Stop Putting God First!

There is a cliche in Christianity that produces a cringe within me every time I hear it vocalized or see it in print. Some well-meaning man or woman will say something like, “Well, you just need to make God ‘first’ in your life.” I completely disagree.

Not only do I disagree, I contend “putting God first” is a dangerous teaching, one perpetuating a life-view that is directly at odds with the type and level of commitment God is seeking from his children.

It likely seems I am picking nits with this, but there are times the slightest external references reveal much larger belief systems underneath, even if we are not immediately aware of those belief systems and the implications they carry. I am persuaded that the “putting God first” mentality hides just such a belief system.

And even when I am finished explaining the reality behind the “put God first” cliche, many will say, “Oh, that’s just semantics. You’re making more of it than you should.” No, I’m not. The challenge with the “God first” mentality is not that we speak it, or believe it, but that we live it out in our lives, and doing so is wholly inadequate to the disciple’s life to which we have been called.

The Hierarchy

Ask any random person on the sidewalk how they prioritize their life, and you may get a response like this:

  • Well, first I’d put my wife. She’s most important.
  • Then, I guess I’d put my kids. They’re also really important.
  • Third I’d put my job. That’s super important because we have to live.
  • Next, maybe my friends. I have some real good buddies, and they’re important to me.

This exercise continues for fifteen or twenty “nexts,” until the guy runs out of priorities. Of course, if you press the matter and get really granular, you can run that priority list out to fifty or sixty items.

The example above is obviously not presented by a Christ follower, but is likely something with which the average person would respond. If we were to ask the same question of the average Sunday morning church-goer, without fail they would say, “Well you have to put God first, obviously…” Whether they can put definition to what that “putting first” means is another matter.

Defining the Prioritization

Prioritization forces us to compartmentalize relationships, tasks, ideas, activities, and more. There is no question but that some things are more important than others. Oddly enough, prior to the late 1930s to early 1940s the concept of multiple priorities was non-existent. There was the priority item, and then there was everything else.

Using the term as it is understood today, we can “prioritize” our items something like this:

  Priority Item 1
  Priority Item 2
  Priority Item 3
  Priority Item 4
  Priority Item 5

Priority items are compartmentalized and dealt with one at a time. I cannot address or work on priority one at the same time as I am addressing priority two. There is some fuzziness to this, however, as it is entirely possible to be attending to the children and my marriage at the same time, but conceptually, our priorities are contained within their defining boxes. Our focus is on that priority, even though other concerns on the periphery may also be affected.

If we identify the categories in our grid, it may look something like the following:

  Priority 1 – God
  Priority 2 – Marriage
  Priority 3 – Children
  Priority 4 – Job
  Priority 5 – Church Family

I don’t want to be dogmatic, and in that spirit, we have to allow for the “fuzziness” in the border lines between priority items, but the entire reason we rank priorities is because we recognize them as being distinct, and that is why our priority concerns are often seen as, and spoken of as, “competing” with each other. We refer to them as “competing priorities” because focusing on one requires neglecting the others.

Removing the Barrier

What I am asserting is that God has no place in our list of priorities. Just as God is omnipresent in the creation, God is omnipresent and ubiquitous regarding our priorities. God is in all our priorities. Otherwise, if God is in first place, when I move on from my first priority (God) to my second priority (Spouse), God is not there. We want to object, but the hierarchy of priorities does not allow this. God is first, and I have moved my attention to second or third.

The reality God wants looks something closer to this:

  God in my Marriage
  God in my Child Rearing
  God in my Vocation/Job
  God in my Church Family
  God in my Recreation

Or, it could look something like this:


GOD

My Marriage
My Child Rearing
My Vocation/Job
My Church Family
My Recreation

The truth reflected in this grid is that God is not something I do. My faith is not something I do. God and my faith define the very essence of who I am.

The Outcome of Your Essence

Seventeen years ago, I ran for city council. Some very specific, disturbing things had happened in city in which I lived and, in my disgust, I decided to do something about it. It was an experience I do not believe I will ever repeat.

As I walked the streets of the city, door to door, visiting with people who did not want me to be on their doorstep, I came across one feisty woman who said, “You wait right there for a minute. I wanna talk to you!!” She left momentarily and returned with some printed materials from which she started cautiously laying out her line of questioning.

