Big rocks go in first

Perhaps a habit for "highly effective people" can also call us into a deeper faith, writes Dave Coles.

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Imagine you have a large pickle jar, a handful of big rocks, a handful of pebbles and a handful of sand. If you were to put all the sand in first, followed by the pebbles, and finally the big rocks, you would not be able to get everything into the jar. But if you were to put the big rocks in first, and the pebbles in second, then the sand could sift down into the gaps between the big rocks and pebbles. Everything would fit nicely into the jar.

The big-rocks-go-in-first concept was popularized by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which sold more than 40 million copies in 40 languages worldwide. While the book was, and still is, a must-read for business leaders, big rocks go in first is applicable to Christians as well.

We know that loving God, loving our neighbors, making disciples, Bible study, prayer, worship, kingdom work, and caring for our family are the big rocks. But sometimes we put the pebbles or even the sand into the jar first … things such as work, hobbies, internet surfing, yard work, golf, or binge-watching favorite TV programs. When we start with those pebbles and sand, we often have trouble fitting God and God-things into our daily lives.

In John 10:10, Jesus says he came that we may have life and have it to the full. And in Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us to seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness first.

There you have it. The big rocks are to have top priority in our lives.

If you are like me though, every morning I am tempted to roll out of bed, start the coffee, and begin tending to the pebbles and sand in my life. I promise myself to spend time in evening prayer, Bible study or other God-things. But when evening comes, my jar is often filled with pebbles and sand, leaving little room for God.

So, even before our feet hit the floor in the morning, we should consider starting our day with prayer, journaling or both. We could mention things for which we are grateful, our special intentions and request that God will keep us alert for kingdom work opportunities as we go about our day. Good prayer or journaling questions might be:


  • How might I put my spiritual gifts to work today?
  • Who in my life needs a word of encouragement?
  • What challenges might I face today and how can I bring God into the action?


  • Where did I see God at work today?
  • How was I especially blessed today?
  • How was I a blessing to others today?

Before retiring, I worked on a team whose members spanned 11 time zones. Each morning I would silence my alarm and grab my smartphone to check my email. After all, with time zone and sleep schedule differences, a staff member who emailed me a question or problem might end up waiting 24 hours if I did not reply ASAP. Of course, that “check email first” process often found me spending 30 minutes or more farming emails. By then, my caffeine alert system was hounding me to get out of bed and start the coffee. No problem, I used to think, I will sit quietly in my favorite chair, sipping coffee, and praying or journaling. But that never happened, especially if I began surfing the internet while the coffee perked.

I am ashamed to admit it but that pebbles and sand first went on for years. It was not until I really took to heart Jesus’ promise that he came so I (we) might have life and have it to the full. Once I began making time for a “big rock” relationship with God, I found there was always time for the pebbles and sand as well.