Keeping First Things First

And that means prayer.

The assiduous observance of the canonical hours is regarded as primary. The sages regard the beginning of the day and the end of the night as the correct times for the celebration of Morning Prayer.

  - The Rule of Ailbe, Irish, 8th century[1]

So Joshua made flint knives for himself, and circumcised the sons of Israel…

  - Joshua 5.3

It’s crucial to note the ways God insists on keeping first things first for all who would engage in the business of His covenant and Kingdom.

Consider the case of Moses (Ex. 4.24-26): Here he was, marching off to do some big work for the Lord, some big God’s-covenant-deal, and he hadn’t even taken the first covenant step of circumcising his sons! He was no doubt grateful to have a faithful wife to remind him of his duty.

Joshua would not make the same mistake. He understood that the work of leading people into the promised land of God’s covenant could not begin until a right spiritual orientation was achieved by all concerned. Circumcision would have reminded every Israelite warrior that he was different, he was set apart, he belonged to God.

But circumcision had its limits as a “first things” item. The lesson for us today is to make sure that, whatever God calls us to in serving Him each day, we make sure to take care of first things first.

Prayer is how we maintain that first-things-first orientation each day. Paul’s command that we pray without ceasing is not mere rhetoric (1 Thess. 5.17). Jesus taught us this as well (Lk. 18.1). The Christian ideal for a life of prayer sees prayer as a kind of envelope in which we go about our day, always in the Presence of the Lord, and ever open to hearing or conversing with Him.

Prayer is always a first thing, one that we can resort to for renewal and refreshment throughout the day. This was the practice of the saints of the Old and New Testaments, as well as throughout the course of Christian history.

Prayer can become a merely perfunctory duty if we’re not careful. If all we’re doing in prayer is working through some formula or list, just to check it off and get on with the day, we may not actually be praying at all.

But if we enter into prayer for what it is – a time of sweet dialogue and communion with our Lord – then we can realize its power to orient our lives to Kingdom priorities, refresh our souls with Kingdom food, and lead us into our every next-step with Kingdom power in our sails.

We are not ready to do the work of the King unless we are properly set apart and oriented to His unseen throne (Col. 3.1-3). And the place to achieve that separateness and orientation is in prayer. But not just first thing in the morning; rather, first thing first throughout the day.

Many have found it helpful, in keeping prayer the first thing in their lives, to set particular times for prayer throughout the day – what the ancients referred to as the “hours of prayer.” Keeping the hours of prayer – set times of meeting with the Lord throughout the day – allows us to hang our day on prayer, to retreat to oases of spiritual refreshment amid the often desert dry activities of our routine lives, and to find in so doing a Kingdom orientation to everything we do.

You might try this yourself. Pick two or three times to set aside five to ten minutes for communion with the Lord in prayer. Bring a verse of Scripture to guide your time, or a stanza from a hymn or psalm. Use the time to reflect on the day thus far and to prepare for what’s yet to come. Focus on Jesus, exalted in glory, and just adore Him in silence. Listen for the Spirit to direct your next steps in following the Lord.

Set times to meet the Lord in prayer, then work hard to keep them assiduously. You’ll find that keeping this first thing first throughout the day will make your day richer and fuller in Christ.

For Reflection
1. Do you have a prayer partner – someone you meet with regularly for prayer? Would it help you in your prayer life to have a prayer partner?

2. How can you make time for more prayer throughout the day?

Psalm 55.16-19 (Bread of Life: Break Thou the Bread of Life)
Lord, I will call on You, answer and save!
Morning and evening too, my voice I raise.
Grant me Your peace, O Lord; answer my foes!
All who reject God’s Word He overthrows.

Today, Lord, I will meet with You for more first-things-first prayer as I…

A Thanksgiving Challenge
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T. M. Moore
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Ó Maidín, p. 22.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore