Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Tyranny of the Urgent

Leslie Basham: Do you ever find yourself thinking, “If I just didn’t have all these people around me, then I could get some work done.” Nancy Leigh DeMoss says it’s hard to get work done, even when you’re by yourself.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I don’t need other people around me to make distractions. I can make my own distractions. I can be distracted with the tyranny of the urgent without ever leaving my house, without ever leaving my bedroom or my study in the morning. I can find countless things to do that are good things—but at the neglect of the important things.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, December 30.

What gets in the way of your priorities—phone calls, email, homework, chauffeuring, a one day sale at the department store, and other little urgent interruptions? Today, Nancy’s going to help you say “no” to some good things so you can say “yes” to the best things. She’s in a series called First Things First.

Nancy: We’re talking this week about how to order our priorities so that we can get the most out of our time and can fulfill the agenda that God has for our lives. We’ve been looking at the word P-R-I-O-R-I-T-I-E-S, and next to each of those letters, coming up with an insight about how to establish our priorities.

We started a couple of days ago by talking about the letter "P"—the word pray. Ask God for wisdom, and we can’t say that enough. We’ve got to start our day, continue through our day, and end our day by saying, “Lord, we need You to help us order our priorities.”

Then the letter "R"—review God’s priorities for our lives based on the Word of God. Go to the Scripture, and find out what God’s Word has to say for you as a woman at this season of life. What are the main things, the first things, that you need to keep first in your life?

Then the letter "I"—we talked about taking inventory, evaluating, assessing how am I spending my time? What is on my "to do" list? What’s on my responsibility list? Are those things that fit under the priorities that I have discovered for my life in the Word of God? If not, we need to eliminate; we need to get rid of some of those things until we know that the things we’re doing are the most important things for our lives.

Then we talked yesterday about the letter "O"—order your schedule, your activities, your daily involvement according to God’s priorities for your life. You determine what the priorities are for this season of life, then as you go about your daily responsibilities, order your steps, your choices, your decisions, your schedule according to those priorities.

And we said it’s so important to put the first things first in the day. If we don’t, we find that our day gets eaten up with all kinds of other things that may be good. Then we get to the end of the day, and we say, “I didn’t do the things I really needed to do, the things that should have been the top priorities.” Whereas, if we start the day putting in the bigger things, the harder things, the more important things, then we find that those other things can fit in around the larger items in our lives.

Now, today we’ve come to the letter "R" again—P-R-I-O-R—and here we want to learn to resist what someone has called “the tyranny of the urgent.” Resist the tyranny of the urgent. You may recognize that phrase from the name of a little booklet by a man named Charles Hummel. It’s been very helpful to me, and something that I find I need to go back to and reread periodically.

In that little booklet, which is a classic, Hummel says that the problem is not so much that we don’t have enough time; we sit there and wish we could have a thirty-hour day. He says if you did have a thirty-hour day, you’d have the same problems. He says the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough time; it’s really a problem of priorities.

He talks in the book about the tension between the things that are urgent and the things that are important. He says, “The important tasks rarely must be done today, or even this week, but urgent tasks call for instant action.”

So from the moment I get up in the morning, there are urgent things that are pressing in on me and clamoring to get attention. But what happens is that I often, in the process of tending to those urgent tasks, will ignore the truly important tasks—things that aren’t due until next week, but if I don’t start working on them now, I won’t have them done next week.

Now, I have to say here that technology has been a blessing in many respects, but in other ways it has not helped us in this matter of priorities. Technology has served to increase the sense that everything is urgent. Emails have to be responded to immediately; and phone calls, voicemails have to be returned immediately; and computers—everything has to be turned around quickly and immediately.

What did we ever do before FedEx? What did we ever do before fax machines? What did we ever do before email? Some of your kids cannot even remember when there was no email. Well, I’m thinking some people who lived before email did a lot of important things. Some of us who are living with email—I counted; and I had, I think, about 1200 emails that I received in the last month. For some people, that would not be a lot, but it’s amazing how I can spend my day just responding to emails going back and forth. And I find that I’ve done a lot of urgent things but that I haven’t done the truly important things.

We need to learn to recognize the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important. There’s a passage in Matthew chapter 23 where Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, and I think by way of application, He’s making this point: The Pharisees were guilty of focusing on the immediate, obvious responsibilities, but in the process they missed the important and weightier responsibilities.

