if you'll notice that He's just been talking about the Good Samaritan in this chapter and the parts before this. And then, beginning in verse 38, He says: "Now as they were traveling along," that is, Jesus and His disciples, "He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all this serving alone? Then tell her to help me.' But the Lord answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha".
Now it probably, it would've meant the same thing as, "Dear, dear Martha, now you're gettin' all upset". "'You are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.'" Now this is such an important passage of Scripture, and I want to talk about these three primary people of Mary, Martha and Jesus in just a moment, but just to remind you that Jesus has gone to this home probably often times, and He's on His way to Jerusalem with His disciples and, He has decided to stop off at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus's home, where He felt welcomed and certainly He felt loved. And in the process of doing so, an incident happens here in which He identifies for us what is the number one priority in our life.
Now the truth is, all of us have priorities in our lives. We all have priorities in different areas of our lives. Now, on this particular occasion, let's think about what's happening here. Martha, more than likely, is sort of the head of this household. Now I'm not saying that she runs things, but she at least is the most outgoing one, and she takes charge. When she finds out that Jesus and His group are coming, she gets in the kitchen. No more than likely she's got Mary there with her. And so, they're working on dinner or lunch or whatever it may have been. And they must've been pretty well off for them to have had an alabaster box of nard for her to not just open or break the seal and let the aroma fill the house, but she absolutely poured it on His feet. And so, must've had a rather large house for these thirteen men to arrive and to have dinner.
And so, one thing I know about her, she was a very industrious woman, probably very organized and she was a take-control kind of person. Nothing wrong with that. Now here's Mary. There are three times that you find Mary mentioned in the Bible. Do you know where she is? Sitting at the feet of Jesus every time. What Mary did was not the proper thing to do for a woman in those days. The proper place for a woman in those days was in the kitchen in preparation. But you know what? Mary's love for Jesus... she didn't care what the norm was, she was going to take advantage of sitting at His feet; listening to Him; learning from Him; loving Him and longing to have the same qualities within her own life. That's what mattered to her most. And so, while it was not the proper thing necessarily to do, that's exactly what she did.
And so, Martha, she had a difficult time with that. And so, she's running in circles; she's pulled in two different directions, and of course, she would like to be sitting at her feet, and there she is in there in the kitchen, and "Why don't you come in here and help me, because I've got all this responsibility and, Jesus, why don't you make her come in here"! And He says, "Now Martha, I think you're troubled about a lot of things here. In fact, you're troubled about too many things. Things have gotten uneven; you're on an uneven keel here now. Let's settle down a little bit". And here's what He said to her. He said, "Martha, the most important thing, the number one thing, Mary's chosen that, and I'm not gonna take it away from her". Now that had to be a little difficult for Martha to accept that and especially if it went on probably right in front of everybody else who was there.
And so, let's think about this for a moment. What was Jesus saying? He says the number one priority in our life is our time we spend alone with Him. Now I want you to listen very, very carefully. You have a priority in your life. Maybe you're the only person who knows what it is, but you have a priority in your life. And the question is this: Do you value your relationship with Jesus Christ enough to make Him, time alone with Him, the number one priority in your life? Is He that valuable to you? Is He that important to you? Where does He rank in your life? Does He rank number one? Is He number two? Number three? Number four? Number five? Is He down so far in the list on your time? Your energies? Your interests? Your love? Your devotion? That you can't figure out exactly where He fits? Do you put Him in the category of, well, He's in the category of my priority about going to church, and I go to church one day a week? Where is Jesus in your priority list?
Now, you know, you can ignore that question, but the truth is you shouldn't ignore it. Where is He? You say well I want to set priorities in my life, and I want to be what God wants me to be. Well, wanting to is one thing; doing it is something else. I can want a lot of things in life. But do I want them, listen, do I want them strongly enough to make a decision, to make it work in my life? Listen carefully. The most important thing in your life and my life today, tomorrow, next month, next year, every year, till the moment we die, is our personal, intimate relationship with Him, with Christ. The number one priority in our life is to be that time we spend alone with Him.
Now watch this. It isn't because we just need Him. He wants us. He desires our love. And He desires to spend time alone with us. How blessed we are! Somebody says, well now, wait a minute now. Yeah, but Mary had Him physically. That is, she could see Him, and therefore it'd be easier for her because she could see Him. Not necessarily. I'll never forget the testimony of a blind man many, many years ago who said he had never seen the Lord until he became blind, and then he saw Him totally undistracted by life. We don't need to see Jesus to have fellowship with Him. To love Him. To be loved by Him. We don't need that. And Jesus is not saying that hard work and plenty of work and lots of work is bad. He's just saying that we have to keep our priorities right. What He would've preferred is that Martha come and sit down with Mary and, when they finished talking, then the two of them could go and finish up the dinner.
