Make God First

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” ― John 3:30. 

It makes sense to pause and reflect occasionally on why we always seem to be putting out fires that flash up everyday in our busy lives. The question is how much can I control the urgent? Is it a reflection of my schedule or what I allow on that schedule? We also need to pause and reflect on our relationship with God.

If a group of Christians were asked to list their priorities, that list would include God, spouse, children, others, job and ministry, in some order. All of these things are important. All of them matter to God so they should matter to us. But the list begins and ends with God. God should be the number one priority and the foundation in our life.  But that requires more than symbolically placing God on the top of the list. If we make God another line in a list, we are suggesting that God is simply another component in our life. God is more than a role player, or another component in our lives. God is our life. If we are a follower of Jesus, then God owns our life. It means desiring God’s will above all else.

We all have to be weary of compartmentalizing God. We don’t want to think of Him as relevant in some aspects but needed in others. Instead, as I think through what is important versus what is urgent, I need to look at it through the prism of my relationship with Him. What is really important is established by Him and outlined in scripture. The reality is that urgent fires will always pop up in this life. But we do have the ability to differentiate between the urgent and the important and make decisions accordingly if Jesus is at the center of our lives. 

Psalm 62:5-8 says, “Let all that I am wait quietly before God,  for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.”

Life places before us hundreds of choices. Some are bad. Some are good. But each of us must decide, “do I focus my attention and energies on what is urgent or what is important?”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Often what we are doing with our time isn’t bad or wrong, but it can be distracting to us because we let the urgent things crowd out the important things. How do you differentiate between the important and the urgent? 
  2. Name three urgent things you need to do and three important things you need to do. Which are getting more of your time?

First And Foremost

“As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42.

Martha, Martha, Martha. We can all put ourselves in Martha’s shoes. Company has come at the last minute so all the last minute details need to be worked out: the table must be set, food prepared. Martha set about taking care of all that and frankly, she needed Mary’s help. Most people would side with Martha in this scenario because we’ve all had those moments when there was too much to do, too little time, and not enough help. The urgent often keeps us from putting first things first.

What was Mary doing? We can only conclude that Mary gave her attention to Jesus. We can imagine that Jesus talked to her about His travels and His teaching. Jesus may have talked with her about real-life issues or the matters of the heart. Mary must have hung on every word that Jesus offered. Mary’s life was ordinary enough, but when Jesus came to town something extraordinary was taking place. Mary just wouldn’t miss the opportunity. We have all been in situations where we had, but missed an opportunity because we were too busy with something else. Not Mary.  Mary wouldn’t pass up the most important thing: spending time with Jesus.

What would happen if we all had a little Mary in us? What would happen if we put first things first? What would happen if we placed as much importance on spending time with Jesus as Mary did?  I wonder what would happen if we spent as much time in prayer and hearing the words of Christ as we do in taking care of the urgent tasks of the day? Putting Jesus first. It’s the easiest thing to do and the hardest thing to do.

Putting Jesus first means that we want Him so much that the other stuff becomes secondary. And it become secondary every day. It’s not passive. It is just Jesus, first and foremost because we love Him and we want to follow Him. In the presence of Jesus the “tyranny of the urgent” fades, and we discover the power of putting first things first.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you saw yourself first and foremost as a child of God, what would change in your life? 
  2. What daily habits can you develop to better ensure you put first things first?   

Yes Or No

“For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. ” –  2 Corinthians 1:20

“Yes” and “no” are often one of the first words that we learn when we are small children. And once we learn them, we use these two words probably more often than any other word during the day. That is because during the course of the day, we make countless decisions resulting from a simple “yes” or “no.” Yes, I will get up and get ready for work, or no, I want to sleep a while longer. Yes, let’s go get a salad for lunch or no, I prefer a burger. We make a lot of choices in a day.

To invest our time and resources on the important over the urgent, we either have to learn to say no or to be ruthlessly selective in our yeses. For most people, the barrier to a fulfilling driven life is not a lack of commitment but over commitment. In other words, we need to be incredibly careful and prayerful about what we say yes to. The best and most effective followers of Jesus don’t do just to do more, they do more of what brings glory to God. If you want to have a more meaningful life, I would encourage you say no to more and yes to more of what matters most.

As Christians we also find ourselves saying “yes” and “no” to God many times every day. “No” is often the more prevalent response. We often find it quite difficult to say yes to God, especially when there is much at risk. Saying yes, however, is a real key to a meaningful relationship with our Heavenly Father. God knows that we aren’t perfect. He knows that it will be hard to say yes. Because saying yes to God usually means saying no to ourselves and to the things we want. If you say yes to God, you are saying to Him, “You are the most important part of my life. I trust you. I love you, and I believe that you have so many wonderful things in store for me.”

