The Tyranny of the Urgent
It was more than 30 years ago when I first read Charles Hummel’s little pamphlet, “The Tyranny of the Urgent.” I was a harried young pastor trying desperately to work harder, jump higher and run faster. The church was growing, so I thought it worth the price. But if the church was growing, I was feeling diminished. It was then I read the booklet that saved my life, or at least my ministry.
There was one particular phrase that stuck to my ribs and that has stayed with me throughout the intervening years. Hummel used the text from the life of Jesus “I have finished the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4) and noted that Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry. And yet, the work he did during the two or three years of his ministry had a profound effect upon the world. Though Jesus did not heal every sick person in Palestine, and actually failed to win the majority of his countrymen, he did do the very things that God had asked him to do. Nothing more, nothing less.
It was then I realized, that the way to avoid frenetic activity and emotional exhaustion was to take seriously God’s priorities for my life and work. I had always believed that I had been “saved by grace and not by works,” but nonetheless I had also sensed that my community could be saved by my working harder, faster and more furiously. I was wrong.
The hours I worked did not diminish after my reading of The Tyranny of the Urgent, but the stress and strain fell away, and joy in the journey became dominant. In the classic film, Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, missionary to China and Olympic runner, says to his sister, “God made me for a purpose, for China, But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure!” And my suspicion is that when we find ourselves fully engaged in doing what God has called and equipped us to do, we may still be running, but we will feel His pleasure. Working together with God, is rest at its best!
Published in Light and Life, January-February, 2006