Once, while facilitating a leadership seminar on Steven Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," I wanted to make an important point, so I took a wide-mouth jar and filled it with rocks.
"Is the jar full?" I asked those gathered.
"Yes," came a reply.
"Oh, really?" I said.
Then I poured smaller pebbles into the jar to fill the spaces between the rocks.
"Is it full now?"
"Yes," someone else said.
I then filled the remaining spaces between the rocks and stones with sand.
"Is it full now?" I asked.
"Probably not," said another, to the amusement of the audience.
I then took a pitcher of water and poured it into the jar.
"What's the lessen we learn from this?" I asked.
An eager participant spoke up, "No matter how full the jar is, there is always room for more."
"Not quite," I said. "The lesson is: To get everything in the jar, you must always put the big things in first."
Jesus proclaimed a similar principle in the sermon on the mount. He knew we waste our time worrying about the little things that seem so urgent but crowd out the big things of eternal value.
"Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things," Jesus reminded His hearers. "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." Matthew 6:33
In the church I pastor, one of the great traditions we have is choosing a Scripture verse of the year to help guide us through what the new year brings. Matthew 6:33 would be a good verse for those who want to put God first in their jar of life. So just what does it mean to seek God first?
Here are some suggestions:
At the first of each day, have a quiet time with God. Start each day with the nourishment that comes from God's word and seeking his Holy Spirit.
"O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water." Psalm 63:1 NKJV
Jesus, himself, to connect with his heavenly father, started his day with a quiet time with God.
"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
My wife, Debbie, and I start off each day by reading God's word and seeking his guidance and protection, and in doing so, believe we are seeking God first in our day.
If we are going to put first things first, we must then, at the first of the week, worship.
The New Testament reminds us of the first-century church.
"On the first day of the week we came together to break bread." Acts 20:7
Gathering together weekly with a church family is an important part of a healthy spiritual life, for we all need the encouragement and support that comes from gathering with like-minded people who all share the same purpose. In fact, my Scripture verse of the last year said:
"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another." Hebrews 10:25
If we are going to put God first in our time, then we also must put him first in our money.
The Bible teaches "The purpose of tithing is to teach you to always put God first in your lives." Deuteronomy 14:23 TLB
Tithing is the spiritual habit of giving back to God the first 10 percent of all I make.
If I make $100, I give $10 back to God; if I make $1,000, I give $100 back to God. I get to keep 90 percent, but I give 10 percent to him.
Why do that? Because God says so, and that's reason enough. If you don't do it, you're disobeying God. But there's another reason.
Jesus says, "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." Matthew 6:21 NLT. What we treasure the most controls us, whether we admit it or not. If possessions or money become too important to us, we must re-establish control or get rid of items. Jesus calls for a decision that allows us to live contentedly with whatever we have because we have chosen eternal values over temporary, earthly treasures.
As we begin the New Year, I also want to suggest you put God first in your plans.
Now is the best time of the year to get away for a time to pray and plan what you want to see God do in you and through you in the coming year.
"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." Jeremiah 29:11
God knows the future, and his plans for us are good and full of hope. As we begin the New Year seeking God first, we can look forward with confidence for what he has for us as he leads us and goes with us.
Kyle Ermoian is the founding and senior pastor of Celebration Community Church.