Listen to what Jesus said, Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin.” You’re tithing on these minute things in your life (that’s the urgent). “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Now, Jesus says, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat”—a tiny gnat; you pay attention to it and make sure and get it out of the way (that’s the urgent)—“but swallow a camel” (that’s the important). He’s saying you need to do the important. Put the important first.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the tithing on the spices. Jesus, in fact, says you should have done that, but you should have done the first things first. You should be making sure that in the process of doing the immediate and the obvious that you’re not missing the things that are truly important.

Just because we’re busy doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re being productive or that we’re being busy with the right things. I read a quote by a 17th century writer last week. He said, “There are some men who are busy, but in catching flies.” They’re busy, and all of us look busy. I mean, you hardly meet a person today who doesn’t appear to be busy. The question isn’t: Are we busy? Busyness is not a virtue. The question is: Are we busy doing the important things?

Let me say this, by the way, there are some stay-at-home moms who’ve said, “I want that to be my priority—I want my home to be my priority” who aren’t at home. They’re busy doing all kinds of other things. They’ve replaced their career, their job outside the home, with lots of other things that are still keeping them, in many cases, from the important priority of their husband and their children.

One of the practical things that helps me in resisting the tyranny of the urgent is learning not to say “yes” on the spot, to requests or to invitations that are not clearly in my current responsibilities. If it’s not obvious when someone asks me, “Would you do this? Would you take care of this? Do you mind handling this?” I’m learning not to say “yes” on the spot unless it’s obviously something that fits within my current responsibilities.

It’s so much better to say, “Can I let you know tomorrow?” I need to inquire of the Lord. I need to do the first things first. "P"—pray; that’s my first priority.

In the book of Nehemiah, we have the story of Nehemiah leading the effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. There came a point when some of the enemies of the work came to Nehemiah and tried to distract him. They were trying to get the work to stop. Let me assure you that Satan is ever at work trying to get you to stop doing the most important things. If he can keep you busy with the good things and keep you from doing the most important things, then he has succeeded—even if he never gets you to commit some major sin.

So these enemies of the work came to Nehemiah and said, “Come down off that wall. We want to have a meeting.” This is a distraction. It’s an interruption. Now, you have to learn to discern which interruptions are from the Lord and which are not of the Lord. But Nehemiah says in 6:3, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.”

That’s what we need to learn to say to some of those distractions and those interruptions that we discern are not from the Lord. I don’t need other people around me to make distractions. I can make my own distractions. I can be distracted with the tyranny of the urgent without ever leaving my house, without ever leaving my bedroom or my study in the morning. I can find countless things to do that are good things, but at the neglect of the important things.

I need to learn to say, “What I’m doing is important. I can’t stop; I can’t come down.” Now, we need to learn to be sensitive to when there are things that are from the Lord that are opportunities that we need to respond to.

Jesus understood the difference between the urgent and the important. I think one wonderful illustration of that is found in John chapter 11, when Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick unto death. The Scripture says that He loved Lazarus. Lazarus was one of His dearest friends. Jesus loved the family of Lazarus. I’m sure that as a man, He wanted to immediately go do something, whatever He could, to help in this situation.

But the Scripture says when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He said, “I’m not going right now.” He waited four days, and by the time He went to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, what had happened? Lazarus had died.

Now, that seems like Jesus made a scheduling error. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but if you’re just looking at it from the surface of things, or how we often view things, it would look like Jesus made a mistake. But, of course, He didn’t. The fact is, the urgent thing was to go immediately to Lazarus and to keep him from dying. Could Jesus have done that? Of course He could have; He could have kept Lazarus from dying. That would have been the urgent thing.

But Jesus knew that God had something in mind that was more important than the urgent thing. The urgent thing was to keep Lazarus from dying; the important thing was to raise Lazarus from the dead.

You see, if Jesus had done the urgent thing, He couldn’t have done the important thing. And so He was sensitive to the will of the Father. He made a choice to wait, not to do the urgent thing.

