Every year, I sit down personally to observe my own priorities. I sit down, make a list of the priorities that I have made, and then open the Scriptures to measure whether I have the correct priorities in my personal life. Every year, I am drawn to change when I do this. I am convicted concerning the priorities that I have made that do not honor God and I am encouraged when I find that I have made something a priority that does honor God.
In Genesis 1, we are given two purposes as people who have been created in the image of God. The first is to fill the earth with God’s image and with worship to God. The second is to cultivate the earth for God’s glory. We have discovered together what it means to fill the earth with God’s image in our current context over the last few weeks. We will now turn to discover what it might mean for us to cultivate the earth for God’s glory.
We gleaned last week that our yearning to practice evangelism comes a a result of the relationship we have with Christ. The closer we are with Christ, or the more sanctified we have been made by Christ, the more we will care about practicing evangelism (telling the good news concerning Christ to all people we meet). The more conformed we are as a church to the image of Christ, the more we will practice evangelism as a church. Our yearning to accomplish God’s purpose of filling creation with His image comes out of our heart condition. The godly roots in our lives grow into godly fruit. If this is the case for evangelism, then it is likely also the case for cultivation. Evangelism, we might equate to growing the vine, while cultivation might be equated with tending the vine. Without first evangelism, there cannot be cultivation. Cultivation, too, stems from the condition of the heart. When it comes to priorities, then, and as we examine our hearts together; I have to ask this: Do our priorities help us to cultivate the world for God’s glory?
Genesis 29:21-35 HCSB
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is completed. I want to sleep with her.” So Laban invited all the men of the place to a feast. That evening, Laban took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and he slept with her. And Laban gave his slave Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her slave.
When morning came, there was Leah! So he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Wasn’t it for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?”
Laban answered, “It is not the custom in this place to give the younger daughter in marriage before the firstborn. Complete this week of wedding celebration, and we will also give you this younger one in return for working yet another seven years for me.”
And Jacob did just that. He finished the week of celebration, and Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. And Laban gave his slave Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her slave. Jacob slept with Rachel also, and indeed, he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was unable to conceive. Leah conceived, gave birth to a son, and named him Reuben, for she said, “The Lord has seen my affliction; surely my husband will love me now.”
She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “The Lord heard that I am unloved and has given me this son also.” So she named him Simeon.
She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “At last, my husband will become attached to me because I have borne three sons for him.” Therefore he was named Levi.
And she conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she named him Judah. Then Leah stopped having children.
Misplaced priorities lead to sin
In this story, Jacob, who is Isaac’s son, goes looking for a wife and he meets a nice young woman named Rachel. He goes to Rachel’s father and they work out an agreement. Jacob would work seven years for laban in order to receive Laban’s daughter Rachel as his wife. Jacob works for seven years (the time seemed short because Jacob loved Rachel so much), and instead of giving Jacob his daughter Rachel’s hand, he covers the face of his older daughter and they have this marriage ceremony. All of the sudden, Jacob is married to a woman he does not love. Leah, who is now his wife, feels unloved, but tries over and over again, unsuccessfully, to earn Jacob’s love.
We could look at Laban’s life, Jacob’s life, and Leah’s life and notice two things. First, their lives are in complete disarray. Second, none of them are satisfied with their own lives or with the actions of others. This circumstance is, simply stated, a mess.
Here, we are going to do a case study on the circumstance of these individuals. I want to consider what caused Laban to be so deceptive, what caused Jacob to be so unloving, and what caused Leah to be so unfulfilled.
In verse 26, we receive an indication as to why Laban behaved the way that he did. After Jacob discovered that he had not married Rachel, Laban admits that it is not the custom to wed the younger daughter before the older. Whether it is because there don’t seem to be any prospects for Leah or because Laban just wants to get rid of her (I don’t know), Laban felt he had to deceive Jacob in order to give his older daughter in marriage first. He did this so that he could keep a custom that had been established in his society by this time.
Laban held tradition as a priority and it caused him to deceive, to lie to, and to take advantage of Jacob. His misplaced priority caused him to sin, both against Jacob and against the God of the universe.
Jacob was deceived and was wed to a woman he did not love. Because of this, he never came to love Leah even though he was married to her. While Jacob was a victim, in this text, he allowed this circumstance to produce sin in his own life because he did not love Leah. Jacob’s priority, then, was his own satisfaction. It caused him to ignore the customs and to pursue his wants even in spite of the customs that were already in place. Misplaced priorities, for both Laban and Jacob, led them into sin.
While making this realization, I have to wonder how our own priorities, when they are misplaced, actually lead us into sin. Here, I will only mention a couple of misplaced priorities because they are the misplaced priorities we see in this story. First, Laban prioritized custom over honesty. It would be like us saying, “We are doing this thing, whether or not it makes sense or profits us, because it is our custom to do so.” When we prioritize custom, which is based on people, instead of on honesty, which is based in God’s character, we are led into sin. We ought to think truthfully and biblically about why we do the things that we do. This will help us to prioritize in a way that leads us into Christ instead of into sin.
