When I was on a church staff in the outskirts of Washington D.C. one of the pastors who was very skilled in administration took me under his wing and taught me many things about being a leader. He became a mentor and a lifetime friend. His name is Dick Vannoy. I shall always be indebted to him.
Dick had worked in the higher echelons of government and took an early retirement to serve full-time in pastoral ministry. Early in my ministry there he gave me one of the most valuable lessons I ever had on how to prioritize my activities.
He told me to list all my activities and then to prioritize them in order of importance. After that I was to start with the first item and work through the list, not going to the next project until I had cared for the one above it. I remember standing beside his desk as he showed me his list written on a yellow legal pad in pencil. He practiced what he preached. I never was as good as he was, but it helped me immensely.
Success is living on purpose, making sure our lives are centered and focused on what is most important. The Bible teaches our most important focus is to be on (1) our relationship with God and then (2) our relationship with other people, especially our family.
Most of us accept and agree with this, but the reality is that we end up trying to squeeze our relationships into an already packed schedule. We don’t mean to, but what is most important is put on hold while we tend to secondary matters. The days become weeks and the weeks become months and that which is most important is neglected. Soon it is a habit and we accept second-best for our lives. The things we check off on our to-do list are good, but not what is best.
I remember reading a book titled Rekindled. It was so compelling I stayed up all night reading it. It’s a true story about a successful sports executive who had everything it seemed. He came home one day and his wife told him she was leaving him. He was stunned and had no clue there was even a problem. He had given her money, taken her places most people never get to visit, and she was able to meet some of the most famous people in the world because of his connections.
He began to try and win her heart back but she didn’t respond to anything he did. When he talked to her about it and promised he was changing she was emotionless. She said something to him I will never forget, “My feelings for you are just numb; I don’t hate you, I don’t feel anything”. I think a lot of wives especially feel that way because their husband has given their relationship a lower priority than work, hobbies, or even church work.
The sad thing is that most men don’t realize the deep wound they leave on the heart of their wife, the numbness she feels, just fulfilling her duties, going through the motions. Like a black hole, secondary things keep pulling the husband toward them, away from their walk with the Lord and focused time with the family. Not realizing how the damage of neglect was numbing their souls.
The lesson my mentor at church taught me was very helpful. I was more efficient with my time, but my effectiveness was still stunted. Even though I maintained a daily prioritized to-do list, emergencies (a normal part of life and ministry) would cause my priorities to be shifted and realigned. That which was urgent crowded out that which was most important.
Peter Drucker, the business guru, wisely observed, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things”. For me I wanted to be most effective in my relationship with God and my family. (In my last post one I wrote that one can be effective in personal relationships, but not efficient; they are different. Go back and read it as it relates directly to this principles of this post). Too often I was getting things done, but my relationships were suffering. I was busy, but not successful.
Traditional time management is based on prioritizing your schedule. It will certainly make you more efficient, but there is a underlying assumption that is faulty: believing that everything is important.
A better way to live is to schedule your priorities. This means making appointments in your calendar for your time with the Lord and with family and friends. Secondary activities are not at the core of my schedule, but my priorities (relationships).
A story about a college professor given by Steven Covey illustrates this perfectly. He came to his class and placed a large open-mouthed jar on his desk. Without a word as the students watched he took large rocks and filled the jar all the way to the top.
He looked at the class, “Is there anything else I can put in there?” The jar was packed and they all replied, “No, sir”. He smiled and then pulled out a bucket of tiny pieces of crushed gravel and slowly dumped them in the jar. Gradually they sifted and settled from the bottom to the top of the large jar.
Again, he asked if the the jar hold any more. By this time they had caught on and said, “Yes!” He produced sand and began to pour it in until it filled the places between the gravel and the jar was filled. He asked if the jar could hold anything else. The students shouted, “Yes!” He held high a pitcher of water and began to very slowly pour it in the jar. Finally, the jar was completely filled.
The teacher surveyed his class and said, “What is the lesson of this exercise in respect to how we manage our time?” One said, “Well, there is always room for more things in our schedule”. Another said, “We have to be creative with our time”.
The professor shook his head, “No. The lesson is that if I had not put the big rocks in first I wouldn’t have gotten them in at all”.
The first time I read that story it spoke to me deeply. I knew the “big rocks” in my life were often not being cared for because of lots of other things. I began to transition from prioritizing my schedule to scheduling my priorities. I put the big rocks (relationships) in my schedule and protected them. Sure there are times when God allows divine interruptions but I became more effective in what was crucial and not just efficient in secondary things managing a busy schedule.
Sometimes the “big relational rocks” simply cannot be scheduled and interrupt the schedule you have in place. I have come to learn that my schedule belongs to God and He can change it whenever He wants to do so.
The Bible records that the Lord Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). The words “went about” have the idea of traveling a road. As He went about His daily routine He blessed people that came across His path by doing good to them. It was simply the way He lived. God-ordained opportunities to bless people (Ephesians 2:10) are most often spontaneous, unknown to us. So we need not be legalistic about our calendar, but flexible to whomever God brings across our path.
