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Thursday, December 30, 2004

HANDLING THE TYRANNY OF THE URGENT

By Gordon Govier
Special to ASSIST News Service

MADISON, WI (ANS) -- Given the recent culture clashes over the Christmas holiday, it's nice that the next holiday is not accompanied by controversy and contentious clamor. New Year's Day is a secular, arbitrary observance that marks no religious event although it does have its own unique religious dimension.

New Year's Day makes no pronouncements outside that of the hourglass. It simply observes the passage of time. And that while you were otherwise occupied another year has gone by.

Time afflicts us all equally although there are those who believe that it seems to pick up speed as you get older. But most of us agree we don't have enough of it.

Earlier this year Ipsos, a global marketing research firm, announced that almost everybody agrees with the statement, "There is never enough time in the day to get done what I want to get done." Americans were among the most likely to agree, about 64-percent of us affirmed it.

When Charles Hummel wrote his classic essay "Tyranny of the Urgent," in 1967, he identified the telephone as among the worst offenders against our peace and complacency. And that was before we carried the offending instrument with us everywhere and embellished it with email, computers, cameras, downloadable ring tones and music files.

Hummel passed away last summer and I dug into my files to retrieve my InterVarsity press booklet that contained his classic essay. It's been setting on my desk since then. I finally, just now, managed to find 15 minutes needed to read it once again.

The issue, Hummel said, is not so much a shortage of time as a problem of priorities. Or, as a cotton mill manager once told him, "Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important."

The essay does not offer three, five or ten bullet-points of a program to get our priorities back in order. Instead it points to the Gospel accounts of Jesus who never seemed to be in a hurry, even when his friend Lazarus was dying.

Quoting Mark 1:35, Hummel saw the secret of Jesus' life and work for God in that "He prayerfully waited for His Father's instructions." The headline for this section reads "Dependence makes you free," and Hummel quotes P. T. Forsyth, "The worst sin is prayerlessness."

Several years ago I felt the weight of undone and half done obligations weighing on me and realized that part of the problem was perspective. Instead of complaining about why I was getting loaded down with so many responsibilities I concluded that I should thank God that he was allowing me to be involved in so many things that I enjoyed doing and was really interested in. Sure I should be smart about not over committing myself. But if I was conscientiously and prayerfully considering my schedule in relation to what I felt God wanted me to be involved, then I felt I could trust Him to make sure the most important things got done.

Someone once observed that time was invented by God "to keep everything from happening at once." Cynical Solomon, writing in Ecclesiastes, observed God "has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." [NIV]

Looking ahead to 2005, don't expect to have the time to do everything you want to do. It may even be hard to get done what you have to do. But resolve that you won't let the urgent get an upper hand over the important events in your life. That's the first step you can take to make "everything beautiful in its time," in your life.

Gordon Govier is a veteran journalist currently working in media affairs for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. His website is at www.radioscribe.com. You can contact him by e-mail at scribe@broadcast.net.

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