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Friday, July 3, 2009

Priorities (Haggai 1:1-11)

Priority setting and time management may be the most important issues in every lawyer’s life. Our money is often limited; but our time is not only limited but stretched beyond its breaking points. Our professional lives are enormously demanding – depending on one’s practice, 60, 70, or 80-hour work weeks may be commonplace. Some lawyers bill 2,500 or more hours per year, and when you add in nonbillable work responsibilities, that leaves only two possibilities:

(i) you are lying on your timesheets, or
(ii) you have no time left for normal human existence.

In addition to our professional lives, most lawyers have enormous responsibilities in the areas of church and community service. Our legal training gives us skills in analysis, planning, speaking, and leadership that are in high demand by most volunteer groups. There are probably few Christian lawyers who are not asked at some point in their lives to serve as an elder, deacon, or committee chair in their local church. We are constantly being called to serve on boards and task forces, to teach Sunday School classes, and to plan special events. Civic and community groups, ministries, and other nonprofit organizations also want to make full use of our skills.

Family relationships, although they can be among the most rewarding aspects of life, also create huge demands on our time and energy. A marriage, even the best marriage, requires lots of serious effort, planning, and communication. Children who are to be raised with a passionate love for God and a solid set of beliefs and values must have the time and attention of both Mom and Dad in abundant supply.

When you add all of this up, it is pretty overwhelming. Sometimes we feel that we must climb out of bed early in the morning and run through the day at frantic pace, extinguishing the most urgent fires until we collapse into bed again at night. What is often lost – not by deliberate choice, but just for lack of time – is any serious focus on our relationship with Christ.

The people of Jerusalem in the day of Haggai faced a somewhat similar situation. Their lives were overwhelming. They were returning from exile to a city and nation that had been completely destroyed. They had to rebuild, from the ground up, their homes, work places, public buildings, houses of worship, stores, walls – everything! If your professional responsibilities seem overwhelming try to imagine doing your work with your office, computer, and files all destroyed. Then, in your mind, level your home as well, and you may have some sense of what the exiles faced when they returned to Jerusalem.

From everything we can determine (primarily the Old Testament books of Ezra and Haggai), these were dedicated, hard working people. They were not plagued by the comfortable, lazy sins that can afflict cultures where life has become too easy and leisure too prevalent – sins like sloth, gluttony, and lust. It seems, instead, that they were working very hard to rebuild their homes and community. They had the “Protestant work ethic” down to a science.

And yet God was displeased. All of their hard work could not earn His pleasure, because the things they were working on were not His top priority. God wanted His temple to be rebuilt before the people finished their own homes. “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

What about us? Are we living in paneled houses while God’s house, His priorities for our life, remains a ruin? If so, the excuse that we were “working hard” will hardly work.

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