When you say yes, prepare to be uncomfortable – being a disciple isn’t easy. These days, it’s unpopular and difficult to be a follower of Christ. Know that whatever God wants you to do, no matter how uncomfortable you might be, He will grant you His grace to help you along the way.

Be honest and open and talk to God. Tell Him that you’re open and willing to do His work. As it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we must “never stop praying.” This helps you stay connected and on the right track with God and His plans.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the obstacles to saying yes to God?
  2. What can we do this week to be more selective to what we say yes to? 

Warning: Deadlines Are Closer Than They Appear

“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.  Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do..” — Ephesians 5:15-17.

Many Christians today find themselves juggling deadlines at work and at home. Deadlines are often challenging, sometimes unrealistic and usually stressful – which is why so many people tend to push back on them. In many instances, deadlines are generally not of our doing and non-negotiable while others are self-imposed. We create deadlines when we overcommit and find our backs against the wall.

On Sunday, we talked about the strategic tool of artificial deadlines.  An artificial deadline is a fake deadline. Here is an example: your boss wants a report on Thursday, so technically the report is due on that day. But in your mind it is due on Wednesday. That report is an important job responsibility so you want to ensure it is not only done but done early. Put more simply, it is building in a cushion.

When facing deadlines, seek God as you would in anything else. Start by praying. Going before the Lord to get your marching orders from Him and then going out in dependence to fulfill them can be both a worrisome and exhilarating experience. Psalm 127:1 teaches us. “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.” When we, by faith, set and pursue a deadline, it drives us to God. He is the One who accomplishes this task, but in His divine sovereignty, He somehow uses us to do it.

Secondly, a deadline can give glory to God. If people know we are a Jesus follower we should have a reputation for hard work and follow through. What if we make our deadlines and fulfill our commitments to the watching world? I know to set seemingly unreasonable goals seems foolish to some, but my Bible says “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37 ESV)  We may win some accolades in the process, but our true motivation should be to exalt the name of Christ, and bringing Him honor and glory through this process. And when the job is complete, the deadline has been made, we can pause, stand back, and simply say, “Look what God has done!”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we feel about creating artificial deadlines? Where is a good place to start?
  2. How can deadlines help unlock God’s power in your life?

Urgent Care

“The important task rarely must be done today, or even this week…  But the urgent task calls for instant action…  The momentary appeal of these tasks seems irresistible and important, and they devour our energy. But in the light of time’s perspective, their deceptive prominence fades; with a sense of loss we recall the vital tasks we pushed aside. We realize we’ve become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.” ― Charles E. Hummel, Tyranny of the Urgent.

This quote should be read on a regular basis. We live with a sense of urgency. Think about this: you’re going to spend the rest of your life doing something. Too often that something is responding to what is urgent instead of pursuing what is important. So how do we get past this? How do we start living the life that’s important to us instead of just responding to the everyday emergencies?

Learning to overcome the tyranny of the urgent or learning to choose what is important over what is urgent is what we find in Luke 10:38-42. Both Martha and Mary loved Jesus. They both wanted to honor Jesus and show their devotion to Him, but Martha was focused on what needed to be done for Jesus’ visit while Mary focused on Jesus. Martha was kind and gracious and wanted to be a good hostess for Jesus but all the details distracted her from Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, chose what was important.  Mary knew that Jesus wasn’t around often and so she wanted to spend every moment she could in His presence. She wanted to listen to Jesus and learn from Him and love Him. Mary chose what was important – Martha chose what was urgent.  While both actions are good, Jesus says ”My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (vs. 41-42)

If we want to choose what is better, then we need to choose what is important and not just what is urgent. To choose what is important we first need to identify what is important. If we struggle to truly understand what matters most in life because so many good things are competing for our time and attention, then let me suggest we put God first and allow God to help us prioritize our lives. This really isn’t my suggestion; it is the example of Jesus.  Even Jesus had to choose what was important over what was urgent and it wasn’t always easy because the urgent things for Jesus were things like healing people and caring for their real needs. But Jesus had to decide if He was going to give His life to what was urgent or what was important.

We live in a time when the most we are called to give God is a few hours a week for small group and maybe a couple more on Sundays. We say, “Here God, take this part of me, but I’m going to keep the rest because I have some urgent things going on.” We want to give God everything but it is difficult. My prayer is that we will we put all the urgent things aside to focus on the most important thing, our relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. If God is not getting everything we have, we either view him as unnecessary or unworthy. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. Is there anything in your life that seems urgent and is keeping you from the important? How can we begin to change that this week?

Keep Running

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” – Philippians 3:13-14.

