Put the Big Rocks in first!

BigRocksFirst 1

The #5 post on our top ten most-viewed list comes from 2015. It’s a reminder (much needed by Linda and me) to live by God’s priorities for life. I continue to use Matt Perman’s book in courses at Heritage.


“Put the big rocks in first” is not only a great ending to an interesting story, it’s also some of the best advice I’ve ever received. Putting the big rocks in first is key to intentionally living your life for the glory of God.

In case you’re not familiar with the story of the big rocks, here’s the quick version: A professor walks into his classroom and places a large glass jar on a table. He proceeds to put some fist-sized rocks inside the jar until they reach the rim. Then he asks the class, “Is the jar full?” Most students think it is. The professor disagrees.

He reaches under the table and brings up a bowl of pea-sized gravel. He pours the gravel into the jar, allowing it to sift between the larger rocks. Next he brings out a container filled with sand. He sprinkles sand into the jar, allowing it to settle between the small and big rocks. Finally, he takes a cup of water and pours it in.

“So what’s the point of this demonstration?” the professor asks. One student pipes up: “You can always squeeze a little more in.” “No,” the professor says, “the point is this: if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you won’t get them in at all! So put the big rocks in first.”


The professor is right. Try his experiment in reverse order (begin with the water, sand and gravel) and you’ll find the big rocks get crowded out.

The same principle holds true in life. If you don’t put in the “big rocks” (main priorities) in first, they get crowded out.

Most of us spend much of our time on the sand and gravel of life—smaller priorities and responsibilities. Our lives feel full to the brim. We’re always trying to squeeze a bit more in. Yet we live with an uneasy sense that the big rocks of life are getting crowded out. And that’s the way it will stay until we choose to put the big rocks in first.

How do you do that?   Begin by spending time in God’s presence with an open Bible and an open heart. Ask Him to help you identify the big rocks (main priorities) He has for your life. Invite godly friends to be part of this discovery process.

The next step—which is often overlooked—involves advance planning. Look over your upcoming week and schedule when you will give time and energy to each of your big rocks. Remember, what gets scheduled tends to get done.

Finally, rely on God’s Spirit to enable you to carry out your plans.

Even when you do all this, things still won’t go perfectly—we are all fallible people living in a fallen world. But you will have a greater sense you are living with purpose. And you will find that more big rocks make it into the jar of your life.

So what “big rocks” does the Lord want in your 2015 jar? A closer relationship with Christ? A deeper knowledge of His Word? Loving your spouse? Discipling your kids? Developing your ministry? Continuing your education? Witnessing to a friend who needs to know Jesus?

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Or to put it another way: Put the big rocks in first.


For an excellent book providing both a theological foundation and practical advice on “big rock living”, pick up What’s Best Next by Matt Perman.   You’ll find the “big rocks” story in it—and a lot more.

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