From time to time we all think about priorities. Usually when life is getting a little out of control and we know something is going to have to give. When we think of priorities we often think in terms of “rank.”

Let’s say, for conversation’s sake, we have a husband (Steve) who is trying to get his time priorities back in line. He knows he wants to love God will all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength by managing his relationships and activities in biblical manner (the charts below are Steve’s attempt to determine what loving God looks like in practice).  So he sits down and lists his priorities and ranks them. He creates something that looks like Chart 1.

Item Rank
Wife 1
Children 2
Job 3
House/Recreation 4

This is good chart. Most of us would applaud Steve for having things in the right order. However, there is a false assumption embedded in the chart. When we prioritize things by rank we often assume each item is equidistant from those things above and below it.  In Steve’s case, we would assume the “value” score (out of a total of 100) would look like Chart 2.

Item Rank Assumed Value
Wife 1 40
Children 2 30
Job 3 20
House/Recreation 4 10

If this were the case, Steve would spend twice as much time with his wife as he does at work, and three times as much time with the kids as he does working on the house or personal recreation. This is why we quit making lists of our priorities. Life just will not cooperate and the list never seems realistic.

I believe it is more accurate and effective to conceptualize our priorities in terms of a “value rank” system. Steve would still list his key relationships and activities. However, before ranking them he would assign them a value based on a total 100 score. From these value scores, Steve would then identify the rank of each item and seek to manage his life accordingly. This would look like Chart 3.

Item Value Score Rank
Wife 35 1
Children 32 2
Job 23 3
House/Recreation 10 4

Whether you agree with the numbers or not, please follow the concept. There are varying distances between successive ranks. If we added more items, then the difference in value would become more pronounced. We could make it a bit more complex by discussing how work is a way Steve provides for his wife and kids, but we won’t go there now. We will seek to make two points of application.

First, we will look at how value scoring changes the way we think about sin. Let’s say in Steve’s stress he takes up internet gambling. He is spending time and money that should be devoted to family on his new “hobby.” Steve is also gambling at work. In a simple rank system (see Chart 1) everything would just get dropped one place Chart 4).

Item Rank
Gambling 1
Wife 2
Children 3
Job 4
House/Recreation 5

Steve could probably quiet his conscience with this logic. “It’s not that bad. My wife is still second. My kids are still third. How far off can I be?” We could answer Steve many ways, but let’s keep looking at the concept of priorities. If we walked Steve though a value scoring system (see Chart 3), he would see the reality of his sin much clearer (Chart 5).

Item Value Score (Previous Score) Rank
Gambling 40   (0) 1
Wife 10   (35) 4
Children 18   (32) 3
Job 27   (23) 2
House/Recreation 5   (10) 5

In order for gambling to become number one it has to accumulate the necessary number of value points. This significantly shuffles all the other numbers. Work also jumps because of the increased need for money. The kids take priority over the wife, because she “nags” about money and housework. We can begin to see the mess sin makes of life even before the life altering consequences of sin begin to emerge. It makes sense why the two Great Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40) are commands of priority (love), not prohibition (thou shall not).

Second, let’s also use this concept to see perfectionism more clearly. The perfectionist can utilize the value scoring system to see reality in a different way. Let’s say Steve never started internet gambling, instead he is simply trying to earn his #1 Husband, #1 Father, #1 Employee, #1 Yard, and #1 Golfer mug all at the same time. In this case, Steve would view his “rank” score simply as a matter of order. Which relationship or activity do I master first, second, third, and fourth? He would not see his error until he created a value score (Chart 6).

Item Rank Value Score (Perfection)
Wife 1 100
Children 2 100
Job 3 100
House/Recreation 4 100

If Steve cloned himself three times (equally 4 total Steves), then this chart would be great! However, Steve is faced with the reality of being a finite human bound within the restrictions of time and his current season of life. God has only called Steve to perform at the level of excellence that can be achieved in a 168 hour week (or 672 hour month) based upon Steve’s abilities, resources, season of life, and opportunities (managed within biblical priorities).

So what is our take away from this discussion of priorities?

Hopefully, we have found a way of thinking about priorities that allows us to avoid both minimizing our sin and stressing out about perfection. In addition, I hope we have gained a greater a more practical understanding of why Jesus said that all of the law and the prophets (the Bible) hangs on having our priorities (loves) in the right order. If we have done that much, we have equipped ourselves to study the Bible more practically and with a motivation of worship.