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How To Put First Things First, Part 2

From the series Balancing Life's Demands

There are three words that can liberate you from the tyranny of the urgent. Three words that can help you regain control of your life. Three words that will reduce your stress and increase your joy. Join Chip to find out what those three words are.

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Message Transcript

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.

Let me give you a biblical example, and if you have your pen or pencil, pull it out, because I want you to do a little Bible study. You’re going to see something very interesting about what the apostle Paul does.

Now, remember, this is a godly, godly man. Thirteen books in the New Testament he writes. So, I want to give you a little context. This is a guy who God has greatly, greatly used. But listen to some of his fears in his life.

He’s writing to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9. He says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way” – that’s a manner of living – “that you may win.” Circle the word win. “And everyone who competes in the games” – he’s giving reference to the Olympic games at the time – “exercises” – put a box around – “self-control” – that’s our word – “in” – what? – “all things.”

Application to the Olympic games and the people of his day: “They do it to receive a perishable wreath.” In the Olympic games, they actually had an Olympic village. You had to – talk about training – you had to sign up in advance. You had to be approved, and you lived in an Olympic village, and they moderated your food and your schedule for a full year. And you were in what was called “training”.

So, that was the commitment, long before the games. They’d do it, so at the very end, in front of thousands of people, they would take a wreath and they would stick it on your head to declare you as the champion, to get the praise of people. They do it; they go into training. They’re self-controlled. They rearrange their time, their eating, their habits, their focus, their family, to get a perishable wreath, “but we, an imperishable.” And he’s picturing the judgment seat of Christ and the reward for the sons and daughters of the King.

So, here’s his personal application: “Therefore I run” – notice – “in such a way” – what’s that? It’s repeated again. It’s a manner of life. How do I do life? How do I put my schedule together? What are my priorities? See, “I run in such a way” – notice – “as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body” – and the phrase is interesting in the original text. Literally, it’s a battering to black and blue. He’s making a little hyperbole, here – “and I make it my slave.”

In other words, my body’s not going to tell me I’ve got to go to the refrigerator. My body’s not going to tell me because I’m tired, I’ve got to turn on the TV. My body and my emotions are not going to tell me how to live my life. I’m going to be in control, by the Spirit of God, to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, so that I can have a wreath from the King of kings, that says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

I can have the kind of marriage that God wants for me. I can have the kind of kids who’ll say, “I wish I had a dad or a mom like that.” I can have employees who say, “Now, there is someone who runs a company God’s way.” Get it?

He goes on to say, “After I have preached to others – I buffet my body; I make it my slave.” He’s talking about the self-control – lest possibly “after I’ve preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

Not speaking of his salvation, whatsoever. Disqualified as, “You know what? I’m not in the game, not making a difference.” I mean, all of us want to say, “Well, Paul, are you kidding me, man?” I mean, right? By now, he’s probably got five, six, seven New Testament books written. “You’re one of our heroes. You’re the greatest missionary entrepreneur of all time.” And he realizes it never ends – the pull of the flesh, the draw of the Spirit; the pull of the world, the draw of the Spirit.

Let me make a couple observations, and then, I want to get this very practical. Notice, he has a clear-cut goal, verse 24, to win. Notice verse 25. There is a focus on the prize. He lives consciously, with a sense of reward. “There’s something I want to get. There’s something I want to become.” Notice, verse 25 and 26. There’s a motive. And his motives are the eternal versus the temporal, right? An imperishable, versus a perishable. And then, finally, notice the personal application. He basically says, “I have clear-cut goals. I don’t beat the air. I don’t run aimlessly. I’m not jogging, here. I know exactly where I’m going.”

Second, he focuses on the reward: “So that I’ll get that.” And third, he ponders the consequences of, “What if I don’t do this? What if I don’t do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am disqualified for service?”

And from that passage alone, if you honestly, in your heart of hearts, want to learn to put first things first – everything from your money, to your time, to your relationships, to ministry, and to work – I will tell you, the apostle Paul is outlining for us exactly how to do it.

Advance decision making, we said, is the key. Notice, it begins with clear-cut objectives. Advance decision making is rooted in clear-cut objectives. Now, let me give you a couple examples of advance decision making. And by the way, again, sometimes when you hear people talk, we unconsciously think, Well, well, he said that. Maybe I should do that.

