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The Wisdom of Firsts

The Wisdom of Firsts

The First Hour, the First Day, the First Dime

I feel it is far better to begin with God, to see His face first, to get my soul near Him before it is near another. ~ E. M. Bounds

My father was the most successful man I ever knew. Unrelated to how I viewed him, his genius in direct-response marketing of individual life and health insurance formed the National Liberty Corporation, with its five companies and subsidiaries. The little business that started at the kitchen table, by the time of his death twenty years later, was the largest mass marketer of individual life and health insurance in the world.

To what did my father attribute his success? Enough people must have asked him that he committed it to paper in a booklet he titled God’s Secret of Success. Since his death, that vest-pocket treatise, long out of print, has played large in lives around the world. If I were to give you its contents right here, you might say: “That’s it?” But if you were to practice the points, to weave them into your life, eventually you’d be amazed that they had ever seemed small.

The First Hour of the Day

Art DeMoss believed the gate to success swung open first thing in the morning, in the day’s uncluttered hour, when he talked with God in prayer and listened to God as he read the Bible. Some people will give this tip a double take. The head of a booming corporation didn’t check in first on morning news? In those days that was the newspaper, but my father didn’t take it. Maybe TV while he got dressed? Nope. No TV set in the DeMoss home. What about the stock market, just a glance? No, again. Because as sure as he brushed his teeth and ate breakfast,

  • Dad started his day with God.

“It should be our rule never to see the face of men before first seeing the face of God,” said Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth-century British preacher. Only a fool would fail to post a guard on the gate of the day. “The morning watch anchors the soul so that it will not very readily drift far away from God during the day,” he wrote. “He who rushes from his bed to his business without first spending time with God is as foolish as though he had not washed or dressed, and as unwise as one dashing to battle without arms or armor.”1

Dad died more than forty years ago, but to this day one of my clearest memories of him is his morning routine. By example he paved the path to my similar habit now, though I admit to less than a full hour each day.

If you’re thinking you could just as easily spend time alone with God in the noon hour, you’re right, you could — unless something else comes up. You could do it in the evening before bed, assuming you still have energy and focus. You could hope to steal a few moments throughout the day. We can all hope for a lot of things. But

  • nothing sets the day like matching our best hour to our deepest and dearest Resource.

Spending our first moments with our Creator is more practical than legalistic. It’s the only time we can truly protect. When that time is hectic with children or work or similar busyness, we can set an alarm a little bit ahead. I’m convinced the person who does this has an advantage over those who don’t.

The First Day of the Week

Besides the first hour of the day, my father gave God the first day of the week. Now that we blur Sunday with Saturday or any other workday, respect for the Sabbath seems, well, extreme, dated, obsolete. And it may be. If hours in the day are no more than measurable productivity units, then one of the world’s richest men is right. “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient,” Bill Gates says. “There is a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”2

The lengths of the wording of the individual Ten Commandments intrigues me. Most are brief — four to ten words. “You shall not kill.” “You shall not lie,” and so on. Then comes the ninety-four-word instruction to keep the Sabbath day holy. Who can say that God devoted more words to the fourth commandment for emphasis, but who can deny that a day of rest hits reset on our minds, bodies, work, and personal relationships?

Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy was a Sabbath keeper. If you’re a patron of the wildly popular restaurants he founded, you know that come Sunday you get your chicken somewhere else. Come Sunday, every one of the twenty-nine hundred Chick-fil-As in forty-eight states is shut tight, potentially costing the family-owned business more than $3 billion a year. If you’d asked Mr. Cathy why, he’d have turned to the subject of devotion. “Closing our business on the Lord’s Day is our way of honoring God and showing loyalty to Him,” he’d say. “My brother Ben and I closed our first restaurant on the first Sunday after we opened in 1946, and my children have committed to closing our restaurants on Sundays long after I’m gone.”

