The Tyranny of the Urgent

One of the unfortunate things about my life is that I’m often too busy living and reacting, and I don’t end up accomplishing the things I set out to do.

For example, I would like to be the kind of husband that cherishes my wife, and doesn’t take her for granted — the kind of husband who continues to court his wife and models this in front of his children. I would also like to be the kind of father who has time to spend with his children, and who is not to busy to give each of his sons and daughters regular, focused attention.

Sadly, my good intentions rarely work out. I mean well, but when the dust of a busy day settles, I find that other urgent things, like work, ministry and sleep (not to mention my own desire for entertainment) leave no time to do the things I consider most important. For this reason, I reluctantly decided to adopt some goals again this year.

Sarah's Special Day
Of course, there was no reluctance in making time to plant some tomatoes with Sarah.

I’m not a person who likes goals. I don’t enjoy the inevitable feeling of guilt when I fail to meet them. I don’t value structure for its own sake, and I hate being told what I have to do, even if I’m doing the telling. I don’t have much respect for the mechanical and repetitive, preferring to be a ‘free spirit’, unfettered by mundane routine.

Kathy’s been listening to a number of Dee Duke sermon series lately, and (when she leaves them running in my car CD player) I’ve been tuning in as well. Duke is an advocate of goals and disciplines, and is often challenged by this sort of question:

“Shouldn’t we be motivated to [insert discipline here -- prayer, reading your Bible, confessing your sins, whatever] out of love for Jesus, not by rote or as an obligation?”

Dee answers: “Sure. The problem is, I only feel like doing these things about once a week. In any case, how do you go about loving Jesus? Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:5)

A family game of Zooloretto
“If you love me, you’ll let me win.” (NOT what Jesus said.)

As much as I might prefer to be a ‘free spirit’, I can’t argue with results. In fact, I hardly have any results at all to argue with. So I wrote for myself some goals again this year. Craftily, I associated my goals with my computer-game-playing chip allowance, so that the more goals I complete each week, the more computer game chips I receive. Not surprisingly, I’ve found myself much more willing to pursue my goals than I am when there is no consequence to neglecting them, and I am finding time to do the things that I’ve set out in advance to do.

Here is a partial list of my goals, which I track on a weekly basis:

  • Read at least 12 chapters of my Bible each week
  • Pray with my wife twice a week
  • Read at least one Bible chapter to my children three times a week
  • Take my wife out of the house on a date at least once a month
  • Go on a “special day” outing with at least one of my children each week
  • Pray for each of the 22 families on my prayer cards at least 6 times each week
  • Lose a pound each week until I meet my weight loss goal
  • Write an encouraging card to someone each week
  • Conduct an in-home date (usually take-out food and a movie) at least once a month with my wife
  • Write a blog post each week
  • Play at least 75 board games in 2009

I have to complete each of the weekly goals by Sunday night, which is why I am writing this blog post right now at 8:30 pm on a Sunday. Sure, it’s a bit hurried and lame sometimes, when I try to squeeze it all into one evening, after our Small Group meeting. But I have found that if I don’t set my face like flint (or at least like oatmeal) against the tyranny of the ‘urgent’, I won’t find time to do these things at all.

Joshua and Dee Duke
We forced Joshua to sneak up behind Dee Duke for this ‘photo op’.

I’ll grant you, it is a bit tricky to pray with Kathy while writing an encouraging note and playing a board game, especially if I try to exercise on the elliptical machine and read my Bible at the same time. I’m just not much of a multi-tasker, truth be told.

How about you? Are you the kind of person who revels in goals, making to-do lists for yourself each day? Or do you have another way that you are able to accomplish the things that you set out to do?


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The Glory of the Lord

Walking out my front door a few days ago, I noticed an overcast sky with heavy fog, which matched my spirits precisely. I’m usually tired and discouraged in the morning, unless I’ve had more than the usual amount of sleep. I viewed the day with cynical disfavor.

“Hmmmph. I wonder what this day will bring,” I said to myself sarcastically.

Driving along toward the highway, I began to wake up. “Good morning, Lord,” I prayed reflexively. Then I thought about how much I didn’t mean the word ‘good’. But for God, every morning is good, and full of His new mercies. Even the worst day in all of history, the day that Jesus was crucified, is called ‘Good Friday’.

I began to thank the Lord for creating this new day, and for loving me and adopting me into His family. I told Him that I was ready and willing to do whatever He wanted me to do on this day, and I wondered how God would answer that prayer.

As I drove, I noticed that a small section of the sky had turned a deep pink, the kind you generally find only in artificial flavorings and radioactive materials. The Cascade Mountains stood as cardboard cutouts, propped up against the sky, lit from behind by the rising sun. Admiring their beauty, I thanked God for his creation, which truly is glorious. Just then, I reached a point in the road where the fields on my right opened up, and Mt. Rainier suddenly loomed into sight, dwarfing the other mountains, wreathed in luminous pink cotton candy.

Mt. Rainier
Not my actual view — I didn’t have my camera with me. But this is the same mountain.

Loving God is like that: just when your heart is full of joy and you think there is nothing He could do that is better than what He has already done, He shows you something that is ten times more glorious.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me to stand in for him in the AWANA program at our church. He had to be at work that evening, and needed a ‘warm body’ to take his place – no particular skills needed. Since my body is nearly always warmer than room temperature, and there are many skills that I lack, I fit the bill perfectly.

I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I’ve been somewhat soured by my lack of success in the year I spent working with the fifth and sixth grade youth program at our church. But I couldn’t really say “No” to my friend, and the need seemed real, so I showed up at the appointed time, with no expectations of experiencing God’s glory at all. My duties were minimal, and mostly involved standing around, observing a smoothly-running program. “This isn’t so bad,” I congratulated myself.

Toward the end of the evening, the kids assembled in larger groups for ‘council time’, where a selected leader taught them a lesson from the Bible. I wandered between two of the groups, listening in and generally looming (in case of behavioral issues).

One of the teachers had prepared a lesson that culminated in a presentation of the Gospel, using the ‘wordless book’ (a book with solid-colored pages, each color symbolizing a key part of the Gospel message). I returned to that classroom just as the teacher was concluding her message, and was startled into full wakefulness when she said:

“If any of you have never prayed to accept God’s gift of Salvation, and would like to, go stand next to Mr. Tim.”

I tried to look worthy of this honor as the first- and second-grade children looked at me dubiously. To my surprise, several stood up and walked over. Then a few more. By the time the teacher collected her things and handed off control to another leader, there were eleven kids standing around me.

We brought the kids into another classroom and their teacher asked them to repeat and explain the gospel message they had just heard. She asked them to articulate the reason for the decision they were making. Then she had them follow her in a prayer, asking Jesus to come into their hearts, to be their Lord and Savior. The kids prayed along dutifully, some cognizant of the momentous decision, others just there for the novelty of the experience.

As for me, I went home very thoughtful, and privileged to have been there when God acted to reveal His glory.


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