Question: "What does putting God first really mean?"
Answer: It is common to hear a Christian say, “I’m putting God first” or to counsel others to “make sure God has first place in your life.” Such expressions are used so often they run the risk of becoming a Christian cliché. But there’s nothing trite about the idea of putting God first; in fact, it’s thoroughly biblical.
Everyone has priorities. We arrange our schedules, budgets, and relationships according to perceived importance. Putting God first means we give Him top priority over everything else. He is the principal figure in our lives and central to all we do and think. When we choose to put God first, we determine that He is more important than any other person, His Word is more valuable than any other message, and His will is weightier than any other imperative.
Putting God first means that we keep the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). In other words, we are totally invested in our relationship with God. Everything we have and everything we are is devoted to Him. We hold nothing back.
Putting God first means we keep our lives free from idolatry in all its forms: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God in our hearts. As Gideon demolished the altar of Baal and chopped down the Asherah pole (Judges 6:25–27), we must tear from our hearts anything that lessens our devotion to or reverence of God. As Gideon built an altar to the Lord to replace the idolatrous images, we must dedicate ourselves as “living sacrifices” to God and in that way put Him first (Romans 12:1).
Putting God first means that we strive to follow in Jesus’ steps (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus’ life was characterized by total submission to the Father’s will, service to others, and prayer. In the garden, faced with unthinkable agony, Jesus prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). That’s putting God first. Jesus’ words, actions, and doctrine all came from the Father (John 5:19; 7:16; 12:49). Jesus glorified the Father in every detail of His life and accomplished all that He has been sent to do (John 17:4).
Jesus taught us to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else” (Matthew 6:33, NLT). That is, we are to seek the things of God over the things of the world. We are to seek the salvation that is inherent in the kingdom of God, considering that of greater value than all the world’s riches combined (see Matthew 13:44–46). The promise associated with the command is that, if we are putting God first, “he will give you everything you need.”
During a time of famine, the prophet Elijah visited a town where he met a widow who was preparing a final meal for herself and her son. Elijah asked her from some bread and water, and the widow explained that she had the resources for one meal only, and after that was gone, she would face starvation. Elijah persisted: “Don’t be afraid. . . . But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son” (1 Kings 17:13). In essence, Elijah told her to put God first. By faith, the widow obeyed. She put God first and fed the prophet. And then came the miracle: “There was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry” (verses 15–16).
Those who put God first will stand out from the rest of the world. They will obey God’s commands (John 14:15), they will take up their cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23), and they will not forsake their first love (Revelation 2:4). They give God the firstfruits, not the leftovers. The Christian life is characterized by moment-to-moment selfless service to God that flows from love for Him and His people. In all things, the believer trusts, obeys, and loves God above all else. Putting God first becomes easier when we take to heart the words of Romans 11:36: “Everything comes from the Lord. All things were made because of him and will return to him. Praise the Lord forever! Amen” (CEV).