Radio Broadcast

How to Put First Things First, Part 1

Scripture: Matthew 6:33

Is your “to-do” list too long? Do you have too many people wanting your attention? If you’re struggling to keep all the balls in the air, join Chip Ingram for Living on the Edge today as he shares how you can put first things first.

Message Notes more broadcasts from this series


Most people live with two sets of priorities.  They have one set of priorities that they have written down on a list, and, if you ask them, they sincerely believe it.  God’s first, family, children, ministry, work.  And they have that on a list.  But they have another set, and that’s how they actually live.  And so, we have people whose lives are over here, and their list is over here, and we have this amazing ability to not see that they don’t line up.” 

The reason why most of us live with two sets of priorities – I want to give you three reasons, here, just to get us going.  First, we are deceived.  We are deceived.  We honestly don’t see the discrepancy between what we think and say, and how we actually live.  And by the way, it’s true of all of us.  This isn’t, like, the bad people and the good people.  This is, like, are you really, really deceived, fairly deceived, or just a little deceived?  Right?  I mean, welcome to the human race.

The second reason we live with two sets of priorities is, we are afraid.  Though we long, sincerely, to put first things first, we simply do not believe that God will supply our needs if we give Him the first portion of our time, our lives, and our money.  I mean, “You don’t understand.  I can’t squeeze in – I mean, I am overwhelmed, and you’re asking me to add 15 minutes, or a half hour, or 45 minutes to be with God first?” 

You know, it’s kind of like some of you looked at me like “Are you on drugs, man?  Have you seen my Day-Timer or my PDA?  Do you understand I got three kids?  Do you understand I got six grandkids?  And –” 

See, if you believe that when you give the first and the best to God, He will begin to clear things and provide in ways… So, a lot of us don’t put things first and don’t live by biblical priorities because it’s really an unbelief issue that’s rooted in fear.  We’ve got debts, we’ve got pain, I’m overwhelmed, give the first portion of my money . . .

See, when you do that, it forces a chain reaction of, if you give the first portion, you think, Oh, now what are we gonna do?  You’re gonna trust God.  And if you’re not on a budget, you’ll probably have to get on one.  You’ll probably have to figure out where you’re money’s actually going.  You’ll probably have to make some priority decisions.  You’ll probably have to do some crazy stuff, like, “Well, I guess we could cut off that satellite, and maybe the cable, and you know what?  I had no idea – we tracked it for one month, you know, 395 dollars of eating out.  Gosh, this is only half a month – how did we do –”

When you begin to take those steps, God’ll show you things.  But see, we’re afraid.  And so, it feels overwhelming when we’re afraid, and so most of us, with this whole priority issue, we nod, Yeah, boy, I need to address that someday.  Monday hits, emails hit – dum, dum – it’s gotta go here, go here – and most of what we talk about, apart from some who say, “God, I really want to hear, I really want to change.  I really want to grow,” it’ll be almost life as normal, two weeks from now.

The third reason we live with two sets of priorities is, we have failed repeatedly.  Our sincere and honest efforts to put first things first in the past, lasted only a short time and ended with frustration and disillusionment with ourselves.  Let’s face it.  How many have started on a diet and . . . not doing so well?  How many have had a little card in our wallet somewhere that says “Fitness Center,” that we’ve actually paid for, and they’re making a ton on it, because let’s see, if it’s 150 dollars for a year or 200 dollars or 300, and you go twice, that’s, like, 75 dollars a visit.  They’re really doing well.  How many of us said, “God, I’m really gonna start meeting with You,” and you did it for two, three, four mornings, and . . .  Right?  And, you know, you’re human.  I’m human.  So, in those areas where God has spoken to us in the past, and we’re gonna put first things first…

How ‘bout this one – have you had one of these?  “I am really serious this time.”  Right?  “Hey, I mean, I’m really – hey, I am gonna get in shape.  I am gonna walk with God.  I’m gonna start mentoring someone – we are gonna simplify, we’re gonna start – we’re gonna get under control, we’re…”  And maybe, for you obsessive-compulsive, super disciplined people, it lasts about two weeks, maybe.

And once you fail a number of times, then you know what you do?  You just start saying, “Ahh” – one, we don’t say it anymore, and two, even a message last night, it’s kind of like there’s this battle that goes on: Yeah, I want that, God.  I hear that, those tools of my money and my time.  Okay, if getting convicted is like a cathartic experience, I had that last night.  Now that we’re over with that – I don’t want to go there.  I’ve tried this before, and I failed, and I failed.

And so, what I wanna talk to you about this morning is, I wanna get very, very practical, and I wanna talk about what I think is the secret, if you will, the missing ingredient.  What is it that brings the list that I intellectually would write down, and my life, as demonstrated and played out by how I actually do things – what is it that brings those things together, so they’re the same?  What’s the missing ingredient to living out your priorities?

