Putting God First
Dr. Jim Denison
On Saturday morning, August 30, I read these words from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest:
“Jesus Christ says, in effect, Don’t rejoice in successful service, but rejoice because you are rightly related to Me. The snare in Christian work is to rejoice in successful service, to rejoice in the fact that God has used you. You can never measure what God will do through you if you are rightly related to Jesus Christ. Keep your relationship right with Him, then whatever circumstances you are in, and whomever you meet day by day, He is pouring rivers of living water through you, and it is of His mercy that He does not let you know it. . . .
“It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him. All that Our Lord heeds in a man’s life is the relationship of worth to His Father.”
These last two sentences were a bolt of electricity to my heart. They stunned and shocked me. Hear them again: “It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him. All that Our Lord heeds in a man’s life is the relationship of worth to His Father.” Here are some facts which came to my mind as I pondered these words:
What I do for the Lord does not count unless he does the work through me. Unless he preaches the sermon, writes the commentary or devotional, speaks the words, what I have done is of no worth to him whatsoever. No matter how much I have studied, how hard I have prepared, how zealously I have served, how sincerely I have wanted to honor and obey my Lord, if he did not do the work through me, it is of no worth. In fact, it is all wasted time and effort.
All the Lord heeds in my life is my relationship to him. If he is not first in my heart, first in my priorities, first in my life, I am in the wrong. And he cannot use me. He cannot work through me. The channel is blocked, the artery clogged, the pipeline corroded and corrupted.
Thus, the evil one will let me serve the Kingdom so long as my heart is not right with its King. He will let me preach sermons and write commentaries. He will let you attend worship and teach classes and give money and volunteer your time. Why? Because he knows that unless our hearts are right with God, such service does not count. It will not last. It is of no worth.
As a result, any sin between me and my Father is good enough for the enemy. Murder isn’t necessary, just anger. Not adultery, just lust. Not theft, just coveting. Satan would prefer the sin to be enacted so that others would be hurt as well, but the thought or emotion is enough to break my fellowship with my Father, thus rendering my service worthless and powerless.
And any service to Christ is acceptable to the evil one, so long as it comes before the One we serve. So long as we do it for him, or even better, for ourselves. So long as I preach to grow the church, or advance an idea, or even better, promote myself. So long as you give to pay the bills, or to earn the blessing of God. So long as you teach, or sing, or attend to be seen by others, or to be rewarded by God, or to “get something” out of church today. Any purpose which does not put God first is worthless. It is a waste of our lives. And the enemy is pleased.
When these reflections came so powerfully to my heart a week ago, I did not then know that they would be the center of this message. The dots connected later. But I now know that I was given this truth for us all, as God’s word to our entire church family. So that we would learn the urgency of Jesus’ command to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” so that then “all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). We must understand and live out the truth of these words, for they are crucial beyond description to our church and our future this Fall. If we do not, nothing else we will do will matter. Nothing at all.
How to seek first the kingdom of God
The “kingdom of God” is that place where God is king.
In his Model Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray that “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This is Hebrew parallelism, a kind of poetry where the second line repeats the intent of the first. His kingdom comes wherever his will is done.
This happens wherever and whenever God is King. In Jesus’ day, when someone was king of a land, he was more than its president or prime minister. He did not lead the nation—he controlled it. He did not govern the land—he owned it. Every part of it.
Every resident of the kingdom owed allegiance and service to the king. Every inhabitant was given land and house by the king’s mercy, so long as he would work the soil and bring the king his harvest. So long as he would serve the king in war and in peace. So long as he was faithful to his sovereign master.
The laws were written by the king. And transcended by the king. His word was inviolate and absolute. His subjects served only one lord, named only one master.If you and I choose to “seek first the kingdom of God,” we determine to become exactly this kind of subjects of God as our Master, Lord, and King. As a result, first our possessions belong to him, for they are his.
Our land and house are his, loaned to us to use for his purposes. We owe him all that we have, for it is his possession. He will hold us accountable for how we use his property.
Not just what we give back to him in our tithes and offerings, but what we keep as well. How we spend every penny of every dollar, how we buy and use our houses and cars and clothes and other possessions.
What we do with our bodies and abilities—all of it belongs to him. One day it will all go back to him, and our bodies to the ground from which they were taken.
Our time belongs to him, for it is his gift to us.
Not just what we do at church, but with the rest of our week as well. If you come to church four hours a week, every week, you are exceptional. And you spend 2.3% of your week here. If God is your King, he is as much Master of the other 97.7% of your week.
The time you spend at work—your business ethics, language, relationships, witness. The time you spend at school—how well you use your abilities for his glory, your friendships, your witness. The time you spend in entertainment—the movies you see, the Internet sites you visit, the music you hear, the books and magazines you read. The time you spend in your home—how godly you are with your family, how spiritual your influence, how significant your witness.
Our thoughts and ambitions belong to him, for he is watching them as our Lord.
