daily Broadcast

How To Put First Things First, Part 1

From the series Balancing Life's Demands

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.

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Message Transcript

I was a pretty new Christian, and I had this amazing opportunity to ask Howard Hendricks – he was one of my heroes and mentors – and I got to ask him anything I could ask, anything you wanted to ask him. And so, I grew up in a very dysfunctional church, one that didn’t teach the Bible and had a lot of hypocrisy, and then, I ended up in a small parachurch ministry, where everybody I knew, for the first three years I was a Christian, everybody, everyone got up and read the Bible. Everyone memorized two or three verses a week. Everyone was in a Bible study.

Once you got to a certain point, no one said it, but you just knew someone has helped you, now you need to help someone else. Everyone was in some sort of a mentoring relationship where I knew that Jerry was helping me, and I was helping the two guys on my floor and I was helping the two guys on my floor.

And so, we went from about four or five people in his living room, to two hundred and fifty college students in personal Bible study on a secular campus. It’s all I knew.

And then, I got out into the real world, and I met all these Christians that said they loved God – and by the way, I’m not saying that everyone needs to do all those things in that way. Please don’t hear that that’s a list of things everyone needs to do. All I’m saying is, all the Christians I knew were really…

I didn’t know there were not committed Christians and committed Christians. You know what I’m saying? It’s just, those are the only ones I ever met. And the ones before, that was a bad – bad scene, growing up.

And I remember getting with Prof Hendricks, and I said, “Prof, will you tell me something?” You know, you always ask – like, “Oh, Great Poobah of wisdom and knowledge.” Then, I got to really know him; he was just a regular guy, with lots of wisdom and knowledge. I said, “Why is there so much hypocrisy?” You know, once I saw it, I just thought, “Why is there just so much hypocrisy in the Church?”

And I’ll never forget, he said, “Chip, I think it might go to something like this: 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’re 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 fifteen minutes, or a half hour, or forty-five minutes to be with God first?”

It’s kind of like some of you looked at me like “Are you on drugs, man? Do you understand I got three kids? Do you understand I got six grandkids?

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 going to do? You’re going to 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 your money is 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, three hundred and ninety-five dollars of eating out. Gosh, this is only half a month – how do we do?”

When you begin to take those steps, God will show you things. But see, we’re afraid. And so, and it feels overwhelming when we’re afraid, and so most of us, with this whole priority issue, we nod, we nod, Yeah, boy, I need to address that someday. Monday hits, emails hit, it’s got to 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 a hundred and fifty dollars for a year or two hundred dollars or three, and you go twice, that’s, like, seventy-five dollars a visit. They’re really doing well.

How many of us said, “God, I’m really going to 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 going to 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 going to get in shape. I am going to walk with God. I’m going to start mentoring someone – we are going to simplify, we’re going to start – we’re going to 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, there’s this battle that goes on: Yeah, I want that, God. I hear that, those tools of my money and my time. I don’t want to go there. I’ve tried this before, and I failed, and I failed.

And so, what I want to talk to you about this morning is, I want to get very, very practical, and I want to talk about what I think is the secret, if you will, the missing ingredient. What it is. What is it that brings the list that I intellectually would write down, and my life is 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 going to 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. When we see this in other people, we go, “Whoa, man, that’s neat.” We admire it. It’s essential for putting first things first.

A lot of people start well, don’t finish well, because of this. And the word – are you ready? You can just sort of swallow hard – the word is discipline. Some translations say “self-control.” If that makes you feel better, you can write in “self-control.” But 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 discipline. Discipline 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. And you know what? You know, maybe I’ll do 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? 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 going to 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, because 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, somewhere 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?

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 going to 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.

2 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.

I’ll never forget, I had an assistant, a really bright young gal, that worked with me for about eight years, and she had never run a day in her life. I mean, she was not athletic, at all – and she decided she was going to run a marathon. And I’ve been working out for years, and I run about two miles, and it hurts my knees. Let me chase something, hit something, play something, but running just seems like, how can anyone do it? I admire you who do it.

I mean, here she is. She’s never done – she goes, “Oh, no, I – I talked to my friend, and we’re going to – there’s a training program; we saw it in a magazine.” I’m going, “Good luck, sweetie.” And “We met this guy who does marathons.” And I watched her, and she started walking, and then, she jogged so long. And all I can tell you is, about four months after she decided to run a marathon, she went into training.

And I can remember about three months in, and she goes, “Could I come in a half-hour late tomorrow?” I said, “Sure, what you got going?” She goes, “Well, I did ten miles on so and so, and I’m up to my sixteen-miler, and we’ve got to get up real early.” I said, “You’re going to run sixteen miles before you come to work?” And she said, “Yeah!” I’m thinking, You are like an angel from heaven. How do you do this?

And what I watched is, she ran a marathon without stopping, because everything she needed to run a marathon was in her body. But she had to go into a process of training, over time, to take that which she already possessed, over time, to develop the capacity to perform what was in her.

Are some of you kind of getting what I’m saying? All that you need is in you. 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 ought to be mature. You ought to be teaching, but you’re drinking milk.” You need to be trained by God’s Word. And so, we’re going to talk about cultivating discipline as training.

Now, as we get going here, the dynamics of biblical discipline can be summed up in two words. Because at this point, I hope you’re saying, “I want that training. I want to 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 going to 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’s 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 got to get up.” “We’ve got to get on a budget.” “I don’t want to 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’re in tenth grade. You’re now learning how to write term papers. You have to write a term paper. And there’s a fifteen-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’ve got to 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’ve got to get this – I’ve got to 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. A little knot in your stomach, but a little fun sort of makes that go away.

And you get up, and 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 going to 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 is due. You start about eight thirty, and you work until about four thirty in the morning, and you’ve written a very poor, twelve-and-a-half-page paper that’s supposed to be fifteen.

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 will really help me, while you were at church and thought about skipping church to write the paper.

I’ve 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’ve got to set some boundaries and deal with some stuff.”

And you know what? It’s that term paper, and it never gets – 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.

And so, I would say the big question for us, how in the world do you develop it? If

delayed gratification, if that’s the key, how do you develop it in your life?

And the method of developing biblical discipline can be summed up in three words. Discipline is two words: delayed gratification. How you get it – the process of developing it. You say to yourself, What’s the training? Where’s the magazine that says if I run, jog a little bit, and then, the next week, I actually try and jog a mile, and then, after that, I go and, where, how does that happen?

You’re going to see it right out of Scripture. The three key words are advance decision making. The key to delayed gratification – if you are at the window and the moment where you know you need to delay your gratification, and you haven’t pre-decided what you’re going to do in that moment, about ninety-five percent of the time, you will do what you don’t want to do.