First, it’s a rarely used word.  We’re gonna go on a little inductive journey together, okay?  It’s a rarely used word.  Second, it’s a fruit of the Spirit.  It’s a fruit of the Spirit.  So, this missing ingredient isn’t something that you can do.  It’s something that is a part of what you already possess in Christ, but it’s allowing the Spirit of God to produce this in your life.  Third, it comes to us by grace.  Whatever this is, this missing ingredient, it comes to us by grace.  So, it’s not about trying hard.  Most of you have already tried the trying hard; it doesn’t work.  Four, we admire it in other people. It's Discipline.

We love it when we see it in other people.  We admire it.  It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit.

Let me give you a definition for disciplineDiscipline is doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.  By the way, that’s why workaholics can be slothful and lazy, even though highly active.  And all of us – have you ever had a Matthew 18 situation come up?  Someone has sinned against you, or there’s an issue that you need to confront someone on –right? – and you wrote it down.  God has showed you, you need to go talk to this person; you need to confront them.  And all of a sudden, it just pops up over here, I really need to jot that note to so and so.  You know, maybe I’ll do a – a few errands first, or, you know . . .”  We fill it in with all kind of –  discipline is not simply activity.  It’s doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.

And the proverbs give us the list of major sins that inhibit our lives.  When’s the last time you heard a really great message on slothfulness or laziness?  Anybody heard one in the last year?  Raise your hand.  Okay.  Wow.  One.  That’s more than most groups.  It is almost anathema.  You know, call me anything, but don’t call me lazy, right?  When I know what needs to be done, in my relationship with God, in my relationship with my wife, with one of my kids, in terms of where God shows me something, when I don’t do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, the Bible calls that “slothfulness.”  And so, there’s a reason why we don’t get some things in line.

So, let’s get on the positive side of this.  Discipline is the Spirit-empowered ability, given by God’s grace, that allows us to say “no” to the quick fix and the easy road, and say “yes” to the harder, but better way.  That’s what it is.  It’s not trying hard.  It’s not button down.  It’s not, “I’m gonna make myself do this.”  It’s not getting self-righteous and, No one else does this, but I get up early, and I do this, and I do this, I do this, and I’m rigid and legalistic.  No, no, no. 

Discipline is Spirit-empowered ability, that you get by God’s grace, that allows you to say “no” to quick fixes and easy solutions, and say “yes” to facing the hard, difficult things on the front end, in order to receive the richer, and deeper, and better.

Titus 2:11 and 12 – you have it in a translation in your notes, and this one is especially good, ‘cause I like it.  It says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation [that] has appeared to all men.  It” – notice it’s grace – “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled” – that’s our word – “upright and godly lives in this present age.”

Couple of quick observations.  First of all, grace produces discipline.  And by the way, along the line, we’ve been teaching grace in a faulty way.  We think “grace” and “no effort.”  The opposite of grace is no effort.  And that’s not it.  The opposite of grace is merit.  Paul would say, “Make every effort.”  It takes focus; it takes energy.  But it is the grace of God both to will and to work in you.

It’s the grace of God that helps me to say “no” to worldliness, but then, notice a second observation: It teaches us.  What’s that mean?  It means it’s a process.  It means it doesn’t happen overnight.  It means, like a child learns to ride a bike.  I don’t know about you, but I didn’t stick my kids on the bike and go, “Okay,” – Bang! – they got it.  They learn.  And how do they learn?  I’ve got these little grandkids now.  I’ve got three of ‘em that are all one year olds.  They do this – Bam!  Bam!  Well, I don’t see their parents going, “Get up right now!  What’s wrong with you?”  They’re just going, “Oh, oh, come here!  Emmy, Emmy, Emmy, come on, ma-ma-ma.  Come on.  Come on.  Come on.  Okay.”  And then, they take three steps, and they fall.  And their parents are excited about – what?  The two or three steps they take.  And they understand they’re gonna fall.  It’s a process to learn.

Discipline is a by-product of the Holy Spirit.  Listen to what it says in Galatians chapter 5:22 and 23.  It says, “But the fruit” – singular –“of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control; against such things [there’s] no law.”  So, it’s the Spirit.  It’s learning to trust by faith, allowing the Spirit of God to produce discipline in our lives.  We’re commanded – I mean, if that doesn’t do it for you – we’re commanded to live disciplined lives. Second Peter 1:6 says, “And let your knowledge lead to self-control, and self-control to perseverance, and perseverance to godliness.”  Discipline is the process that is learned over time, through training.  It is not an experience.  It’s not automatic, and it’s not about trying hard.

The Spirit and the power, and the grace that raised Christ from the dead is in you.  We must go into training.  That’s why the writer of Hebrews would say, “By now, you oughta be mature.  You oughta be teaching, but you’re drinking milk.”  You need to be trained by God’s Word.  And so, we’re gonna talk about cultivating discipline as training.