In Philippians 3, Paul was clearly looking forward rather than dwelling on the past. But that doesn’t mean that Paul had suddenly developed amnesia in the Roman jail. He clearly understood his past and had not forgotten the man he once was, but he did not let his past discourage him or defeat him. He was determined to press on and to keep running the race. Paul was focused on eternity and what awaited him at the end of his life.

We are accustomed to viewing our lives in the order of “past, present, future.” The Bible suggests we should view time as flowing from the future into the present and then into the past. The believer should be future-oriented, “forgetting the past.

I often wonder if we realize just how mired down in the here and now we have become. Sometimes it’s dark and scary and you’re fumbling around because you feel like you have lost control allowing all kinds of noise and potholes in our lives. Things like broken relationships, money problems, illnesses, and so on. None of those things will matter in eternity. What will matter is whether we lived lives that pleased God.

Paul was completely focused on just that. He was pressing toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Paul uses the image of a race to describe the Christian life. In verse 12 Paul says, “I press on.” In verse 14 he says, “I press on to reach the end of the race”  The idea of the word press is to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after. Pressing when running means that you have to give it a little more effort in order to overtake another runner. Basically you are running, not just for the exercise, but with a specific goal and purpose in mind. A runner who keeps his or her “eyes on the prize” will stay on track.

Maybe somewhere for some reason you lost your joy or passion for running. Perhaps you stumbled and fell, or maybe you just got tired and decided to take a break. If you’re temporarily sitting on the sidelines, I encourage you to get back in the race. There’s a Savior to serve and a prize of an eternity with Him to be won.

Discussion questions:
1. How well are you running the race? Faith is just the beginning of the race we run as Christians. How can we better exercise our faith and put it into practice?

2. How can we start thinking future, present, past rather than the current order of past, present and future?

Run The Race With Endurance And Discipline

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1.

Discipline and endurance go hand in hand for the Christian because the Christian life is more like a marathon than a short sprint. Whether we have a few years left or many in our journey of life, we need good decisions in order to run with endurance the race God has set before us. Paul says in Philippians 3:14, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Professional runners do not become winners by listening to lectures, watching movies, reading books or cheering at races. They become winners when they enter a race and with discipline and endurance, win the race. Likewise, if you want to be a winner in this race of Christianity you must have a spirit of discipline and endurance and be willing to run the race. 

That all sounds complicated and exhausting, doesn’t it? It does take a lot of effort. Christ-centered discipline and endurance doesn’t just happen, any more than making good decisions, getting out-of-debt or having a good marriage just happens. It requires a good plan, good decisions and some discipline mixed in. It requires looking at your present, at the future and a whole lot of help from God.

So how do we run the race? What does it mean to endure?  As Christians, we know that we are building the kingdom of Christ. We can contribute to kingdom-building as a waitress, mother, accountant, teacher, or soldier. Making contributions requires endurance. The beauty is that you can advance the kingdom regardless of who we are and what we do. You don’t have to be a CEO or a pastor.  We can make eternal contributions in the often mundane tasks of life. By being the best fireman, homemaker, realtor I can be, I can add my part—and in some ways, I will never know exactly what my part was this side of heaven. It takes endurance, and discipline which leads to decisions that make sense now in light of eternity,

We must consider our work in the bigger context of kingdom-building. We must remember that we will endure hostility from many angles. God knew that we would feel weary and discouraged at times. We have hope because we are not just waiting out our time until we get to heaven. With Christ as our model, we are actually contributing each and every day to the eternal future.

Perseverance, faith, and endurance will carry us through. Recognizing that we have important contributions to make through our work can bring us great joy and fulfillment in the “already…not yet” time in which we live.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you when the Bible says love others?   
  2. What can we do this week to be better at loving others?    

Decisions Last For Eternity

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” –  Ecclesiastes 3:11.

How do you make your toughest decisions? Trust God? Write a pro/con list? Go with your gut? Have your own system that you’ve perfected over the years?  One of the best ways to look at decisions is through the lens of eternity. It is a matter of seeing the big picture of how decisions will impact you today, tomorrow and for all eternity. Culture is bombarding us with messages to “live for the moment” and “it’s all about the here and now.” But living for the moment effects much more than the moment itself. The decisions you make in the next few years will have an impact on the rest of your life.

In the same way that the decisions you make in the next few years will impact your life, the decisions we make in our lives on earth have an impact on our lives for eternity. Eternity is a hard thing to grasp, and for many people is a long way off. But is it? The Bible says, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

There is nothing quite as grand as a fireworks display. You can’t help but be impressed by the beauty and colors of the starbursts erupting in an aerial display illuminating the night sky. Fireworks serve as a metaphor for our lives. When each individual firework is lit and shot into the air, suddenly there is a beautiful starburst that dazzles the eye for a few seconds, and then disappears from sight. It then falls to the earth as a useless spent cartridge. Our lifetime on this earth, when compared to eternity, is but a split second. Our lives on earth can be dazzling and we can achieve great success, but we will be a bright light for only a short time.  Everything in this life has limits. But God is unlimited. 

