Introduction Refocusing on Life’s Priorities

Introduction to Refocusing On Life’s Priorities

Introduction To Book Seven – Priorities


Ron Christian, Compiler

Men are breaking their health and selling out their honor to make more money. 'Success' in a secular culture is determined by a materialistic standard. The quantity of one's bank account is more important than the quality of one's life. Notes Evangelist Billy Graham: "A leading magazine carries an advertisement with this revealing paragraph: 'Is automation, the use of electronics to run machines, going to fill your home with pleasant surprises? Will magic eyes light each room? Will you own a portable piano, cordless electric clocks and a telephone you can answer without lifting the receiver? Discover how this exciting new development can make your life happier'." Asks Billy Graham, "Has happiness been reduced to portable pianos and the blinking of magic eyes?" (World Aflame; page 46)

Notes Mavis: "Modern man has a clear vision for secular goals, but dull vision for spiritual goals. It seems that some evil spirit, to use Kierkegaard's figure of speech, has put a pair of glasses on the nose of this generation. One of the lenses is a powerful magnifying glass; the other is an equally strong reducing glass. Our generation looks at the secular things through the strong lens and at the spiritual things through the reducing one." (Psychology of Christian Experience; pg. 103)

"In 1923, a very important meeting was held at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Attending this meeting were nine of the world's most successful financiers." It is noteworthy to recognize what happened to these persons 25 years later. "Charles Schwab, the president of the largest independent steel company, died bankrupt and lived on borrowed money; Samuel Insull, the president of the largest utility company, died a fugitive from justice and penniless; Howard Hopson, the president of the largest gas company, went insane; Arthur Sutton, the great wheat speculator, died abroad insolvent; Richard Whitney, the president of the New York Stock Exchange, was finally released from prison; Albert Fall, a member of the President's Cabinet, was pardoned from prison so he could die at home; Jesse Livermore, the greatest 'bear' on Wall Street, died a suicide; Ivar Krugar, head of the world's greatest monopoly, died a suicide!" (A Challenge to Men From Proverbs; Foster; pg. 11)

The great British preacher, William Sangster, once said: "Material things are regarded as the chief good in life only by those who do not have them."

'Everything has its price. Money can buy anything. Unhappiness is caused because of economic deprivation.' This is the sentiment of many Americans. Too many think that more money would some way solve their problems. The wealth of America is the cause of envy in other lands, but it is revealing to know that the American best-sellers are books on how to be happy.

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It was Hannah More who noted that "the soul on earth is an immortal guest, compelled to starve at an unreal feast; a pilgrim panting for the rest to come; an exile anxious for its native home." Man's soul, unattended and ignored, becomes shriveled and starved. The materialist is one who values temporal things more than spiritual things. Materialism may fatten the body, but it starves the soul. It may gratify the senses, but it will rotten the fiber of moral character. It may outwardly give fame and fortune but inwardly it imprisons the poverty-stricken spirit. The result of conforming to cultural standards is mediocrity. To be squeezed into the word's mold is to be formed into a stunted, dull and manufactured person.

The greedy materialist, who has grown fat on the accumulation of material goods, remains dissatisfied because of the leanness of his soul. To his bitter disappointment he learns that life does not consist in the abundance of things that a man possesses. His riches have only given ulcers to his stomach and taken peace from his mind. His false friends stand by to mock him, and his sad delusion turns to suicidal despair. The crackle of the dollar and the glitter of the coin have lost their appear, for he finally learns that everything does not have its price and there are qualities that have no monetary value. Sliding down the slope of life on his bed of perpetual pain, caused from his indulgent living, the disillusioned secularist realizes that he has been the subject of a cruel tyrant. The sweet wine of frivolous living has left a bitter taste in his mouth. The swinging music of his youth remains as a strange echo in his mind to mock him as a fool. Too many learned too late that "the lover of money shall not be satisfied with money nor the lover of wealth with his gain; this, too, is futility." (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Rev. Harold Brockhoff spoke one time on the nationwide 'Lutheran Hour' on the subject of 'Authentic Life'. He noted, "A minister in our neighborhood was out making calls one afternoon and he rang the bell of a certain house and a woman came to the door, her apron on, flour on her hands – she was holding a can of cherries. She very shortly told him that she didn't know anything about what he had come to talk about and that she wasn't interested in finding out either. Then after a few minutes of conversation, as she was about to close the door, the minister asked 'Do you mind if I ask you what you have in your hand?' And she answered 'A can of cherries'. He said, 'Do you mind if I ask you where you got them?' She said, 'Down at the corner, at the store'. And then he asked "Do you mind if I ask what you're going to do with them?' Still polite even after this third question she answered 'Why, I am going to put them into a pie.' And then the minister said 'If you don't mind the observation, those cherries are in a better shape than you are. We know what they are – they are cherries. And we know where they came from – they came from the store. And we know where they are going. And from your conversation you have no idea of who you are, you don't understand your roots and where you came from and how you got here, and why you're here and you don't know where you are going, or why you're going there.' After a short moment of stunned silence, the good woman said 'Won't you please come in'."

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Are you, like the woman in this story, living only for this life? Are you so preoccupied with the trivial things of time that you have forgotten the weightier matters of eternity? 'Only one life to live, t'will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last.'

The road of materialism is a dead-end road, first, because of the inheritability of laboriously-gained riches. Solomon, in the book Ecclesiastes, bitterly proclaimed this fact when he wrote, "And I am disgusted about this, that I must leave the fruits of all my hard work to others. And who can tell whether my son will be a wise man or a fool? And yet all I have will be given to him – how discouraging! So I turned in despair from hard work as the answer to my search for satisfaction." (Ecclesiastes 2:18-20, Living Bible) The road of materialism is a dead-end road, secondly, because riches cause sleepless anxiety. "He who loves money shall never have enough. The foolishness of thinking that wealth brings happiness! The more you have, the more you spend, right up to the limits of your income, so what is the advantage of wealth – except perhaps to watch it as it runs through your fingers! The man who works hard sleeps well whether he eats little or much, but the rich must worry and suffer insomnia." (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12, Living Bible)

The road of materialism is a dead-end road thirdly, because riches can be easily lost. "There is another serious problem I have seen everywhere – savings are put into risky investments that turn sour, and soon there is nothing left to pass on to one's son. The man who speculates is soon back to where he began – with nothing. This, as I said, is a very serious problem for all his hard work has been for nothing; he has been working for the wind. It is all swept away. All the rest of his life he is under a cloud – gloomy, discouraged, frustrated and angry." (Ecclesiastes 5:13-17, Living Bible) Paul instructs us not to set our hopes "on the uncertainty of riches." (1 Timothy 6:7, NASB)

The road of materialism is a dead-end road, fourthly, because money cannot be taken with you when you die. "Do not be dismayed when evil men grow rich and build their lovely homes. For when they die they carry nothing with them! Their honors will not follow them. Though a man calls himself happy all through his life – and the world loudly applauds success – yet in the end he dies like everyone else, and enters eternal darkness. For man with all his pomp, must die like any animal." (Psalms 49:16-20, Living Bible) "We didn't bring any money with us when we came into the world, and we can't carry away a single penny when we die." (1 Timothy 6:7, Living Bible)

It is time that you pray: "God, help me to be a wise investor, laying up treasures in heaven, not on earth; living for eternity, not for mere time. Then my life shall be worth living!" Remember: There is a way that seemeth right unto man – Materialism – but the end thereof is futility and utter frustration. The road of materialism is a dead-end road, fifthly, because material possessions do not have the ability to satisfy the inner longing of the human soul. Man is searching for reality. Earth's riches do not satisfy the questing soul of man. Said Jesus, "Beware! Don't be wishing for what you don't have.

