Turns out my blog is probably not for people who have an idyllic, peaceful life. If you’re living in a cabin somewhere reading, hiking, and build relationships with woodland creatures all day, this may not be for you. At least if Google analytics is to be believed.
It seems like you have found yourselves in the middle of a fast-paced life over-full with responsibilities and obligations. In the middle of this whirlwind, you and I are trying to live a life that matters, that makes sense, and that connects with Jesus and His heart for the world
But the whirlwind doesn’t stop for our good intentions. Circumstances shift unexpectedly. People collide into our agenda with needs, opportunities, and demands. The result? We spend most of our days in reactive mode, scrambling to respond to the agenda of other people.
The boss, the DMV, the kids. Everyone needs our time. Often we relent. How many days in recent memory have you slid into bed at day’s end, wondering if you accomplished anything of value at all, even though you never stopped moving the whole day?
The problem? When you live reactively, your time becomes the servant of someone else’s agenda. Your time gets spent on the urgency and demands of others. But how can you change this? You need a FTF Routine.
How do you know if your priorities are actually priorities?
A few years ago my life fell off the tracks. In depression and near-burnout I came to the end of myself. As I saw everything that mattered to me slipping away, I realized that my life needed to change. In the healing process that followed, one of the first things I realized was this: I had been choosing to give my time away to people and circumstances that did not care one bit about my long-term wellness, my spiritual growth, or my priorities. How could I change this?
The solution I found was having a FTF routine. FTF is shorthand for “First Things First.” As best I can tell this common phrase originated in the early AA movement. In AA, “First Things First” is a life-or-death reminder. In order to stay alive the addict must to keep their sobriety front and center. All their tools, resources, and support won’t matter if their sobriety becomes secondary to them. Shifting and reactive priorities could cause them to lose hold of the freedom they had found.
You may not be an addict, but this principle is vital for a life well lived. You have priorities. Following Jesus. Making a difference in the world. Raising a healthy family. Growing in maturity and wisdom. But priorities that aren’t invested in aren’t really priorities. They are ideals, maybe even fantasies.
The world around you will gladly take up all your time and emotional energy. One day will pass into the next and week-by-week you’ll be setting aside your priorities in order to fulfill on someone else’s agenda.
For me FTF is a reminder that my time is finite. Each day I spend 24 hours of time, never to be retrieved. I will start my day with the things that matter in the long run. These things don’t often feel urgent, but over time they are the things that build my body, heart, character, and mind. Whatever else happens in my day, if I’ve done these things the day is a win.
The five gifts of a FTF routine
Committing to a daily FTF routine has the power to change your life enormously. It becomes a flag that you plant in the geography of your life, a reminder of the things you value. Here’s a few of the ways a FTF routine can shift things for you:
- You declare ownership. When you start your day with a FTF routine you are saying to yourself and the world around you, “I am the steward of my time. Regardless of how I must spend the rest of this day, my time is my own.” When you know that your time is your own, you stop being a victim. You are taking responsibility for the most precious gift God has given you. This becomes a daily opportunity to declare who you will be. (See Michael Hyatt’s great post on this subject.)
- You program your attitude. A daily FTF routine gives you the opportunity to place worthy, life-giving things into your mind and heart. The day will come at you with sadness, frustration, anxiety, and other people’s pain and fear. You can decide to start your day with your mind “set on things above” You can decide to focus on things that are “good, noble, etc.” Starting with gratitude, starting with spiritual guidance, starting with food for your soul, this will set you up to face the day that comes with maturity and grace.
- You cultivate your garden. Spiritual growth is not a machine where you put your quarter in and out come results. Spiritual growth is more like a garden. There is work to be done, but you are not in charge of outcomes. Your work is to prepare the space of your heart and mind for growth. You weed, you fertilize, you plant seeds. This work of cultiavation is slow. In our instant-result world, we are tempted to leave cultivation behind. Why go through the hassle of cultivating a garden, when we can just go down to the grocery store and buy results? But in the life of the spirit, “bought results” are never deep, and quite often not even real. By investing in our spiritual and emotional growth every day, we cultivate and prepare for fruit that will come when God decides.
- You guarantee forward motion. You have very little control over what comes your way in life. You don’t know what situation or crisis will arise, demanding your involvement. If you start every day with a FTF routine, no matter what happens in your day, you will have made forward motion on the things that matter most. When you slide into bed that night, you will know that you did what mattered most, even if the rest of the day was a dissapointment or out of your control.
There is one last reason why a FTF routine can change your life. It is the most important one. It gives rise to the four reasons above, and will shape who you are the most.
- You school yourself in the awareness of God’s presence. God is present. All the time. But you and I? We’re woefully unaware. Being mindful of God’s presence is hard when our minds are distracted and bursting. A FTF routine gives you the opportunity to start your day acknowledging God’s presence. It gives you some space to be quiet, listening to what God might have to say. As you practice this every day, you begin to train your mind. Your mind shifts away from the anxious quivering distraction you know every day, toward a more stable, restful perspective. If scripture is a part of your FTF routine, you begin to recognize the “tone of voice” God uses, so you can more quickly discern if any of the noise in your head is God’s guidance. If prayer is a part of your FTF routine, your prayer life shifts away from foxhole prayers, to a habit of conversation with God. God is a part of your life. But in your busyness or worry you may not be living in a sense of connection and relationship with God. A daily FTF routine will help you make that shift.
In the next two posts I’ll share the development of my own FTF routine as an example of what this might look like, and then I’ll offer some thoughts on how you might develop your own FTF routine.
Today, I want to leave you with this: You have 24 hours today, given you by God. Those hours are the most valuable gift you have. Notice how you spend them. Notice how many of those hours you surrender to the agenda and priorities of other people. Then decide. Do you need to stake a claim on your own time? Do you need to invest in the cultivation of your own heart and mind? Is God inviting you to create a place of interaction for the two of you?