“God’s problem with his people in Greater Washington, DC is their availability. They’re always busy. There’s so much going on. I’m serious, Joe, that’s a problem that God has.”
This assessment of life in the DC area was given to me by a seasoned veteran of public service (he served under a President or two), who had lived in Greater Washington, DC for many years. I don’t think things have changed.
How about you? Do you feel like you’re always in fifth gear, speeding from one demand to meet yet another, dashing from one exciting event to the next? Maybe some of those things are necessary, but do all contribute to the things that really matter?
Do what’s necessary, said Jesus, but “…do not neglect the more important things”.
The difficulty of focus
We intuitively know what’s important: things like healthy relationships, and being a good person who does good things for others. Yet, knowing what’s important in your head can be worlds apart from putting it into practice as a way of life. Putting the two together takes focus and, like loose change, focus is easy to lose.
If it’s any comfort, a circus lion has the same problem. Here we have a 550 lb beast with jaws and claws powerful enough to crush any opponent. But it just sits there like a well-behaved kitten, yawning and growling with frustration in one spot. The articles I read say that’s because a lion’s brain is wired to focus on one thing. So, when the man shows up with a stool and sticks the four legs in front of the lion’s face, the big cat gets all confused. Its eyes can’t choose on which leg to focus. Poor lion, lucky man.
It’s not hard figuring out why we lose focus on things that matter the most. Staring us in the face are the horrors of ISIS and Oklahoma, the tragedies of Missouri, wars in the Middle East. Job got it right, “People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from the fire!” Troubles are like magicians, diverting our attention away from what’s important to do and see. Of course, it’s not just troubles that distract us, it can be anything, like climbing the ladder to success.
Choosing the main things
What’s the answer? How do you choose priorities and stay focused to make sure that the main things stay the main things?
Some priorities are easy to figure out. For example, if I asked, “Is there something that you should be doing and it bothers you that you’re not doing anything about it?” you’d probably already know what it is. It’s on your mind all the time. Stop putting it off. Start with that one thing.
In everyday decision making, however, things can get blurry because of the simultaneous mix of responsibilities and opportunities. I’m going to share a secret formula that I use to help sort out the really important things in daily life. Of course, now that I’m sharing, it’s no longer a secret, but if it works for you, take me out to lunch and we’ll talk about it.
I sort out my options into three categories: What I need to do – What only I can do – What I love to do.
What I need to do
The things that I need to do are the logistics and details of life and work. That’s everything from mowing the lawn to scheduling appointments at the office. I can delegate, train, or pay someone to do most, if not all, of those things. Or, I can learn greater efficiency in doing them. Maybe they don’t need to be done right away.
What only I can do
No one else in the world can do what only I can do in two areas: my person and my position.
My person refers to my personal integrity. As an example, am I open with others, honest, and use information to serve them? Or, am I closed, dishonest, and use information to manipulate others to serve my purposes? While I learn from others how to choose and develop good character traits, they are ultimately my responsibility to achieve and maintain. I can’t borrow someone else’s integrity.
My position is the important place that I occupy in someone else’s life. To my children, I occupy the place of the father, to my grandchildren, the grandfather. To my wife, I am the husband. To the church, I occupy the place of a pastor-trainer. Each place that I occupy has specific responsibilities. While I use the natural talents and spiritual gifts God has given me to fulfill those responsibilities, I also look to others who will partner with me. Some could teach me more knowledge. Others could coach me to hone my skills and abilities. Others could provide a service for which I don’t have the expertise or resources. The point is this: each place that I occupy requires me to be fully engaged and intentional in being what God wants me to be for those under my care. No one else has my unique combination of talents and gifts blended with my experiences, personality, ideology, and culture.
What I love to do
Fly-fishing, exercising, learning, enjoying all aspects of God’s world, and being with good friends: these are among the activities that I especially love. I invite others to enjoy these activities with me, and I know that gives God pleasure.
When it comes time for decision-making, I simply ask myself: Do I need to do this? Am I the only one who can do this? Is this what I love? Whether some things stay or go depends on the answer that I give.
Staying focused on the main things
Before I go on, this question can’t be ignored: Are lesser categories active in your life?
- “What I don’t need to do at all.” These are the things you do to look good and/or to please others.
- “What I shouldn’t be doing.” You know certain things are wrong, but you do them, anyway.
Free yourself from these traps as fast as you can.
Train yourself for Godliness.
“Train yourself for godliness,” said Paul to Timothy, his son in the faith.
The essence of godliness is living life as Jesus, who was able to say, “The one who sent me is with me now: the Father has not left me alone for I always do what pleases him.” Jesus was focused. Do likewise. Discipline your will, mind, body, and soul on doing the good things that God planned for you to do and on becoming the good person God made you to be. That’s what really matters.
 John 8:29 (J.B. Phillips)