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  • Writer's pictureDoug Burroughs

Big Rocks First!

"Fill your life with the big rocks first, and you will find a place for everything else. But if you don't fill in the big rocks first, everything else will crowd out the important things of life."

The phrase above comes from a lecture by Stephen Covey, the famous author and life consultant. In the lecture he has two large jars and equal smaller jars of small rocks, sand, water and a handful of large rocks. He begins by placing the smaller ingredients in the jar and then adds all the smaller things. He then challenges people to find a place for the large rocks. Unsurprinsgly , they will not fit. He then repeats the exercise by placing the large rocks first into the other jar of equal size to the first. He subsequently adds gravel, sand and then even water to the jar and surprisingly, it all fits!

Covey's illustration was to emphasize the importance of putting in the most important things in life and then the other things will find their place. It sounds a lot like Matthew 6:33 (NKJV): "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." For Jesus followers, that's you and I, the kingdom and His righteousness are most important to Him and should be to us as well.

C.S. Lewis said it this way, "Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in, Aim at earth and you get neither."

Mary, who anointed the feet and head of Jesus with perfume from the alabaster box, prompted revulsion, skepticism, and judgement with her "big rock" choice. When people questioned why such an expensive perfume wasn't sold and money given to the poor (John 12:1, Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9), Jesus responded with the now famous, " John 12:8 (NKJV) For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always." This was not an excuse to ignore the poor, but a living illustration to say that ministry to Jesus is a bog rock and if done first, there will be room, time and resource for all the others.


Meanwhile, in the real world...

What are some real world examples?


In our world, there is often a scoffing at daily disciplines, life journal, prayer, devotions, Bible reading, etc. Usually what happens, because people have felt beholding to a schedule and check boxes, they shuck off the discipline and declare their freedom in the name of grace and New Covenant. The problem is as follows: this kind of thinking approaches these disciplines not as opportunities to connect with Jesus, but as performance issues to obtain something. Grace has come and the New Covenant does indeed free us from performance to gain love and life, but it doesn't eliminate the need for these wonderful connection opportunities with Jesus. You see, we are not only saved from, but also saved to, as it were.

Let me illustrate. On July 2nd, 1983, I stood before the most beautiful woman in the world and made vows to her in front of witnesses. We exchanged rings as a sign of covenant, and even signed a paper where the government recognized our new covenant with one another. In short, we were married! I must have told that beautiful, brave girl a hundred times that I love her that day, and still do to this day, I mean she is something special!

Now, what if after the ceremony she wanted a date night, or to have a cup of coffee together in the morning (a very Dutch thing to do), or said to me, "You know, you don't talk to me much anymore. I never hear you say, "I love you!". What if I rejoined to her, "I don't have to. We made a covenant before witness and I am free from obligations to you. I told you I love and that was enough that day for a lifetime!" You see, it makes no sense! We do things to bless and enhance our relationship together, don't you in your relationships?

Devotions (Bible reading, prayer, journal writing, etc.) are a big rock. If we skip them, the day takes over and fills the jar of our lives. There has to be displacement in order to fit them in. But if we prioritize them and make sure the big rock gets in the jar first, then there will be room for all the other important and necessary things.


Malachi 3:8-12 (NKJV) "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this," Says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. "And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," Says the LORD of hosts; "And all nations will call you blessed, For you will be a delightful land," Says the LORD of hosts."

Tithing to God is always something that I have had to put into the big rock category. If I waited until the end of the bill cycle, there was never enough money to pay my tithe (10% literally in Hebrew), always, "more month than money". Once I adjusted to paying the tithe off of the top of my income, there was always enough and then more than enough. Tithing and giving and the accompanying spirit that goes with them is something we will explore at another time, but it is definitely one of those big rocks.


The Heart of the Matter

It is true, that anything that is of kingdom value is a big rock. Working on your most important relationships, whether they are Jesus or someone else, it is vital that time is carved out for them first. Crises will come and go, but the first things of life will always be the first things. The funny thing about devotions, generosity, relationship building is that they are not loud and do not scream for your attention. They will stay quiet while neglected, waiting on you to turn your attention to them. They will even stay quiet while parts of you are dying because of lack of attention to them.

Fire is a useful tool, but can die from two things, smothering through water or dirt and a lack of materials necessary to make it flourish, basically, ignoring it. Don't let your fire go out. Fan the flames and stir the things up again! Give God your first and best as an investment into your relationship. Watch what happens as a lifestyle of putting the big rocks in first begins to take root! Adventure awaits!


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