What to Put First
A key to being happy

Every morning at 3:45 a.m., three different alarms would go off, waking my two roommates and me out of sleep. We’d groggily and, at first, hesitantly get up for the day. Once we were fully awake, we were eager to get going, but those few minutes between being soundly asleep and being fully awake were always a big test of willpower.

After our various morning routines, we would hurriedly get dressed in camp shirts, cargo pants or jeans and work boots. We’d put our hair up, fill our water bottles, grab the lunch for the day, grab something to eat on the go, and head out the door. This was all before 5:50 a.m.

This was how we started every morning that we worked on the 2018 Ophel excavation in Jerusalem. From morning until evening, our day revolved around the job we were there to do. It was challenging. But it was also invigorating. From the beginning of the dig until the end, we were happy. Personally, I’ve never done anything that I’ve enjoyed nearly as much as digging in the dirt in Jerusalem. Every day presented new challenges, new obstacles and new opportunities for growth. Every day, I had to combat my tiredness, my vanity and my selfishness. Some days were harder than others. But underlying all of the mental challenges and sore muscles was an inner joy that I’ve never had to such an extent before.

I’ve thought a lot about why the dig was like this, and I’ve arrived at this conclusion: When you put God’s Work first, it makes you happy.

We have all heard that our level of spiritual growth depends on how much we throw our hearts into God’s Work. It’s easy to have an academic understanding of that, but the dig made it real to me. And it wasn’t because we chose to throw our hearts into the Work, although we did strive to do that too. But the dig practically forced us to.

Our day was planned entirely around the dig. A productive day started in the evening—because if we did not go to bed early enough, we would be tired during prayer and study the next morning, and we would not have the energy to work as hard as we needed to during the day. With that in mind, we usually went to bed at around 8-8:30.

Since our bedtime was so early, it often meant that we did not have much time for homework. We would usually finish our last class around 7, and then we would make lunch for the dig the next day, leaving only about half-an-hour to complete any reading or writing assignments we had due. And often, by the time 7:30 rolled around, we would be so exhausted from the day that we would just go to bed rather than doing any homework at all. Yet somehow, when we had big assignments due, we were always able to get them done.

Since there usually wasn’t much time for homework, there was even less time for entertainment, distractions, etc. We did have our relaxation time and movie nights and such, but that was usually reserved for Thursday night since Friday was our day off and we got to sleep in a bit. For the most part, the rest of the week was just too busy for those kinds of things. And that made the week even more productive.

In a way, there was so much to do that the day actually became simplified. We did the important things: prayer, study, the dig, classes, eating and sleeping. If it wasn’t necessary, we didn’t do it. The amount we had to accomplish in a day caused us to be focused on the things that were important and to leave behind any distractions that weren’t. It forced us to simplify our lives. And at the heart of it all was a focus on what we were there to do: God’s Work.

That focus is what made all of us so happy. Of course, it was hard waking up so early, the work was physically demanding, and we were tired and sore most of the time. But underneath that discomfort, there was an inner happiness that came from having such an amazing purpose and job every day. Each day was another day that we could make an impact on God’s Work, even though all we were doing was digging in the dirt.

For me, the joy I got out of throwing my heart into God’s Work in Jerusalem was really corrective. It helped me realize that I should have that same joy all the time—because no matter how directly or indirectly my present job affects the Work, I should still have the same mindset of putting God’s Work first. I should still be focusing my day around God’s Work. I should still set aside any distractions that will hinder my ability to contribute to the Work.

That is the wonderful thing about God’s way of life: If we give, we will receive. And if you put God’s Work first, you will be blessed and filled with joy—even if you have to wake up at 3:45 a.m.