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Dealing With Stress — How To Establish Priorities

Dealing With Stress Through Spiritual Methods — How To Establish Priorities
  1. Establish a worthwhile goal
  2. Put small things into the larger concept

WE ALL ESTABLISH priorities all of the time, and the way we choose what to give first place in our lives determines the quality of life that we will have. Wrong choices can make our experience fear-filled and stressful. Right choices and preferences can help our lives to move ahead in divinely ordered, happy and progressive ways.

When we choose to become upset over something that happens, we are giving priority to the negative emotion, allowing it to take precedence over the positive things we could be accomplishing. At that particular moment we have decided that being disturbed is more important than absolutely anything else we could be doing. And we suffer for it, stress-wise.

On the other hand, when we choose not to let what another says or does disturb us, when we decide instead to continue on with some constructive activity, then we are giving priority to the good, and we will reap the rewards of our happy decision.

When we choose to scatter our forces in trying to accomplish a multitude of fragmented, inconsequential tasks, we are determining that there will not be time to finish those important jobs. And we may end up feeling frustrated, overworked and angry.

We all have priorities and we set priorities continuously. We do it whenever we put one thing before another, one job ahead of another — or when we drop everything and decide to do something different. Priorities are determined by our sense of urgency or importance, or sometimes by an emotional reaction which takes over without any conscious direction on our part.

Actually, for faith-filled, happy, successful living, we must learn to take charge of our lives and establish priorities based on our highest goals and aims. When we do, we will find ourselves freed from the stress that comes from trying to do too many things at a time and also the frustration that may follow the sense that we are not accomplishing the things that are truly important to us. We can consciously take charge of our lives, setting the priorities that will lead to progressive unfoldment and happy, successful accomplishment in our daily activity. We can, when we become aware that we are the ones who choose what our experiences will be. We can determine to take into our life experience only those activities which will propel us in the direction of our highest aims in life.

Choosing the proper priorities simply means putting the things that are first in importance in our growth and unfold-ment first in our daily activity. To keep control of our lives, we must consciously make continuing decisions, fitting all activities into our overall plan of life.

All of the great people of history have been individuals who consciously directed their lives toward the fulfillment of a particular goal. The Bible is filled with the stories of those who reportedly set priorities under divine direction and reaped the reward of a full, meaningful life.

Jesus always worked under divine direction, letting His life be guided from moment to moment, never wasting time but always working toward the great overall goal of expressing the Christ.

This doesn’t mean that He was serious and purposeful in all of His actions and reactions. He went to a wedding. He dined at the homes of friends. He took time to share his thoughts with few followers when the time was appropriate, just as He spoke to the multitudes when that was required. He also knew when to go apart and pray, preparing Himself for the next sharing. And He managed to pack more activity into three years than most people put in a lifetime. He did it by establishing proper priorities.

The apostle, Paul, was a man who had to completely revamp his life, when he changed his chief aim and his priorities. His life had been hectic and frenzied as he pursued his goal of persecuting the Christians. The first priority was wiping out the new sect wherever he could find it.

After his spiritual awakening, his whole attitude was changed from the obsession with persecution to the worthwhile goal of spreading the spiritual message. Under divine direction he travelled to much of the known world, carrying the Jesus Christ message in an orderly way, putting first things first. He played an important role in the establishing of the Christian faith.

Old Testament characters also set priorities in order to accomplish great deeds.

King David, guided by Spirit, was a great conqueror who established a powerful kingdom. He also remembered the Source, and, under divine direction and with tremendous care and dedication, collected materials from all over his world for the building of the temple in Jerusalem.

His son, Solomon, carried on where his father left off, also accomplishing great things. He consolidated the kingdom his father left him and established relations with other mon-archs. But, more importantly, he made sure that the temple to God was built in Jerusalem. This received first priority.

There was also Joshua.

His name gives the clue to his success power and to his ability to establish the proper priorities in whatever position he found himself. Joshua is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek name, Jesus, and it means “Jehovah is salvation” or “whom Jehovah makes triumphant” (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, p. 368). It was through Joshua’s conscious identification with the I Am, or Christ, within himself that he was able to accomplish wonderful things. But it didn’t happen all at once. This great leader had to serve his apprenticeship and prove himself worthy before he was given his final authority. He proved himself by putting first things first and by letting God guide his life through a variety of experiences.

Joshua began life as a slave in Egypt. We don’t know much about this period of his life, about 45 years, but it must have been a time of preparation in which he proved himself worthy to be one of the twelve spies sent into the Promised Land by Moses.