Second, Jacob prioritized his own expectations over the customary rule. He expected Laban to do things a certain way. When those expectations were not met, Jacob was driven to be unloving and into sin. Sometimes we prioritize our own expectations. We expect others to behave a certain way, to work a certain way, to talk a certain way, and even to think a certain way. When our expectations are not met, we are led to react in a way that is sinful just as Jacob did.
When I was working third shift at a grocery store, I had a manager who did things in a way that I would not have done them. I constantly wondered why he did things the way that he did and I criticized him in the privacy of my own heart. My criticisms were based entirely on my expectations and I saw my way as better than those of my manager. I looked down on this manager, and one of the reasons was that I didn’t take time to understand his way of doing things. Later, I was beginning to train to become a manager and I realized that there was much work managers had to do that others simply did not see. I discovered quickly that, perhaps in making my own expectations a priority, I sinned against my manager and I sinned against God because I looked down on another person. While we all have our expectations, I find that prioritizing our own expectations (particularly of others) usually leads us into sin.
This truth is reinforced as we all examine our own lives. When my priorities are out of sync with God, my own priorities lead me only into sin.
Misplaced priorities lead to dissatisfaction
There are two more characters in this story. Rachel is mentioned, but we don’t really receive much insight into her attitude or life. Leah, however, is the human character concerning whom most of this passage speaks.
Leah is so dissatisfied. She is dissatisfied in her marriage. She feels unloved. She hopes her children will gain her at least some recognition, but they do not. Leah surely endures the most hardship of anyone else in this part of the story. Her dissatisfaction is not entirely her fault. Her father, Laban, gave her in marriage to a man that did not want her. Her husband did not love her. The misplaced priorities of both Laban and Jacob impacted someone else in a way that was detrimental. Leah was left to try and earn her husband’s love. She had one child, two, three, and even four; Jacob still did not love her. Her priority was was to gain acceptance and, as a result, she never felt loved.
The simple truth I can glean from this, then, is that when my priorities are out of sync with God, my own priorities lead others and myself to be entirely dissatisfied. If my priorities are misaligned and misplaced and I am dissatisfied as a result of my own misplaced priorities, that is one thing. I can deal with that on some level. If my misplaced priorities lead to someone else being dissatisfied or suffering hardship in any manner, I realize that my misplaced priorities have actually diverted someone else’s attention from the God of the universe. All of the sudden, it becomes paramount for the people of God to think about and set their priorities well. If you want to be satisfied, set good priorities! If you don’t want to lead others into sin and shame, set good priorities in your life!
I want to issue this challenge to all of us in this moment. When you are at home, find a journal or a sheet of paper or pull up your computer and list out the things you spend time doing in a week. Don’t worry about how others spend their week or what you think others ought to be doing. Think about your own life. Next to everything you spend time doing, write or type how much time every week you dedicate to that thing and list how high of a priority it is in your life. Set your priorities to what you think is right. Keep that paper out, we are not done yet. This list is going to reveal to us how closely our priorities reflect the relationship we have with God. They are going to reflect whether we are cultivating for God’s glory or our own (and I will share my results with you in a few moments). First, though, we must consider together what this passage reveals about God, who created people in His image for the purpose of cultivating the earth for His glory.
Good priorities are the result of a cultivated heart
Leah was unloved by Jacob. Her father was not considerate of her thoughts or feelings. She was constantly being compared to her sister. She desired to earn Jacob’s love. She gave Jacob a child, and Jacob still did not love her. She gave him a second, and still desired his love. After the third child that she had with Jacob, she was still not satisfied in her marriage relationship. Leah gave birth to a fourth child and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.”
In this story, we get to witness God’s work in the heart of the individual. Leah had no control over Jacob’s priorities. No matter how much she gave him, she was unable to cause him to love her. I find this to be true in my own experience: It is impossible for me to shift someone else’s priorities. By the end of the story, Leah stopped making it a priority to rearrange someone else’s priorities and she actually shifted her own. God used Leah’s dissatisfaction to draw her closer to Himself. By the end of this part of the story, she is not begging for Jacob’s love, but is instead praising God. There is a satisfaction present that actually leads her into praise.
Considering this, I have to ask where good priorities actually come from. We can make priorities for ourselves and give them the importance we think they ought to have, but how do we know whether or not the priorities we have set are actually good priorities? Well, God brought Leah to a place where she praised Him for what He had done. God was cultivating Leah’s heart. As a result, Leah shifted her priorities and was better prepared to cultivate the world that God had placed her in. As God sanctifies us, we know that God is always bringing us closer to Himself. As God brings us closer to Himself, our priorities change as a result of a cultivated heart. While this isn’t the “how-to” that many people are looking for, the challenge, here, is for us to seek after Christ. Part of seeking after Christ is exploring His instruction. Take the list of priorities that we made together and take each priority to the text of Scripture. If is is a good priority, it will be affirmed in God’s Word. If it is not, then it won’t. The priorities we have set can be an indication of our spiritual health. The challenge here is not to set the right priorities (We can’t get one-another to rearrange those). The calling, here, is that we would seek first God’s kingdom, again be open to His sanctifying work, and be willing when our priorities change as a result of the relationship we have with our Lord.
This last week, I examined my own priorities and made some changes. This is a constant process for all of us. What are your priorities? What do your priorities reveal about your spiritual health? Will you follow after Christ so that He might cultivate your heart?