Putting First Things First
The title of our lesson reminds me of the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The expression "first things first" is the name of one the habits; the third to be specific. On the surface the expression seems simple enough: prioritize. However, there is a clever illustration to demonstrate how you do this, which reveals there is more to it. The following story shows us the illustration:
One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I'm sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you'll never forget it either. As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.
When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?" Everyone in the class said, "Yes." Then he said, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?" By this time the class was onto him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?"
"No!" the class shouted. Once again he said, "Good!" Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?" One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!" "No," the speaker replied, "that's not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."
Many who read the story interpret the story as the eager student did. So, they miss the point entirely. They believe that if they put first things first they will be able to do everything. But that is not the point. The point is that if you do not do first what matters, you will never do it.
So, how do you find out what your first things are? The second habit of highly effective people is start with the end in mind. The easiest way to explain this is to imagine you are building or assembling something, typically you will know what your building or assembling should look like before you start. That way you can better prepare yourself to build it. What about life? Covey says the best way to do it is to imagine people reading your obituary or eulogy; what would you want it to say? Imagine people speaking at your funeral; what would you want them to say? After you do this you ask yourself, what must I do to ensure that those things are said about me? Whatever answers that question, those are your big rocks, your priority, your first things. By the way, no one in their death bed regrets not working more or making more money.
The Jews were not putting first things first. The purpose these Jews had returned to Jerusalem was to rebuild the city, but more specifically the temple. And they were not doing this. God was not pleased. The prophet Haggai was sent to reprove them and encourage them to build the Temple. (quote verse). Their lax in finishing the temple revealed their lack of faith. Building the Temple would reveal their renewed faith. It was the only way to please God (Hebrews 11: 6). Building their own homes while neglecting the Temple was not an act of faith; therefore it was Sin (Romans 14:23). Faith comes though the hearing of the Word (Romans 10:17). By hearing, believing, and hearkening to the Words of God's through the prophet they revealed faith. A wise author said that the "Lord used Haggai to stir the people's hearts toward God's concerns." They put first things first.
In the New Testament Christ told some parables where the characters were praised for pleasing their master. The characters in these parables put first things first. They started with the end in mind. What was the end? To hear the words "…, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: …: enter thou into the joy of thy lord" Matthew 25:21." Although those were not the exact words used for the sheep on God's right hand side, the sentiment is there. And the Lord tells them why He feels the way He does. Let us read it from Matthew 25: 34 – 16,
Mat 25:34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
Mat 25:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Mat 25:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
The Lord is pleased with them because in time of suffering and need these supplied Christ's need and relieved Him of His suffering. It was faith demonstrated by self-sacrificing love. Paul said to the Galatians that "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6). These sheep loved not themselves unto the death (Revelation 12:11). Another version renders the verse as such, "they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." (Revelation 12:11)
So, the end to the sheep is to please Christ by supplying His needs and relieving Him of His suffering. And, they do so by supplying others needs and relieving them of their suffering. Only those who live by faith can do this. So the big rocks or the first thing is to hear, believe, and hearken God's word. This is what it means to seek 1st the kingdom of God and its righteousness (Matthew 6: 33). What are you seeking for first? What is the first thing in your life?