Toiling for a goal, a prize, or an idea that is better than what you presently possess is a good thing. Such toil makes us stronger, smarter, wiser, and better overall. Even if we fail to reach the summit of what we were climbing toward, we will still walk away better off for having strained toward it. But this doesn’t hold true if what we are struggling, toiling, sweating, working and laboring for is not better. In fact, it can make us worse off — mostly by just making us tired, or dead to the good things in life that really matter. When we strive for something that isn’t better, it is like a fool searching for a pile of gold at the end of a rainbow. He’ll never find the end of the rainbow because there is no end, and there certainly is no gold. King Solomon argues that It is better to have a handful of quietness than to wrestle with the wind (Ecclesiastes 4:6). Doing so is meaningless toil that does not produce peace or fulfillment. Paul touches on the same thing when he says that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6). It is such a great gain because godliness, which is having a character like that of God, helps us to rightly prioritize our lives, and to strive for those things that matter.
How we prioritize has clear and definable consequences. If we prioritize twinkies, then we will become unhealthy. If we prioritize exercise, then we will become strong. If we prioritize knowledge, then we will become educated. If we prioritize wisdom, then we will apply the knowledge we educated ourselves with for the betterment of our lives, or for the solution of a problem. If we rightly prioritize God, then we will rightly prioritize everything else. Plus, we will have contentment.
Unfortunately, we tend to prioritize twinkies. That is we take something that tastes good, or looks good, or feels good, and we give it higher place than it ought to have. We then strive and work for the thing that has value to our flesh. In doing so, we value that thing too highly, and we discard other things that rightly belong in its place. We toil for a good thing, and lose the better things.
This creates a slippery slope. Once we take our first steps on to that slope where we value what feels good over what is fundamentally good, we begin to make idols and gods as we prioritize our pleasures, our fears, or expediency. We violate God’s command to have no other gods before him (Exodus 20:3). In part, God gives us such a command out of his love for us. We were designed to have him as our highest value, so when we prioritize things that are less than God, we miss out on not only what is better, but what is best. Thankfully, Jesus teaches us that if we put the Kingdom of God first, then God will add all other good things to us (Matthew 6:33). If you have read this far, take 15 minutes to review the major priorities of your life. Are you chasing after the wind, wrestling with it over things that are not best — or even not better? Is God recognizable as the chief priority? Is he recognizable as one of the top ten? How so?