The greatest gift I can give to my family is focused time, but just knowing it doesn’t help me to do it. When a lot of other things are competing for my attention and time it’s easy to rationalize that Christ and my family will understand. But they don’t. If we are not careful even the time we give to God is just perfunctory, reading Scripture without allowing it to speak to us and apply it. Why do we do this? Usually because we are in a hurry.
Someone said that “the urgent is seldom important and the important is seldom urgent”. That’s a powerful truth. God speaks to us when we are quiet and unhurried. Speed doesn’t produce devotion.
“Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)
“There is more to life than increasing it’s speed”, wrote Tim Hansel. Busy isn’t better, it’s just busy – and empty. Focused attention on our Savior and our family and friends requires that they get the best part of our schedule and not the leftovers. It also means they have permission to change our schedule when the need is there.
What kind of approach did Christ have toward time management. Dr. Richard Swenson, a Christian medical doctor wrote a tremendous book for a generation overwhelmed with options and demands called Margin. The following paragraph is thought-provoking for those of us that love the Lord and struggle with competing priorities.
“Do you think Jesus would have carried a pocket calendar? Would He have consulted it before making commitments? Would He have bypassed the leper because His calendar said He was late for the Nazareth spring banquet? Do you think Jesus would have worn a wristwatch? What would have been His reaction if the temple service extended past noon and alarms went off in the crowd? Would He have driven out the clock watchers along with the money changers?
What would He have thought of the parishonier I know who weekly timed the pastor’s sermons with a stopwatch and reported the statistics on the way out of the church? Do you think Jesus would have carried a beeper? Would Martha and Mary have paged Him to come and raise Lazarus from the dead? Can you imagine Him being paged out of the Last Supper? The clock and the Christ are not close friends.
Imagine what God thinks of us now that we are so locked into schedules that we have locked ourselves out of the Sermon on the Mount – it is hardly possible to walk the second mile today without offending one’s pocket calendar. We jump at the alarm of Seiko but sleep through the call of the Almighty”.
Swenson also notes, “The paradox is that the more sophisticated our time-saving gadgets have become, the greater
our struggle with time”. It just gives us more space in our calendar to fill up with other things – usually not including time with the Lord or family.
Years ago our family was on vacation at Disney World and I noticed how many men had cell phones plastered to their ears while walking with their families. In a sense they were very efficient with whatever projects they were handling, but they were not effective at all with their relationship with their children. The moments they had would soon be gone, never to return.
This was when cell phones were not as available. I’m sure that now if I were to walk through the park that the teenagers, too, would be on their phones talking, texting or surfing the web oblivious to the family they would one day miss. (I see it in restaurants now every time we have a meal). One day the person before you will be gone and you will wish you had some time with them. There’s coming a time when all the kids won’t be able to go on vacation with you because of other commitments with work or their own family. You will yearn for those days, but they were wasted on a cell phone.
Living on purpose is intentionally making time to think, to play, to read, to worship, to pray, to spend time with friends, to love, to laugh. To live this way we must make some tradeoffs. And they are well worth making!
There are two different Greek words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos time is governed by the clock, a schedule, a predetermined objective. Kairos time is governed by special events and moments. These are unplanned and spontaneous, but what make life rich and meaningful.
Swenson states that when we live by chronos (and we have to sometimes) we live by a deadline and a plan. When we live according to kairos time the event that is before us is more important than the deadline. Chronos time is centered around a clock; kairos is centered around a compass. One deals with speed and the other with direction. Without direction, speed is irrelevant! There are times when we have to overrule the clock and live in the moment.
Let me give an example of what this looks like in my life. As a pastor I am studying almost every day, preparing messages and lessons for the future. This requires blocks of time to think and focus on the material and listen to God. I prepare weeks ahead of time and don’t like to “get behind” where I don’t have some messages in the oven that are maturing for the future.
Someone wisecracked, “Being a preacher writing and delivering sermons is like having a baby on Sunday and realizing you’re pregnant again on Monday”. So, my mind is daily occupied with the topics on which I’m speaking.
Sermon preparation is chronos time; governed by the clock with a deadline flashing at me. It’s very important and I must be disciplined in how I manage my time. Let’s say my granddaughter comes in the room while I’m writing and asks me to read her a book about being a princess. This is kairos time. It has to do with my compass and values. It’s easier to tell her, “I’ll do that later” than to say to my sermon, “I’ll do that later”. And so I give my time to my sermon and the time with my granddaughter is usually gone forever.
Traditional time management and tools are to help us be able to do more in less time. However, sometimes it is better to get less done as long as I’m doing the right things. This includes rest, reflection, meditating on God’s Word, talking to my wife and children.
Make sure your time alone with God and with your family and other key people in your life is in your schedule (chronos), but also that you are able to be interrupted when people have a need or God directs you to do something else (kairos). The key to revitalizing a relationship is to invest quality time in it. To fail to do so will result in regret one day.
And regret is more painful than we realize in the moment, or we wouldn’t neglect what is most important.
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been’.” (Kurt Vonnegut)