Put First Things First
Put First Things First
Shortly after we were married, Pippa and I went to a conference about marriage. One of the sessions I will never forget was about priorities. We were given five cards – each with a word on it: ‘work’, ‘God’, ‘ministry’, ‘husband/wife’ and ‘children’. We were asked to rank these in order of priority. With hindsight, I can see I got them in completely the wrong order.
I put ‘God’ first (at least I got that one right – but it was fairly obvious!), followed by ministry, wife, work, and, finally, children (we didn’t have any children at that stage so they didn’t seem very important!).
As the leaders of the conference took us through these priorities, it became clear to me that my order should be: first of all God, then my wife (my primary calling), our children, my job (my primary ministry), and finally my ministry – which, though obviously very important, should not be allowed to displace the primary responsibilities of my life. As the philosopher Goethe put it, ‘Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.’
Put first things first. The things which matter most to God should take first place in our lives.
Priority of relationshipPsalm 22:12-21
Your relationship with God should be your number one priority. In this psalm we see that the psalmist’s first priority (and prophetically Jesus’ first priority) was his relationship with God.
The gateway through which we pass into a restored relationship with God is the cross. As with the first part of the psalm, we see a continuation of the prophecies about Jesus’ death that are fulfilled in the New Testament.
It is as though this psalm is written in the first-person singular by someone hanging on a cross, hundreds of years before the Romans even invented crucifixion. It is an extraordinarily accurate prophecy about the suffering of Jesus – describing the cruelty of crucifixion.
- ‘All my bones are out of joint… My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth’ (vv.14a,15b; John 19:28).
- ‘They pierced my hands and my feet’ (Psalm 22:16c; John 19:37).
- ‘A band of evil people has encircled me. I can count all my bones, the people stare and gloat over me’ (Psalm 22:16b–17b; Luke 23:17,35).
- ‘They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing’ (Psalm 22:18; John 19:23–24).
As we saw yesterday, the suffering of Jesus on the cross was far greater than even the horror of crucifixion. He bore our guilt and was God-forsaken on our behalf (Psalm 22:1). Jesus died for you so that you could be restored to a relationship with God.
Thank you, Jesus, that you went through the agony of crucifixion for me in order that my relationship with God could be restored and become the number one priority in my life.
Priorities of JesusMark 1:29-2:17
I love Jesus. He is absolutely amazing and wonderfully attractive. He loved the people: he was filled with ‘compassion’ for them (1:41). The people loved him: ‘The people... came to him from everywhere’ (v.45). Everyone wanted to see Jesus: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ (v.37).
They would do anything to get other people to see Jesus (2:4). The crowds came to him (v.13). When he said to people, ‘Follow me’, they followed him (v.14). They brought all the sick to Jesus and he healed them (1:32–34), including Simon’s mother-in-law (vv.30–31). He loved tax collectors and sinners and was quite happy to go and have dinner with them (v.15). He came for us ‘sinners’ (v.17).
You can tell people’s priorities by how they spend their time. In this passage we see how Jesus spent his time.
- Praying to God
Most people do not get up very early unless they have something important to do. Jesus’ first priority was his relationship with God the Father: ‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed’ (v.35). This challenges us all to get up early, find ‘a secluded spot’ (MSG) and pray.
Personally, I have found the only way to get up early on a regular basis is to go to bed early on a regular basis!
- Proclaiming the kingdom
Jesus said, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come’ (v.38). The message he preached was good news about the kingdom of God and the need for people to ‘repent and believe the good news!’ (vv.14–15). It was a message all about forgiveness (2:5,10) and it was good news especially for ‘sinners’ (v.17), which everyone needed to hear. For Jesus, forgiveness was an even higher priority than healing.
- Power evangelism
Jesus was ‘filled with compassion’ (1:41). Out of love for the people he wanted to bring them first the good news of forgiveness. But it was not just words. He also acted to heal the sick (vv.40–42; 2:8–12) and to drive out demons (1:39). Through the healing of the paralytic, Jesus demonstrated that he is the one who has the authority and power to forgive sins (2:9–11).
Jesus’ priorities were clear. It was God first and then people second – and everything else was about acting out those two great priorities.
Lord, help me to prioritise my relationship with you. Thank you that I am able to proclaim the good news of forgiveness to others. May I be filled with compassion as I pray for the sick and seek to see people set free.
Priority of loveExodus 19:1-20:26
Although God invites you into intimacy with him, never forget the wonder of his holiness and power. God has such a passion for you, and therefore he will not let you be less than you can be. He wants us to learn holiness from him.
From Exodus 19 to Numbers 10:10 the people of God stay in the same place learning how to be God’s people. They begin by learning the holiness and power of God. They cannot even touch the mountain on which his presence rests. Then he speaks to them about their priorities through the Ten Commandments.
- God loves you
The context is in 20:2: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ God is a God who shows ‘love to a thousand generations’ (v.6). We see pictures of his love earlier in the passage. God says, ‘I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself’ (19:4). He says, ‘You will be my treasured possession…’ (v.5). Our love is a response to God’s love.
The context of the Ten Commandments is God’s love for you. Some people miss this fact and see them merely as a set of rules. God gives the commandments as an act of love for you. Seek to obey them as an act of love for God.
- Love God
The first four commandments are about how we respond to God’s love by loving him: ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). Our love is to be exclusive (Exodus 20:3–4), respectful (v.7) and is demonstrated by setting aside time to be with him (v.10).
- Love others
The last six commands are all about our love for others – our families (v.12), our husbands/wives (v.14) and our neighbours: ‘No murder. No adultery. No stealing. No lies about your neighbour. No lusting after your neighbour’s house – or wife or servant’ (vv.13–17, MSG).
Jesus summarised it like this, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’ (Matthew 22:37–40).
The Ten Commandments were not given as a ladder that people had to climb up to get into God’s presence. Rather they were a God-given pattern of life for those who had already known God’s grace and redemption. They are not given to restrict your freedom, but to safeguard it. They help you enjoy the freedom of living in a relationship with God, showing you how to live a holy life just as God is holy. Your love for God flows out from, and is a response to, God’s love for you.
Heavenly Father, I worship you today with reverence and awe. Thank you that you carry me on eagles’ wings and bring me to yourself. Thank you that you say that I am your treasured possession. Help me to make it my first priority to worship and to love you with all of my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind. Help me to love other people unconditionally in the way that you love me.
‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.’ (Mark 1:35)
I am challenged by the words ‘very early’. I am not good in the morning and even worse while it is ‘still dark’. The temptation to stay in a warm bed just a little longer I find hard to resist. But, I realise that it probably is the best time to find uninterrupted peace. If Jesus got up early to pray, I should at least try to do the same.
Verse of the Day
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.