The phrase “tyranny of the urgent” has become a common one in today’s go-go-go culture. The title of a booklet by Charles Hummel in the 1960s, it is amazing how relevant the phrase remains almost 50 years later. We are still incredibly busy and we still struggle to prioritize the important over the urgent.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, however, there is something even more insidious than the tyranny of the urgent, as distracting and disorienting as it may be. It’s the idolatry of the more pressing. There are two main reasons that the idolatry of the more pressing is more insidious (and more prevalent) in our lives.
First, idolatry is a willing giving of oneself. Tyranny carries with it connotations of dominance. It sounds as if things come catapulting into our day and take over, demanding our attention, our time, our lives. Most of the time, it’s not tyranny, it’s our willing acquiescence. Something comes onto our mental radar in prayer, nudging the back of our minds, and we go chasing after it. A minor issue distracts us from spending time in Scripture and we rush to our computer, bowing before the altar of that more pressing thing.
God gets crowded out more often in our lives not because there are urgent things taking over but because in our brokenness we willingly turn our attention elsewhere. Thinking we are victims of the tyrannical rule of urgent things prevents us from confessing that most of the time our lack of pursuit of God is a result of our own idolatrous choices.
Second, anything can be “more pressing.” We all know that not everything is urgent and generally have the ability to discern whether something is urgent or not. However, more pressing is a subjective observation based on weighing two things together. Sure, checking our email for the fifth time this morning is not urgent, but we might think it’s more pressing than taking five minutes to pray. Getting to the bus stop twenty seconds earlier might not be urgent, but we might feel it’s more pressing than pausing to say hi to the person we just noticed.
Submitting to the more pressing often means that God becomes that which is least pressing. Life is such that there are always more pressing things; there are always things that distract and vie for our attention.
The Holy Spirit invites us to occupy a different space. A space that is not dictated by giving ourselves to all the things that come up. He invites us to be new creations, humans whose attentions are trained on the way he rhythmically inserts himself into our daily lives. As we do, we find that the urgent doesn’t dominate, but neither do we rush to worship the little things, the “more pressing” things. Things find their place, there is balance, shalom.
This is the good life. By God’s grace, may we take another step into it this week and away from worshipping the “more pressing.”