The Important vs The Urgent

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“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
                                 Matthew 6:33
     Thursday morning before I turned to my sermon, Gordy and I made a trip to the grocery store to stock up for the coming storm.  We went at the start of the day hoping to avoid the crowds.  Imagine our surprise to find the store almost deserted.  There was hardly anyone else shopping.  Now I know that many people were at work and others were still getting elementary aged children off to the school bus, but the store was practically empty!  I could’t understand it.
     Later that morning, Gordy went out to pick up a few more things.  He mentioned to the owner at one store how few people seemed to be out stocking up, and the owner provided what he thought was the reason – procrastination.  He said, “Wait until the end of the workday.  This store will be mobbed tonight.  People just wait till the last minute!”
     There was a whole day before the snow was forecast, so I guess people had other things that seemed more important – Thursday’s work or kids’ schedules.  But woe to the person who waited too long and discovered empty shelves without bread or milk on Friday afternoon.  They’d be hard pressed to provide for themselves or their family if the storm turns out to be as severe as forecast.
     Too often, we allow our priorities to be set by what’s next on the calendar instead of asking ourselves what’s most important.  In the words of Steven Covey, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”  (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)  We allow ourselves to be dominated by things that are in truth less important but appear to be urgent because they are due sooner rather than later.  But sometimes, the things we are caught up doing prove to be relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, focusing on the near at hand deadlines can lead us to overlook what is truly important.
     Our faith life is like that.  For most of us, life seems to stretch out before us for years to come.  End of life concerns are things we think we can put off for some other day. “There’s time to nurture my relationship with God later,” we think, turning instead to address the “urgent” things in our life, things that are happening now.  But isn’t our eternal salvation one of the most important things in our life?  Isn’t our relationship with God the most important relationship we have? Which will be more important in eternity – that we squeezed in one more phone call for work, or that we set aside five minutes to spend with God.  Don’t put off doing the things that will draw you nearer to God; don’t delay!  This is the day to ask God to be a regular part of your life, and commit to growing in your faith.

     Prayer:  Patient and forbearing God, you want me to be in a close relationship with you, but too often I put you off, letting other needs eat up my time, consume my focus and move me away from you.  Open my eyes to your presence in my life. Open my heart to seek you every day in prayer, in Scripture and in my actions.  Help me to put your kingdom first, and to let your will be the guide to ordering all the rest of my life.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

The Work of Perseverance

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“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”      

                                                                                  James 1:4                                        

It’s official – after a very long, very hard winter, the snow has finally melted in Boston! Mayor Marty Walsh announced on Tuesday that the last of snow from the 75 foot high pile on Tide Street was finally gone. Two weeks ago the New York Times marveled that the snow was still there, commenting about the snow pile, “…what the mound has lost in stature, it has made up for in sheer endurance.” Who would have imagined that snow could persevere all the way to mid-July, surviving heat, rain and even thunderstorms?

The life of discipleship is a bit like snow. There are times when our lives seem to be blanketed with grace and faithfulness. And then there are other times that feel like the hot sun baking that glistening coat of faith, threatening to melt our good intentions and faithful actions. We may be ready to throw in the towel, to give up on discipleship and just do life my way. But James reminds us that perseverance can lead us to the reward of maturity and wholeness. If we persevere, if we acknowledge our failings but commit ourselves to trying again, we can move beyond our lapse and move closer to that wholeness and completeness God desires for us.

So if you made a commitment to read the Bible every day, and then miss four days in a row, don’t give up. Admit you’re not perfect and persevere in your commitment, making today the day to begin again. Or if daily prayer was your intent but work and family obligations have filled your time for a week, just acknowledge your lapse and recommit beginning today. And if you made a promise to give regularly of your time in ministry, but haven’t been able squeeze it in for a couple weeks, don’t give up. Look at your schedule and make adjustments so you can renew your promise starting this week.

God knows we aren’t perfect; we aren’t fully mature in our faith or complete in living as disciples of Jesus. But God invites us to persevere in our faith commitment. And as we return to the paths that lead us toward God, we may find ourselves a little bit wiser, a little better able to deal with those things that draw us away from God. With practice, patience and perseverance, our faith will grow and lead us ever closer to the Lord. After all, if a snow pile in Boston can endure until mid-July, certainly we can persevere in our discipleship with God’s help.

Prayer: Your love, O Lord, calls me to respond, to seek your presence in my life and to follow your will. In moments of strong faith, I commit to follow your ways, but too often, Lord, I fall away from that commitment. Other things grab my attention in the moment, different priorities claim my time. Help me, Lord, to return again and again to those paths that will lead me closer to you. Be patient with me, O God, and strengthen my perseverance. As I practice my faith, let me grow in maturity, in wisdom, and in relationship with you and your son, Jesus Christ, through whom I pray. Amen.

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July 17, 2015