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Putting The Big Rocks First

Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time.
–Ephesians 5:15-17 (PHILLIPS)

How did Nehemiah accomplish the big project of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem? By dividing the work into sections. The thing is, it all had to be done at the same time. Nehemiah had to get the wall up quickly, because his enemies could overcome him and destroy the project. He could not say, “First I am going to finish this section; then we are going to move over to this section, and then this section.” He had to learn how to handle things simultaneously instead of sequentially. I imagine your life is like that too. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could say, “I am going to get this project at work done, then I am going to work on this problem in my family, and then I am going to take care of this problem with my finances”? It does not work that way. You have to learn how to do multiple things at the same time. How do you do that?

Stephen Covey has written about a time management seminar he attended. The instructor pulled out a big jar and some large rocks; he took the large rocks and put them in the jar until the jar appeared to be full. Then he asked, “Is the jar full?” Everybody said yes. So the instructor pulled out a pail of gravel and a pail of sand. He poured those into the jar, and that gravel and sand filled in the gaps left by the big rocks. Then he asked, “Is the jar full?” Everybody was catching on. They said, “No!” So the instructor pulled out a quart of water, and he poured that water into the jar until it was brimming over. Then he asked, “Well, what’s the point?” One person said, “You can always fit more into your life.” The instructor said, “No, that’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put those big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?”

For most of us, sand and gravel are filling up our time instead of the big rocks–our priorities. You have to determine what your priorities are, then make sure that you schedule time to be working on those big rocks. For me, one of my big rocks is preparing to preach every Sunday. That is a priority to me. I have to block out time on my calendar in order to prepare and to study. If I do not set aside time to do that, I can spend my time doing all kind of nice and good things, but never achieve my priority. It is the same way with whatever your priorities are. You have to learn to set aside time using the big rocks principle. This is what Ephesians 5:15-17 says in the Phillips paraphrase: “Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time.” Time is a precious gift from God. As somebody has said, time is like a dollar bill–you can spend it any way you want to, but you can only spend it once. God has given us a limited amount of time to fulfill our God-given purpose in life. Nehemiah learned how to get multiple things done at the same time in order to accomplish his dream.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “How To Eat An Elephant” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2010.

Stephen Covey, “First Things First” (New York: Free Press, 1996), 88-89.

Scripture quotations taken from The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. Used by permission.


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