And so, the whole impact of this story's this. There'll always be those things that intrude, always be those things that disturb, always be those things that would grab our attention and our time if we let it. Now here's the big question. Well, okay, so what? I start giving the Lord time every day, what can I expect? Well, listen, what is the first thing that happens when you and I begin to spend time with Him? When we come before Him by ourselves with an open Word and begin to ask Him to speak to our heart and to read the Scriptures, the first thing you're gonna happen is this: He will quieten your spirit. I don't care how stormy your circumstances are. I don't It doesn't make any difference how difficult the situation is and what's going on in your life and who's on your case.
You know what? When you get alone with Him, it is absolutely amazing how He can quieten your spirit, shut out everything else in the world, and it's just you and Him. That will quieten your spirit. He knows how to do that. That's why David said, "My soul clings to thee". He'd learned the secret. That's why he said he sat before the Lord and listened to Him and talked to Him.
So number one, certainly it quietens our spirit. That means whatever troublesomeness was there, it'll be gone. Frustration, anxiety, fear, worry. He's gonna take it away.
Secondly, we're gonna sense renewed energy. I cannot explain it. I just know that when you get on your face, or sit, or whatever it might be, before the Lord, and He's first, you shut out everything else and you begin to listen to Him, and you begin to express your love and your praise toward Him, there is a divine energy that surges through this human body that, physiologically, something happens. And I think, certainly, Mary must have learned some of this because every time we see her, she's at His feet. And so, first of all, there's gonna be a sense of quietness, energy, but, likewise, a lot of other things and I just wanna give you a whole list here, if I might.
Number three. And that is, it's certainly going to strengthen your faith. And I have seen this and listened to this testimony so many times, when somebody for the first time in their life realizes that they knew God had spoken to them and given them an answer, or given them a sense of direction, or said something specific; they knew it was from Him. You talking about surging your faith. That this God who controls it all is willing to speak to you.
Listen, He desires to speak to you. He will make it so crystal clear, if you'll give Him the time. So, you're gonna have a sense of energy; a quiet spirit, and you certainly, without a doubt, are gonna feel strength in your faith. Not only that, but you're going to be refreshed in your emotions. And this is the one thing that I think blesses me so often. When I come in, and I'm tired and just get on my face or sit down quietly with an open Word and just be quiet and ask the Lord and sometimes I just have to say, "Lord, I'm a little empty". Or I may say, "Lord, I just need to be loved by you today. I just need you to put your arms around me and love me good. I just need to sense your presence and your love". You don't think He doesn't do that? Yes, He does. He knows how to fuse within our emotional being.
Listen, all that we need to fill us up. He's sittin' on ready, waiting to meet every single solitary need that we have. We say that He meets all of our needs, and then we wonder sometimes why we don't have 'em, because we don't give Him a chance. Certainly, it enlarges our view of God. You see, so many people's God is so confined. Your view of God begins to get larger and larger; greater and greater; bigger and bigger. When you begin to see how He begins to work in your life, and how He's working situations and circumstances in the future out there that you can't even figure out, and you come to that point in your life, or that time, or that decision, and you see how God has worked out every single detail already.
One thing that certainly will happen when you spend time with Him is that He will purify your heart. I do believe that one of the primary reasons that most people will not get along with the Lord; spend time with Him is because they don't want to face themselves. They've got baggage they don't want to deal with. Sin in their life they don't wanna face. Anxieties they just they can't deal with 'em. Not only that, their frustration, their anxieties are such that they just don't believe that somehow God can handle that. Yes, He can take every single need that we have, and sometimes those feelings we have that emotionally upset us are the result of some particular sin in our life that we've not even identified.
So what happens? When you come before Him and you say, "Lord, speak to my heart". God doesn't scratch His head to find out what to say or what to think He knows exactly every single thing that's going on in our heart. And so what does He do? He sometimes it may be like a storm that hits us, but sometimes, very gently, He reminds us: It's not the right attitude. Shouldn't have said that. Shouldn't have treated him that way. You need to go apologize. In other words, if you're afraid of what He's going to say, you're not you're not gonna get along with Him. But if you love Him and you care and you want His character in your life, you will open your heart to Him and say, "Lord, I want you to speak to my heart. Whatever you see in my life, I want you to clear up because, God, I want you to be able to be able to look at me and not find anything in me, Lord, that disturbs our relationship".
If you're not willing to be that honest, here's what's gonna happen. You may try this, but you won't be at it long, because you won't want to face. Purification sometime is painful, but the purifying work of the Holy Spirit in our life and the presence of our Lord is absolutely precious to any child of God who wants the Lord's best for their life. Well, not only does it purify our heart, but something else I think that you'll find, and that's this: We'll find that we'll have insights and instruction from His Word we won't get any other way. You can sit and listen to a sermon and take notes, but you know when it becomes real to you?
