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Tyranny of the Urgent

October 26, 2011

     “The good is often the enemy of the best.”  This quote by an unknown author sheds some light on the predicament many of us find ourselves in.  Years ago I heard a sermon that was life changing for me.  The pastor said that there were many good things in life.  Good activities, good thoughts, good behaviors, but were they excellent?  Excellence should be our goal, not just what is ‘good’.   I’m not talking about being a perfectionist.  I’m talking about our choices in life.  Do we do and think so many things merely because they are good verses bad?  I suggest we make choices based on a higher criteria; good verses excellent.

     “Growing Strong in God’s Family,” is a Bible study I am reading currently.  In it Charles Hummel writes about the “Tyranny of the Urgent.”  I will share with you some of his thoughts.

     “Have you ever wished for a thirty hour day?  Surely this extra time would relieve the tremendous pressure under which we live.  Our lives leave a trail of unfinished tasks.  Unanswered letters, unvisited friends, unread books haunt quiet moments when we stop to evaluate what we have accomplished.  We desperately need relief.

     But would that longer day really solve our problem?  Wouldn’t we soon be just as frustrated as we are now with our 24 hour allotment?  We could hardly escape Parkinson’s Principle: Work expands to fill all the available time.

     Nor will the passage of time necessarily help us catch up.  Children grow in number and age to require more of our time.  Greater experience in profession and church brings more exacting assignments.  We find ourselves working more and enjoying it less.

     When we stop long enough to think about it, we realize that our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is basically a problem of priorities.  Not hard work, but doubt and misgiving produce anxiety as we review a month or a year and become oppressed by the pile of unfinished tasks.  We sense uneasily our failure to do what was really important.  The winds of other people’s demands and our own inner compulsions have driven us onto a reef of frustration.  We confess quite apart from our sins that we have done those things which we ought not to have done and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done.  Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.

     We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important.  The problem is that many important tasks need not be done today, or even this week.  Extra hours of Bible study and prayer, a visit to an elderly friend, reading an important book; these activities can usually wait a little longer.    Often urgent, though less important, tasks call for an immediate response.  Endless demands pressure every waking hour.   

     A person’s home is no longer a castle, a private place away from urgent tasks.  Demands devour our energy.  But in the light of eternity their momentary prominence fades.  With a sense of loss we recall the important tasks that have been shunted aside.  We realize that we’ve become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.

     On the night before he died, Jesus made an astonishing claim.  In his great prayer of John 17 he said to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”  John 17:4

     What was the secret of Jesus’ ministry?  “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  Mark 1:35  He prayerfully waited for his Father’s instructions.  Because of this he was able to resist the urgent demands of others and do what was really important for his mission.

     Nothing substitutes for knowing that on this day, at this hour, in this place, we are doing the will of our Father in heaven.  Only then can we contemplate in peace so many unfinished tasks.  At the end of our lives, whether they are short or long, what could give us greater joy than being sure that we have completed the work God gave us to do?  Then we can look forward to seeing our Lord and hearing him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  Matthew 25:21

     As you take the time to seek Him, ask Him to give you clarity and understanding so that you can differentiate between the urgent and important in your own life.  Think about each activity and categorize it.  Is it good or excellent?  Is it important or urgent?  Then listen and be willing to obey as He may lead you away from the urgent and the good toward the excellent and important.

     At my home we joke around quite often quoting from “A Bug’s Life.”  One fly is talking to the other and he proclaims, “I‘ve only got 24 hours to live and I aint going to waste it here!”  We should use wisdom and God’s guidance and not waste our time either.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 26, 2011 8:54 pm

    I am trusting to really find the most important things that the Lord wants me to do as serving him daily. this is good and we do trust that many will think about what is the more excellent. Jesus helped me on Monday to find on. Jody

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