Now, I can imagine people could have been criticizing Him. “Your best friend, or one of Your best friends, and You’re not going to take care of him? What will His family think?" Jesus was not driven by what other people thought. He was driven by obedience to the will of His Father. As a result, He could listen to God, wait on God, and then risk what others might think when He decided not to give in to the tyranny of the urgent. And as a result, He was able to do the thing that was truly important.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will pick up today’s teaching in just a minute.

Does it seem like urgent needs push out important tasks pretty much every day? I hope the current series, First Things First is helping you set some important priorities. We hope you’ll make a studying God’s Word a high priority in 2011, and read at least some every single day. It’s just like eating food or brushing your teeth. You do those things every day. Why not commit to reading the Bible every day?

If you’d like to take on a bigger task of reading the Bible through in a year, you can find some more ambitious plans at You can also order a one-year Bible that we recommend. Again, all the information is at

Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been making one point for each letter in the word priorities. Here she is to pick back up.

Nancy: The letter "I" is the word input. Get input from other people. Ask other people around you who know you and love you and ideally, people who know and love the Lord, to help you in determining how to order your schedule.

The first person you ought to look to, other than the Lord, if you’re a married woman is your husband. Did you ever stop to ask your husband to help you with your list of responsibilities, to help prioritize that list? God gave your husband to you to be a source of protection, to help you from getting overly committed.

Often God will give that husband insight or clarity of thinking. Things that don’t look clear to you at all may be very clear to him. So ask your husband, “Help me order my day. Help me think through this list of things on my priority list—they all seem to be important right now. Which ones are really important?”

Now, of course, you’ve asked the Lord first, and you’re asking the Lord to give you good counsel through your husband. Do you know that God can even give wise counsel through husbands that are not believers? God can give your husband insight that will be helpful to you. Ask your husband what his priorities are for your family.

You may need to say to your husband, “I don’t see how I can do everything that there is to be done around this place. What are the things that are important to you?” That’s why you need to become a student of your husband and of your children, and find out what are the things that matter most to him.

It may matter a lot to your husband that when he gets home from work there can at least be an aisle cleared from the front door to the living room where he can walk without tripping over something. Maybe that’s not important to your husband. Find out what really matters to him, and make those priorities your priority.

Seek the Lord together with your husband. Pray together about your priorities, and look to God to give input through him.

Now, there are others who can give godly counsel. You may want to ask an older, godly woman to mentor you in this area, to offer practical help and suggestions about how to order your schedule.

I had dinner last night with six women who are at different seasons of life, and we sat around the table for the longest time and talked about this matter of priorities. It was so helpful to me to hear some of these women—some of them older women—talk about what God has taught them about ordering their priorities. I was sitting there thinking not only about this session, but I was sitting there thinking about my life, and some practical things, some wisdom I can learn from these other women.

By the way, some of you who are the older woman, take seriously your responsibility to encourage some younger women who are really struggling with how to order their priorities. Be willing and available to offer help or encouragement or prayer.

It may be just a matter of coming alongside one of those frazzled, younger women and saying, “I just want you to know, I’m praying for you. I just want you to know that you’re going to make it; you will not always have three toddlers.” But look to the Lord as to how you can be a means of encouragement.

In the early days when we were launching Revive Our Hearts, I found that my days were extraordinarily crammed full of deadlines that were pressing in on me, and it was relentless for some period of time. I got to the place where I realized I had to have help. I needed the counsel and the accountability of godly people around me to help me figure out—it just couldn’t all fit into the days.

I went to two godly men who were in the leadership of our ministry, and we sat down with my "to do" list, my list of responsibilities, and I said, “I need you guys to pray for me. I need you to help me think through this list, and give me counsel as to what’s really important.”

And they did, and God gave those men so much wisdom. They helped me sort through that list that seemed so overwhelming to me. They said, “These are the things you need to be focusing on, these are the things that you need to let somebody else focus on for a time.”

We’re part of a family; we’re part of a body. Be willing to listen to counsel, and to be accountable to others as they give input.

Now the letter "T"—take advantage of the time God gives you. Learn to redeem the time, or as the Scripture says, “to make the most of every opportunity.” There’s a wonderful passage in Ephesians chapter 5 that relates so well to this point.

The apostle Paul says, “See then that you walk circumspectly [or carefully], not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time” (verses 15–16, ESV). Or as another translation says, “Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. . . . Be filled with the Spirit” (verses 16–18, NIV).