Maybe you shouldn’t. I’m going to give you personal, advance decisions I’ve made, that the Spirit as God has led me to make, so I can become who God wants me to be. If some of them might be helpful, great, but don’t – that’s how people get all messed up. “Well, you know, Chip, he’s doing it this way.” Well, good, you know why? Because he’s Chip! You’re Mary! Be Mary. Be Bob. You need to discern what God wants you to do. But here are a few advance decisions I’ve made – what? – so that I can get the imperishable.

I made an advance decision: I’ll be with God before I’ll be with people. That’s my advance decision with my time.

Second advance decision: I will give the first portion of every check to God.

Advance decision number three: I will not buy anything we can’t pay for in thirty days. And I will say, yes, the exception of a house. Or some of you would say, “You know, hey, Chip, that’s good for you, but you need to consider this, this.” Great. Consider all the other stuff. I’m just saying, as a general rule, if we can’t pay for it, I’ve never paid interest on any credit card. Ever. After I saved up the first time and prayed and asked God, I’ve had cars for eight and ten and twelve years, but it’s been twenty-something years since I ever put a car on time.

I’ve pre-decided I will not view nudity of any kind. For me, not you – for me, I’ve decided there are certain ratings, I don’t care, I won’t see them.

One is, I will not be with another woman, alone, other than my wife. I’ve seen all these ministry guys who love God, they start counseling people. I’m a lousy counselor anyway, so that’s a pretty easy one for me.

And is it okay for some other people to do that differently? Absolutely. You do whatever God shows you. A lot of my pre-decisions are about my weakness, not my strength. So, what pre-decisions would God want you to make?

If you want to be disciplined, you have to make some pre-decisions, and here’s the key: Let the pre-decisions grow out of clear-cut objectives. My experience is, so often, what they grow out of is guilt and other people’s expectations, and this thought of, Why I ought to do this. I ought to be more this way. And you know, that won’t keep you.

I would encourage you to develop a “to-be” list. I know you do “to-do” lists, or at least most of you do. It was 1986. Obviously, Prof Hendricks of Dallas Seminary has had a big impact.

It was a brown-bag lunch. I was with twelve other guys. We were talking about life and ministry and being husbands and fathers, and what we were supposed to be, what we wanted to do. And I’ll never forget, Prof put these four words up on the board and then, he basically said, “Guys, (A), get grace down. God loves you at this moment as much as He’ll ever love you. Okay? Let that sink in. Gentlemen, you can’t impress Him. Reading longer, praying longer, effective ministries – it doesn’t change His love. So, what you need to do, first, is get rooted and grounded in that you are loved and accepted, that you are His son.” We were all men in the room at the time. He says, “Then, you need to ask, how do you say thank you, and what do you want to do with your life? What do you want to be? What do you want to be?”

I put my “to-bes” on my calendar. For me. You can do it any way – To be a man of God, I’m going to meet with God, and I blocked off these mornings. And to be a great husband, it takes a lot more, and it’s relational. Okay? But I blocked off Friday, and I had a date with Theresa, and we had a three or four-hour block every Friday, all the time I pastored.

And then, I put my kids in my calendar. And then, I blocked off, Okay, all day Wednesday, half Thursday, my outline, I want to be a great pastor, I want to preach great messages. And then, like you, I can’t keep that.

And I was with Bill Glass in a prison. And we were sharing Christ, and one of the elders took me there, and did it a number of times, and just off the cuff, he talked about how your mind – whatever you think about, what your desires are, you unconsciously gravitate toward accomplishing.

And I don’t know why, I was just sitting at the table, and I was listening, and I was just a 28-year-old pastor, you’re sitting in the background, listening to all these heavy hitters and I remember thinking, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to write – this is an old card, 1986. It’s my desire cards.

And it’s, “Delight yourself in the Lord; He’ll give you the desires of your heart.” What if I started writing on cards what I want to be? That I knew for sure is God’s will. I’m not going to memorize them.

I’m coming out of becoming a workaholic after three years. I don’t want to memorize them. I don’t want to demand then. I’m not going to say they’re goals. I’m just going to tell God, “These are desires of my heart,” and then, I’m going to let Him sort of gravitate.

So, these are old, colored cards, actually. I was a little obsessive-compulsive. I put the family in one color, work in one color. So, sorry – some of us can’t get over it. I was making progress; I was in recovery, but, anyway, but let me just give you, and at night, I would just read these over, and then, during the day, now and then, and I didn’t feel like, and if I missed a day, who cares? But three or four or five times a week, I’m reading these over. “I want to be a worshipper. I want to enjoy God more, sing of His greatness, ascribe worth and praise to Him.” Because it didn’t come naturally to me. “I’d like to become habitually thankful, as a matter of unconscious response to all life’s circumstances and relationships, in light of the goodness and the sovereignty of God.” I just want to become – my unconscious reaction to everything: thank you.

