Be Sure to Put First Things First!
It is meeting night, but you have work to do. What will you put first?
YOU are a husband and father. As a long, hard day at work draws to a close, your thoughts turn to the congregation meeting scheduled for the evening. If you leave work immediately, you will have just enough time to shower, change your clothes, and have a quick meal before leaving for the meeting. Suddenly, your employer approaches and asks you to work overtime. He promises to pay you well. You need the money.
Or you are a wife and mother. As you are preparing the evening meal, your eyes fall on a pile of unironed clothes, some of which will be needed tomorrow. You ask yourself, ‘If I attend the meeting tonight, when will I have time to do the ironing?’ Having recently taken a full-time job, you are learning how difficult it is to care for household duties while earning a living.
Or you are a student. In your room, your desk is piled high with homework. Most of it was assigned some time ago, but you have procrastinated, and now several assignments are due at once. You are tempted to ask for your parents’ permission to stay home from the meeting to finish your homework.
Which would you put first: the extra secular work, the ironing, the homework, or the congregation meeting? What does it mean, spiritually speaking, to put first things first? What is Jehovah’s view?
What Should Come First?
Shortly after the Israelites received the Ten Commandments, a man was discovered gathering wood on the Sabbath. This was strictly forbidden in the Law. (Numbers 15:32-34; Deuteronomy 5:12-15) How would you have judged the case? Would you have excused the man, arguing that, after all, he was not working to maintain a luxurious life-style but to provide the necessities for his family? Would you have pointed out that there would be many occasions throughout the year to observe the Sabbath and that one missed opportunity, perhaps because of the man’s failure to plan ahead, could easily be forgiven?
Jehovah viewed the case more seriously. “In time,” the Bible states, “Jehovah said to Moses: ‘Without fail the man should be put to death.’” (Numbers 15:35) Why did Jehovah feel so strongly about what the man did?
The people had six days to gather wood as well as to handle their needs regarding food, clothing, and shelter. The seventh day was to be devoted to their spiritual needs. While it was not wrong to gather wood, it was wrong to use time that should have been set aside to worship Jehovah to do so. Although Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, does this incident not teach us a lesson in properly setting our priorities today?—Philippians 1:10.
After spending 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites got ready to enter the Promised Land. Some had tired of eating the divinely provided manna in the wilderness and were no doubt looking forward to a change in diet. To help them keep the proper viewpoint as they entered the land “flowing with milk and honey,” Jehovah reminded them: “Not by bread alone does man live but by every expression of Jehovah’s mouth does man live.”—Exodus 3:8; Deuteronomy 8:3.
The Israelites would have to work hard for their “milk and honey.” There were armies to defeat, houses to build, fields to plant. Even so, Jehovah commanded the people to set aside time each day to meditate on spiritual matters. They were also to take time to teach God’s ways to their children. Jehovah said: “You must also teach [my commandments] to your sons, so as to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.”—Deuteronomy 11:19.
Three times a year every male Israelite and proselyte in the land was commanded to appear before Jehovah. Realizing that the entire family would benefit spiritually from such occasions, many family heads arranged for their wife and children to accompany them. But who would protect their homes and their fields from enemy attack while the family was away? Jehovah promised: “Nobody will desire your land while you are going up to see the face of Jehovah your God three times in the year.” (Exodus 34:24) It took faith for the Israelites to believe that if they put spiritual interests first, they would not lose out materially. Did Jehovah prove true to his word? He certainly did!
Keep Seeking First the Kingdom
Jesus taught his followers to put spiritual values ahead of everything else. In the Sermon on the Mount, he advised his listeners: “Never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ Keep on . . . seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [necessary material] things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31, 33) Soon after Jesus’ death, newly baptized Christians followed that advice. Many were Jews or Jewish proselytes who had traveled to Jerusalem for the celebration of the festival of Pentecost in 33 C.E. While there, something unexpected occurred. They heard and embraced the good news about Jesus Christ. Eager to learn more about their newfound faith, they remained in Jerusalem. They ran low on provisions, but material comforts were of secondary importance. They had found the Messiah! Their Christian brothers shared what material things they had so that all could continue “devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles and . . . to prayers.”—Acts 2:42.
In time, some Christians lost sight of the need for regular fellowship at meetings. (Hebrews 10:23-25) Perhaps they became materialistic, neglecting spiritual matters while trying to ensure financial security for themselves and their families. After urging his brothers not to forsake the meetings, the apostle Paul wrote: “Let your manner of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things. For he has said: ‘I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.’”—Hebrews 13:5.
Paul’s advice turned out to be very timely. About five years after Paul wrote his letter to the Hebrews, the Roman army of Cestius Gallus surrounded Jerusalem. Faithful Christians remembered Jesus’ warning: “When you catch sight of [this] . . . , let the man on the housetop not come down, nor go inside to take anything out of his house; and let the man in the field not return to the things behind to pick up his outer garment.” (Mark 13:14-16) They knew that their survival depended, not upon the stability of their employment or the value of their material possessions, but upon their obedience to Jesus’ instructions. Those who had responded to Paul’s counsel and put spiritual interests first doubtless found it easier to leave behind home, job, clothes, and treasured personal effects and flee to the mountains than did any who had not broken free of the love of money.
How Some Put First Things First Today
Faithful Christians today cherish regular association with their brothers, and many make sacrifices so as to attend meetings. In certain localities, the only available employment involves shift work. One brother offers to replace his workmates on Saturday nights, which most people in his community prefer to use for recreation, if they in turn will work his shift on meeting nights. Other brothers who are shift workers attend the meetings of a nearby congregation if their work prevents them from attending their own. In this way, they almost never miss a meeting. A newly interested person in Canada quickly realized the importance of the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting, but her schedule at work interfered with her attendance. Hence, she paid a fellow worker to cover her shift so that she could be free to attend these important meetings.
Many who suffer from chronic illness rarely miss a meeting. They listen to the program at home by means of a telephone hookup or a tape recording when they are unable to be present at the Kingdom Hall. They show commendable appreciation for Jehovah’s spiritual provisions through his “faithful and discreet slave”! (Matthew 24:45) Christians serving as caregivers to their elderly parents truly appreciate it when a brother or a sister offers to stay with the parent so that the caregiver may attend a congregation meeting.
Parents who are conscious of their own spiritual needs help their children to appreciate Christian meetings. As a general rule, they expect their children to do their homework as it is assigned rather than allow assignments to accumulate. On meeting nights the children do their homework as soon as they return home from school. Hobbies and other activities are not permitted to interfere with congregation meetings.
As a husband and father, do you give meeting attendance priority? As a wife and mother, do you try to plan your responsibilities to leave room for the meetings? As a teenager, do you schedule your homework around the meetings or the meetings around your homework?
A congregation meeting is a loving provision of Jehovah. Every effort should be made to share in that arrangement. Jehovah will richly bless you if you put first things first!