When You Can’t Do It All
Years ago, a newspaper headline told about three hundred whales that died after becoming marooned in a shallow bay. They became trapped while pursuing sardines. One commentator observed, “The small fish lured the giants to their death. They came to their violent demise by chasing small ends, by prostituting vast powers for insignificant goals.” [i]
Like these giant mammals, the vast power of God’s Spirit in the lives of believers is often prostituted when we chase things that are ultimately insignificant. If only we would think and do things that are ultimately important.
The Power of Clear Priorities
The practical crucible of life teaches us that we cannot do everything and we certainly cannot please everyone. The nature of society’s increasing array of choices pulls us in many directions at once. The needs of people around us compel us to respond to more expectations than we can possibly bear. That is why we need clear priorities.
I define priorities as the commitments we put first in our lives because we believe they are important. The key term here is “commitments.” This resolve is distinguished from the act of “prioritizing,” which is a simple function of time management and ordering daily tasks. Instead, we are addressing the basic areas of one’s life-focus – the commitments to which we dedicate large portions of our energy. These commitments ultimately determine our goals and the way we spend our time.
Urgent vs. Important
Former President Eisenhower has been credited with saying, “The urgent is seldom important, and the important is seldom urgent.” This was brought home years ago in a tragic way when the now defunct Eastern Airlines flight 401 crashed between New York and Miami. As the crew prepared to land, they noticed that a light, which indicated the landing gear was down, had failed to respond. They weren’t sure if the problem was the light or the landing gear. The flight engineer attempted to remove the bulb, but it wouldn’t loosen. Other members of the crew tried to help him. As they struggled with the bulb, no one noticed that the plane was losing altitude. It crashed into a swamp and people died. This experienced crew of highly trained technicians and pilots became preoccupied with an inexpensive light bulb and a plane full of passengers became tragic casualties. [ii]
All of us are on a lifelong journey. If we don’t take time to prepare our hearts and thoughts according to an integrated foundation of truth, we will constantly be displacing things that matter with the inexpensive light bulbs that surprise us with their urgent screech every day of life.
In the brand new book The Deeper Life – Satisfying the 8 Vital Longings of the Soul, I show how priorities are based on our values. Values shape our purpose. Our purpose is an expression of our biblical identity. All of these are founded on our theology.
But, we still must clarify our commitments in the essential areas of our lives. In the book, I give SIX GUIDEPOSTS for selecting good priorities. In summary, they are:
- Scripture – Because truth is the basis of our commitments
- Stewardship – Because we are accountable to God for our commitments
- Servanthood – Because we are called to love others through our commitments
- Significance – Because not all commitments have equal eternal value
- Satisfaction – Because we enjoy good reward in keeping vital commitments
- Stability – Because our commitments provide essential boundaries and balance
The Tragedy of an Unfocused Life
Many of us have seen lion trainers at the circus. They always have whips and often a gun. I’ve never seen one without a stool. I’ve wondered if they think that little stool is going to have any deterring effect on that large lion when they point the legs toward the growling beast. Well, those who seem to know say that the animal tries to focus on all four legs at once. This results in a kind of paralysis that overwhelms the ferocious cat and it becomes tame, weak, and disabled. Its attention is fragmented.
Do you have too many “stool legs” in your life? I often tell church leaders that the enemy does not have to destroy us, he simply has to distract us. Too many priorities and too few truly significant commitments can discourage our hearts and dilute our influence in rapid fashion.
Doing the Important
C. S. Lewis said, “If you put first things first, the second things will get thrown in. But if you put second things first, then you lose both first and second.” [iii] Jesus said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Now here is a life-management method that really brings some lasting results. It’s sad to see that many people who claim to be Christians fail to follow this time-tested approach. As a consequence, the enemy keeps us distracted and detached from the commitments that really matter.
Robert Frost wrote a classic poem about choosing between two roads. Using the illustration of a walk in the woods, he captured the greater reality of the lasting impact of our choices and commitments. Frost describes the scene this way: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both.” After articulating his contemplation with the decision, he concludes, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” [iv]
The Impact of Everyday Decisions
The moral of this pilgrim poem is that any life choice between alternatives that often appear to be equally attractive will bring, as years pass, far different results. Every day brings many roads to travel. The question of priorities will always be, “What should I do?” We must think deeply about what really matters as we reflect on our theology, identity, purpose, and values. Then, we must make commitments to the important things. This is a life of intentionality, integrity, and impact.
Copyright © 2014 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
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[i] Cook, William H., Success, Motivation, and the Scriptures (Nashville: Broadman, 1974), 127.
[ii] Cited by John Maxwell in Developing the Leader Within You, 28.
[iii] Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, ed., The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1989), 496.
[iv] Frost, Robert, Structure, Sound, and Sense (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1974), 629.