I know those are God’s will, and I’ve got others. We’ve had enough. What would happen if you did that?

If God says He’ll give you the desires of your heart, what if you wrote down what you really want to be? “I want to be a wife who…” “I want to be a dad that…” And I can tell you, as I would read these over – I just have to confess, I wasn’t trying to pray, but I would just start gravitating toward praying these things for my kids.

You know, one of mine is, “I want to be a model of the attributes of God for each of my children.” I mean, I want that, but, and then so when something would happen, and my anger or something – God would bring that little card. And I ended up apologizing to my four-year-old, and, “I’m sorry, and that’s not how God works, and this is how Daddy is, and…” Clear-cut objectives.

Write down those desires. Get a clear-cut objective. And then, all of a sudden, “Yeah, a little sacrifice with our finances. Yeah, we can get on a budget.” Because it ties into the clear-cut objective.

Second is, then, focus on the reward, like Paul did. Imagine, picture in your heart and mind the success. Reward yourself along the way.

When I did real well in something – it takes six weeks to develop any habit. Okay? Getting up in the morning, whatever. When I did real well, and it was hard to discipline myself, and all these pulls, I would reward myself.

All my years in California – I met this older guy, godly guy, wise, gave oversight to these big companies in the past, and he was my leadership guru. Every Thursday morning, if my outline was done by six thirty A.M., we played nine holes of golf. And the first two or three holes, we’d talk about stuff. Then, I would go through my message, and then, the last three holes, I’d give him all my leadership issues. And he’d put his arm around me, and had kids my age, and I’ve got to tell you, a lot of times, I was up at four in the morning at my little doughnut shop, finishing up my outline so I could be with Dick.

And then, if I did these things, “We’re going to treat ourselves, and we’re going to go out to eat, and guess what, yeah, we’ve been saving; we’ve been budgeting, but it’s steak all around! We’re going to have a blast!” And you know, “If we do this, Honey – da-da-da – we’re going to save up, you and I, we’re going to go away.”

Plan in some rewards and have a blast! What happens, you live with all this guilt, and you don’t know – and so we do too many fun things to escape stuff, instead of reward ourselves and enjoy what God’s giving us.

The key to discipline – delayed gratification. The key to delayed gratification – advance decision making. How do you make advance decisions? One, clear-cut objectives. Two, reward yourself along the way. Three – and this is very important – advance decision making becomes personal and a conviction when you ponder the consequences. Ponder the consequences. The apostle Paul says – he ponders: Without a clear-cut goal, if I don’t buffet my body – I don’t think he liked that.

If I don’t discipline myself, if I don’t say “no” to the refrigerator, say “no” to the emotions, say “no” to the quick fix, say “no” to that everything in me that wants to run from this marriage issue, to say “no” to delaying talking to one of my kids, to say “no” to sitting down and saying, “You know what? I need a day away to figure out, what am I on Earth for, and what am I going to do with my life?” You’ve got to say “no” to all the pressures, and then, give yourself permission and come up with a plan. Clear goal. Focus on the rewards.

And then, I remember sharing this with our church, and it’d be different now. I guess I would have to say “grandkids.” But one of my great fears is – just because I see people fall financially or morally – is, I have this picture in my mind of all my kids on a couch – and I guess now, the couch got to be really big so their kids. And bending over with my knees, and they’re on the couch, and I’m explaining to them how I really do love God and I have been preaching God’s Word for now a lot of years, but it was just a weak moment, and I’m really sorry, and I know I’ve embarrassed God. I know I’ve embarrassed the Kingdom. I know that everything I’ve ever taught you – this behavior and what I just did, and now it’s in the papers, and… And I visualize telling my kids, eyeball to eyeball – and now, grandkid to grandkid – that I blew it, and I fell. And it scares me to death. And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

You need to ponder – you know, you think of that one – raise the ante. Imagine what it’s going to be like when Jesus is sitting on the couch, and you’re explaining to Him why you didn’t have time to fulfill your purpose, and how you were going to get around to getting on a budget and getting your finances straight, and dreaming the dream, and discovering your purpose, but you just had too many emails to answer. And I don’t know about you, I want gold, silver, and precious stones. I don’t want wood, hay, and stubble. But it takes discipline. That’s how you put first things first.