At some point in time, we all have to choose how we are going to live our lives today.  Will we choose the pain of discipline now or the pain of regret in the future.  If we do not chose discipline today and start something new and move in a new direction today, then it might very well be the biggest regret you will have tomorrow.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does one make decisions with eternity in mind?

The Tools of Discipline

“But have nothing to do with irreverent folklore and silly myths. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness [keeping yourself spiritually fit].” — 1 Timothy 4:7 (AMP)   

As a Christian, you will experience pain. That is inevitable. But, in some cases – you can choose which pain you’ll experience. You can choose immediate gratification with no long term payoff or you can choose to have current pain for greater returns down the line.

Choosing the later requires discipline. Self-discipline is doing what you know you have to do to accomplish your goals whether you feel like it or not. It means reigning in your appetites, emotions, and inclinations to help you achieve something that’s farther down the line. Self discipline is part of just about every undertaking: It takes self-discipline to start a profitable business, to finish what you started, to honor the guardrails you set up in your life, to avoid temptation, to forgive people and to resist immediate gratification.

We need discipline but that doesn’t mean we always embrace it. Having discipline in your life can put a damper on your fun because most people would rather do what they feel like doing. While it may not be popular, ignoring it can result in disaster. Proverbs says 1:7 says, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Proverbs 6:23 adds “For their command is a lamp and their instruction a light; their corrective discipline is the way to life.” The Book of Proverbs is an excellent book to guide us in the necessary disciplines for a fulfilling life. Proverbs 1:2 sets the stage:” Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.”

Discipline is not a glamorous topic, but it certainly is critical to our everyday lives. The longer we fail to put needed disciplines in our life, the harder it is to do and the more that lack of discipline causes problems in our lives. Take a few moments to evaluate what areas in your life that you can use more discipline. Maybe it is something practical like you have a tendency to procrastinate. Or maybe it is being faithful whether in your personal or professional life. Maybe it is a unwillingness to forgive a relative or friend. Or maybe you are lacking the discipline of spending quality and quantity time with God each day. We think our lives are so full that we can’t possibly put another hour into the schedule. This discipline is so very needed in our lives. And it is discipline. 

Where is your discipline weak? In what areas are you dying for lack of discipline? The good news is that discipline can be learned.  Any one of us can be disciplined if we want to be and we go to God for strength and help. But it will take time. I want to encourage you not to give up easily, because new disciplines simply take time.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can self-discipline help unlock God’s will for your life?
  2. Why is self-discipline needed?
  3. What can you do this week to improve your self-discipline in one area?

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

“Don’t fear failure. Fear faithlessness. Don’t fear attack. Fear apathy. Don’t fear rejection. Fear regret.” – Steven Furtick.

Every day we make mistakes, and most of the time we just ignore these failings and move forward. But every so often, there is one that makes us pause and take notice and ultimately becomes a regret. Most people struggle with regret – big and small – and some regrets take root and have to be dealt with.

Being a Christian would seem to make regret irrelevant. After all, as Christians we hear stories about bold faith and celebrate stories of dramatic transformation. These are uplifting, but they can create the perception that we no longer have to deal with the effects of lingering regrets we accumulated before we came to Christ or after for that matter. Becoming a Christ follower undos all the worst mistakes we ever made.The gospel of Christ grants us freedom from the condemnation that still haunts us daily. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). So it makes sense that we would feel a little uneasy about regrets all the while wondering why our regrets from the past are still part of our lives today.

Christ does indeed make all things new. And He is at work to reclaim, redeem, and repurpose every single one of our regrets as we submit ourselves to His work in our lives. But it means facing those regrets prayerfully and with courage, not denying they exist. Denying that our regrets exist will not make them disappear.  Only God can do that. And He will. Regrets are one way to come to grips with our humanity, as well as the depth of Christ’s redemption of all that we are, and all that we’ve done. 

But let’s also have an eye toward the future. This week’s sermon on “choosing discipline over regret” is not about going back in time for a do over.  It is about eliminating future regrets by our actions today. Work harder in your relationships so you will not have the regret in the future.  Spend more time with your children and grandchildren so you don’t have the regret of misplaced priorities in the future.  And don’t regret that you missed the mark in your relationship with Jesus Christ. You can manage your time, your money, your emotions and your energy in such a way that you live and die without any regrets. Regrets can be avoided if we make better choices today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How easy is it to cruise through a day and not even think about the choices we make? Why is it so easy?
  2. How can making the right choices and doing what God loves make your life better? What can we do this week to start making the right choices?