There’s a contrast here between foolish people and wise people. Foolish people live for the moment without thinking about the future, but wise people are always making decisions in light of eternity, in light of the long run. Will this matter five years from now? Will this matter in eternity?

Foolish people live for themselves, but wise people live for the glory of God and for others. Foolish people are careless with their time—they’re just reacting to life, but wise people are thoughtful and intentional and purposeful in how they use their time.

The Lord is helping me to find some practical ways to take advantage of every opportunity. And by the way, when you do your little time log, you’ll find there are probably some segments of time that are just really being wasted, that could be utilized more effectively. That’s why it helps to look at that time log and see what you’re really doing with your time.

But I find that there are segments of time, and not always big ones. If you’re a mom with little kids, you may never have a whole uninterrupted hour. But you may have five minutes while you’re sitting in the car waiting for your daughter to get out of school.

You may have a long time while you’re sitting, waiting in a doctor’s office. In fact, I’ve got in the habit of always taking with me things that need to be done that I can stick into those little moments. I usually have thank you notes, blank cards that I can use when I have moments here and there.

Often when I go the doctor’s office, I’ll take something with me that’s an editing project that I need to work on, because I know in the doctor’s office I’m going to have to wait. In fact, I can remember a couple times, sitting, waiting for a long period of time while I was getting editing done on projects that needed to be done. The doctor would come in and apologize for making me wait so long. And I’ve said, “Please don’t apologize. This is wonderful. This is the only place where I don’t get phone calls. This is the only place where I can’t get interrupted. I was able to get a lot of work done while I was sitting here waiting for you!”

So rather than sitting in the doctor’s office and reading the magazines that they choose for you, why not take the reading material that you really need to get through, the things that are important.

If we’re going to take advantage of the time God gives us, to redeem the time and make the most of every opportunity, does that mean we can never relax; we never have fun; we always make sure we’re doing something important with every spare moment? And this is an important thing to me because I grew up in a home where my dad really emphasized the danger of wasting time.

In fact, in our home we didn’t have a television, and we didn’t take a newspaper. His biggest reason for that was people waste a lot of time with newspapers. We did find ways of getting the important news, but he emphasized the importance of not wasting time.

Well, does that mean that we should never do anything that’s fun, or that’s relaxed? No, it doesn’t mean that. But it does mean that when we are relaxing, when we are recreating—having recreation—it should be intentional. It should be for a purpose of a higher priority. It may be that you realize you need to be spending relaxed time with your children. For you to sit on the floor and crayon with your toddlers for an hour is not a waste of time if you’re nurturing that little life.

That’s why you have to know—what is the season of life, and how can I take advantage of the moments God has given to me in that life?

Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss with an important message that everyone needs to hear, no matter what season of life they’re in.

God’s Word is very practical, and when Nancy teaches from it, women come away with all kinds of very practical applications. If you appreciate the kind of teaching you hear on Revive Our Hearts, would you help us continue providing it? Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: As Revive Our Hearts faces some significant financial needs at the end of 2010, I want to say how thankful I am for every person who has participated with us already in helping to meet that need. Listeners like you have been praying and giving sacrificially to help us meet the matching challenge. But the needs are far greater than that challenge amount.

So if you haven't participated yet, you still have one more day. I’m praying that every Revive Our Hearts listener will participate in some way.

Maybe you're thinking, "My own finances are so stretched right now, I just can't give anything at this time."

Whether you can give or not, would you pray that we will be able to effectively speak to just the right listeners at just the right time with the biblical truths that they need? Would you pray that God would be providing for the serious needs of this ministry? Prayer is an important way every single listener can participate.

If you are sensing that the Lord may want you to have a part in giving to help meet this need, would you ask the Lord how much He would have you to give. If you're married, be sure to talk it over with your mate. And whether the amount you can give seems very small or perhaps is larger, we still need your participation. If every listener does what they can, it really will make a huge difference.

So if you're able to give and the Lord is leading you to help in that way, please contact us by the end of this week to make that donation. Thanks so much for your prayer and financial support here at Revive Our Hearts as we come to the end of 2010.

Leslie: To make a donation, just visit, or call 1-800-569-5959. 

Do you know that you might be getting robbed? Nancy will identify time robbers that might be attacking your effectiveness. That’s tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.