Achieving excellence is impossible, in any sphere of life, without proper discipline. For many Christians and Christian leaders, the pursuit of excellence is drowned in the sea of busyness, the acceptance of good, and the demands of the urgent. In the short pamphlet, Tyranny of the Urgent, Charles Hummel explains how to live in the tension between the urgent and the important (5), in order to accomplish the work of God. In such a simple, yet pithy way, Hummel provides practical advice for believers desiring to live out the work and call of God in their life. He does so by providing: biblical examples (particularly in the life of Christ), a four-step process to becoming more productive, and the need to evaluate and plan.
First, Hummel expresses some interesting points in the life of Christ regarding accomplishing the work of God. Hummel notes that when Jesus completed his short three-year ministry, there were still lots of ministry to do. “For every ten withered muscles that had flexed into health, a hundred remained impotent” (7). This is a remarkable point, and one that is so true and sobering. Jesus was able to say with confidence that he had accomplished the work God sent him to do, although much ministry still existed. In a Christian subculture that believes busyness is the work of God and one that also allows busyness to control actions, Jesus displays a disciplined life that works hard, yet is in control of what he does.
Another important note Hummel makes regarding Jesus accomplishing the work of God, involves the discipline of prayerfully waiting on the Father’s instructions (9). This simple principle expresses that Jesus submitted to the demands and instructions of his Father, not people. In other words, the Father controlled him, not people. Even in light of people’s disappointment, Jesus still choose to listen to the Father’s instructions. One such example included healing Lazarus. Refusing to drop everything and go heal a sick Lazarus, Jesus waited in order to accomplish the perfect plan of God in raising a dead Lazarus. As Hummel notes, “The urgent need was to prevent the death of the beloved brother. But the important thing from God’s point of view was to raise Lazarus from the dead” (11).
Last, Jesus provides the example of being completely dependent on God. This point follows close on the heels of prayer. Prayer is the beginning point of dependence, whereas follow-through is the action declaring one’s dependence on God. Hummel describes dependence on God as liberating. Hummel goes on to write, “We are never so fully personal—free to become our true selves—as when we are living in complete dependence on God” (14). The point Hummel make is valid. Man is shaped by his dependency. Many fall prey to allowing the daily urgent needs of people, situations, emails, and phone calls to kill their effectiveness for what God desires them to accomplish. What happens is that people, situations, emails, phone calls, etc become the very thing that man depends on for their self-worth and value. By doing these [good] things, many feel they are pleasing God and accomplishing good. However, it is with Jesus one learns that he was not dependent on the daily urgent things that came his way, but on the daily listening, interaction, and instructions of his Father.
Second, Hummel provides four basic steps that will help one be more productive with their time. Deciding what is important is the first step to becoming more productive with one’s time. Many things on a daily basis compete for one’s time, whether family, friends, jobs, recreation, church activities, or personal desires. With so many people and things vying for one’s time, Hummel suggests to, “Take time to write down a goal for each important activity, and estimate the time it will take during the next several months” (19).
After deciding what is important, step two, for Hummel, requires one to discover where their times goes. In other words, Hummel suggests taking a time inventory. Taking a time inventory will provide the big picture of where one spends their time, revealing whether one is effective or ineffective with their time. Step three involves budgeting. Having taken inventory, one is ready to budget their time. Hummel suggests having a large monthly calendar to block out required activities. He counsels to begin slow and incrementally, experiencing small wins in budgeting time (23). Without explicitly stating it, Hummel would suggest people be realistic when budgeting their time.
The last step Hummel provides for effective time management is follow-through. Following-through implements the plan that one has put in place. Without follow-through, deciding what is important, taking inventory and budgeting time becomes nil. Here, Hummel’s advice is simple, yet profound:
“Beware the tyranny of the telephone! From time to time an urgent call brings you a request for which you have no budgeted hours. The pleading voice assures you of the importance of this impending task…It may be difficult to decline…But no matter how clear the calendar looks, tell the person that you want to think it over. Surprisingly, the engagement often appears less important after the pleading voice has become silent. If you withstand the urgency of the moment, you can weight the cost and discern whether the task is God’s will for you.”
These four steps provide very practical counsel for how one can be effective and efficient, but most importantly, godly and excellent, in using their time to fulfill God’s work.
Third, Hummel provides the simple practice of evaluation and planning to effectively fulfill God’s work in one’s life. Having understood Jesus’ example of fulfilling the work of God and then planning to do the same, Hummel concludes with the need to evaluate and continue planning. He highlights three particular insights regarding constant evaluation and planning. They are: make daily time for waiting on God, take weekly inventory, and practice monthly planning. Hummel concludes by pointing out there are two opposite ways people use their time; one person goes through the day responding to life, while the other has a plan and sets priorities and prayerfully makes decisions. While Hummel admits these are two extremes, most people live somewhere in between (29).
Nevertheless, evaluation and planning helps people to make progress in striving towards fulfilling the work of God in their life. What Hummel prescribes is a way believers can pursue excellence by allowing God to control their time and what they do, rather than allowing the tyranny of the urgency of others to control their time.