My life is busy. I’m sure yours is too. Far too often it seems that I spend the bulk of my day racing around to deal with emergencies. I want to get things done far in advance but with so much going on, it just isn’t possible. There are constant demands, last minute projects, and urgent distractions that take me away from what I need to work on. A fireman puts out fires after they have started, whereas fire marshals go around preventing them. I’d much rather be a fire marshal than a fireman, but nearly everyday the sirens go off, I slide down the pole, and I race off to put out the latest fire.
Have you ever experienced that cycle?
In 1967 Charles Hummel wrote a short pamphlet entitled “Tyranny of the Urgent.” It seems odd to me that someone in the 60s experienced the rush of life like we do today. They didn’t have cell phones, iPads, or all the other modern gadgets we deem necessary to survive. But Hummel makes a great point, far too often we exchange what is important and necessary for that which is urgent.
Here is an edited section from the pamphlet:
Tyranny of the Urgent
Have you ever wished for a thirty-hour day? Surely this extra time would relieve the tremendous pressure under which we live. Our lives leave a trail of unfinished tasks. Unanswered letters, unvisited friends, unwritten articles, and unread books haunt quiet moments when we stop to evaluate. We desperately need relief.
But would a thirty-hour day really solve the problem? Wouldn’t we soon be just as frustrated as we are now with our twenty-four allotment? A mother’s work is never finished, and neither is that of any student, teacher, minister, or anyone else we know. Nor will the passage of time help us catch up. Children grow in number and age to require more of our time. Greater experience in profession and church brings more exacting assignments. So we find ourselves working more and enjoying it less.
When we stop to evaluate, we realize that our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is basically the problem of priorities. … Several years ago an experienced cotton mill manager said to me, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” He didn’t realize how hard his maxim hit. It often returns to haunt and rebuke me by raising the critical problem of priorities.
We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the important task rarely must be done today or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait. But the urgent tasks call for instant action–endless demands; pressure every hour and day. … We realize we’ve become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.
Can You Escape…?
Is there any escape from this pattern of living? The answer lies in the life of our Lord. On the night before He died, Jesus made an astonishing claim. In the great prayer of John 17 He said, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (verse 4).
How could Jesus use the word “finished”? His three year ministry seemed all too short. …
Yet His life was never feverish; He had time for people. He could spend hours talking to one person, such as the Samaritan woman at the well. His life showed a wonderful balance, a sense of timing. When His brothers wanted Him to go to Judea, He replied, “My time has not yet come” (John 7:6). Jesus did not ruin His gifts by haste. …
Wait For Instructions…
What was the secret of Jesus’ work? We find a clue following Mark’s account of Jesus’ busy day. Mark observes that “…in the morning, a great while before day, He rose and went out to a lonely place, and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35). Here is the secret of Jesus’ life and work for God: He prayerfully waited for His Father’s instructions and for the strength to follow them. Jesus had no divinely-drawn blueprint; He discerned the Father’s will day by day in a life of prayer. By this means He warded off the urgent and accomplished the important. …
We may wonder why our Lord’s ministry was so short, why it could not have lasted another five or ten years … Scripture gives no answer to these questions, and we leave them in the mystery of God’s purposes, but we do know that Jesus’ prayerful waiting for God’s instructions freed Him from the tyranny of the urgent. It gave Him a sense of direction, set a steady pace, and enabled Him to do every task God assigned. And on the last night He could say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.”
What does Hummel give as a solution to the Tyranny of the Urgent? The answer lies in the same place freedom from anything lies: Jesus. In John 8.31-36 Jesus says, “If you continue in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free … Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin … So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”
Freedom does not come by trying to produce it. Freedom in the spiritual realm comes by an absolute surrender to Jesus and living dependent upon Him. Trying to gain freedom in your own strength and resource only tightens the chains that hold you.
I have been living this week under the thumb of the Urgent. Things that I want and need to accomplish were pushed aside to deal with the sirens, alarms, and screams of the emergencies and surprises. Now, toward the end of the week, I face a day of trying to get caught up on everything that should have been done days ago.
I hate living this way.
I realize there is sometimes not much we can do about it. We must deal with the emergency and move on. But oftentimes, especially in ministry, alarms are just that: nothing more than alarms. The enemy will try to get our focus off of Jesus and put it on anything else – especially emergencies and urgent business.
Today, Jesus shall be my constant focus. I shall not live by the tyranny of the Urgent but by the loving hand of my King.
Question: how have you seen the Tyranny of the Urgent take control of your day? I encourage you to leave a comment to this post.
Interested in reading Tyranny of the Urgent in full? This short pamphlet is currently $1.99 on Amazon – view it here.