Now, as we get going, here, the dynamics of biblical discipline can be summed up in two words.  ‘Cause at this point, I hope you’re saying, “I want that training.  I wanna be disciplined.  I’d love to start time with God, or a workout, or mentoring someone, or getting my finances, or my time in order, but I’ve never been disciplined.  If you could show me how to get disciplined, ooooh, ooooh, ooooh!  I will do it!  I want God to do it!”  Okay.  Say no more.  That’s what we’re gonna do.  It can be summed up in two words: delayed gratification.  It’s the key.

And I think of all the passages in Scripture that help me really get my arms around biblical discipline, it’s Hebrews 12:11: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”  Do a little Bible study.  I would encourage you to memorize that one little verse.  “All discipline” – self-control, same word in every passage so far, it’s the same root word.  “All discipline” – notice – “for the moment.”  Front end.  This does not seem to be – it’s sorrowful.  It’s difficult.  It’s painful.  “Yet to those who have” – what’s our word? -  “[over time] been trained by it.”  I wish you could see the picture of my assistant face with the medal she got with her three friends, 26.2 miles later.  Someone who’d never run a day in her life and accomplished an amazing feat, because she went into training.

And that’s what God has for you in your relationships, your marriages, your singleness, your parenting, your money, and your time.  That’s what He really has for you.  Don’t believe that lie, well, there are other people that are more smart than we are, and there are people that are so much more holy, and there are people that are in such a different category.  This is God’s plan for every one of His children.

I love the quote by the author and psychiatrist Scott Peck.  He says, “Discipline is willfully choosing to embrace the painful and difficult aspects of one’s life first, in order” – listen to this – “to more fully enjoy and successfully achieve those relationships that mean the most.”  So much – we always focus on the first half – It’s sorrowful.  It’s hard.  “I’ve gotta get up.”  “We’ve gotta get on a budget.”  “I don’t wanna do that.”  You know, “I’ll never do it; I’ve failed before” – instead of focusing on – he says it’s willfully choosing to – what? – to confront the pain on the front end – why? – so you can get something way, way better on the back end.

Let me give you a high school illustration.  You have all been here, except for some of you that were disciplined, and we’re glad you’re here, ‘cause in the small groups later, you can share, ‘cause you’re ahead of us.  You’re in tenth grade.  You’re now learning how to write term papers.  You have to write a term paper.  And there’s a 15-page term paper that is due.  You don’t know much, but they sent you to the library.  It’s the old days, so you use 3x5 cards.  You go and get on the computer.  And you’ve got a month to do it and three weeks have gone by; you’re to your last week.  And you say to yourself, “I gotta get on this term paper.  I’ve never written one, and . . .” And your parents ask, “Well, how’s that term paper?”  “Oh, yeah, pretty good.  (That means I’ve been thinking about it a little bit.  Like, I do have my topic –that’s it.)”  And then, they say, “Hey, how’s it really going?”  So now, it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, and you did, at least, peruse where the resources were.  For about five minutes.

Well, it’s Thursday, and you decide, Okay, Thursday, I gotta get this – I gotta start the term paper.  And you’re at school, and someone goes, “Hey, are you going to the party tonight?”  “No, I didn’t know there was a –”  “Oh, man, this is an awesome party.”  “Well, okay, I could do it Friday night.”  So, you go to the party.  But even during the party, in the back of your mind, this nagging, Fifteen pages.  That’s a lot of time.  Little knot in your stomach, but a little fun sort of makes that go away.

And you get up, and it’s Friday, and then, “Oh, hey, did you hear about – you going to the game tonight?”  “Oh, no, I can’t go to the game.  I’m writing a term paper.”  “Friday night, you’re gonna stay home and write a term paper, you nerd?  What’s with you?”  And you say to yourself, That is kind of dumb.  I got all day Saturday, right?  So, you go to the game, right?  And then, you get up on Saturday, Man, I am really tired.  I think I’ll just get something to eat before I really get going.

Well, pretty soon, it is Sunday night.  The term paper’s due.  You start about 8:30, and you work until about 4:30 in the morning, and you’ve written a very poor, 12-and-a-half page paper that’s supposed to be 15.

And here’s the point: You not only have a lousy paper, you didn’t enjoy Thursday night very much.  During most of the game, all you could think about – when your team wasn’t scoring, or you weren’t laughing – was what was undone, and you had this gnawing in the back of your mind.  On Saturday, your procrastination – you had low-grade guilt that turned to high-grade guilt, and you told yourself, Maybe God’ll really help me, while you were at church and thought about skipping church to write the paper.

I got news for you: There are people that live their whole life like that.  And the stuff that really needs to get done keeps getting pushed out and keeps getting procrastinated.  “We’ll get the finances under control.”  “We’ll work on our marriage.”  “We’ll really sit down and talk with one of our kids.”  “We’ll address this addiction issue.”  “You know what?  We’ll confront that issue with our in-laws,” and, “Hey, we gotta set some boundaries and deal with some stuff.” 

And you know what?  It’s that term paper, and you just stay busy; you stay active.  You love God a little bit.  You do a little bit of this, do a little bit of that, and all the while, you never experience the rich, “better” that God has because of that rare word – delayed gratification.