Friday, August 12, 2011

“Put God First” - The Principle of Priority


Pt. 1 of 6
I’m starting a new series today to help those of us who want to get traction in our lives for positive change. I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life when it just seemed like I got stuck. I didn’t mean to, it just happened. I maybe made some bad decisions, I hesitated when I shouldn’t have and missed an opportunity, or maybe I just got caught up in the ebb and flow of life and ended up where I hadn't intended.

So, how does that change? How do we create enough momentum to do what is necessary? That’s what this series is about. It’s about how to get back to that vital relationship with God, it’s about cooperating with the grace that God extends to us so that we can become all that we’re intended to be. It’s about adjusting the trajectory of our lives so that we’re headed in the right direction.

In Chip Ingram’s book, Good To Great in God’s Eyes, he mentions 6 habits that help us to cultivate God’s grace in our lives. I’m going to be building this series off of those six habits. I think you’ll find that if you apply these to your life, things will start moving in the right direction.

The first habit to put in place is the subject of this article: Put God First. It’s also called “The Principle of Priority.”

In Matthew 5-7 Jesus gives his most famous teaching called “The Sermon on the Mount.” In that message He speaks to His followers about what life ought to be like for those of us who are a part of the Kingdom of God. I’ll just define that term before we go any further.

A very simple definition is this: anywhere that God reigns is the Kingdom of God. According to the Bible, one day everything will be brought into the Kingdom of God, but for now, you and I choose whether or not we want to be included. Right now God’s Kingdom co-exists with the kingdom of this world. Sadly, many people believe that they are a part of the Kingdom of God because they go to church or because they’re “good people.” But it doesn’t work that way. Jesus asked a question in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” That’s the priority question. When you call someone “Lord” or “King” what you’re implying is that they are in charge.

As Jesus was teaching the disciples how they ought to pray, in the Lord’s Prayer, He started out like this: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy will be done; thy kingdom come…” It’s actually a prayer of surrender. It’s a prayer that acknowledges that we’re not God. Later in that same chapter, He tells us to stop spending our time worrying about everything but, instead, to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33)

Let me talk about why this habit of putting God first is so important.

God is God, and you’re not.
That seems like an obvious place to start, but it’s not all that obvious to a lot of people. When we make this statement, what are we really saying?

Firstly, we’re recognizing that God is all-powerful and we’re not. There’s nothing that God cannot do, but there are all kinds of things that we can’t do. That’s the whole point of Matthew 6:33. There are so many things that are outside of our control, but nothing is outside of God’s. I used to worry a lot. I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what might happen if… That kind of thinking didn’t get me anywhere but depressed.

Over the years I’ve learned that the Apostle Paul was dead on when he wrote Philippians 4:6-7. He said: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Acting on these verses is an acknowledgement that God is in charge.

Secondly, we're recognizing that God is good.
A lot of people have a hard time with this statement. Your life may have been filled with hardship and difficulty. Perhaps there are many times when you’ve thought to yourself, or even yelled out loud that LIFE ISN’T FAIR. That’s true – it isn’t. In fact, the Bible makes it very clear that life isn’t fair. If you read through the Bible, you’ll find the very clear teaching that each of us are born into a world that is rocking and reeling. Most other parts of the world have a clearer picture of this than we see in Canada, where problems are usually hidden behind a façade, but they’re there just the same.

The question to be asked is, where did all these problems, this evil, even, originate? In the very beginning we see that it started when mankind rebelled against God and decided that we could run our lives better on our own than under God’s leadership. A very brief review of the daily news should tell you how that’s going. By our own disobedience, we introduced a storm of pain and trouble into the world that continues today. Jesus Himself said in John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” You can’t live life to the full until you deal with the thief who’s trying to destroy you, and you can’t deal with Him on your own. Jesus came to give us life.

Jesus also said in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” What is He saying? He’s telling us that life is hard. There will be challenges and hard times that each of us will face. But in the midst of whatever circumstances we find ourselves, He will be there for us if we invite Him.

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This is Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, speaking to us. He’s telling anyone who will listen, “you’re not alone.” God is here, and God is good. He backed up His words by laying down His life on a cross to pay the price for all of our sin and disobedience. He said there is no greater love than when a man lays down his life for his friends: and then he did it. God is good.

Thirdly, we’re recognizing that God has a plan for each of us.
God knows you. He knows you more than you know yourself. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12 tells us that “…the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” For some people that’s comforting, for others it’s terrifying. There are no secrets with God.

In Psalm 119 we find that God “knit us together in our mother’s womb.” In Jeremiah 29:11 it says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I could take you to Scripture after Scripture that speaks of the great care with which God made you. He knows how many hairs there are on your head. He knows your gifts, your talents and abilities. He knows what fires you up and what brings you down, and He knows the very purpose for which you were created.

You see, God’s plan for you fits in with His plan for the world. To each of us, God extends an invitation to join Him in His plan of redemption, the very reason that Jesus Christ came to this world. For some, that means full-time ministry. For most it means serving Him in whatever secular vocation to which they may have been called. It means serving Him by raising our families with integrity and modelling within our communities what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It means living our lives to enhance God’s reputation in this world. How does that look?

It means that we recognize that Christ wants to live in and through us. When we receive Him He comes and lives in us by His Holy Spirit. As we cooperate with Him, we start to see incredible things begin to happen. He begins to make changes in us if we let Him. Even over the past few weeks I’ve had new Christians come to see me, so excited at how God answers prayer. They invite Him into their lives and each morning they welcome Him to have His way. I try to do this every day.

What I find is that God opens doors of opportunity for me that I could not have opened for myself. I often find myself with what I call “Divine appointments,” times when I run into people at places or times that are improbable but reflect God’s perfect timing and sovereignty.

This principle of priority is really all about a very simple question: who is in charge of your life? For most people, the answer to that question is easy: it’s my life and I’m in charge! I get to decide what I want to do and where I want to go and how I want to live. The problem with that view is very simple: it’s wrong! It ignores all of the truths that we’ve listed. It ignores the fact that God is all-powerful and we’re limited. It ignores the fact that God is good, and we’re flawed. It also ignores the fact that God knows us better than we know ourselves and has a plan for us. Proverbs 14:12 tells us: “There is a way that appears to be right,
but in the end it leads to death.”
Jesus, at the end of His Sermon on the Mount, compared our lives to building a house. He said that there are some people who hear what He has to say, but do what they want anyway. Those people are like someone who builds a big beautiful home on the sand. It looks great. But one day a storm comes. The winds lash at the house and the waters swirl around the base, washing away the sand. The house collapses with a great crash because there is no firm foundation. Their life’s work is destroyed.

The other group of people hear what Jesus has to say and apply it to their lives. Those people are like someone who builds a beautiful home on solid rock. For those people as well, one day a storm comes. The winds and rain beat against the house but the house doesn’t move. It stands strong because of the firm foundation. They may have some minor repairs to do, but they’re still standing.

The principle of priority means that you recognize that God is first and He has the right to tell you what to do. It means you pray, like Jesus, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I’ve found that when my life starts to get crazy, often it’s because I’ve gotten too busy and have neglected to put God first. I’ve let my relationship with Him slip and I end up finding myself trying to accomplish things on my own. That gets me nowhere in a hurry. So I have to stop and re-center myself. I come back to Him and acknowledge that I’m not God – He is. I might think I know what I’m doing, but He actually does know what He’s doing. I need to put Him first again. If you need to make some positive change in your life, the best way to start is with a decision that, as of today,God is first.

Related Articles:
Developing Great Habits
What To Do When You Fail
What have you got to lose?
Transformation
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