Altar Call
Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
June 11, 2000

If your house was on fire, what would you save first?

A good friend and I talked about what we would want most to save if we discovered our home was burning. His comment was intriguing: "If I could save only one thing, it would not be my wife's jewelry but our collection of family pictures. Jewelry can be replaced, but those pictures of our family's history are irreplaceable."

We can learn about our priorities by answering that question. Thinking about what things are precious to us can help us understand what matters the most to us.

Suppose, for example, that you have a collection of trains, or owls, or bird carvings, or clowns, or famous paintings; would that be the one thing you would want most to save from your burning home? What is your first love among your possessions?

It is interesting to me that in 50 years of ministry I have never had a single discussion with a grieving family about the deceased's "collection" of something. At the time of death our minds turn to what matters the most--and that is not things. Silverware, china, furniture, houses, and land -- all these things have fleeting, but not eternal, value to us.

Golfer Payne Stewart is remembered by his family and close friends for his priorities, not his prowess on the greens. An article in the Houston Chronicle last October tells the inspiring story of Stewart's changing of priorities. Here is an excerpt from that story:

"Had Payne Stewart died five years earlier, he would have been remembered in an entirely different manner. But because of his recent rearrangement of priorities, he has been memorialized as a family man who loved God. His relationship with Jesus Christ was the most important aspect of his life but it hadn't always been that way."

"Throughout most of his career, this celebrity golfer was known more for his competitive spirit, unusual clothes, and cocky attitude. When he reevaluated his life as a man approaching forty, he discovered the need to abandon his self-serving priorities and embrace Jesus Christ as his Lord. Ironically, his golf game dramatically improved once he put his priorities in proper order."

Stewart had many good friends among the other PGA professionals. All of them wrestled with ways to remember Payne. One wore clothes that resembled those Payne had made famous. Fellow golfer and Christian Bob Estes may have thought of the most unique memorial for his friend. In the Tour of Champions tournament, where Payne had been scheduled to play, Estes did an unusual thing on the first hole of his first round. Instead of using a driver, Estes took his putter to the tee box, stood over the ball for a few minutes, and then putted it about 15 feet. Quietly he said, "That's for Payne."

In a game where each stroke can be worth a lot of money, Estes voluntarily gave up a stroke to make a statement. He said later, "It was symbolic of the last putt he (Stewart) made to win the U.S. Open. But maybe more importantly, it also had to do with the way Payne has changed. The way faith and family and friends were his top priorities. It meant I wasn't worried about the first hole or the score I shot. All of us need to remember what's most important."

That, my friends, may be the finest golfing lesson Bob Estes ever taught. And today might be a good day to start rearranging our priorities based on what truly matters the most. Even if your house is not on fire.