7 min. to read.
Begin with the end in mind.
Steven Covey is credited with that maxim. It’s the 2nd of his well-known 7 habits. If you start by thinking about the outcome you desire, you can avoid distractions. You can bypass all the options that look so good, so responsible, but don’t really contribute toward your desired outcome.
A FTF routine is an important life practice that allows you to set your day on the right track. If you’re new to the conversation about a FTF (First Things First) routine, you can learn about why this is so important, and see a concrete example here.
Do you want to create a powerful, life-giving FTF routine for your own life? Here’s the target you should shoot for.
Finding Your Own End
Imagine a dart board on the wall. In your mind’s eye see the concentric rings spreading outward. The end, the outcome you desire, is that target made up of three parts.
1. Hope & Trust. The bullseye.
If you grew up in Church World [note “Church World” is Andy Stanley’s phrase for the modern evangelical sub-culture. If you know what daily devotions, purity rings, alter calls, and stewardship sermons are, you probably grew up in Church World.], you heard messages most of your life about starting your day out right. Have a morning devotional. Start with prayer. You may even have a well-cultivated sense of guilt that you don’t do this enough, or do it the right way.
You need to set all that baggage aside. A morning routine is not an obligation. It doesn’t buy God’s blessing or prove your worth. If your FTF routine is going to work for you, it cannot come from a place of shame or guilt. Recast your motives.
The gardener doesn’t cultivate the garden all season out of guilt or obligation. They don’t weed and water and fertilize in the hope that all this effort will show the neighbors what a good gardener they are. They spend time in the garden because they know that if they do, the garden will bear fruit. The beautiful food that comes from the garden will be something to enjoy when the time comes. The gardener labors out of hope for the fruit and trust in the process.
This is the same for an effective FTF routine. Choosing to dedicate a block of time each morning to the things that matter most is a discipline of hope and trust. We weed out the thoughts and habits that limit our growth. We plant seeds of grace and truth, knowing they will blosson. We expose the soil of our heart to the Holy Spirit, trusting that this light and nourishment will do its good work. We know that this work isn’t complete in a few days; it’s the work of a season. A life-giving FTF routine is rooted in hope and trust.
The next ring on the target that you’re aiming for is fruit. Healthy trees produce fruit. Healthy gardens yield produce.
But you don’t plant random seeds in your garden.
You plant the right seeds for the outcome you desire. If you want to make fresh salsa from your own garden, you plant the right seeds. Serrano peppers. Walla Walla Sweet onions. Heirloom tomatoes. Cilantro. No matter how hard you work, the seeds for different plants will never lead you to delicious fresh salsa.
So, consider the outcome you desire. For me, I was imagining an outcome of increased emotional maturity, an ongoing sense of God’s presence, and an active and sharp mind. With that in mind, I planted seeds in keeping with that hope. Those seeds included exercise to wake up and sharpen my mind, time reflecting on scripture and other spiritual reading to nurture my connection with God, and time reflecting on my emotions and what they mean to invest in my emotional maturity. (You can see my own FTF process here.)
Whatever fruit you hope for determines what seeds you need to plant.
Hoping to be able to express yourself through music better? Then practice your guitar and write lots of song lyrics. Hoping to improve the quality of your parenting? Then plant seeds that help you unpack the habits you’ve already built, the impact of your own childhood, and expose you to better ways. Hoping that scripture will come to mind more frequentyly throughout your day? Then plant seeds that lead to familiarity and intimacy with the Bible.
This isn’t hard. All you need to do is get clear about the fruit you hope for, then pick actions you can take each morning during your FTF time to invest in that hope.
The final ring on the target that will help your fruit grow is considering the season. I don’t mean whether it’s winter or fall. I mean the season of your life. A high school student, someone newly married, a parent with multiple young children, a retired person — all of these people live in different seasons. Each season brings with it different demands and responsibilities.
For your FTF routine to be life-giving, it needs to works with the seaon of life you have.
When my children were much younger, I could get up early in the morning while the house was still quiet. It wasn’t hard for me to get an hour or more alone for things like this. Now? My kids are a little older. They bounce out of bed before dawn and the morning roller coaster starts rumbling down the track before I’m even out of bed. Trying to carve out quiet space in the middle of that rush is impossible.
So in this season of my life, my FTF happens as soon as I get home from dropping the kids off at school. I have a lot of flexibility in my work, so I can safely carve out an hour for FTF between the taxi trip and my work day. Not everyone can. That’s exactly the point. For your FTF routine to work for you, it needs to fit in the season of life you have.
Now, quick warning: Don’t let the season of your life become an excuse to not have a FTF routine. Doing this is an investment. It requires time. That time is probably already used in your life in some way. Making this investment requires a concerted effort to choose First Things First. Even though I have flexibility with my work, every day I have the pressure to get busy as quickly as I can. Every day I have to make the hard choice to choose first things before work. You’ll need to do the same. But where that time falls will be different. Evaluate your own life and the season you’re in. Find the block of time you can commit that’s closest to waking up that you can. If you can’t do it every day, do it every other day. But find and commit that time.
This is how you shape your life.
As you carefully consider these three things, you can begin to shape a FTF routine that will work for you. Start with a motivation of hope & trust rather than guilt and obligation. Consider the fruit you hope for, and choose activities that will lead directly to that end. Then pick a time, and a length of time, that works in your season of life.
You will feel push-back as you begin this practice. It’s counter-cultural in many ways. It might feel selfish, carving out time to invest in your own growth. It might feel irresponsible with all the work you have to do. It might seem wasteful. And frankly, it’s much easier to stay up late watching TV, and resist rolling out of bed until the last possible minute. That’s fine. You can do that. Just know that you will harvest the fruit of the seeds you plant.
You have hopes and goals and priorities. Here’s the thing: Priorities that aren’t invested in aren’t really priorities. They are fantasies. That garden is only going to grow weeds until you decide to get intentional in what you cultivate there. Building a FTF routine for yourself is a regular on-purpose investment to cultivate your heart, your spiritual journey, and your attitude.