This past week I spent some time with a ministry staff who asked me to come in and talk about organization and time management. Some of the team was struggling with too many things to do and too little time to get it all done.
I did not know most of these folks, so in order to get to know them, I asked them to write a headline for their ministry newsletter, ten years in the future. "What would you want the headline to say about you?"
They came up with some outstanding and aspirational statements. None of them were arrogant or shallow -- all of the statements were deeply significant and focused on the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, they all admitted to some level of exhaustion over the many things they were trying to do, many of which were not taking them in the directions their headlines aspired to.
Then we talked about what it takes to keep focused on their ultimate goals and not get mired in the day-to-day chaos of to-do lists and people's crises. Stephen Covey, in his tried and true book 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, says that what we want said about ourselves at the end of our lives turns out to be our definition of success. I said that a formative booklet for me in college was titled The Tyranny of the Urgent, which taught me about shaping my life around important things, which may not demand my attention the way that those urgent things do. The rest of our time together was spent in talking about how to manage our priorities and schedules according to the important things.
I'm well aware that this is far easier said than done, and I submit to you that after thirty years of vocational ministry, I may only now be starting to get the hang of it. I was reminded of this message again in my reading. Once again, Henri Nouwen speaks profound truth:
If we do not wait patiently in expectation for God's coming in glory, we start wandering around, going from one little sensation to another. Our lives get stuffed with newspaper items, television stories, and gossip. Then our minds lose the discipline of discerning between what leads us closer to God and what doesn't, and our hearts gradually lose their spiritual sensitivity.
Without waiting for the second coming of Christ, we will stagnate quickly and become tempted to indulge in whatever gives us a moment of pleasure. When Paul asks us to wake from sleep, he says: "Let us live decently, as in the light of day; with no orgies or drunkenness, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop worrying about how your disordered natural inclinations may be fulfilled" (Romans 13:13-14). When we have the Lord to look forward to, we can already experience him in the waiting.
Like children on a road trip with their parents, we are usually impatient to get to our destination, and incessantly ask, "How much longer??" In the same way, as adults we indulge our impatience by tinkering around with busyness that often does not add up to anything of real substance over time. The process of maturation must include growth in the capacity to delay gratification. This passage has been instructive in so many ways:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
May we be impatient for our true destination, but somehow also enjoy the journey.