Finding a Balance

Balancing Priorities - How do I know what God wants me to do?
by Jill Briscoe

Women are constantly wondering what they are to be doing, and how much, and in what proportion. There is a lot of work to be done in God’s kingdom, and we can never run out of things to do, but we can and do run out of strength and sanity to do them all at once. Of course, we were never meant to do everything at the same time.

But, how do we rearrange our priorities so that we are doing what God would wish us to do? God has specific things in mind for each of us, and we need to know which things and in what order. Because women have so many more opportunities open to them now in terms of ministry, many women in ministry struggle daily and painfully with the issue of balance.

What To Know, How To Know It

When my eldest son became thirty-three, it was a real reminder to me that that was how old Jesus was when he died. Ending a life at a young age doesn’t seem very balanced, does it? But at the end of Jesus’ life He said, “I’ve finished the work You gave me to do.” Thirty of those thirty-three years He had in which to accomplish His “work” He spent in Nazareth.

That doesn’t seem like an efficient use of His time, does it? But apparently those thirty years in Nazareth were extremely important because God planned that He should spend them there. This was what the King wanted Him to put first.

Nazareth living was part of the work the Father had given Jesus to do. After that He spent three years on the road, arriving at Calvary in time to achieve our redemption. Then He went back to heaven and said to His Father, “I’ve finished the work you gave me to do.”

It’s a great release to know that the secret to “doing it all” is not necessarily doing it all, but rather discovering which part of the “all” He has given us to do and doing all of that. There is something specific set before each one of us, and God will prepare us for that and help us carry it out, even if it means living in “Nazareth” most of our lives!

So, what is the Father’s business for you? I’ve read books that say God first, family second, church last. Or again, put church first, family second, and God last! I’ve come to the conclusion that it means I put love for God before all my other loves. The priority principle is: first the King and kingdom things. First the King’s business. We must “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). What that means is whatever the King says is first today must be first today. Maybe the things that are first today may not be first tomorrow or the next day, but all I need to worry about is today. His priorities must be our priorities.

So the King might say, “First for you today is to stay home with your children.” Then have the courage to do it. Or again He might say, “Leave your children in someone else’s care today and go and teach a Bible study” or “Go and do this or that.” Do it then, if that’s what the King says is first today. But don’t be surprised if He is telling the person next to you in church to do something else!

How could He possibly tell us all the same thing, anyway? We’re all so very different. And we’re all in different seasons of life. We all have different responsibilities. So we shouldn’t look at someone else and say, “They should be putting ‘this’ or ‘that’ first,” for we cannot know that. We just need to know it for ourselves.

Jesus First – And The Rest Will Come

If you can understand what God wants you to do and when, then everything else will fall into place. A friend of mine loves to say, “If Jesus is first you’ll know what’s next!” She’s right. You really will. Partners must help each other with this: that’s what partners are for – heirs together in the King’s business so that we can make a dent in enemy territory as a couple. We’re supposed to be about the Father’s business together. And if that is our family focus He will give us a sense of sureness of direction.

But along with the fulfillment of such a lifestyle, there’s also stress. And most of the stress comes when you get criticized for what you’re doing. Looking back over fourteen years of missionary work and twenty-one years as a pastor’s wife, I find that the things that knocked me off my feet more than anything else have been (and continue to be) the criticisms of other Christians. Living with disapproval can drain you of all your good resolves to put the King first.

I remember when Pete was fourteen, Judy sixteen, and Dave eighteen. Dave was working and Judy was visiting friends for the summer, and Stuart and I were going to South Africa for ministry. We thought it would be great if Pete went home to England during that time. The plan was that I would take him to England and see my mother, and then join my husband in South Africa.

I have always felt pulled in five different directions at once, because of the nature of our ministry. That’s been the unusual lifestyle to which God has called Stuart and me. And never more than this particular summer. And so I tried to figure out what on earth the King was saying should be first. After much prayer we came to the conclusion that I should go with Stuart. So I set off for England, planning to leave our youngest son there and travel on, to join Stuart.

The night before I left England to go to South Africa, Pete came into my room, sat on my bed, and started to cry. He said, “I don’t want you to go.”

Oh no! I thought. Then I said, “Pete, don’t do this to me. I have to go.”

“I don’t want you to go,” he repeated stubbornly. “Please take me with you.”

I said, “Pete, I can’t take you. You don’t even have a visa. Even if it were possible to get one I couldn’t take you. I have to go.”

I had been reading in the book of Exodus about the cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness by day and the pillar of fire that led them by night. I’d been thinking about how the Jewish families must have felt during that experience. I’m sure they got quite fed up with this little cloud because they’d just get the whole family settled into their sleeping bags and get the tent set up when the cloud would take off again. That cloud/pillar certainly was teaching them obedience.


“Women are constantly wondering what they are to be doing, and how much, and in what proportion. There is a lot of work to be done in God’s kingdom, and we can never run out of things to do, but we can and do run out of strength and sanity to do them all at once. Of course, we were never meant to do everything at the same time.”

I had made a note in my Bible beside that story, that the blessing of the children lay in the obedience of the parents. I’d just written this down before Peter walked into my room. And so I knew what was supposed to be my first priority: my trip to South Africa. I knew that I was doing the right thing. But do you know how hard that was for me? All the doubts of what could happen to Pete swam before my mind: Would he get over this? Would he see this as abandonment? Would he resent God for taking us away?

I set off on that five-week tour with a heavy heart, and it was two long weeks before I got a note from Pete.When the letter finally came, I tore it open. It said something like this:

Thanks to you, and (he had drawn a finger pointing up to heaven] You Know Who, I’m fine. Auntie Shirley must have realized I was a little down and she said, “Pete, would you like to go to Capenwray? Wouldn’t you like to visit the conference center where you grew up?”

Take note – my sister, up to that point, had hardly heard my husband or me speak. But there she was: offering to take my child to the Christian mission where we had served years ago. And what’s more, she had decided her boys would go along. So off they all went to help Pete feel better, and when they got there the leaders greeted them all warmly. All three boys came to understand and appreciate the Christian faith. And Pete was there to see it.

Can you imagine getting a letter like that, after it had been so painful to be obedient? I couldn’t help coming back to that promise in Scripture, “The blessing of the children lay in the obedience of the parents,” and worshipping!

Now that does not always mean the mother takes off or the father takes off. The Lord might just as well have said, “You stay put in England.” And then I would have had a hard thing to do the other way around. I would have had to cable my husband and tell him to cancel all the meetings that were set up for me. “This is what the King is saying is first.”

It takes courage to disappoint people, especially those you love. When you don’t know what to do, seek God’s help. He is intent on letting you know the best way. And when you know what you are supposed to do and follow it, He honors your obedience.

Strong Roots

Jesus had thirty years in Nazareth attending primarily to the needs of his family, and then three years of ministry. The relationships of God’s forever family took precedence over Jesus’ own family relationships during this period. In one sense, He had to abandon His earthly family in order to establish a heavenly one. He had to put them through a dreadful ordeal, by choice. The relationships of the Father’s kingdom took precedence at that point because the King dictated it. He stayed on the cross because that’s what the King said was first for Him. Occasionally that’s what will happen in our lives. And we have to learn the art of knowing when it’s appropriate and when it’s right.

Stuart and I had three years together. Then we had ten years of being separated – sometimes up to ten months out of the year. Since that period in our lives we’ve had twenty-one years “more or less” together. But when the world looks at our marriage they think it’s very unbalanced. They tell us so. After all, what balanced couple would willingly be separated so much? they ask.

And so there is an overarching necessity for each spouse to have his or her relationship and roots strong in God and to be together on this: What the King is telling us as a couple, as a family, is the first thing we need to do. Quite frankly – and this is not something you hear a lot of talk about – if the job is going to get done, some families will have to pay the price to get their part of it done. And it may have to be your family or my family, at some point in time.

Support for Those Who Obey

I really don’t know any other way. You and I are Christians today because somebody somewhere left his or her family to come and bring the gospel to America. An unknown. A Mr. or Miss Nobody. Maybe they never saw their families again. But you and I know Christ, and we’re going to heaven because somebody left his or her own family to make that possible for our families. There are some people in the Christian body gifted by God to be evangelists, missionaries, and traveling teachers. In our modem context, there are all of the above engaging in all sorts of travel who are called to be away from their homes to do kingdom work in order to finish the Father’s business.

Our job is to support those families specifically, to pray for them continually and sympathetically, and to fill up that which is lacking while they are away. Above all, we need to encourage them and not criticize them. You’re not going to get any help from the world or even from church people sometimes. But remember that your resource for encouragement, courage, and strength is in the care and provision of God.