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For real life and real living are not related to how rich we are." (Luke 12:14, Living Bible)

Listen to the following testimony of a young businessman, seeking satisfaction in earth's wealth, while all the time realizing that God alone can really satisfy him. "In my life the process goes on. My faith is in frequent conflict with my obsession to participate in the consumption of this world's fruit. I often feel like a child in a candy store. I wander past the fields of sweet delight, gazing at the vast assortment of choices. All the while in my mind the echoes of my mother's words warn me against the consequences of over-consumption. Yet, the warnings go mostly unheeded, and I continue to confidently, if not somewhat guilt-tinged, select items which I feel sure will satisfy my desires ('surely this one will be the last… Oh, just one more'). It's only when the toothache attacks or the stomach revolts that I consciously pursue my mother's care, knowing that her caring arms and infinite wisdom will sooth my injuries. Her loving character will forgive my errant ways and soon everything will be alright again. In chagrined humility I wish I could follow her will, knowing full well that if I don't give in to her will and wisdom completely, I will soon make the same mistakes again. Oh, the tribulations of being an undisciplined child! Fortunately my life is not always this way. I do feel growth frequently. I truly believe God has a plan for me, and even now his works are taking place. I long for greater understanding of his will here on earth. It's as though I smell the scent of a flower and am trying anxiously to find it. I've only seen glimpses of it, but the fragrance is so strong and satisfying that I must continue to pursue. When I possess it (and I will), I will share its beauty with the world. I will promote it vigorously with the pleasure of knowing that it is truly right for those receiving it. In my heart I know that flower is worth pursuing even though the search is trying." These words, written to me in a personal letter, represent the 'heart search' of many young businessmen, financially successful but nevertheless 'spiritually hungry' for ultimate reality which material wealth cannot satisfy.

Man is built for eternity! There is within every person a 'God-shaped vacuum' which seeks to be filled with God! Man cannot live by bread alone, but by the eternal Word of the eternal God. Man is restless until he finds his rest in God. Man is overbuilt for time; he is built for eternity.

"And here at last we find 
Strict diagnosis of our malady, 
Which is, in short, that man is heaven-starved 
- Men are born thirsting for infinity."

Inherent in every man is a basic desire to live-and to live happily and permanently. A well-known atheist in France confessed his most deep-seated urge: "I have in myself a great need of permanence. I mean a need of believing that there are products not subject to decay and degradation, works on which temporal changes have no influence."

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Notes William Sangster: "Earth does not satisfy us. I cannot help but feel that is an impressive fact. I warn you against supposing that, if only you had more of this or that, you would be completely satisfied. It is an illusion. Earth cannot satisfy you. William Watson – in his poem 'World Strangeness" – asked:

In this house with starry dome, 
Floored with gemlike plains and seas, 
Shall I never feel at home, 
Never wholly be at ease? 
Never! You weren't meant to."

(Daily Readings; William Sangster; pg. 104)

Materialism is a perversion of the God-given acquisitive urge with which humans are born. The Creation Story (Genesis 1-3) talks about God's will for man to oversee and to manage. Sin has turned this basic urge into the desire to possess and to own, rather than to manage. Sin blinds man to the meaning of material things, causing man to forget that he is steward of material possessions and God alone is the owner of all things.

Faith in God is the only answer to the 'challenge' (threat) of materialism. 'Christian Faith' (the teaching of the Bible) accepts the 'challenge of materialism' and provides solid and 'balanced' answers.

The Bible teaches, first, that contentment does not depend upon the abundance of material things which a person possesses. Jesus said, "Watch out, and guard yourselves from all kinds of greed; because a man's true life is not made up of the things he owns, no matter how rich he may be." (Luke 12:15, Today's English Version). Wrote Paul to young Timothy: "We should be well satisfied without money if we have enough food and clothing." (1 Timothy 6:8, Living Bible) The writer to the Hebrew believers gave this command: "Stay away from the love of money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, 'I will never, never fail you nor forsake you.'" (Hebrews 13:5, Living Bible) In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul shared his 'secret' to contentment: "I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of contentment in every situation, whether it be a full stomach or hunger, plenty or want; for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power." (Philippians 4:11-13, Living Bible)

The Bible teaches, secondly, that earthly resources are to be used, not selfishly, but unselfishly to help others. Wrote Paul to the Ephesian church: "If anyone is stealing he must stop it and begin using those hands of his for honest work so he can give to others in need." (Ephesians 4:28, Living Bible) Paul instructed young Timothy to give the following 'counsel' to wealthy persons: If anyone is stealing he must stop it and begin using those hands of his for honest work so he can give to others in need." (Ephesians