After the Hebrews had left Egypt under Moses’ leadership, they reached the border of the land which had been promised them, and twelve men were chosen to go into the land and scout it out. Only two of those twelve came back with a favorable report. The others were totally intimidated by the people and the conditions that they saw. Joshua, however, recommended to Moses that the people continue into the land and possess it. In spite of the negative reports of the other ten, he and Caleb argued, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land . . . the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” (Num. 14:7, 8, 9 RSV)

Joshua was rewarded for his effort by the enmity of the other Hebrews, who sought to stone him, along with Caleb. Of course, they did not succeed.

For the next 40 years, as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, Joshua continued to put first things first. As an entire generation of doubters died out, Joshua continued to trust in God’s plan for the Israelites to repossess the Promised Land. He also spent his time in working and studying with Moses, doing what he could where he was. He was about the Father’s business, constructively occupying his time.

As with all of us, Joshua had times in his life when action was most important. He had other times when study and contemplation played an important role in his preparation for greater responsibilities to come. Since he was dedicating himself to going God’s way, he knew which was most important at the time.

It wasn’t until he was 85 that Joshua’s “big break” came. He was appointed by Moses to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. As a leader of this motley multitude, he had more challenges and responsibilities than ever, but he could assume the task without undue stress and strain because he was ready. Learning to establish priorities in the proper way, under divine direction, enabled him to serve well in coping with the stressful situations in which he would find himself as he proceeded with his task.

His attitude 40 years earlier when he was sent out as a spy had shown that he was in tune with the assignment, and he had proved himself a good student and a worthy leader during those 40 years of wandering.

As Charles Fillmore pointed out, “The leadership of the Israelites was given to Joshua because he had been under instruction and had acquired a proficiency that enabled him to perform his work with dispatch.” (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, p. 368) He was able and efficient because he was disciplined and continually receptive to divine direction.

When the time came, Joshua was not only ready. Under divine direction, he moved quickly. Following God’s instructions, he called the officers together and instructed them to command the people to prepare to cross the Jordan River in three days. He reminded the people of God’s promise that they would possess the land.

Continuing to act with confidence based on his direct revelation from Jehovah, he sent spies to report on conditions in Jericho. When they returned three days later, Joshua prepared the people for the crossing of the Jordan. Putting God first, as always, he instructed the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass on before the people.” (Josh. 3:6 RSV) As the priests carrying the ark stood in the channel of the river, the multitude passed over the riverbed on dry land.

After that, he proceeded quickly, demonstrating great skill as a military leader during the seven years he spent conquering the Promised Land. Then he helped to divide the land between the tribes and supervise the reconstruction. His last few years were spent more quietly as he continued to serve as leader of this great people.

Toward the end of his long life, Joshua called the Israelites together for some last instructions. He pointed out the importance of continuing to go God’s way, but told them to “choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:14 RSV). Then he reiterated the commitment by which he had lived his life, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:15 RSV) The people assured him, “We will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:31 RSV)

It was a long and eventful life and career, and it was successful because Joshua knew what was most important to him and geared the activities of his daily life to the fulfillment of his goal. So can we.

Here are some rules we can follow.

Establish a worthwhile goal.

Our accomplishment will always be greater when we are moving along in a positive, constructive way, with a definite, worthwhile goal in sight.

On the other hand, we will always be frustrated and unhappy when we drift through life in a meaningless way. Dissatisfaction with our lives will bring about great stress, whether or not we realize what we are doing to ourselves. The need for meaning and direction in living is a basic requirement of our nature, and failure to fulfill this need will leave us dissatisfied and unhappy.

So, to live happily and successfully, we must have a worthwhile goal. But how do we go about choosing a goal or aim? We can take a lesson from Joshua.

At first glance, we might think that Joshua’s overall goal was simply to see that the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land, first under Moses’ leadership and later under his own. But was it?

This is simply the outer goal that claimed his allegiance. But before there was an outer revelation, there had to be an inner search and dedication. Undoubtedly Joshua’s primary goal was to serve God, and he was willing to do that in whatever way was revealed to him. Leading the people across the river and into the Promised Land was the culmination of a lifetime of listening and learning as preparation for whatever work God had for him to do.

Many people would like to start off with some great project as a leader or person of prominence. But if we would learn to truly fulfill God’s plan for our lives, we must be willing to start small as Joshua did.

At the age of 45 he had reached a position of some prominence because of his dedication to God. That is why he was chosen to be one of the spies. But it took forty more years of learning before he was ready for the great assignment.

God has many channels, and He has many jobs that need to be done. Who is to say that one is greater than another? But our own right place, our own right work and our perfect goal will be revealed to us when we make our first commitment to learning to go God’s way and to fulfilling the plan that He reveals to us step by step as we let the plan unfold.

Our overall goal of serving God in the way that is right for us at the time may lead to bringing sunshine into the lives of others in a small way. It may mean writing books or giving lectures. Or it may be simply doing the job in which we are now involved in the very best way possible, as though we were doing it for God (which we are).

