A couple years ago, Beth and I started looking for a new home. At the time, we only had one kid and Beth was pregnant with #2.
We were in your average 3-bedroom house, which was plenty big enough for two kids. The challenge was, I work from home 100% of the time.
So, every time I came out to get a glass of water or use the bathroom, Leanna would see me and when I’d go back to my office, she’d cry and knock on my office door. This is cute at first, until you are trying to get something done.
So, instead of spending money on commercial office space, we decided to find a house that had a 2nd story that could be dedicated office space. So, all the living would be downstairs and all the working would be upstairs.
We found the perfect house – like, beyond perfect. Actually, it had every little detail that our hearts desired. And even though we are not the first people to live there, I’m pretty sure God had it built for us.
But there is one thing that we didn’t like, the paint color. A vibrant, golden shade of yellow. And, it’s everywhere. Even the garage is yellow.
You’d think we would maybe paint the place before we moved in, or at least paint it within the first few months. But, here we are, a year-and-a-half later and most of the place is still yellow.
So, last Sunday, I stopped by Home Depot on my way home from church to pick up paint and supplies. I finally found enough motivation to paint a room.
I got everything ready, the room was cleared out, Beth took off all the plug covers. And, just as I was about to open the can of paint, I realized I forgot one thing: putty to fill the holes in the wall.
So, I went to Dollar General. They have everything, right? Yeah. Everything but that. We’re not real close to Home Depot so I was trying to decide if I should go to Atwoods or Ace Hardware next. For some reason, I was drawn to Atwoods.
Well, they didn’t have it either. But, I picked up some caulk to use instead. I figured, it should work, right?
On my way to Atwoods, I noticed a young guy standing on the side of the road. It looked like he was waiting for someone to pick him up. Then, on the way home, I saw him again a little further down the road.
I was on a mission to get back home and get the painting over with. But as I drove past him, I couldn’t deny the Holy Spirit trying to get my attention.
You see, just two days before, Beth and I had taken time to write out our goals for the new year. One of mine is to become more bold in my faith.
I just know that I need to be more fearless when it comes to sharing Jesus one-on-one with new people.
And, as you might know, when you make a desire like this known, God tends to give you opportunities to grow. And this was the first opportunity, only two days later.
So, I turned around, picked up the guy and asked where he was going. Turns out, he needed a ride to Michigan. I said, “I can’t take you there, but can I take you to the bus station and buy you a ticket?”
He was thrilled. So, I took him to grab a bite to eat and to downtown Tulsa we went.
On the way there, we talked about a lot. Turns out, he had already given his life to Jesus and actually was living quite a life of faith. Actually, he expected God to send someone like me to help get him where he needed to go.
God had done it several times for him before, and he knew God would do it again.
That was a lesson in itself, and one I am grateful for. He probably poured more into my life than I did to his.
Interestingly enough, we are the same exact age, but our lives couldn’t be more different. He didn’t know where his next meal was coming from, but I know that Beth is going to have dinner ready every night.
He had several kids scattered around that don’t really rely on him. I have several kids too, but they shape almost every area of my life.
None of this is to say that my life is better than his. To tell you the truth, his faith for God to meet his needs was inspiring. It blew me away and revealed that I have some growing to do.
During our conversation, he opened up about a lot of the hopes that he has for his life. He had a lot of uphill hopes. The problem is he’s also had a lot of downhill habits over the years that have held him back.
New Series: Uphill Habits
Interestingly, most of us have uphill hopes and downhill habits.
For example, “I hope my finances improve this year… Now, time to go pick up my daily Starbucks.”
Another example, “I hope to get closer to God this year… (Alarm goes off) I just need 9 more minutes of sleep. Actually, I really don’t feel like going to church this morning.”
And you know what? Hope is a good thing.
Jeremiah 29:11 NLT – For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord . “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Imagine what would happen if we aligned our habits with our hopes.
Instead of hoping our finances improve while continuing with wasteful spending, we write a budget and actually follow it. We deny short term pleasures for long term gain.
And most importantly, we follow the Bible’s instruction for our money and tithe by giving 10% of our income to our church. And we don’t stop there, but we live a life of generosity by giving to people in need.
And right about now, barely into this message, you may feel a bit guilty. These are things you know you should do, but you just haven’t done it yet. And the temptation is to go ahead and give up.
But, hang with me. Let’s start by wiping the slate clean. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past. What matters is what you do moving forward.
Philippians 3:13-14 NLT – I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
One of our core values here is, we don’t waste one moment in regret. And, this is key to living limitless life in Jesus. So, let’s leave the regret behind, leave the past behind, leave the bad habits behind, and press forward.
Romans 12:2 MSG – Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
We are starting a new series called Uphill Habits: A New Direction for a New Year.
Next week, we are going to talk about creating good habits in your thought life. And honestly, this is probably the hardest and one of the most important things to grab ahold of in this series.