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4:28, Living Bible) Paul instructed young Timothy to give the following 'counsel' to wealthy persons: "Tell those who are rich not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone, but their pride and trust should be in the living God who always richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them (the wealthy) to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give happily to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them. By doing this they will be storing up real treasure for themselves in heaven – it is the only safe investment for eternity! And they will be living a fruitful Christian life down here as well." (1 Timothy 6:17-19, Living Bible)

The Bible teaches, thirdly that believers are not to worry about 'things'; rather, they are to trust God to supply all their needs. Said Jesus: "So my counsel is: Don't worry about 'things' – food, drink, and clothes. For you already have life and a body – and they are far more important than what to eat and wear. Look at the birds! They don't worry about what to eat – they don't need to sow or reap or store up food – for your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Will all your worries add a single moment to your life?" (Matthew 6:25-27, Living Bible) Wrote Paul to the Corinthian church: "Of course, I don't mean that those who receive your gifts should have an easy time of it at your expense, but you should divide with them. Right now you have plenty and can help them; then at some other time they can share with you when you need it. In this way each will have as much as he needs. Do you remember what the Scriptures say about this? 'He that gathered much had nothing left over, and he that gathered little had enough.' So you also should share with those in need." (2 Corinthians 8:13-15, Living Bible) "For God, who gives seed to the farmer to plant, and later on, good crops to harvest and eat, will give you more and more seed to plant and will make it grow so that you can give away more and more fruit from your harvest. Yes, God will give you much so that you can give away much, and when we take your gifts to those who need them they will break out into thanksgiving and praise to God for your help." (2 Corinthians 9:10-11, Living Bible)

The Bible teaches fourthly, that believers are to focus on heavenly treasures, not on earthly treasures. Great are Jesus' promises to His faithful followers: "Let not your heart be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust me. There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren't so, I would tell you plainly. And you know where I am going and how to pet there." (John 14:1-4. Living Bible) Wrote Paul: "No mere man has ever seen, heard or even imagined what wonderful things God has ready for those who love the Lord." (1 Corinthians 2:9, Living Bible)

"A tent or a cottage, why should I care? 
They are building a mansion for me over there!"

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And yet, even though we Christians have 'no difficulty' in singing these words (and others like them) in our 'hymns and spiritual songs' in our churches, there are few of us who would be willing to live in tents or small cottages here on earth! We (American) Christians want the 'best' – the 'best' food, the 'best' clothes, the 'best' vacations, the 'best' jobs, the 'best' cars, the 'best' furniture and appliances and televisions and computers, the 'best' (and very expensive) houses! Not only has 'mammon' (money) become the 'God' of millions of materialists (non-believers) in our society, but many 'Christians' are also highly valuing money, treating it with a near 'worshipful veneration'! And yet, Jesus often warned his followers and His 'would-be followers' about the terrible dangers of money! In his excellent book "Money, Sex & Power", Richard Foster carefully and Biblically deals with the relevant subject of 'Money'. Notes Foster: "For Christ money is an idolatry we must be converted 'from' in order to be converted 'to' him. The rejection of the God mammon is a necessary precondition to becoming a disciple. of Jesus. And in point of fact, money has many of the characteristics of deity. It gives us security, can induce guilt, gives us freedom, gives us power and seems to be omnipresent. Most sinister of all, however, is its bid for omnipotence. Behind money are invisible spiritual powers, powers that are seductive and deceptive, powers that demand all-embracing devotion… there is no kind of evil the person who loves money will not do to get it and hold onto it. Dr Karl Menninger once asked one wealthy patient, 'What on earth are you going to do with all that money?' The patient replied, 'Just worry about it, I suppose!' Dr. Menninger went on, 'Well, do you get that much pleasure out of worrying about it?' 'No,' responded the patient, 'but I get such terror when I think of giving some of it to somebody.' Now, this 'terror' is real. When we let go of money we are letting go of part of ourselves and part of our security. But this is precisely why it is important to do it. It is one way to obey Jesus' command to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23)". (Money, Sex & Power by Richard Foster; pgs. 28-30, 43)

