Managing Multiple Priorities

Gary Henry

“And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things’” (Luke 10:41).

EVEN IN THE SIMPLEST LIFE THAT ONE CAN LIVE, THERE ARE STILL MANY THINGS TO BE DONE. Those who would grow strong spiritually must learn to work energetically and productively without being eaten up by the time pressure that characterizes so many of our lifestyles. We must discover how to manage multiple priorities without sacrificing that which is our highest priority: the glorification of God. This is a discipline that we can learn, but learning it will be anything but easy in this age of the world.

It is possible to be very busy and not suffer from the corrosive stress that most of us feel when we’re busy. Jesus, for example, was extremely busy, and He certainly knew what it was to be tired (John 4:6), but His activities were always surrounded by the peacefulness of complete surrender to the will of God. Although He was busy, He was never frantic. He felt no need to “make things turn out” according to selfish demands. Our anxiety, on the other hand, is often the result of an urge to control certain outcomes. It springs from the desire that things should happen as we wish, rather than as God wills. Yet if we can let go of this desire, much of the compulsiveness that drives our activities will disappear.

Having said that, however, we should also say that most of our lives would profit from some serious simplification. As a people, we are over-committed and strung out. We try to do more than one human being can do effectively. And the result is one that ought to alarm us greatly: we are at a disadvantage when it comes to the devil. Richard J. Foster, who has written perceptively on the value of the simple life, has said, “Our adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.” Spiritually, we are never more vulnerable than when we are, like Martha, “worried and troubled about many things.” Thus one of the most constructive spiritual steps that we can take is to simplify our interests and our activities. But even when we do, there will still be many matters to claim our attention. We must learn the art of God-centered restfulness.