I don’t recall precisely how she went about it, but I do recall that I cut her off early in her inquest, because I could see what she was trying to ask me without her being direct and blunt. She wanted to know if I had godly faith and if so, how that would shape my work on the city council.

I stopped her mid-sentence and told her, “I understand exactly what you’re asking, and I can tell you my faith defines everything about who I am. It affects my decisions with work, with my marriage, with my children, with my shopping, my reading choices, my television viewing. I cannot escape any of that because my faith is not something I do. My faith is who I am.”

With this understanding…

  • I’m not a husband. I am a Christian husband.
  • I’m not a father. I am a Christian father.
  • I’m not a Project Manager. I am a Christian Project Manager.
  • I’m not a driver. I am a Christian driver.
  • I’m not a teacher. I am a Christian teacher.
  • I’m not a friend. I am a Christian friend.
  • I’m not a cook. I am a Christian cook.

You could make just such a list for yourself, inserting dozens of similar categories. Jesus is in and with everything you are and everything you do. He is not “first.” He is all. Yes, the distinction is subtle, but it is tremendously significant.

I had a recent conversation with a man who was struggling with pornography. Let’s call him Chris. My response to Chris ran something like:

“Chris, do you believe that God is omnipresent, everywhere, always, even indwelling you?”

“Yes. Of course, I do.”

“No, Chris. You do not. You want to believe that, but you do not believe that. Because, if you did believe that, that Christ was in you, indwelling you, going where you go, seeing what you see, hearing what you hear, you would never look at those images on your computer screen.”


You see, Chris forgot that he was not a computer user but, rather, a Christ-following, Christ-indwelling computer user. There are twenty-four hours of activity in each of our days and, regardless of what we are doing with those hours, God is in every hour of those days.

Being a Christ-follower extends well beyond spending private devotional time in your prayer closet each day and attending corporate assemblies at prescribed times throughout the week. Being a Christ-follower infuses your entire being wherever you are, whatever you are doing, even if what you are doing is sleeping.

Make it Practical

What does it look like when God, my faith, and my walk as a disciple are infused into who I am rather than what I do? Both Matthew and Mark record an incident in which a scribe tried to discredit Jesus by asking him what is the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses. Jesus responded:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.
– Matthew 22:36, ESV

So far, so good. Everyone is in agreement with this. But then, as he so often does, Jesus throws a torque wrench into the gearbox.

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
– Matthew 22:39, ESV

This statement from Jesus presents the formulaic scribes and Pharisees with a contradiction, a puzzle with no apparent solution. If loving God with ALL is the top priority, then it is the only priority. How can there even be a second greatest commandment? I’m already loving God with all! All means all. There is nothing left for a second, third, or fourth greatest commandment.

But when we allow the Spirit of God to give us understanding, it makes perfect sense. As the apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, such things are spiritually discerned.1 I love God by loving my neighbor as myself, which demands that I love God by loving myself. I love God by loving my wife. I love God by loving my children.



Love God by . . .

loving my spouse
loving my children
loving my employer
loving my church family
loving my recreation

God is not the top priority. God is the only priority. God is not an item on our list of responsibilities. God is the entire list. God is the responsibility … all of it. God does not hold first place in your life. God is your life. He is in every thought you think – “we take every thought captive to make is obedient to Christ.”2 He is in every word we speak – “let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up.”3

The longer you ponder this concept, the more you will see that it is not merely a semantic trick. It is a radically different way of looking at life. It is a complete surrender of every ounce of your being and every second of your existence.

Blessings upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon

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1. 1 Corinthians 2:14
2. 2 Corinthians 10:5
3. Ephesians 4:29

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Damon J. Gray

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2 Comments

  1. SUSAN SAGE on July 10, 2024 at 9:12 AM

    Hey Damon,
    I have read this twice and will likely read it many more times. This is one of the most powerful pieces of yours I’ve ever read…and you know I’ve read a lot.
    On the second reading, I ended up on my knees with tears streaming down my face.
    I am thankful God used the words He breathed into your spirit and you put out for others to read to touch my heart so deeply.
    This is a wonderfully insightful, distinct look at the believer’s walk/life in God.
    Thank you, dear brother

    • Damon J. Gray on July 10, 2024 at 11:22 AM

      Susan, you have such a beautiful, tender heart. I’m honored to have you as a friend and a sister in Christ!

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