The Tyranny of the Urgent

“Be still and know that I am God”
(Psalm 46:10)

While in seminary, we young, soon-to-be-pastors were warned of the “Tyranny of the Urgent.”  When there is too much to do and not enough time to do it, when we find ourselves constantly moving from one task to the next, a little like standing on an assembly line, with no end in sight. Have you found yourself saying, “I’ll sleep when I die”?  You might have succumbed to the “Tyranny of the Urgent.”

Charles Hummel wrote of this epidemic:

It is not hard work, but doubt and misgiving that produce anxiety as we review a month or a year and become oppressed by the pile of unfinished tasks.  We sense uneasily that we may have failed to do the important.  The winds of other people’s demands have driven us onto a reef of frustration.
We live in constant tension between the urgent and important.  The problem is that the important tasks rarely have to be done today or even this week.  Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait.  But the urgent tasks call for immediate action – endless demands pressure every hour and day.
The momentary appeal of these tasks seems irresistible and important, and they devour our energy.  But in the light of time’s perspective their deceptive prominence fades; with a sense of loss we recall the important tasks pushed aside.  We realize we’ve become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.

I have to confess, I have fallen into this trap.  It probably comes as no surprise to those of you who know me well.  Those here in Cherokee probably just heard a thundering “Well, Duh!” coming from my wife.

A restless, constant, nagging sense of trying to prove myself (not to anyone but myself); a wearying attempt to do everything myself rather than trusting others with important tasks; a never-ending “to do” list; all of this is evidence.  Having a quiet moment of self-reflection (a 30 minute drive without the radio on) was all it really took for this to hit home.

Why has my prayer life suffered lately?  Why have I struggled to find anything to write about in these Mid-Week messages?  Why is my time in the Word become just a matter of reading it so that I can check it off my list of things to do?

Because it has become about accomplishment, about checking off one more thing – not about just being, living, knowing, fellowshipping with my God and Savior.

When I stopped to listen for one moment, Psalm 46 was whispering to me: Ethan, stop, be still, know that I am your God.”

This, I believe is how you break away from the tyranny of the urgent, how you learn to focus on the things that are truly important, and let the seemingly urgent find it’s appropriate place in your life.  Be still, know that God is God.

Here are a couple of things that struck me about that verse:

  • It requires a quieting of the soul
    How often do you quiet yourself?  Turn off the radio, the iPod, the cell phone, the TV, the social media – disconnect yourself from the clamor and chaos around you, quiet your soul.   How much are you missing because you are tuned in to everything else, but you aren’t listening to the Word of God?  There are times, frequently, when we simply need to quiet ourselves before the Lord (Psalm 131).
  • It requires a relinquishing of the assumption of control
    Part of being still and knowing that He is God means letting God be God.  I think one of the reasons we fall into the tyranny of the urgent is because we don’t trust God enough to take care of things, and we, just like Satan, just like Adam and Eve, just like everyone else whose gone before, want to put ourselves in the center of the universe and be the one in charge.
    Part of being still and knowing that He is God means letting God be God.  I think one of the reasons we fall into the tyranny of the urgent is because we don’t trust God enough to take care of things, and we, just like Satan, just like Adam and Eve, just like everyone else whose gone before, want to put ourselves in the center of the universe and be the one in charge.
    YOU ARE NOT GOD, and the sooner you come to terms with that, and give up the illusion that you are in control of things, the sooner you will find peace in your heart.
  • It requires a contentment, a satisfaction in God alone.
    I was listening to a song today (after my 30 minutes of silence) in which the singer repeated several times, “I am satisfied in You.”  It took a while for this to settle in.  I am satisfied.  I am satisfied in God.  I am satisfied.  He has given me everything I need.  I need nothing more than Him.  I don’t need His blessings.  I don’t need His signs.  I have the Lord, and He has my heart.  I am satisfied in Him.

Sometimes we forget to be content in the Lord, to be satisfied in Him.  But when we quiet our souls, when we stop trying to be God, when we give up the frantic scrambling to hold it all together ourselves, then we find the sweet release of God’s satisfying grace that overflows in our lives.

It will take a while for all of this to sink in, for me to get my priorities straightened out.  But I think that just allowing the time to be still, and to let God be God, and to see how He satisfies my every need – I think that’s a start.

SDG

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About reveds

Occupation: Pastor, Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, Lennox, SD Education: BS - Christian Education, Sterling College; MDiv. - Princeton Theological Seminary Family: Married, with Four children. Hobbies: Running (will someday run a marathon), Sci-Fi (especially Doctor Who and Sherlock), Theater, and anything else my kids will let me do.
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