How do you start strong in 2019?
You make the right choices!
OK, what are the right choices?
A key word is Order. Order is how we prioritize our lives. We need to get everything in our lives in the right order.
When I mention order, I'm not referring to an obsessive order. For example, when my wife and I were first married, Shirley washed our clothes and put them away for the first time as a married couple. She was proud of what she did as a new wife. When I arrived home, I was impressed with what she had done and told her so. Unfortunately, I kept talking and told her that I had a certain order for how my clothes were hung. First I had my better shirts and then my other shirts. Next I had my better pants and then my other pants. I was just trying to be helpful, but poor Shirley was so disappointed I wasn't sure if she was going to try that again. That's the wrong kind of order!
God is a God of order, not chaos or disorder. He created the universe in incredible order. Imagine what would happen if a star or planet happened to fall out of its prescribed rotation!
Order also applies to our worship and service to God. We don't put God 2nd, 3rd, or later but 1st.
This is key: A life that God blesses is not just about what we offer to Him, but also about the order in which we offer it. We don't say, "OK God, I’m going to give You part of this area of my life. I will give You part of my time but I'm busy so You might come in 2nd or 3rd. I will definitely give you money but unfortunately You will be 3rd or 4th." When we come to Him we must say, “I’m going to offer You my life in the order that pleases You!"
God must be 1st. He cannot not be first. When God is first in every area of your life, the rest of your life will be filled with order and blessing. If God isn’t first in every area of your life, your life will be full of disorder because order matters.
Jesus described it this way in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."
I invite you to put God 1st in your life in 2019! Let's look at four 1sts to put into practice. These are not original with me; I've heard them for many years, most recently from a preacher named Chris Beall. Apply these 1sts to your life and they will not only change your new year of 2019, they can even change the rest of your life.
1. The 1st of the Day: Seek God
Start your day with Prayer. Seek God at the first of your day. Determine that nothing significant is going to happen in your day before you spend time with your Savior.
The psalmist declared (63:1), "Oh God You are my God. Early will I seek You."
In the Gospels, we see a number of repeated behaviors in the life of Jesus. Over and over, He preached hope and Good News to the multitudes, healed the sick, performed miracles. And He repeatedly got away to spend time alone in prayer. Even when people were sick and needed Him to heal them, He still got away to spend time with His Father.
For example, Mark states, "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed" (1:35).
I have spent time alone with Jesus every day for years, but have often rationalized that I am not a morning person so I will set aside time throughout the day, whether mid-morning, afternoon, or evening. But I now realize I need to commit the 1st of my day to the Lord before the hustle and bustle of life becomes too distracting, so I have committed myself to seek Him 1st thing in the morning. I invite you to do the same. Set your alarm 30 minutes early and let's give Him the 1st of our day.
2. The 1st of the Week: Worship Together
Choose to not only worship the Lord each week, but worship Him with others.
In Acts 20:7 Luke writes, "On the first day of the week we (meaning the church) came together to break bread."
This must be a priority. It is tempting to spend time worshiping the Lord at the beach instead of with others or to watch a church service on TV or the internet. You can find great preaching online but it is not enough. The longer I have been a pastor the more I realize that salvation is an individual experience but spiritual growth happens in community. It is difficult, if not impossible, to grow spiritually in isolation. Paul over and over declares, "one another." We are to love, encourage, edify, etc "one another."
Check out this sad statistic from 2017 about church (and synagogue) attendance. 23% of Americans attend church every week. Another 11% attend almost every week while 12% attend only once a month.
Now contrast that with the early church in Acts 2:42-47. They devoted themselves to many things: the apostle's teaching, the breaking of bread, the fellowship, and prayer. v46 declares, "Every day they continued to meet together...." They didn't meet together once a month or even once a week. They met every day! The miraculous result is v47, "...the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
A too common attitude in 2019 is: "I go to church when I can, but I’m super busy so once a month is about all I can do.” In the book of Acts, the early church met together every day! Why is there a drastic contrast between the two? Were they more holy than we are? Maybe. One thing is certain: they realized how desperately they needed one another. We need to get better at needing one another. This is not just a value to add to your week when you can. This is not just a suggestion; it must become a priority! The author of Hebrews wrote almost 2000 years ago (10:24-25), "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
3. The 1st of the Month: Tithe
Tithing is commanded in Scripture. Leviticus 27:30 declares, "A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord." It is to be the 1st tenth, not the 2nd, 3rd, or later.
Remember, God must be first. He cannot not be first. When you put Him 1st in every area, including giving, the rest of your life can be filled with order, provision, blessing, and more.
Tithing will make a difference in your life. If you have not yet practiced tithing you might be thinking: “Wait a second! For me to give God the 1st 10% of my income before I pay any other bill, I would have to utterly rearrange every area of my life to do that.” Exactly! That’s the whole point! We are choosing to rearrange our lives so that God is 1st!
PS: If you are thinking about giving God your leftovers (what you have left over at the end of the month), it's not a good idea. There is blessing when we give to Him 1st. Read Malachi chapters one and three.
4. The 1st of the Year: Fast
Fasting is denying yourself for the purpose of pressing into God’s presence. It might be denying yourself food, entertainment (TV, internet, social media), or something else.
As a church we will be dedicating the 1st full week in 2019 to prayer and fasting. Why don't you join us?
All throughout Scripture we see fasting. There are at least three times in the Bible when people fasted for 40 days. Moses on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 commandments, Elijah on Mount Carmel encountering the Lord, and Jesus in the wilderness when tempted by the devil.
Why should you fast? Good question.
Fasting is one of thee most misunderstood concepts in the Bible. If you’re new to this you might be thinking, "OK, I’m going to deny myself food. I'm going to either not eat or eat less. How is that going to produce anything but a grumpy, hungry person? How does that bless God?"
In Galatians 5:16 Paul does not talk about food but does give us a great truth that applies to fasting, "So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." He goes on in v17, "For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is contrary to the flesh." He ends, "For they are in conflict with each other."
What is the flesh? It is what our physical bodies want; it's what our sinful nature craves. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit within us. Both of them are hungry. The question is: Which will you feed?
Think about it! Why do we fast? We are going to deny our fleshly appetite and what it wants for the purpose of feeding what the Holy Spirit wants.
The Bible teaches us to lead Spirit-led lives, which begs the question: How are we going to be Spirit-led if our flesh gets whatever it wants whenever it wants?
Whatever you feed will grow, and whatever grows will become strong. If you feed your flesh anything it wants, you will be led by your flesh. And if you feed the Holy Spirit, you will be led by the Spirit. So feed the Spirit and starve the flesh!
What does the Holy Spirit want in your life? Intimacy with the Father. For you to feed on God’s Word. He wants you to live a life of worship, obedience and faith. When we feed the Spirit, the Spirit grows and we are led and empowered by the Spirit. That’s why we fast. We fast so we will be a people who don’t just profess faith in God, but we live a life that is led and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.
To clarify: We don’t put God 1st. He already is 1st. He has always been 1st. Before the earth came into existence, God was 1st. It’s not that we are putting Him 1st. It’s that we are recognizing He is already 1st, and we are going to align every aspect of our lives to that order.
When you do that, the rest of your life can be the best of your life!