Figuring Out What’s Important

I Choose Important Over Urgent

“What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”  Dwight D. Eisenhower

I finished up a series of messages called “I Choose” on the weekend.  I talked about the need to choose what's important more than the urgent. You can check out the full message in the “Sermons” section of the webpage.  We covered some really great material.  After the service someone asked me if there was a part two to the series.  I asked why and they said that they wanted to know more about how to discern between what is urgent and what is most important.  What a great question and since there was no plan to do a part two.  I thought I would use a blog post to work through some of these issues.  Let me start by saying, I am just beginning to figure some of this stuff out. I think this is one of the toughest lessons I have learned and I continue to learn.  I wrestle with it  on a daily basis and everyday I could tell you how my activities are a constant battle ground.  It is a struggle for a number of reasons.

  1. I'm a procrastinator.  I have often lived by the adage, “Why do today what you can do tomorrow.” I have burned the midnight oil on many occasions trying to complete, papers, sermons, reports etc.
  2. We have a large family.  Well at least large for us.  Some who have a “Waltonian” sized family would consider our 5 kids small in comparison, but for us it was busy.  I have noticed that large families can sometimes become urgency driven.  If you have ever has sickness wreak havoc through your family, you will know what I mean.  Your life becomes a chaotic mess of laundry, chicken soup, ginger ale, and mess cleaning.
  3. Serving in ministry is a world of consistency and distraction. The consistency come from the fact that there are ongoing programs that keep coming week, after week, after week and so on.  I heard someone once describe preaching as “giving birth or Sunday and finding out you are pregnant on Monday”.  At the same time there is also constant onslaught of distractions. There are always phone calls, crisis, and now with technology social media and email.  Sometimes the consistency keeps you from the important, some times it is the distractions that keep you from the important.  Sometimes the urgent distraction is what is important.  There in lies some of the dilemma in discerning what is important.

You probably have your own reasons for the struggle.  But as people often say, “The struggle is real.”  Let me give an illustration from my own life.  This happened to me yesterday.

  • Important_sticky_noteI needed to drop off a note to my secretary.  Her office is in the basement, so I walked downstairs.
  • I dropped off the note, as I was leaving I noticed that the janitor had not brought some bags of garbage out to the bin outside.
  • I thought I'll just quickly bring that out and then go back to my office.
  • I grabbed the garbage and went outside the back door.
  • As I went outside I noticed that there was a bit of snow build up by the back door.  I thought I should probably give that a quick shovel.
  • I threw the garbage in the can, found the shovel and cleared away the snow.
  • As I was putting away the shovel, I noticed that there was a television and some tables and chairs  had been left from another meeting that had taken place at the church earlier in the week.  Knowing that the junior highs were coming in that night and they usually play dodgeball or ball hockey, I thought those should be put away.
  • So, I put away  the tv, and table chairs. As I am doing that I notice that the step ladder had been but away in the wrong spot.  So after completing the chairs etc., I put away the ladder.
  • As I go in the utility room, I notice that some of the cleaning supplies are on the floor.  Since, we have just hired a new janitor, I make a mental note, that I need to let him know that supplies should be put away.
  • As I'm making my way back to my office to right myself a note about the janitor supplies.  I noticed there is a vehicle parked by the front door.  Two men come in and tell me it's time for our annual inspection of the fire extinguishers and other safety items in the church.
  • I chat with them for a few minutes and then they start to do their inspection.urgent(1)
  • I get to my office and write myself a note, to remind myself to talk to the janitor later (I am actually impressed that I remember!).
  • I notice that it has almost been an hour since I first went downstairs to “just take a moment” to drop something off to the secretary.
  • Then my daughter phoned from school and let me know that she had completed her exam and that she had forgotten her one assignments at home and that she needed to hand it in today or she would get a failing grade.
  • Then I was off again, going down another rabbit trail.

This is the story of my life.  The funny thing is before all this began to unfold, I was reading a book called “Simple Church”. You can read what I've been learning from this book in other blog posts. One thing that i have noticed is that the important seldom seems to yell as loud as other things.  If I neglect laundry,  especialy if you have a young, large family, it will soon start to yell at the top its lungs at you. But prayer and bible reading some to speak in a whisper and get drowned out easily.

Let me give you three suggestions on trying to determine what is important and how to respond appropriately.


Determine your priorities. Maybe a better word would be, to quote Pirates of the Caribbean,  “They're more like guidelines”  We will never be able to come up with a fool-proof system or screening process to get our priorities completely in order.  Life is far too complicated for that.  But, we need to try to get our priorities straight in our heads or we are going to constantly be  choosing the wrong priorities.  Here are some basics on the Christian life and journey.

  1. Our First Priority is a Relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  The Bible is very clear that our purpose for existence is to “Give Him glory” (1 Corinthians 10:31),  that we are to “Seek Him First” (Matthew 6:33), that we are to “Trust in the Lord with all our Hearts” (Proverbs 3:5-6) and that we are Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Luke 10:27).  This means that we need to be prioritizing behaviours and spiritual habits, like prayer and Bible reading because they help establish and build that relationship.
  2. Our Second Priority is to our Spouse and Family.  If i was to put this in a priority scale it would be spouse first, then children.  If you are in these relationships they become your highest priority under your relationship to God.  This is why the apostle Paul at different points states that singleness has some benefits, because you can focus your priorities more on God with less potential of distraction
  3. Our Third Priority is for your Self. Blogger Michael Hyatt would argue that this would be your second priority.
  4. Order out the Rest.  After that it starts to get cloudy and you are going to have to pray and ask God to help you order them out.  We always need to remember that the second half of the command to love God, was to love people.  Our interaction with people is important in making a plan.  Here are some of the areas you need to figure out: work, ministry, friends, health, civic duty, and security.  Maybe there are others that should be included, put them on the list.


It is important to determine your phase in life.  If you are a young mom with children, your priorities will be different that an empty nest – grand parent.  I found a great article at Focus on the Family, specifically for young moms wrestling with this issue.  You have to gage your phase of life into your thinking or else it will just lead to frustration.


The last is coming up with a plan.  Write it down (those who write down their goals have a much higher possibility of achieving them).  Evaluate them.  Give yourself some grace.  Don't give up.  Keep trying.  Adjust.  Learn.  Grow.    Leave some room for trivial things because they are important to you and if you don't you will become frustrated.  Some type of plan is better than no plan.

There is no secret formula.  But, if we don't intentional start to choose the important, we will get lost in sea of urgent things and those urgent tasks seem to soon tak priority in our lives.




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