The Tyranny of the Urgent
Dr. Jim Denison
The Dallas Morning News recently carried a story on the growth of the Christmas lights installation profession in our city. This business has quadrupled in six years, with costs ranging from $100 to $7,500 per home. Why do people now pay to put Christmas lights on their homes? The number one reason: it saves them time. We understand the appeal, don’t we?
We are working on average 20% more hours per week than we were in 1973. But the quality of our lives is not improving; in fact, it is suffering.
Recent studies report that 60% of successful professionals suffer from chronic stress and depression. 48% of top corporate executives report that their lives are empty and meaningless.
For the past 25 years the American Index of Social Health has tracked the well-being of Americans. While the gross domestic product has risen continually for the past 25 years, the social health index is 52% lower than it was in 1973. We have more, but enjoy life far less.
Recently I reread a little booklet entitled The Tyranny of the Urgent, by Charles Hummel. Its central point is simple: there is a great distinction between the urgent and the important. The urgent demands our time, but usually wastes it; the important redeems it, gives it eternal significance. Doing urgent things takes from us our energy, peace, and joy; doing important things gives us fulfillment, significance, peace, joy.
How much time do you spend doing the urgent? How much time do you spend doing something important? You and I can trade the urgent for the important in this new year. I’ve brought proof today.
Choose a model
Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes, or sandals, actually. You begin your Sabbath day by preaching and leading worship in the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum, your ministry base in Galilee. This is the first of the day’s three services, beginning at 9 a.m. And the people hang onto your every word; never have they heard such authority before. The One who inspired the word by his Spirit, now teaching it to his people.
Then you cast a demon out of a man sitting right there in the synagogue, amazing everyone present. Not a boring morning at church, wouldn’t you agree?
From the synagogue service you go to Peter and Andrew’s home for lunch. Taking the preacher out to lunch apparently has very old roots. But there’s a problem—Peter’s mother-in-law, the one who was going to cook the meal, is in bed with fever. And so you take her hand and heal her.
You spend the afternoon at her home, teaching your disciples. Then comes the sunset, when the Jewish Sabbath ends. But your reputation has spread far and wide, so “the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door” (Mark 1:32-33). And so you end your day by healing the sick and driving out demons from across the entire community.
What will you do tomorrow? Jesus preached in church, healed a demoniac, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, taught his disciples, and healed the sick and demon-possessed from across the entire town. Just one day in the life of our Lord. And yet he went through this day with remarkable calm, peace, and purpose.
Imagine that your purpose in life is literally to save the world, to bring eternal salvation to all of humanity. Can you feel the stress, the unbelievable pressure of it all? And yet the One who was given this life purpose went through that life with the greatest peace, joy, and fulfillment of any man who has ever lived. He was never hurried, hassled, or burned out. He experienced serenity in the midst of life’s greatest stress.
He will teach us how, if we want him to. If you want him to.
Years ago someone gave me some excellent leadership advice: choose the best mentor you can find. Get a model, an example, someone whose life you can emulate. Choose a mentor, well.
Athletes know they cannot improve unless they compete against people better than themselves. Business professionals know they must hire “tens,” because “tens” hire “eights,” “eights” hire “sixes” and “sixes” hire “fours.” Teddy Roosevelt said the secret to his success was that he surrounded himself with men better than himself.
Choose the best mentor you can find. I nominate Jesus.
Define your purpose
With him as your model, you can escape the urgent for the important. But you must do what he did. First and most important, you must define your life purpose, your reason for being.
You see, life is best lived on purpose.
Aristotle defined excellence as “expressing your highest talent to its fullest measure.” What is your “highest talent”?
Winston Churchill, standing before the House of Commons in June of 1941, said, “I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler; and my life is much simplified thereby.” What is your “one purpose”?
The psychologist Maslow concluded, after many years as a therapist, that an artist must paint, a poet must write, a musician must make music, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What did God make you to do?
Will Rogers was more plain but no less profound: “If you want to be successful, know what you are doing, love what you are doing, and believe in what you are doing.” Do you “know what you are doing”?
Jesus did. “Very early the next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (v. 35). In Mark’s original Greek it is clear that Jesus got up around 3 a.m. to do this. He “left the house and went off to a solitary place”—the Greek shows that he purposefully, deliberately found a place where he could be alone with his Father. And he spent the entire morning in prayer.
Why? This was the very beginning of his public ministry. Already our Lord has defeated Satan in the wilderness, called his first disciples, preached to the crowds, taught the people, healed and exorcized demons, and drawn gigantic crowds from all over Galilee. Now what? What is next? Where should his work go?