Summary: Use what you have before you ask for more; put the work of the Lord first in your priorities; and expect the church itself to live in faith and with godly priorities.
It is very important to put first things first. It’s important to get things in the right order. If you don’t get first things first, life just does not work out right.
For example, speech. Language is tricky, and if you don’t get the words in the right order, the meaning can be drastically changed.
My cousin, a very fine singer, used to do a folk song entitled, "Black is the color of my true love’s hair." Fine. Nice little song in praise of the beauty of one’s beloved. But it took on a whole different meaning one time when she got the words in a different order, "Black is the color of my love’s true hair." First things first; else the meaning is changed.
Dr. James Langley, the former Executive of our D. C. Baptist Convention, is one of those people who has had so many irons in the fire he was late to almost everything. When someone would grumble about his being late, his standard reply was, "I’d rather be Jim Langley late than the late Jim Langley." First things first; else the meaning is changed.
But, as I have suggested, if you don’t get first things first, things just don’t work out right. If you try to do certain tasks in the wrong order, you find yourself in trouble. The temptation is always to do what seems to be easiest and let the tough things go. The temptation is to de what appears to be the most pleasant thing, and leave the harder things behind.
Like some of you, I started using a computer late in life. They sure didn’t have them in the schools when I was coming along. We were barely above quill pens and Number 2 pencils and counting on our fingers. Here in D. C. that meant you could only count to ten; but we Kentuckians had available the equipment to get us up to twenty! Well, now, suddenly I am expected to be computer literate.
The truth is, I’ve learned just enough about a computer to be dangerous! When I get a new application loaded into the computer, what I want to do is to turn the thing on and start pecking away at the program. I don’t want to read any manuals. I don’t want to press the F1 help key. I certainly don’t want to print out any README files. I just want to hack. But you know what happens, don’t you? I spend two hours on trial and error, mostly error, trying to learn the program; but if I had put first things first and read the instructions, I could have gotten started in fifteen minutes!
First things first, or else life doesn’t work right. What tempts us is doing the easy thing, the apparently pleasant thing. But life doesn’t work that way.
By the way, with Christmas only six weeks away, here is a hint for parents assembling Santa’s bounty: when all else fails, read the instructions.
And that’s not a bad prescription for life, either. When all else fails, or better, before all else fails ... read the instructions.
There is a story in the Old Testament that teaches us the importance of putting first things first. This story reminds us that we are always tempted to do what seems easiest or most convenient or most pleasant, but that life works best when we put first things first.
The rule is: First things first. That means: Use what you have before you ask for more. Use what is given you before you insist on having more. Even when the circumstances are not promising and not pleasant, use what you have before you press for more. First things first.
She had very little, but she did have something, this widow in Zarephath. A handful of ground meal, a few drops of cooking oil, some hastily gathered kindling wood. Not much. Not much at all. But it was something. And God’s prophet Elijah urged her to use what she had rather than waste her energies crying out for more.
Listen to the desperation in her voice, after Elijah asked her to feed him: “[Sir], I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” She was down to almost nothing financially; but what is worse, she was down to almost nothing emotionally and spiritually. “I’m going to use this up and then turn over and die."
But Elijah, God’s prophet, counseled her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said ... for thus says the Lord the God of Israel, ’The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail …’” And indeed, so the story reports, “The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord ...•