Distractions in Marriage – Part 5: Setting Priorities

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.” – 1 Peter 2:21

Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at how distractions affect our marriages. And as we’ve seen, the impact can be quite negative. We’ve talked a lot about our use of technology and social media. To be sure, these are great sources of distractions. But there are many others.

Thankfully, God “has given us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3). He speaks to us in His Word about everything required for a godly marriage. And this includes overcoming all distractions that keep us from what’s important.

This week we will discuss another major source of distractions that pull us away from each other—busy schedules.

In our unscientific research on Facebook, Sabra asked her friends to name those things that distract them from their relationship with their spouse. And busy schedules came up often.

Many activities listed fell under this “busy schedule” category. The biggest listed was work—both business and home—because it takes so much of our time. Also mentioned were children’s activities and their needs, responding to others’ needs, personal hobbies and other interests, sports—as participants and/or spectators, and church activities and responsibilities.

None of these things listed are bad or sinful. Some are necessary. And each of them can be good for us. But any one of them can also distract us from time with God and our spouses.

So what are we to do? Thankfully, God gives us the answer for dealing with all of these distractions. We find it in 1 Peter 2:21: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.”

This passage was the basis for the book, In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. The book and the passage led to the phrase many Christians adopted in the 1980’s—“What Would Jesus Do?” Bracelets, t-shirts, and many other items can still be seen today with this phrase, or simply “WWJD.”

What would Jesus do?

This question leads us to look at how Jesus dealt with His very busy schedule to keep what was most important from getting pushed aside. In His example, we discover several ways to be sure distractions from our busy lives don’t lead us away from God and each other.

First, we must understand what is most important. Jesus was clear on His priorities, and we must be clear on ours, too.

In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus was questioned by a Pharisee:Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ 37 Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

In His response, Jesus stated the two things that were most important to His life and ministry—love for God and love for others. These were the priorities that determined the steps He took. And these must be our priorities as well.

First and foremost, we must love God with all that we are and all that we do. Our love for Him should lead us to seek His will and obey His Word. Jesus said in John 14:15: “‘If you love me, keep my commands.’”

And second, we must love each other. Jesus teaches in John 13:34: “‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’” This verse again directs us to look to Jesus as our example.

How did Jesus demonstrate this love for God and others? How did He keep distractions from getting in the way?

We can identify three specific things Jesus did to keep His priorities straight. These are steps He took to keep on course in His mission, no matter what circumstances came up in His life.

1 – Prayer

Jesus prayed…often. We discussed prayer at some length in last week’s teaching, so we won’t spend a lot of time here this week. But at least 45 times in the Gospels we find Jesus taking time to pray by Himself. If this was important to Jesus, it must also be important to us.

2 – Know and Follow God’s Word

Jesus knew God’s Word and followed it. We find examples of this throughout the Bible.

One such example is found right at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Immediately following His baptism, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. After being in the desert without eating food for forty days and nights, the devil arrives to tempt Jesus away from His mission. (Matthew 4:1-3a).

Satan tempts Jesus with three increasingly attractive offers. And as Jesus replies to each one, He  begins His response with the same words: “it is written” (see Matthew 4:3-11). He fights off Satan’s attacks by using the Word of God.

Knowing and following God’s Word was vital to Jesus. It is even more so for us.

In Luke 10:38-42, we read about a visit Jesus made to the home of Mary and Martha. The Bible tells us that as Jesus talked, “Mary, … sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (v. 39). At the same time, her sister Martha “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” (v. 40) (bold mine). Martha became upset that Mary chose to listen to Jesus teach instead of helping her serve Him a meal. Martha even told Jesus to command her sister to help her.

This was His answer to her: “‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:41-42).

In Martha’s busyness, she missed an opportunity to hear Jesus teach because she had the wrong priorities. These distractions took her attention away from Jesus. We must not make the same mistake–individually or as a couple.

To hear from God through His Word should be a priority in our lives–and marriage. And once we hear Him, we must then follow what God teaches us through it. He says to us in James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

3 – Serve Others

Jesus served people. Because His first priority was loving God His Father, He also loved others.  As mentioned earlier, loving God and loving people go hand-in-hand.

We see examples of His loving people over and over again in all the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. We read about Jesus providing for people’s physical needs. A primary example of this was when He fed large crowds who followed Him throughout His ministry (see Matthew 14:15-21; 15: 32-38; Mark 6:34-44; 8:1-9; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-13). Jesus also healed the sick (Matthew 14:13-14; Luke 5:12-25) and cast out demons (Luke 4:31-36).

Jesus told us about His mission in Mark 10:45: “‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” He powerfully demonstrated this at the last supper as he performed the servant’s duty of washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). After washing their feet, Jesus said to them: “‘Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’” (John 13:17).

To have a blessed marriage, we too must follow Jesus’ example by serving others…and serving each other.

We must have the right priorities as Jesus did if we are going to follow His example in our marriages. And He promises to help us. Philippians 2:13 says: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” God is working in us to give us the desire to do and follow His will.

But we must do our part to keep our priorities straight. We must work together as husband and wife and help each other keep distractions from leading us astray. We may feel so busy that we don’t have time for God or other people. But God’s work is people.

Sabra said she heard this somewhere: “People over projects every time.” And I think it’s a good reminder.

Jesus refused to let the pressures of today stop him from ministering to people. So what would Jesus do (WWJD)?

We saw these examples in Scripture that He would seek the Father for the strength and wisdom to embrace, restore, teach, serve, and equip the people around him.

Let’s consistently turn to the gospels to take a fresh look at how Jesus lived. The fad of WWJD may be over, but we need to keep searching to discover together, what would Jesus do? Then we just follow in His steps.

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♦   Read this week’s teaching together. Discuss what God taught you through it.

♦   Take time to assess your busy lives. Two worksheets that can help with this are “Take Control of Your Schedule” and “A Record of One Week’s Activities.” (These can also be found on our FREE RESOURCES page.)

◊   Discuss things in your schedule that are non-negotiables. This should include things such as work, church attendance, and time with God through Bible study and prayer (alone, as a couple, and as a family—if you have children at home).

◊   Discuss what things in your schedule are negotiable. These are things you enjoy and/or want to do, but are not essential. In what ways do these things get in the way of accomplishing the essentials (non-negotiables)? How might you better plan your time so that you do not leave out what is most important?

♦    Discuss the three ways Jesus demonstrated how to keep priorities straight. Are they the guiding factors in your lives and marriage? What can you do with your schedule to make these steps a priority in your life?

♦    Close your time in prayer together. Ask God to help you make His priorities your priorities.

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Next week we will finish this series with one more kind of distraction that can cause problems in marriage.

Until then, may God bless you and your marriage in all His wonderful ways,

Other posts in the DISTRACTIONS IN MARRIAGE series:
Part 1: Distractions Can Be Dangerous
Part 2: Three Steps to Avoid Their Harmful Effects
Part 3: Controlling Technology
Part 4: Choosing What Is Best
Part 6: Caring for Loved Ones
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash, (CC0), cropped/text added.

About David Penley

A devoted husband and father, former pastor and seminary professor, who longs to grow closer to the likeness of Christ each day and share God's love and truth with everyone.