Monday, April 07, 2008

The Principle of Priority

In "The War of Art," Steven Pressfield offers the "Principle of Priority" through the lens of which he encourages us to keep our eyes on what really needs our attention. The principle reads "a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and b) you must do what's important first."

At first this sounds either counterintuitive, or too simple. Counterintuitive in the sense that most of us spend much of our lives reacting to the urgent needs of our surroundings. The phone rings and we immediately answer it despite the violence that does to the conversation we may be having with someone else at the moment. Do we not understand that it is important to honor our correspondents than to respond immediately to a ringing interruption? Most parents have experienced the knee jerk reaction to control a child in a public place rather than taking the time to find out what the child's issue really may be. In a slightly more broad application, have we wanted church leaders to tell others what appropriate dress for Sunday morning is despite the expression of spiritual growth and sharing the man in the T-shirt provides us?

Too simple in that the principle seems to ignore, or at least reduce the importance of the urgent things that assail us almost minute by minute.

The important, from a spiritual view are normally those things that are intangible; those things that we oft find to define or explain, but which we know nonetheless. 

Living by the Principle of Priority does not justify not responding to urgent matters all together, but often it does mean that we practice the important while doing the urgent. Can we have compassion or empathy for the bully while pulling two children apart? Can we admit the hurt and fear in the pedophile while we remove the child from the situation? Can we discipline our children while keeping in mind that we are training them rather than punishing them?

Jesus' arguments with His accusers illustrate this concept well. While the leaders of the people felt it urgent to stop the disciples' eating of grain as they walked along - in violation of The Law, Jesus demonstrated the Principle of Priority when he reminded all of us that the Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath.

It shouldn't surprise us that we don't see this principle first in the life of Jesus. God has tried to tell us this all along. God has said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," and He challenges His detractors to go learn what that saying means.

Whenever we feel pressured to do something, or to get others to do something or not do something; whenever we have a feeling of unease, or our anxiety rises, we do well to reflect and discern whether the demand on our lives is simply urgent, or really important.

The urgent often seems important, and sometimes it is. Its importance though, doesn't come from its demand on our attention and senses, but from a well understood priority of life. This understanding of Being is a large part of what Paul calls transformation, maturity, or Christ-likeness. We would do well to train our children and our adults in the proper use of the Principle of Priority.

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