Listen, the wisest thing you could do with any kind of a message you hear from God is this: When you hear it through a pastor, go home, and the next time you get on your knees in the afternoon, or that night or the next morning, just pull out those notes and say, "Now Lord, I want I want you to get this on the inside of me, because I'm not gonna share anything with you that does not fit on the inside of us". That is not a true biblical principal; that is the word of the Living God; that will make a difference in your life seven days a week.
And so, if you took those notes and you said, "Lord, I want you to get this truth on the inside of me. I don't want to have just heard it; I want it to be a part of my thinking. I want to be able to work this in my life in such a way that I can share it with somebody else and they, too, will profit from what you have said to me". Instruction. Insight into the Word of God because you have the Holy Spirit. And it's probably one of my most exciting things about the whole Christian life. One of the most exciting things in the whole Christian life to me is to study the Word of God and then when I'm not even necessarily thinking about something that I read, God say something to me so crystal clear out of the blue that absolutely goes straight to my hear; I know that God is speaking. He wants to say something to you. He wants to protect you; to provide for you; to direct your life.
We get instruction and direction from His Word. Not only that, time you and I spend with Him prepares us for conflict. Now, we don't know what tomorrow holds. None of us do. And so we can't predict the future, and we can't make decisions today that affect the future. And so, we have to make decisions today that affect today. And so, we have to trust God for tomorrow. And so, we don't know when the storms are coming; when the floods are coming. But here's what I know for certain. When you and I spend time with Him.
You see, He says He's like a refuge. He's like He's like a fortress. He's like a rock upon which we stand. He's our hiding place. Spending time with Him oftentimes prepares us; so quietens our soul, that we are ready when something comes that would normally blow people off course that does not affect us because, why? Because we know who is in control of our lives. Prepares us for the storms of life. Not only that.
One last thing I would say is this: When you and I spend time with Him, there is a joy in our life that has its source in nothing else in the world. There's this overwhelming sense of deep abiding joy that's deeper, stronger, and far more fulfilling than happiness. Happiness is dependent upon our circumstances. Joy is dependent upon a relationship. Now you think about this. Can anybody anywhere in the world name me any other experience in life that will give you all of that? You cannot. Because we're relating to the Lord Jesus Christ who loved us enough to go to the cross and die for your sins and mine. And then to send us the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of us; to enable us to become godly men and women. But let me ask you a question. Do you have a priority in your life? Is Jesus first?
Now watch this. As you look at the way you spend your time, is He first? The way you spend your money, is He first? In your relationships, is He first? In the expenditure of the wisdom and knowledge and understanding and labors that God has given you, is He still first? If He's not, let me ask you a question: How can you and I justify having put Jesus in second place, third place, fourth place, fifth place? Somewhere out yonder in the ethereal something somewhere? We can't justify that. You want life at its best?
You say, well how far away is life at its best? Well, if I could measure it, here's what I'd say. I'd say life at its best is this far away. It's just as far as my feet to my knees. Because, when you get on your face before the Living God, and you tell Him that above everything else in life you want Him. You want to know Him; love Him; learn from Him; you long to be what He wants you to be; you long to become the person that God has predestined you to be; you long for an intimate relationship with Him, and you know what? One thing you'll never have to ask: "Oh please, God, please, please, please". You know what? He's sittin' on ready to transform your life. Sittin' on ready to transform your life.
So if you've never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, listen carefully. He went to the cross for one reason. Nailed Him to the cross, and upon Him the Father placed all of your sin for all of your life, and then the Father punished Him in your place and made it possible for you to be able to say, "Father, forgive me for my sins. I'm asking you to forgive me on the basis that Christ died for my sins, and I'm accepting Him as my personal Savior here and now".
Whoever you are; wherever you are; no matter what you've done; how long you've done it; how evil, wicked, and vile you've been. If you're willing to ask Him to forgive you of your sins and accept His death as full payment for your sins; tell Him that you're receiving Him as your personal Savior; sins are forgiven, wiped out forever, He will hold them against you no more. And then if you're wise enough to make Him number one in relationship and every other aspect of your life, you watch God transform you in a way that you would never begin to imagine. One thing I know for certain, you never lose making Him number one.
Father, we love you and praise you for giving us such a simple passage of Scripture but so full of profound truth that absolutely can impact every single area of our life. I pray the Holy Spirit will sink this truth into every heart that hears it, seal it tight, let it take root, let it bear fruit. And the fruit being transformed lives, people who love you, devoted to you, listen to you, long for you, learn from you, and walk in your ways is our prayer today. In Jesus's name, amen.