Did you hear the one about the Super Bowl? There’s an empty seat between two men in the stadium.
“I can’t believe that seat didn’t sell!”
“It did sell. It was for my wife, but she died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m surprised that one of your friends or relatives didn’t take the seat.”
“Me, too. They all insisted on going to the funeral.”
We all can recognize misplaced priorities—in other people, at least. The problem with misplaced priorities, of course, is that it’s hard enough to do what you need to do, without wasting time on things that aren’t going to be important in the long run. You probably have a spouse, perhaps children, parents with increasing care needs, friends at church and in your neighborhood, not to mention a room full of energetic students. There are lessons to prepare, papers to grade, meals to fix, possessions to maintain, ministry to be carried out.
Some of the more pious among us might deny this, but we all have felt the frustration that Solomon well expresses in the inspired book of Ecclesiastes: “All is vanity and vexation of spirit [or striving after the wind].” That’s OK. God’s providence, even His hard providence, is good, and He provides what we need in order to do what He has called us to do. But the pressure reinforces the thought that we had better not be wasting our time doing things that don’t matter.
So what’s the most important thing? More than grades? More than efficiency? More than perfect appearances? It’s been summed up in a lot of ways, but it all comes down to godliness, doesn’t it? We want our students to be what they should be as well as to do what they should do. There are lots of ways to accomplish that goal, of course, but the Scripture identifies three key sources of spiritual growth in every believer. Theologians call them the “means of grace.” More simply, they are avenues through which God gives us the ability to grow more like Him—to be what we should be and do what we should do.
Paul calls the Scripture “the word of his grace” and says that it “is able to build you up” (Acts 20:32). The Book has a power all of its own, and we need to keep our students’ faces (and more importantly, their minds) in it all of the time, reading, memorizing, meditating, applying. This is spiritual calisthenics—not always fun, but always profitable. We must not produce a generation of Christians who know “what they’ve always been taught” but are spiritually flabby.
The Bible calls prayer “the throne of grace” where we “find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). The American church is largely a prayerless church, and believers routinely demonstrate the weakness to prove it. How real is the prayer life of your students? More to the point, how real is yours? Paul describes his companion Epaphras as “labouring fervently for you in prayers” (Col. 4:12). The Greek word is agonizomai, from which we get our word agonize. When was the last time you took prayer that seriously? (I speak to my own shame.) One of the great benefits of personal disasters—terminal illness, death of a loved one, a horrific crime—is that they lead us to take prayer seriously. We need more of that.
The Fellowship of Believers
Paul says that our words to one another in the body “minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). We are placed together in the body for the primary purpose of building one another up. Your students, and mine, were placed in our classrooms because God has designed us as teachers with something they needed to be more Christlike. That’s why example is so much more powerful than words. That’s why what the teachers do is far more important than any lectures they might give. And that’s why our first priority must be to live godly before our charges.
Misplaced priorities. Nobody wants to waste his precious time. Even as you do less important things, focus on what matters.