Saturday, August 11, 2012

Carpe Diem, The Extraordinary Life (3): One Thing

Audio file for listening or download.

Psalm 27, Matthew 6.25-34, Deuteronomy 6.1-9

Opening Theme: I Love Lucy, “Let Her Roll” (vid, from Hyatt, SPAWAR)

Introduction: In our Carpe Diem series, we’re considering questions of time and the extraordinary life.  In the first week, we looked at the initiative of God in “the fullness of time”.  Last week, we considered our relationship with time, the way we can be enslaved by time, and how we can redeem it, particularly with the practice of thanks-giving or saying grace.  Today, we’ll be looking at productivity and priorities.  Next week we’ll look at the biblical rhythms that shape life in time.  And, finally, on Aug 19, we’ll finish off with the message, “When Time Stands Still.”

Productivity: Limit multi-tasking.  Eliminate distraction.  Discipline yourself to making and keeping a schedule.  Actually schedule time to work, rather than leaving your schedule open to make appointments with any one any time.  Do it immediately if it takes 2 minutes or less, rather than procrastinating.  Put on your big boy pants and make that tough phone call rather than dithering around doing nothing.  Use your to do list, and do it effectively: If it is getting too big to handle then it isn’t an effective tool.  Be willing not to finish things – a book that loses your interest, a task that diminishes in its return.  Touch your mail, and your email, only once.  Open it, read it, throw it away, respond, or file – immediately.  (See Hyatt, 10 hours). 

Now, the difficulty in being productive isn’t just the discipline.  Once you put it in place, you find your capacity increased.  You can do more, you do do more.  But that doesn’t mean we do better.  Michael Hyatt observes: As people succeed at work, they attract more and more assignments.  It’s like they become a task magnet.  “Give it to Laurie,” they say.  “She’ll do a great job” (Hyatt, not to do list).

Just like Lucy’s supervisor in that classic scene, “Speed it up.”  If you are productive, or even simply perceived as productive, you will find yourself with more on your plate.

I’m sure there’s a Dilbert strip that teaches the same point.  The way to become less busy is to be less productive so you are given less to do.  While that perverse logic can work effectively, it misses the point of doing BETTER, of doing good, of redeeming time not simply for our purposes, but for God’s as well.

Priorities: Productivity is an important skill.  But by itself it does not ensure that we accomplish what is truly important.  We can spend all our time wrapping chocolates on the conveyor.  We can become highly productive.  And, there’s more to life than responding to the constant pressure of “More!” or “Now!”  The only way to do so in a healthy manner is by setting your priorities.

There’s a marvelous expression that my dad used all the time, and was not unique to him: “the tyranny of the urgent”.  It refers to the way we are so easily dominated by what clamors for our attention, by what makes itself urgent.  We are so dominated by the urgent that we fail to accomplish the important.  In 1967, Charles Hummel published a booklet by this title, The Tyranny of the Urgent.  I didn’t even know the booklet existed until I was trying to find the background of this phrase and came across the title.  Now, I’m going to have to read it!  Joshua Becker summarized the book this way:

“Urgent things – such as the demands at the office, the demands of other people, and even our own “inner compulsions” – typically trump the things that are important, like regular dates with our spouse, personal solitude, exercise, or meditation.

“With incredible depth of insight, he notes that the important things are polite; they don’t clamor for our attention.  They just wait patiently for us to act.  In the long run, there’s a price to pay for this neglect of the important stuff.”

We had pizza night this Friday and I picked up the special from Nino’s.  It includes a 2-liter soda of your choice.  But, unlike the grocery store or other restaurants, there are only 4 choices: Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and Root Beer.  The owner told me that he gets minimal soda choices because that’s not “our thing”.  The important thing at Nino’s is the pizza, the stromboli, the calzone.

One Thing: City Slickers, Jack Palance (Curly) and Billy Crystal:
You know what the secret of life is?
No, what?
Your finger?
One thing.  Just one thing.  You stick to that and everything else don’t mean [mushroom soil].
That’s great but what’s the one thing?
That’s what you’ve got to figure out.

Most of what I have said this morning could be heard in a personal development self-improvement seminar.  And, I’m going to do some work on my schedule for the next few weeks to try some of these tools.  But it all leads up to a couple simple questions that can radically shape our lives:

            1.         What are your priorities?
            2.         Is your life structured to accomplish them?  If not, then perhaps they are not truly our priorities, but wishful thinking.

Today’s Scriptures offer us a clear call to one priority – seeking God and God’s kingdom:
            Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6.33)
            "Come," my heart says, "seek his face!" (Psalm 27.8)
            Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6.5)

In both Matthew 6 and Psalm 27, this pursuit of God first, of God’s kingdom as our “one thing” means that we let go of our obsessions.  In Matthew, we let go of our worries over what we’re going to eat or drink, what we are going to wear.  It is a big part of every day – eating, cooking, cleaning up, picking clothes, getting dressed, doing laundry.  We have to do it.  But we do not have to worry about it or obsess over it.  Instead, obsess over God.  In Psalm 27, it is worry about our enemies, “evildoers who assail me ... , my adversaries and foes”.  Instead, “one thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple” (27.4).

In Deuteronomy, Moses offers us some practical tools to keep God our “one thing”.  His tools are ways of meditating on the Scripture: Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,  9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (6.6-9).

Discuss the Sunday message notes, review them as a family.  Write down a special verse, perhaps the one we use for our giving theme, cut it out and tape it up somewhere in your house where you can read it and see it every day.  Structure your life so that the Word of God is part of it in everything you do – at home or away, lying down or up and about.

My life is formed more and more by Scripture and prayer, by worship and Sacrament, by smaller group and larger gathering.  And I am still learning and growing in my spiritual life and in spiritual practices.  Like everybody else, I struggle with time.  There’s never enough of it.  But when I read the stories of highly effective disciples of Jesus, one of the things that stands out is the way they are intentional about their spiritual life.  They get up early – if they are morning people – or they stay up late, or they fast and pray over lunch.  Whatever their practice, they are intentional about making God and God’s purposes their “one thing”.  And, the more responsibility they have, the more they have to accomplish, the more time they spend in prayer.

It doesn’t seem to make sense.  There’s just not enough time.  But, wait.  God created time.  And, of all the implications of that fact, here’s one we need to remember: There’s plenty enough time for what is truly important.  “Just one thing.  Stick to that, and everything else don’t mean [mushroom soil].”

Psychologist speaking to pastors: 2 minutes of thanks.  Infidelity: Where do you get the time?  When you love something or someone with all your heart, your whole life is organized – consciously or subconsciously – around that priority.  “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  “Just one thing.  Stick to that.”


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