The Danger of Prioritizing the Riches You Can See
Every leadership book I’ve read says that establishing priorities is the most essential key to success. You’ve got to know what—in a long list of good things—should come first, what is mission-critical and what’s not.
When it comes to the kingdom of God, that is especially true. The subtle choices that you and I make every day have a dramatic impact on how our lives will turn out. And it’s often not a matter of choosing between something bad and something good. It’s a matter of choosing which is the most good (sorry, “good-est”) and putting that first.
A clear picture of this comes in the lives of Abraham and Lot. In Genesis 13, each man makes a smart decision—according to a particular system of values. But the trajectory of each was drastically different. It all began with 2 different sets of priorities.
1. Lot prioritized the riches he could see.
When Lot looked out at the two options before him—further into or further away from the Promised Land—he made his choice based on one factor: which direction can make me wealthier?
Making decisions with finances in mind isn’t sinful. It can often be incredibly wise. But by putting wealth above everything else, Lot showed total disregard for spiritual things. There’s no prayer, no consultation with God at all. And he makes his home next to Sodom, which was notorious for its wickedness. Lot put his entire family in spiritual danger. Why? Because Sodom was where the money was.
Sometimes God will call us to live in places of great wickedness—in “Sodom.” But Lot wasn’t going there to be a witness. He was following a big, fat paycheck.
I know of people in our churches today doing the same thing. They pursue jobs that are atrocious for their family, because they’ve just got to have that money. Or when it comes to their kids, they’ll move heaven and earth for baseball (or softball or dance or…), but they won’t ever get them plugged in at church. It seems that many parents in our churches care more about where their kids go to college than where they spend their eternity. And that breaks my heart.
It’s not wrong to have wealth or to attend good schools. But what good is it if you become the leading men and women in Sodom, but lose what matters most—your soul?
2. Lot prioritized self-interest (over generosity).
Lot chose what was best for him, even though he actually had to wrong his Uncle Abraham to get it. Abraham, you see, defers to Lot. But as the elder and as the one to whom God made the promise, Abraham deserved the better land. Lot should have given that choice back. Instead, he thought about one person—Lot. He is miles away from a generous heart. He is, as I heard one person describe it, the “first American in the Bible.” His attitude is, “Get all you can, can all you get…and then sit on your can.”
1. Abraham prioritized the kingdom of God.
Abraham didn’t look at the two plots of land and ask, “Which one would make me more wealthy?” No, he prayed to God, “Where do you want me to go?” His first act upon arriving in Bethel was to build an altar and ask for God’s direction. God had guided him there in the past. So as he entered a new chapter in his life, Abraham sought God again.
Abraham thought of God first and most in every decision in his life. He would often stumble, but again and again he returned to seek God’s direction. He did it in Genesis 13 when choosing the land. And he would do it again in Genesis 14, when he offered a tenth of everything to a priest named Melchizedek.
Melchizedek is a mysterious guy in the Bible, but what we do know is that he was God’s high priest at the time. When Abraham gave him 10% of his spoil, it showed that he wasn’t just putting God first before decisions, but after decisions as well. God was Abraham’s first stop to ask for help, and his first stop to say “thank you.”
Abraham realized that all of his blessings, his wealth, and his prosperity came from God. So it was nothing to him to offer the firstfruits back to God. A life that prioritizes the kingdom of God treasures that kingdom so dearly that every other possession only ever passes through our open hands.
2. Abraham prioritized generosity (over self-interest).
Abraham actually thought of himself third when looking at the land. God was first (because Abraham prayed for direction immediately). And Lot was actually second (because Abraham offered him first choice of the land). So that put Abraham third out of three. Because of that, guess who thought about Abraham’s needs? God did.
I love this verse: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed” (Prov. 19:17). When you make a loan, it’s important to be able to trust the person who will pay you back. Giving to the poor, on the face of it, seems like a risky investment. But the author of Proverbs says it’s actually more certain than any other loan you can make, because God himself will pay it.
For many of us, the reason we struggle with generosity isn’t that we’re stingy. It’s that we’re fearful. We don’t trust that God will do what he promises he’ll do—to take care of us when we pour ourselves out for others.
Which man better exemplifies your life? Are you Lot, desperately grabbing for the riches you can see? Or are you Abraham, giving God your first and your best, even when it feels like a risk?