In the chapter entitled 'Kingdom Use of Unrighteous Mammon' (in the above-mentioned book), Richard Foster offers solid, Biblical, and practical 'steps' to help the sincere believer who seeks to 'conquer' the 'giant of materialism' which regularly plots the overthrow of Christians. "We are to be absolutely clear about the venomous nature of money. But rather than reject it we are to conquer it and use it for non-economic purposes. Money is to be captured, subdued, and used for greater goals. We are called to use money to advance the kingdom of God. What a tragedy it is if all we do is use money in the ordinary ways and not make any greater use of it. One way we lay up treasures in heaven is to invest in the lives of people. That kind of investment we will indeed take with us. Money invested in people is the best possible investment. Of course, we need to keep a certain amount of money in order to carry on the day-to-day business of life, but we want to free up as much as we possibly can in order to place it where the return is eternal." (Ibid; pgs. 54, 55)

Recently I attended a concert in which about 150 of some of the world's greatest

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musicians performed. This group of outstanding musicians were all from the Ukraine (a country which, before the 'fall of communism' in 1989, was part of the 'Soviet Union'). The director of this professional group of musicians was from the United States and had gone to the Ukraine in 1992 to live and to organize (recruit) this outstanding group of singers and instrumentalists. The director (who had spent most of his life in America) asked (at one point during the performance) all of the Ukrainians who owned a car to raise their hands. There were only three persons who held up their hands! Then he asked the several hundreds of Americans (in the congregation) to hold up their hands if they owned a car. Needless to say, almost all (if not all) persons in the American audience raised their hands. The director shared that in the Ukraine (a very large and populous Country) there is widespread poverty. One of the members of his musical group – a surgeon who is also a 'professional' musician – receives more money each month than the 'average' doctor; this highly-trained surgeon receives $70 per month! When this committed Christian 'director' started a church (after being in the Ukraine a few months), he challenged his newly-formed congregation to give to 'the poor'. They responded: "We are the poor!" But the new pastor (the director of the newly-formed 'professional' music group) replied: "As a congregation, let's give to those who are 'more poor' than you are." And so this 'poor congregation' (of Ukrainians) took up an offering to be given to the starving widows (whose 'allowance' from the government is $7 to $10 per month!). Widows who have no relatives to help care for them, literally starve to death!

Notes David C. Egner, "Jesus didn't insist on luxury nor seek for the possession of material things. In fact, He didn't own or possess any property except for the clothes He wore. Compared to our day of investment portfolios, luxury homes, and Platinum Visa cards, Jesus was 'dirt poor'." (Our Daily Bread; May 20, 2000)

In the above-mentioned chapter from Richard Foster's book ("Money, Sex & Power") Foster notes: "The Christian is given the high calling of 'using' mammon without 'serving' mammon. We are using mammon when we allow God to determine our economic decisions. If money determines what we do or do not do, then money is our boss. If God determines what we do or do not do, then God is our boss. J. Hudson Taylor would never have launched the great chapter in mission history called the China Inland Mission if he had let money decide. He was an ordinary person with few resources, yet once he had determined that God wanted him to go, he went. God had made the decision, not money. His master was God, and it was this master that he served. Over the course of his effective ministry, God channeled very large sums of money through Hudson Taylor, enough to care for the needs of well over a thousand missionaries. But from his earliest days in the slums of London, Taylor had learned to understand money in the light of the cross. He had learned to use money without serving it." (Ibid; pgs. 56, 57)

One cannot live a victorious Christian life until he learns how to 'master mammon'! The

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degree of a Christian's commitment to Christ is revealed by the degree of 'generosity' as shown in his 'check book'! Among several steps which Richard Foster shares in his helpful book, the following are some of the 'steps' which believers must take in order to 'master money'. "Bring the ministry of prayer to bear directly upon money matters. Money is a spiritual issue, and prayer in our chief weapon in the life of the spirit. Let us learn to pray for each other for the binding of greed and covetousness and the releasing of liberality and generosity. In prayer, through the imagination, let us see the power of money broken. Let us picture the spiritual powers behind money brought under the lordship of Christ. Let us visualize money being channeled into needy lives, providing necessary food and medical supplies. Let us imagine Christians in business controlling, investing, and channeling money in new, creative, life-enhancing ways. Let us see the governments of the world diverting their vast resources away from bombs and into bread." (Ibid; pgs. 59-60)