In week 3, we will talk about creating habits that keep your life aligned with your purpose. Because you may have noticed how easy it is to get distracted from what God is calling you to do.
And in week 4, we will talk about choosing your relationships carefully. Because the people you hang out with are going to determine the course of your life.
But today, we are going to talk about the first habit.
Habit #1: Focus on what I do first.
The principle of priority, or what you do first, runs throughout the entire Bible. Actually, I can figure out a lot about you by watching what you choose to do first in any given situation.
What we do first reveals priorities in our life, whether we realized it was a priority or not. For example, if you are approached with several events taking place at the same time, the one you end up choosing is your priority.
Now, the priority may or may not be which event is your favorite. Instead, it may revolve around who is going to be at that event, who you want to impress, or more than likely which event will benefit you the most.
So, let’s talk about three ways you can focus on what you do first.
Put God first.
This one seems obvious, right? And it make sense. Putting God first in our lives is going to yield amazing results. But, talking about putting God first and actually doing it are two different things.
This is a strong statement, and it might hurt a little. But the truth is, if God is in your life but He’s not first, He’s not in your life.
You see, God doesn’t take second place. He doesn’t sit on the back burner. He won’t be a third wheel. You either want him in your life, or you don’t.
Another way to say it is, if you do not put God first on your list, He’s not on your list. Because how many of you have noticed that when you put Him after something else, He usually doesn’t end up fitting on your list at all.
The bottom line, your life either revolves around God or it doesn’t.
And this isn’t God’s fault. It’s not God being mad at you. It’s not God being like your needy friend who requires all of your attention.
The simple truth is, God was here first. God gave His first son to save you. And for us to live the life we were created to live, we must follow His example by putting God first in our lives.
Because what we do first reveals our priority. And when God is our priority, our life is a display of who God is and we get to live in the benefits of that and everyone around us benefits at the same time.
Exodus 20:3 NLT – You must not have any other god but me.
It’s no mistake that the first of the Ten Commandments was all about putting God first. The most important habit you can start this year is to put God first. Put God first.
When something else tries to take first place, regardless of how good it looks, you say, “Nope. I choose to put God first.”
So how do you put God first? Good question. That brings us to #2:
Give God the first of everything.
At most churches, the only time a pastor talks about this concept is when they are trying to get money out of you. In most cases, I believe their motivation is pure. They truly want to build the kingdom of God.
However, this is not a money principle. Yes, money is one of the things on this list, but it’s not even the most important thing on the list of things you need to give God the first of.
If you’ve been in church for long, you’ve heard about tithing. If you are new to church, the word tithe simply means the first 10%. And in most cases, we only bring it up when we are talking about giving. But check this out:
Leviticus 27:30 NIV – 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.
Should you give the first 10% of your income to the Lord? Yes. It is a Biblical principle that comes with a load of benefits, and it works.
If you think about it, you give more than 10% of your income to the government. So, it really isn’t as left-field as you might think to dedicate the first 10% of your income as a tithe to the Lord.
But, the principle of giving God the first applies to more than just your money. It also applies to your greatest resource, time.
And, why does God ask us to tithe anyways? The purpose is spelled out clearly in scripture:
Deuteronomy 14:23 TLB – The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives.
When you neglect to give the first part of your time and your income to God, you end up putting God on the back-burner. And when that happens, He never even makes the list.
There’s way too many things to distract you. So, if God is not the priority in your time and your money, you’ll likely never get around to giving Him much of either, even though you intend to.
You’ll get to the end of your pay period with no money left over. You’ll get to the end of your day with no time or energy left to pray, because you’ve already given it all away.
Give God the first of your year.
As a church, this is something I’d like us to do together by participating in 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. We are doing this for one simple reason – to declare that God is first in our lives. Because at NoLimits, we put God first.
And this sounds like a really good idea on the surface. Some of you are already getting excited. But let me tell you, a few days in, you are going to notice it getting a little tough.
And you may even find yourself counting down the days until it’s over. But, we are not doing this because it’s easy or enjoyable. We are going to do this because we want God first in our lives, even when it’s not convenient.
Now, some of you are good with the whole 21 Days of Prayer thing… but you may be asking yourself, “Did he say fasting?”
If you’ve never done it, and even if you have, fasting may sound like a scary thing. But fasting doesn’t necessarily meaning going without all food. There are different ways to fast, but they all have one purpose.
Biblical fasting always has to do with eliminating distractions for a spiritual purpose; it hits the reset button of our soul and renews us from the inside out.
Now, fasting should present a personal challenge. In other words, fasting something you don’t like anyways isn’t really considered fasting. And to help you decide what your fast should look like, let’s go over four different types.
- Complete Fast – In this type of fast, you drink only liquids, typically water with light juices as an option.
- Selective Fast – This type of fast involves removing certain elements from your diet. One example of a selective fast is the Daniel Fast, during which you remove meat, sweets, and bread and consume only fruits and vegetables.
