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.