The Urgent vs. the Important

When it comes to time management, the greatest principle for us as Christians is truly a liberating one: In the final analysis, I have only one thing to do. Does this principle sound strange? It comes straight from the mouth of Jesus. Do you remember when the two sisters from Bethany, Martha and Mary, gave a dinner party for Jesus and His disciples in their home? Martha was busily doing dozens of things that “needed to be done”—or so she told herself. Mary, meanwhile, was taking the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet and enjoy His company.

Martha got uptight because there was so much to do and so little time. She finally confronted Jesus with her resentment toward Mary for spending time with Him instead of helping her serve the meal. We can imagine Jesus gently placing His hand on Martha’s shoulder as He said:

Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41–42)

The passage says Mary chose “what is better” or literally, “the better portion.” The word is used normally of food, and it sets up an interesting contrast. While Martha devoted herself to preparing physical food, Mary devoted herself to receiving spiritual food. She was a hungry soul, single-mindedly devoted to the spiritual meal served by Jesus.

The time we spend with God determines the direction and the quality of all the rest of our time. Because of this, the more stress we’re under and the more pressures we face, the more time we need to spend with God in order to face them properly. That’s why Martin Luther did what at first glance seems senseless—on days when he had more to do he spent more time in prayer.

Charles Hummel’s booklet The Tyranny of the Urgent reminds us we must learn to discern between the urgent and the truly important. Serving the guests seemed much more urgent to Martha than listening to Jesus. But she failed to realize that it was also far less important.

Every person’s day is filled with things that are urgent—work, appointments, housework, homework, phone calls, carpools, shopping, and checking the Facebook pages of family and friends. If I don’t do the wash tonight, there’ll be no clean clothes tomorrow. If I don’t study, I’ll fail tomorrow’s final exam. All of us feel the urgency. But if we don’t spend time with the Lord or read to our children or call our parents, life goes on. These things are not emergencies. In neglecting them we don’t neglect something urgent. We neglect something important.

At the end of our lives, when we look back, most of the seemingly urgent things will be long forgotten. What we will thank God for—or regret—is what we did about the important things.

photo credit: tom1 via.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries