Earlier this year I mentioned a powerful little booklet by Charles Hummel entitled, The Tyranny of the Urgent. Hummel artfully describes the tension between two contestants which vie for our time: the urgent things and the important things. He argues that the urgent things–such as the demands at the office, “the winds of other people’s demands,” or even our own “inner compulsions”–typically trump the things which are important, like regular dates with our spouse, personal solitude, exercise, or devotions.
He rightly notes that important things are polite; they don’t clamor for our attention. They wait patiently for us to act. In the long run there’s a price to pay for this neglect of the important stuff. Like a volcano, there comes a day when the neglected areas of our life explode and wreak havoc. Ironically, we wonder how we missed the early warning signs.
Our temptation is to say, “Well, I just didn’t have enough time to do everything.” Hummel would suggest that the lack of time is ultimately a problem of setting appropriate priorities.
I love the way he points to the example of the life of Jesus. If you know the story, the night before Jesus gave His life on the cross, He made an astonishing claim. While praying to God the Father, Jesus said, “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do” (John 17:4).
What’s this? Jesus speaks of finishing His work? Weren’t there still diseased people in need of healing? What about the blind? He healed some, but there were still others without sight. And, clearly not everyone believed He was the Savior. Still, as Hummel points out, Jesus faced the cross knowing that He had “completed the work God had given Him.”
In His case, the urgent things might have been meeting all of the needs of every human that came to be healed. But the important thing–the work which God had given Him–was to live a blameless and sinless life, to preach the Good News that we could be reconciled to God through Him, and then He knew he was to suffer on our behalf on the cross.
Having said that, Hummel presents us with a radical thought. He says, “we usually think of murder and adultery as among the worst offenses against God and humanity. But the root of all sin is self-sufficiency–independence from the rule of God.” How do we declare our independence from God? He says, “When we fail to wait prayerfully for God’s guidance and strength, we are saying with our actions, if not with our words, that we do not need Him.”
Ouch. In other words, when you and I allow the tyranny of our To Do Lists to drive away time to listen to His voice, we’re acting as if we don’t need God’s help sorting out our priorities. Is it any wonder, then, that we live lives which are harried?
If you’re finding yourself oppressed by piles and piles of tasks that never seem to get done, I encourage you to join me in making a renewed commitment to daily prayer. These days I’m praying, “Lord, I cannot and do not want to go it alone. I need Your wisdom to sort out the important things from the urgent.”