My Sundays are hardly one sustained act of prayer and meditation, but neither are they a checklist of paying bills, work, emails, or prep for Monday. Sundays tend to be slower and quieter — good days to work on this book, but I didn’t. I try not to travel on Sundays, but when I’m out of town on the first day of the week, regardless of how little sleep I got the night before, I want to be in church and otherwise do as little as possible. In my life, at least, Sunday rest correlates to weekday productivity.

Plenty of people have to work on Sundays. Nurses, pilots, hotel workers, cooks, waiters, public-safety workers, to name a few. Dad wrote, and I write, to those of us who can set the Sabbath aside but don’t. As for what constitutes work on a Sunday, I came across a pretty simple definition: Decide what’s work for you, and don’t do it.

“Hurry,” said philosopher Dallas Willard, “is the great enemy of spiritual life.”3 God Himself offers promises for those who honor “His Day”:

If you watch your step on the Sabbath and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage, if you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy, God’s holy day as a celebration, if you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’ making money, running here and there—then you’ll be free to enjoy God! Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all. I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob. Yes! God says so! — Isaiah 58:13–14 The Message

The First Dime of Every Dollar

Now for the success secret so personal and so often misapplied that some of my readers may consider it in poor taste to bring up: My father gave the first part of every dollar to God. The concept, also known as tithing, was not invented by modern televangelists. It is at least as old as the early Old Testament. Jesus endorsed it as an act of love, and certainly a gift of our resources is a regular and potent reminder of the Source of all we have.

Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops, King Solomon advised. Then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. — Proverbs 3:9–10 NIV

For whatever reason, even most churchgoers overlook or outright avoid this wise principle. Evangelical giving these days averages 3.2 percent of their income — less than the percentage in 1933, during the Great Depression. Last year one in five churchgoers gave nothing at all. And then there’s John D. Rockefeller, the Standard Oil founder who died in 1937 having given away today’s equivalent of ten billion dollars. Of course, you say, Rockefeller was one of the richest men of all time. But his giving started when every penny counted:

I had to begin work as a small boy to support my mother. My first wages amounted to $1.50 per week. The first week after I went to work, I took the $1.50 home to my mother. She held it in her lap and explained to me that she would be happy if I would give a tenth of it to the Lord. I did, and from that week until this day, I have tithed every dollar God has entrusted to me. And I want to say that if I had not tithed the first dollar I made, I would not have tithed the first million dollars I made.4

There’s George Jenkins — “Mr. George” to Publix Supermarket employees — who lived from 1907 to 1996. The employee-owned, privately held corporation he founded currently sells $48 billion in its thirteen hundred stores. In his final interview, a reporter asked him what he thought he’d be worth if he hadn’t given so much away. Mr. George said, “Probably nothing.”5

  • No giver can outgive God.

We’re told to bring our tithes into the storehouse, followed by,

‘Test Me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of Heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’. — Malachi 3:10 NIV

It’s true we don’t “give to get.” It’s also true that God says He will give when we do.

My father’s respect for giving sailed well beyond his days. In his will he directed the vast majority of his assets and holdings to a charitable foundation dedicated to telling others the good news of God’s love, a decision I never questioned or resented.

In his little booklet, God’s Secret of Success, Dad urges us to put God first in our habits and first in our homes. Success is a byproduct of first things getting top priority, he says over and over, a truth you can’t know until you try.

So try it. First for a morning, then every morning for a week, and every week for a year. Observe the Sabbath. Give the first of everything you receive and everything you are. See if you don’t also have the secret of success.

1.Charles H. Spurgeon, Psalm 119:147, The Treasury of David (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1884–86). 199

2.Bill Gates, TIME magazine, January 13, 1997.

3.Recounted in John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2015).

4.Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D . Rockefeller Sr . (New York: Vintage Books, 2004).

5.George Jenkins, “Lessons from Our Founder: Give Back,” Publix, https://

Excerpted with permission from The Little Red Book of Wisdom by Mark DeMoss, copyright Mark DeMoss.




Your Turn


Let’s try it — first hour, first day, first dime — and see what God does! Let’s take God at His Word and honor Him with our time, and our money… two things we hold dearly. Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear if you’re in! ~ Devotionals Daily