It’s urgent, but is it important?
It’s not always easy to discern between the two, but keeping our focus on God will help us to discern our responsibilities, says Michele Morrison
There is an urgency about life today which may be a malady peculiar to our time. We can travel farther and faster than at any other time in history. We can communicate news and ideas instantly, globally. Faster, faster, faster ...
As compassionate believers, who desire to see God’s Kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, Christians feel a duty to respond to requests of all kinds. Radio and television or internet news headlines scream about injustices and atrocities and we feel we must react.
While visiting my 90-year-old mother in California, I discovered that she is increasingly overwhelmed by the mountain of mail she receives daily. She had stacks and boxes of accumulated mail waiting for me to help her with, and I found that because she had supported one or two political causes, every other lobbying group with a similar agenda has targeted her for a donation. I sent out over 100 letters asking these organisations to desist. What irritated me the most was their indiscriminate use of alarming notices on the outsides of the envelopes: “Urgent reply needed!” “Deadline fast approaching!” Very confusing to an elderly person trying to make sure she keeps her bills paid.
Watching my mother diligently opening every letter and striving to read them all, I hear the anxiety rising in her voice and demeanour. The tsunami of such mail has the sinister potential to overwhelm faith by real fear.
My own e-mail inbox receives many accounts of injustice and atrocity. Some want me to e-mail a protest, which is generally so easily done that not to do it seems not just churlish, but almost sinful. I can hear the echo of Scripture, “I was hungry ... I was naked ... I was in prison...”
Everything is trumpeted as urgent and much of it is important, but is it all my responsibility?
I am a firm believer in the need for individuals, especially Christians, to make their voices heard on issues, to lobby, speak out and support those vulnerable individuals who have no voice, no power and no rights. But I don’t believe any one of us is called to be an activist for every cause. It takes a resolute and prayerful determination to choose a handful of issues, and then refuse every other approach.
Otherwise, we are in danger of missing the truth, which is that Jesus calls each of us to partner with him to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. Partner with him. He calls us all, as his Church, so that the fight against injustice is shared amongst us and nobody is overwhelmed. As we work with him, we see his power unleashed and miracles happen; our faith is strengthened and fear is vanquished.
To live an effective life, we need to live close to God, so that we can respond to the urgent demands which ‘have our name’ on them, and confidently let the others go. Determine today to walk in faith and not fear, and to run your race with determination.
Here are four principles to help you live more effectively
Retreat to advance
Once or twice a year, it is essential to withdraw from the daily routine and take a few hours, or days away to just be with the Lord. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his powerful three-year ministry which saved the world. I believe that in those desert days, he was given a preview of the big picture and anointed with power and the Holy Spirit, enabling him to effectively dismiss the temptations of Satan when they came.
We, too, need to spend time dedicated to God so that we can be envisioned and empowered, so that our goals are clearly defined. We can thus avoid the red herrings, the distractions, interruptions and fears which threaten to undermine our faith and dilute our effectiveness. We are enabled to focus our efforts precisely and dismiss the urgent calls which for us are not important.
WORD OF WISDOM: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).
Start the day right
The implementation of these goals is worked out daily as we spend quiet time with God. Jesus modelled this approach as he frequently spent nights on the hills, alone with God. Scripture particularly mentions this in relation to the big moments of his ministry.
We all know this but, if you are like me, we are easily drawn to neglect the morning prayer time by the many demands of our days. The school run, rush-hour commute, or to-do list can be allowed to push aside our taking time with God. It is so important to start each day with Jesus, though. I know the difference when I rush off thinking I can do it myself, compared to those days when I act on the truth that actually, I can’t do anything without him.
WORD OF WISDOM: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6).
Keep your focus
Without the moment-by-moment guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are easily bamboozled and led astray. Every ringing phone, beeping text, or voice calling out seems urgent and demands our immediate attention, but may prove to distract us so much, we fail to achieve our goals at all that day.
It is helpful to identify those potential hazards which may cause you to fail. A few years ago, I was inspired to write a historical novel. I needed blocks of time to research and write, so I told friends and family that, on three days of every week, I would not be answering phones or making plans to do anything between 9am and 3pm. Having blocked off the time to accomplish this important goal, I achieved it, focused and determined to do what I felt God had called me to do.
WORD OF WISDOM: “’Martha, Martha’, the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one . . .’” (Luke 10:41–42).
Know your priorities
Of course, some interruptions are valid and important, and since we walk by faith we need a certain flexibility. There was a time when I edited a technology magazine part-time. As publication dates approached, I did a lot of work from home, at night. Many of those evenings were interrupted by one or another of my boys requiring help on a project, or wanting my company to watch a nature programme. Because I knew my priority was my sons, whenever I judged the request to be a valid one I set aside the work until later. A lot of midnight oil was burned, but that was a small price to pay for spending time building relationships with my boys. Relationships are important in God’s Kingdom.
That’s not to say that all interruptions involving relationships are valid, and it takes wisdom to recognise when an urgent request is important or spurious. My friend Sue had no sooner arrived at Bible study one day when her son called, begging her to bring his PE kit to school as he’d forgotten it again. She refused. She was busy with something important and though his request was urgent, she would not miss Bible study because of his poor organisation.
WORD OF WISDOM: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God ... and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).