Discerning essentials and defining priorities
Posted on September 11, 2013
As a student, you have to do what the teachers say. You read the books they think are important and complete projects they think will benefit you. In my final semester of seminary, though, I am doing an internship. In this “mentorship” at Heights Church I do have to serve the priorities of the congregation, but for the school-credit-side of things, I get to choose my own books and create my own syllabus. Whatever I desire to study, I get to do.
I think that’s wonderful. And so I put very practical disciplines in my syllabus. Things in which I think pastors need to be competent. Like … Listening to the Spirit. Beside that I said I would “Spend time in silence on a regular basis. Prioritize prayer every day. Journal. Develop a habit of quietude from the beginning of this new ministry experience.”
One would think a self-imposed requirement like that would be easy for a pastor. It is not easy.
I speak with God regularly, but I have trouble sitting still for long. I have plenty of excuses. The chaos of moving into a new house, dealing with house repair work, meeting new people at the church, and fulfilling family obligations are just a few of the excuses on the list.
These are bad excuses for neglecting quietude. Now more than ever I need quietude, I’m sure. But I can understand how so many American Christians neglect this part of their spiritual life. When chaos abounds – whether the chaos stems from work deadlines, school tests, relational distress, financial pressure, or simply a messy house – it is hard to justify taking a break for God. But isn’t that backwards?! “It’s hard to justify taking a break for God”?!? I see the insanity of the statement as I am writing it.
I remember being in a class about the life and work of the pastor, and the professor drew a quadrant on the board. This is what it looked like:
All our activities can fit into one of the four spaces on the quadrant. I believe Steven Covey was the one who popularized this quadrant, but in class we talked about how it applied to us.
For example, Quadrant IV (not urgent and not important) for me would be watching television shows. Quadrant III (urgent but not important ) would be things like certain meetings and phone calls. Something that is urgent and important (Quadrant I) are those critical activities that need to be taken care of right away: like an assignment that is due tomorrow. Paying bills. Helping a friend who is in the midst of a health emergency.
The professor told us that prayer and working on our relationship with God usually falls into Quadrant II – important but not urgent. Christians know that time with God is important, sure. The reason we think of time with God as ‘not urgent’ is because God is always there. God is patient. If an emergency comes up, God can wait. God will be okay with it. Right?
The problem arises when we give all our time and energy to the activities of the other three quadrants and let the important goals of category II deteriorate. We procrastinate and let it fall by the wayside. This is often a contributing factor to divorce or unsatisfying marriages. We figure our spouse loves us and will continue to love us, and we stop prioritizing having dates together or asking deep questions about each others’ joys and struggles … because we busy ourselves with the other critical activities, distractions, and interruptions in life. Eventually we no longer know each other or care much about each other.
I am sometimes guilty of neglecting Quadrant II. I have told myself in the past that once I get through such-in-such stressful deadlines or I finish such-in-such task then life will be calmer and I’ll spend more time with God. But there’s always something. Another deadline pops up.
This semester I have books to read and papers to write. I have a church to serve. I have a house to sell. But in comparison to my past obligations and my future obligations, I am probably embarking on the slowest, easiest-going semester of my life. In a few months, I will hopefully have a full-time job. In a few years, I will probably have children. In the past, I have had a ton more deadlines and tests than I do for this mentorship. If I fail to carve out regular time for silence with God now, then I probably never will do it.
Today’s prayer: Please, God, help me to develop habits now that will take root in my heart and sustain me into the future. My heart knows this is important, but my head keeps me preoccupied. I remember Dr. Price telling us that it is surprising how church leaders – who are supposed to be spiritual leaders – are not actually spiritual themselves. May I not be one of those people! I know I can expect nothing more from the people in my church that I am not willing to do myself. Show me how life-giving it is to sit in prayer and listen to the Spirit. I pray that it will be so important to me that I will not be able to live without it. Truly, I cannot live without You.