- Partial Fast – This fast is sometimes called the “Jewish Fast” and involves abstaining from eating any type of food in the morning and afternoon. This can either correlate to specific times of the day, such as 6:00 am to 3:00 pm, or from sunup to sundown.
- Soul Fast – This fast is a great option if you do not have much experience fasting food, have health issues that prevent you from fasting food, or if you wish to refocus certain areas of your life that are out of balance. For example, you might choose to stop using social media or watching television for the duration of the fast and then carefully bring that element back into your life in healthy doses at the conclusion of the fast.
I imagine most of you already know exactly what you need to fast. Some are going to do a complete fast, some are going to stop drinking soda, others are going to fast social media. Whatever it is, go with what the Holy Spirit is leading you to do.
21 Days of Prayer and Fasting starts today and ends on January 26th. We are going to do this alongside Church of the Highlands in Alabama. They will be live streaming an 1-hour event every day to lead us in our time of daily prayer.
To sign up and join us, text the word prayer to 918-373-9883.
Give God the first of your month.
This is an opportunity to sit down at the beginning of every month to write a plan for your time and money. So, on or near the first of the month you take time to decide where your money is going and what you are going to do with your time.
And when you do this, you start with prayer and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in your decisions.
Imagine what life would be like if God helped you write a budget and helped you determine what to put on your schedule and more importantly, what to say no to.
This enables you to put God first by designing your schedule around Him and creating a budget that has the tithe at the very top.
This cuts out the overwhelm most people feel in the middle of every month from running out of money and dealing with a schedule that is out of control. Simply because you took time, at the beginning of the month, to let God lead you in the right plan.
Give God the first of your week.
Did you know that Sunday is the first day of the week? This is actually one of the main reasons most churches meet on Sunday, so that our week always begins with God.
What would your life look like if you made church a priority for one simple reason, because you are dedicated to starting your week with God?
And let’s take it a step further. What if you didn’t just give God one hour on Sundays, but you gave Him the entire day?
You got up, came to church ready to serve and worship. After church, you went with a few people to lunch to encourage them and building meaningful relationships. Then, you went home, took a nap, played with your kids and took a walk.
You said no to your phone. You said no to getting in a little bit of work. You simply rested, worshipped God, and loved on others.
You know starting your week like this would make a huge difference, not just for you, but for those around you. So, why not make a decision and do it? And be so determined that you don’t let anything distract you.
Give God the first of your day.
“Uh oh. He’s about to start talking about getting up early and having quiet time.”
And I get it, we’ve all struggled with getting up early to spend time with God.
And if your like me, you’ve tried several times to create the habit, and it stuck for a few days, but then something happened.
But let me tell you this, there is no reason to overcomplicate it. Giving God the first of your day can be as simple as waking up, setting your thoughts on Him first thing, and thanking Him for a new day.
Resist the urge to pick up your phone and look at all the notifications. Just leave it on the bedside table and continue to think about the goodness of God while you get ready for your day.
And then just let this grow into whatever it looks like for you. Maybe you’ll end up getting up early to pray and study the Word. Maybe your prayer will always take place quietly in your mind while you are waiting on the snooze.
The important thing is that the first thing you do in the morning is not grab your phone, but to set your focus on God. Resist the urge to see who text you and instead take a moment to thank God for what He is going to do today.
Because here’s the deal. If you give God the first of everything, He is going to show up in your life and blow your socks off. Which brings me to my last point:
Expect God to bless the rest.
When you give God the first, He takes it and multiples it. I don’t know how He does it – it goes beyond human wisdom – but He does.
When I give God the first of my time, He multiples my time. When I give God the first of my finances, He multiples my finances.
You are looking at a guy who accomplishes a lot without being overwhelmed and who is financially stable enough to spontaneously go buy a bus ticket for someone in need and give far beyond my tithe to ministries in need.
And how do I do this? Is it because I’m super-smart or have some kind of special advantage? You may have thought so, but no.
It’s because I have been giving God the first 10% of my income for the last 15 years. And I prioritize God in my time.
These two decisions have caused both time and finances to be multiplied in my life. I am reaping the harvest that I’ve been planting all these years. And the increase didn’t happen right off the bat. It happened after years of consistency.
Proverbs 3:5-10 NLT – Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take… Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.
The series is called Uphill Habits because they aren’t easy. But, they are possible.
So, make a decision today to put God first in everything you do, regardless of how hard it is. There’s going to be times you don’t want to do it. There are going to be times that other people tell you not to do it.
But, make the decision that nothing will distract you from putting God first.
No expense is going to come before your tithe. You’re not going to schedule anything on Sundays that doesn’t have to do with worshiping God, resting, or loving on others.
You’re not going to pick up your phone first thing in the morning. You’re going to put God first.
Your next step is to make a commitment to join us in 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. Every day during the 21 days, I am going to text you a link to the prayer service by Church of the Highlands, which everyone needs to watch every day.
To sign up, text the word prayer to 918-373-9883.