First Things First

Have you found yourself making a new list of what’s important during difficult times? Fred Smith points out three critical que

By Fred Smith

Major trouble challenges our priorities. But it also revises, and I might even say purifies. We decide what really matters. Trouble also gives us an opportunity to look at the situation realistically and assess the odds. A friend when faced with leukemia said "I had always believed in God but for most of my life I couldn't make sense of spiritual things, so I chose to just ignore the whole subject. I knew I would have to deal with my personal spirituality someday but I wasn't in any hurry to get around to it. Cancer changed that."

Often we see people who say, "After I get rich I'll get righteous." This is the deception of money; it can distract us from what really matters. Instead of being a means it becomes an end.

Major trouble makes us distill the essence of life, in at least three basic ways:

1) We define the necessities. So much of our time and effort is spent, or better said, wasted, in the superficialities of life.

2) We must ask ourselves "who am I becoming?" Often I ask someone if they are becoming who they want to be and they say, "oh no, but I intend to--- someday."

3) How do I want to be remembered? Our political leaders are so conscious of their historical legacy. What do we want said about us? I'm reminded of Fannie Crosby's simple tombstone on which is written: "Aunt Fannie - she did what she could."

When we've answered these three questions, then we know how to spend our time, our energy and our attention. The answers build a framework for re-prioritizing. We are stewards of these resources and good management requires periodic inventory to insure that we are making "highest and best" use.

At the beginning of the dark financial days of the 80s one of the socially prominent couples was telling me how that they had sat down and listed the people with whom they spent time. Then they went back and made a second list of those who would be their friends if they went broke. This list was considerably shorter than the first. They went on to say that they rearranged their social schedule to spend time with the second list that represented their true friends. It reminds me of the man who asked his wife, "Will you still love me after I'm bankrupt?" "Of course I will," she answered sweetly, "and I'll miss you, too." She would not have made the short list of faithful friends.

Distilling the process down to three questions enables us to ask and confidently answer:

What are my genuine necessities?

Who am I becoming?

How do I want to be remembered?

In crucial situations it is important to determine the odds. When you're going with the odds there is no question of progress but just the rate of progress. Some of the successful people I've seen have simply been corks rising on the water. We are working with the situation, nor giving into the circumstances. My long time friend Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary always makes his new students laugh when they give him a long story of unfulfilled assignments prefaced with, "under the circumstances…"and Prof. Hendricks quickly responds, "What are you doing under there?" When we're going against the odds it requires extra effort, more intense concentration, better vigilance, keener intelligence because there is less margin for error. My friend Jim Smith startled me when he was fighting cancer by saying, "only three percent of pancreatic cancer is healed but I'm going to be in that three percent." I thought of the verse, "God has not given us the spirit of fear but of love and power and a sound mind." He appeared to be going against the odds, but he knew who the real odds-maker was and was confident in His statistical abilities.