There are many times God uses my sweet 5-year-old son to humble me and redirect my focus to the important things. Recently, as I was tucking him into bed and praying quickly over him, I thought about all the things I still had left to do. In my own world, I hoped to quickly walk out. However, to my surprise, my son quickly sat up, put his hands on mine, and asked, “Mommy, why are you running?”
I was stunned.
He was right, of course.
I was so focused on the urgent tasks I still had to do before going to bed that I neglected the most important: praying with my son. I had prioritized the urgent over the important.
Sprinkled throughout the Gospels we see this tension as well. Jesus comes to fulfill the law yet he shines light on a new law—a new covenant. He heals on the Sabbath when no work was to be done; he talks with women whom society deemed unacceptable; he ate with tax collectors and sinners, which no one claiming to be righteous would do.
But in all of these things, Jesus was not just revolutionizing a culture, he was reminding people not to neglect the important for the urgent. The urgent and the important are fused throughout his ministry.
But how do we discern the difference between what is important and what is urgent, especially when it seems we have such little time to start with—and so many urgent issues with which to deal?
With the media at our fingertips, Google always available, and the ability to connect with others via social media night or day, the urgent seems to demand all of our attention.
How, then, do we even make room for the important?
Here are a few suggestions:
We keep the main thing, the main thing.
When Jesus, as a teacher of the law, was approached by a Pharisee (an expert in the law) and asked, “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” (Matt. 22:36), Jesus’ response was simple, yet profound. Of all the urgent and important things the law covers, Jesus boiled it down to one thing: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). And, he said, the second was like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matt. 22:39-40).
Paul seconds this in 1 Corinthians 13:13, after he lays out what love is, by stating, “Now
these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Jesus’ ministry is a model of love, and we too must choose to take the time to consider (and tend to) the hearts of those involved instead of just the tasks at hand.
We seek wisdom.
With all that is going on in our world today, and how quickly false truth can be confused with the truth of the gospel, we must correctly handle the word of truth and seek God’s wisdom.
So before we post, tweet, or text, let’s consider James 3:17, which states, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
We pause to evaluate severity and impact.
Even when they had much on their plates, you won’t hear parents or grandparents say they regret prioritizing all the times they spent tucking their kids into bed and praying with them. You won’t hear couples say they regret how many times they paused to tell each other “I love you” or “Please forgive me, I was wrong.” And likely, you won’t hear someone say they wish they hadn’t paused to pray with and show a random act of kindness to a neighbor in the midst of a crazy season of life. It’s the times they didn’t do these things that they will very likely regret.
Neglecting the important for the urgent has its own set of consequences. Proverbs 29:11 states, “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.”
We guard our hearts and our minds by abiding in Christ.
Jesus teaches that for us to produce the fruit of a life lived for him (a life that does not neglect the important for the urgent, just as Jesus modeled), we need to remain in his word and in relationship with him. John 15:5 states, “The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.”
We must also “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and guard our hearts, for from them “flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23).
These things aren’t necessarily easy or popular but, as my 5-year-old so sweetly reminded me through his tender hug of forgiveness, not neglecting the important for the urgent is worth it every time.
Colleen Cooper is the Development Coordinator for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.