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Prof, on setting priorities, taps Old Testament’s Haggai

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–While every person has priorities in life, few take the time to evaluate the importance of those priorities, said Old Testament and Hebrew professor Gary Smith, encouraging Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students to examine their priorities — and just how important they should be.

A tactic Smith said he employs for himself and for others when evaluating priorities is to write them down.

“When I’ve given people the opportunity to write out their priorities, they tend to write rather idealistic statements about what their priorities are and what they should be,” Smith said. “We need to come down to the place where we say, ‘What were our priorities last week?'”

Smith, who joined Midwestern’s faculty in 1998 after teaching at Bethel Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, spoke on priorities from the first chapter of Haggai in a Feb. 15 chapel message at the Kansas City, Mo., seminary.

“Haggai comes to a group of people who are having trouble with their priorities,” Smith recounted. About 50,000 Israelites had come from Babylonian exile and were in the process of rebuilding the temple for God. There was a lull in rebuilding stemming from disagreements about turning away the help of the Samaritan people, Smith explained. “Haggai comes along 15 years after construction on the temple was stopped to try to encourage these people to think about their priorities.”

Observing that the first six verses deal with misplaced priorities, Smith related that Haggai challenged two men regarding their priorities — Zerubbabel, son of Shaeltiel and governor of Judah, as well as Joshua, son of Jehozadak and the high priest. “Because they are the leaders, they have the responsibility to help the community form proper priorities.”

The Israelite leaders were no exception to the habit of offering excuses for not focusing in on those things that should be priorities, Smith said. Threats by Persians and Samaritans, as well as inadequate money and manpower, were cited as excuses.

“There was some truth to their excuse,” Smith said, and yet Haggai pointed out the inconsistency of their actions — noting that the leaders had built new homes for themselves. “What you do with your time, what you do with your money, what you do with your energy tells me what your priorities are,” Smith reflected.

Smith concluded from Haggai 1:6 that God had cursed the Israelites with a lack of resources due to misplaced priorities

“God cannot bless people whose priorities are in the wrong place,” Smith said. “Whenever we have priorities, we have to say yes to some things and no to other things. We have to say no even to some good things that would be nice to do and even be glorifying to God. So many of us are involved with good things, but sometimes we’re not doing the best, most important thing.”

When seeking to recognize priorities that are taking precedence, Smith recommended the same criteria used by Haggai, as reflected in verse 8 of chapter 1: Does it please God and does it glorify him?

“If we are not putting first things first, we are not glorifying God,” Smith said.

To further illustrate, he referred to the priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17:4 as a key to understanding the way to glorify God. “How do you glorify God? By accomplishing the work that he gives you to do — not by doing someone else’s work.”

The end of the passage reveals an adjustment in their priorities, Smith noted. “Have we obeyed him and done what he has given us to do as Jesus did? And do we fear God?” the prof asked. “When you truly fear God, you will seek his will and find out what the tasks are for your life, and you will obey him and follow him and say no to other things that are not what God has called you to do.”

Gay is a newswriter at Midwestern Seminary.

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  • Greg Gay