Meanwhile, we can adopt Joshua’s theme of serving the Lord, praying for guidance and letting His plan unfold in our lives. We can go from outer goal to outer goal as we continue to pursue the inner purpose of letting God’s light shine through in our lives.

Our outer goals may change as we progress, and we should be ready and willing to adjust as we go along, provided we are continuing to keep ourselves in tune with Spirit and in harmony with the orderly unfoldment of God’s ideas in and through us. As we continue to pray and progress, the outer goals will be revealed to and through us in a divinely ordered way.

It worked for Joshua. Actually, his life fell into three distinct segments. First, he was in Egypt, a slave but undoubtedly a person who was thinking and learning and praying even under those conditions. During the next forty years he continued to learn under Moses’ direction as he served as one of the lieutenants under him. Finally, he became the leader of the multitude, with a definite assigned task which unfolded step by step as he went forward in faith. But, through it all, his primary goal was the one he proclaimed at the end of his long and full life. His aim was to “serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15 RSV).

Paul’s experience was different, in that he was trying to serve God in a way revealed by his limited understanding, persecuting the Christians. But when he awakened to a greater understanding, he changed his priorities in the light of a higher understanding of his goal. This may happen to us as well.

Establishing our great overall goal includes something else as well. There may be action as we seek to fulfill our aim, but there will certainly be something taking place within us (which may be even more important than our actions). That is becoming the spiritual person in expression that God designed us to be. It is being, rather than doing. Our greatest purpose may turn out to be simply to express that which God is. We can fulfill this idea by contemplating what God is like and seeking to develop and express His qualities of goodness.

But we can be sure of one thing. When our goal is to fulfill that divine greatness that is within us, to go God’s way and to serve Him, our accomplishment will always be greater than it is when we limit ourselves to little human, personal goals.

Put small things into the larger concept.

Once we have chosen our great, overall goal, the next step is to fit everything that we think, feel, say and do all day long into the greater aim of our life.

For instance, one thing that will happen as we dedicate our lives to the fulfillment of God’s plan for us is that we will discover that there is no place in our experience for times of anger, fear, frustration and feelings of failure. Negative thoughts and emotions sap the strength and power we could be using to progress toward our aim of being and acting according to God’s plan for our lives. The minute we decide that we do not have time or energy to waste on negative reactions to life, we start to establish a stress-free approach to proper priorities.

Then, under divine direction, we will know when it is important to take a stand in a particular situation and when it is better to let it go. We will have a different attitude toward those things which are important in life. We will be less inclined to think in terms of human vanity and more likely to direct ourselves to the overall view of God’s plan of good for all. In other words, under divine direction we will put spiritual aims and goals ahead of personal reactions.

We will no longer scatter ourselves in meaningless activity, but will relate each segment of our lives to the divine pattern and the divine direction from within.

The things we include in our daily schedule will be those things that are important to us. Even when interruptions come and challenges arise to be handled, we will be able to cope with them without frustration and complaint. In tune with God, we will be able to recognize which things are important and which should be dealt with quickly and easily, and we will act accordingly.

Under divine direction, we will not be burdened continually with work, but will know when it is in divine order to take a break, to contact a friend, to walk down a country road and admire the scenery or just rest and relax. And we will not be so hurried and harried that we feel we can’t afford the time. We will, by putting God first, be able to be so in tune that we know what to do next.

There should always be times of listening to God in prayer. How else can we find out what His plan is for our lives? I have one friend who keeps a pad of paper and pencil handy when she sits down for her morning prayer, so that she can make notes on the things God tells her in her prayer. She is a business person, and she then goes ahead under the divine direction for that day.

As Joshua told the people of Israel, “Come hither, and hear the words of the Lord your God.” (Joshua 3:9 RSV) The Lord is the Christ of our own being, the spirit of God made personal to us. We must listen if we are to learn and grow under divine direction. We must take time for God first and then stay tuned in all day long as we go about our activities.

Joshua fitted everything into his overall goal of serving the Lord in the way that was revealed to him from within.

While others procrastinated and made excuses, he held to the vision and did what he could. Even when he seemingly lost the argument about entering the Promised Land, instead of complaining and criticizing he went ahead learning and growing, step by step, until the great assignment came, and he was ready. And so can we.

Our assignments will not always be the same. Each one is here to serve God in a particular way for a particular purpose. Each one is important to the fulfillment of the overall plan. But as we listen, we will hear, and we will know what we are to do next.

As we grow in our ability to listen and to learn and to establish proper priorities every day, we will find that we have established new, stress-free habits of thought and feeling. Instead of having to automatically stop and ask God about it, we will move from one task to the next, coping with what arises and somehow knowing from within what comes next.

Divine order, order that is based on divine direction all the time, with or without our conscious thought about it, is the key to establishing proper priorities and living a stress-free life.

© 1985, Winifred Wilkinson Hausmann
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.