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"What's your biggest problem?"
The question was as surprising as it was direct. I had just spent more than an hour with a young reporter who, having concluded the interview and packed away his notes, was on his way out the door when he wheeled round and caught me off guard. My biggest problem? I thought frantically. "Establishing priorities," I blurted out without thinking.
He nodded and left.
The question lingered for the rest of the day. I was aware that my life was not without problems, and my wife was probably aware of a number that escaped my attention. But the biggest one? What was it? I wished I had been given more time to think before answering. But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that my knee-jerk answer was probably correct.
I knew I had problems with priorities!
Each day there were things I knew that I had to do-no question. Then there were things I thought I really ought to do, plus things that I desperately wanted to do. Added to that were the things I imagined other people expected me to do and yet more things that others insisted I do. And so on! But-and here I consoled myself soulfully-"there aren't enough hours in the day!"
The result, ofcourse, was that many things were left undone, and some were only half done. Sometimes critical things were missed while I attended to things of less significance. I often disappointed others and frustrated myself. Each morning I woke up feeling like the cowboy who rode up to a saloon, hitched his horse to the rail, started to pull a bag of oats over the horse's head, and heard the town drunk standing nearby say, "Any fool can see you'll never fit that horse in that bag!"
My horse would not fit my bag.
I had been forced into a situation where the demands of life exceeded the supply of time. "That's the problem!" I decided. "If I had more time, I could get everything done." But then I wondered if that was true. Would it not mean that having been given more time I would find-or be presented with-more things to do?
But if more hours in the day would not fix the problem, what would? It seemed to me that the only possibility of an answer lay in the way the hours given to me were being used.
And that's the point when I began to sniff out the banditry under my roof. Time bandits? That had to be it! I (as everyone else on the planet) was granted a set number of hours each day that could be used, abused, invested, or wasted. I knew that. But some days it seemed as if I was held hostage by demands and interruptions, crises and trivialities, diversions and frustrations that surrounded me like masked men ominously demanding my time and robbing me of my day.
Bandits! Thieves! Robbers!
I was the pastor of a growing church at that time, and it seemed that many people were interested in what I did with my life. Rightly so ... well, to a point. One day I was approached by a group of very fit looking men who said, "Stuart, we believe your physical fitness is very important, because if your body quits, your ministry ends. Wouldn't you agree?" I did! Promptly! "Good," they replied, "we are all football coaches, and we have worked out an exercise routine for you that we'd like to do with you each morning. Physical fitness is a priority!"
Round about the same time, a well-read lady in the congregation said to me, "Stuart, we understand that the preacher's job is to listen to what God is saying and then relate it to his contemporaries. Now, we think you're very good at listening to what God says in the Bible, but you're not really in tune with American culture. So we have enrolled you in a book club because we believe reading and meditating is a priority. Don't you agree?"
"Oh yes," I replied with conviction and a sinking feeling.
Another kind person told me that he had been reading about Martin Luther, who had apparently said on one occasion that he had so many things to do that day that he could not possibly manage on less than-I think it was-three hours of prayer. He then added enthusiastically, "Stuart, you're such an activist, but we wonder if you're spending enough time in prayer. Prayer is such a priority, isn't it?"
"Yes," I replied dutifully, overcome with guilt.
On another occasion the parents of a happy, healthy family said to me, "Stuart, we really appreciate the way you serve us so faithfully, but we suspect that you might be neglecting your own family. Are you spending enough time with them? Remember that if you succeed as a pastor and fail as a father, your testimony will be ruined. You really need to spend more time with your own children. Remember, they are your priority!" I remembered!
And then, would you believe that a dear little lady said to me, "Stuart, you look exhausted. Are you getting enough rest and relaxation? Remember that God worked for six days and then rested the seventh. If you carry on the way you're going, you will burn out in no time. Proper rest is a priority, you know!"
But-and it was a big but-how could I possibly fit it all in? Maybe I could run with my kids, take along a book and read it as I ran with one eye open, and pray at the same time with the other one shut-oh yes, and all the time resting!
I was familiar with the well-known "God first, family second, work third" formula, but I found that while it was fundamentally sound, it did not always work. I knew, for instance, that Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, believed in a "trinity of life" that was made up of "God, family, and the Green Bay Packers." According to his biographer, "He placed them in that order." But in reality his family "usually came in third, unable to compete in his heart and mind with his dual passions of God and the Packers." I had also read somewhere about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's. He told a reporter that his priorities were "God first, family second, and McDonald's third," but then he added that when he went into the office, the order was reversed. Apparently these highly successful men had problems with their priorities, too. At least I was in good company. I took some comfort from that, but not much!
When you're surrounded by time bandits, it's good to have company.
Excerpted from Time Bandits by Stuart Briscoe Copyright © 2005 by Stuart Briscoe. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted February 12, 2010
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