Has anyone ever told you, “You need to get your priorities straight”? Not a fun piece of advice, but, if we’re honest, it’s usually true. Unfortunately, we live in a society that seems to be pushing us down a different path: the cram-in-everything-you-can-and-try-to-give-it-equal-attention path. The result is a whole lot of stressed-out jugglers with more balls in the air than they know what to do with. Work, family, church, friends, hopes, dreams — it’s a 24/7 high-stakes balancing act. But this way of life was never God’s intended plan for us.

That brings us back to priorities. If you want to truly understand how significant priorities are, try this exercise. When I was a college minister, I had my students write out a list of virtues, basically any positive ideals that they held dear. Their lists contained words like love, goodness, truth, justice, compassion, mercy, wisdom and faith. Then I told them to take their list and put it in order, to rank their virtues by the level of importance in their life. That was a much harder task. These were all good things, but when you had to consciously choose which was more important, a powerful self-portrait would begin to develop. You might think that justice and mercy are both good ideals, but the moment you place even a teensy bit of priority on one over the other, it can completely change how you live and deal with people. The same could be said of love and truth or compassion and wisdom. The point was that it’s not just what we set out to do, but the level of importance we place on these things. That’s the essence of “getting your priorities straight.”

So when we’re talking about forming good habits, priorities are key. And, lucky for us, Jesus laid it out for us in very simple terms. Apparently he was addressing yet another high-stress society with his words in Matthew 6:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
— Matthew 6:31–33

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat. It’s pretty essential for survival. And I’m also going to go out on a limb and say Jesus wasn’t against having clothes to wear. (I repeat: this is not God telling us to adopt a nudist lifestyle!) He does warn against worrying about these things, but don’t miss his greater point. This passage isn’t just about worrying; it’s about priorities. The anxiety Jesus describes only exists because we have placed such a high priority on things like making money, providing for our family, having nice stuff, building a cushy retirement. Again, not necessarily bad things, but Jesus challenges the whole premise. Instead, he lays out the ultimate priority, the first thing: seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Above all else, we should seek the things of God. Our lives should be a desperate quest to know him more fully, to have the deepest understanding of his Word, to love as he loves — basically to seek his divine kingdom vision here on earth. Do that, he says, and we don’t have to be stressed-out jugglers anymore. Sure, there will still be balance to life and conscious choices to be made, but your priorities will be properly aligned, and Jesus says, “all these things will be added to you.” He will take care of the rest. So take a long look at that exhaustive list of all the things you’re trying to cram into this life, and ask yourself, “Do I need to get my priorities straight?”