What should a Christian's attitude be towards money? A Christian must see that money is a 'wonderful servant', but a 'terrible tyrant'. Is money your 'servant', or is money your 'tyrant'? Notes Richard Foster, "Money is too high on our list of values. As Thomas Merton observed, 'The true 'law' of our day is the law of wealth and material power.' For Christians, this giving of high priority to money is not just unfortunate, it is idolatry. For the sake of faithfulness to Christ, we need to find ways to shout 'No' to the God money. We must dethrone it. One of the best ways is by showing our disrespect of it. When we trample it under our feet we remove its power. When Paul ministered the word of God in Ephesus, many people who had practiced 'magic arts' brought their books and other objects and made a huge bonfire. Luke calculated that the estimated value of that act came to 'fifty thousand pieces of silver' (Acts 19:18-20). What they had done was profane something that in their world had become sacred. Without question, money has taken on a sacred character in our world, and it would do us good to find ways to defame it, defile it, and trample it under our feet. So step on it. Yell at it. Laugh at it. List it way down on the scale of values – certainly far below friendship and cheerful surroundings. And engage in the most profane act of all – give it away. The powers that energize money cannot abide that most unnatural of acts, giving. Money is made for taking, for bargaining, for manipulating, but not for giving. This is exactly why giving has such ability to defeat the powers of money." (Ibid; pgs. 60,61)

What do you, as a believer, value most in life? There are only two 'entities' which have 'eternal value' (i.e., that will 'last forever') – the Word of God (Bible) and the 'soul' (spirit) of a human being. When you spend your money to purchase bibles to distribute to 'lost people' who are 'spiritually hungry' and who are ready to accept the salvation message of the Bible, you are receiving 'eternal dividends' from the investment of your 'earthly dollars'! Notes Richard Foster, "There are many things we can do to declare that we value people above things. We can be willing to lose money rather than a friendship. We can side with the 'use' of church facilities over the 'preservation' of facilities. We can provide wages that respond to human need as well as human

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productivity. We can always remember that the child who breaks the toy is more important than the toy. We can give up a major purchase to feed hungry people. The possibilities are endless." (Ibid; pg. 62)

The Christian must guard against the temptation to manipulate or to intimidate people through the 'power' of money. The Christian must never 'court' the wealthy person, to gain favors of any kind. The 'wealthy believer' must never 'advertise' his giving, either in society in general or in the church in particular. The Christian must never use money to exploit others or to gain position or power in his own life. Notes Foster, "For believers, money can never be a bargaining tool or a way to gain status. In the world money means access to the corridors of power; in the Church money should mean nothing. Money should not make people think better of us, for we are part of the fellowship of sinners. Money should not win us leadership roles, for those are determined by spiritual giftedness alone. Money should not make us more necessary to the fellowship, for our dependency is upon God, not money. In the fellowship of the church money should mean nothing." (Ibid; pg. 63)

The following is a 'Prayer For Liberation From Materialism' (written several years ago by the Chaplain of the Untied States Senate, Peter Marshall):

"Forbid it, Lord, that our roots become too firmly attached to this earth, that we should fall in love with things."

"Help us to understand that the pilgrimage of this life is but an introduction, a preface, a training school for what is to come."

"Then shall we see all of life in its true perspective. Then shall we not fall in love with the things of time, but come to love the things that endure. Then shall we be saved from the tyranny of possessions which we have no leisure to enjoy, of property whose care becomes a burden. Give us, we pray, the courage to simplify our lives."

"So may we be mature in our faith, childlike but never childish, humble but never cringing, understanding but never conceited."

So help us, O God, to live and not merely to exist, that we may have joy in our work. In Thy name, who alone can give us moderation and balance and zest for living, we pray. Amen." (The Prayers of Peter Marshall; complied and edited by Catherine Marshall; pg. 51)

'Refocus on Life's Priorities' – God, the Bible, the saving message of Jesus Christ, the Church (the Body of Christ), human relationships, never-dying souls for whom Christ died! Make your life 'count' – for time and for eternity! "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness!"

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