This is where Satan’s temptations are most subtle. We think that so long as we do not commit public sins, all is well. Our service to God is secure. But remember: only that which God does through us is worthwhile. And anger blocks his Spirit as fully as murder, coveting as much as embezzling, private slander as much as public stealing. Lust in the heart is adultery to God. Bitterness toward a fellow believer breaks our relationship with our Father.
He sees what we do not. He knows our thoughts, our motives, our ambitions. He knows why we do what we do. And his Holy Spirit can only work through that which is holy.
Is it possible to “seek first the kingdom of God” as fully as this? The word of God will never ask us to do that which we cannot do by the Spirit of God. Not in our strength, but in his. Asking for his help, seeking his power.
Choose to die to yourself, that you might live to Christ. Decide to be crucified with Christ, so that he lives in you (Galatians 2:20). Determine that Christ in you is your hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Live the exchanged life by which you ask God in faith to take control of your mind, your personality, your emotions, your decisions, your actions. Ask Jesus to be as incarnate in your life today as he was when he first walked this planet.
Oswald Chambers from August 31: “Be rightly related to God, find your joy there, and out of you will flow rivers of living water. Be a center for Jesus Christ to pour living water through.”
And from September 1: The Atonement means that God can put me back into perfect union with Himself, without a shadow between, through the Death of Jesus Christ…Holiness [now] means unsullied walking with the feet, unsullied talking with the tongue, unsullied thinking with the mind—every detail of the life under the scrutiny of God.”
The King will empower us to put first his Kingdom. But we must ask his help. We must choose his allegiance. The decision must come from us.
What happens when we seek first the kingdom of God
What will happen to our worship services this Fall if we put God first? He will become the only audience of worship.
You are the performers; we on this platform exist only to help you worship God. Our preferences don’t matter—it’s not what I happen to like to preach, or the musicians happen to like to play, or the vocalists happen to like to sing, or you happen to like to hear.
The question each week will be: what will lead you most fully to worship your King? We’ll unpack that question each week this Fall. Come prepared each week to worship the only King of Kings and Lord of Lords, your audience of One.
When we put God first, his Spirit will fall on us. He will inhabit the praises of his people. He will lift up his Son in our midst. We will see our Lord, high and lifted up, his train filling this temple. The doorposts will shake; the house will fill with the smoke of his Spirit’s presence. Our Lord and Savior will be exalted every week. And we will never be the same. But only if we put God first.
What will happen to our building project this Fall if we put God first? He will get the glory for whatever is built on this campus.
If we raise the remaining $10 million, it will be because he provided from his resources for our need. It will be because he moved in the hearts of his people to give sacrificially and faithfully out of what he has loaned to their use. It will be because we prayed, not because we performed. Because we trusted God, not ourselves. It will not be because we have the resources, but because he does.
And the resulting structures will bring more people to Jesus than we have ever been able to reach before. We will have facilities to reach the next generations for our Lord. We will build his Kingdom more fully than ever in our history. But only if we put God first.
What will happen to our ministries this Fall if we put God first?
Souls will be saved, for only his Spirit can convict us of sin and make us the children of God. Saved souls will be discipled and grown, for only his Spirit can make us more like Jesus. Those who are discipled will be used in ministry, for only his Spirit can call and use us in that place of service which is his will for us.
We will see evangelism, equipping, and engaging occur as never before. We will be an army of faith, marching on our knees. We will take Christ to our community and beyond in the power of the Spirit. True revival and awakening will come through our service to our Lord. But only if we put God first.
What will happen to our families and lives this Fall if we put God first?
We will find that purpose and significance which gives us true joy. God’s Spirit will bring healing to hurting hearts, direction to confused lives, fulfillment to frustrated souls. “All these things will be given to you as well,” for “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Our Dad is rich. Our Father is the Lord who “longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18). And he loves us beyond description or compare.
But he can only bless that which honors him. No father should encourage or enable behavior which harms his child. Only when we seek first his kingdom can we know the blessing and provision of the king. True abundant life will come to us. But only if we put God first.
This sermon has been prepared unlike any other in my entire preaching ministry. At home last Monday afternoon, after a time of prayer, I sat down in front of my computer to make some notes for the message. And the sermon came. Without translating the text, doing research, consulting commentaries, studying resources. It was as though I were simply taking dictation, writing what the Spirit spoke to my heart.
It was made clear to me that the most significant challenge facing Park Cities Baptist Church is simple: we must put God first. We must trust his power over our own abilities and resources, through heart-felt intercession and daily prayer and prayer meetings. We must put his glory ahead of our own preferences in worship. We must put building his kingdom ahead of buying our own possessions. We must put reaching others for Jesus ahead of our own wishes and desires.
This is not your church, where you pay the money and receive the benefits as members of a club, where you elect leaders who run the church according to your wishes. This is not my church, where I preach the sermons and call the shots. This is his church. There is only one King. And only one Kingdom.
If we put God first, everything else will be added to us by the Lord of the universe. Imagine it. And choose wisely. Don’t waste another day. Put God first.