Wisdom and Resolutions: Redeem Your Seasons from the Tyranny of the Urgent this New Year

Lately, I’ve been swamped with temporary though important projects consuming my time and attention.  Feeling guilty about delaying or limiting focus on more regular needs, I recalled a booklet in a seminary class: Tyranny of the Urgent, by Charles E. Hummel. 

The primary lesson from this brief treatise comforted my conscience:  things that matter most need dedicated time for which other normal demands will have to wait.  To more wisely plan your next twelve months, consider Hummel’s convicting scenario of comparison:

“ … let us note a parallel between spending hours and dollars … store managers have a canny knack for arranging items to attract our attention on the way in or out.  As a result we sometimes impulsively spend money for products we dont really need and didnt intend to buy.[1]

For me hardware stores have a strong attraction.  I am fascinated by the variety of tools and gadgets.  Suppose that today I need a new electric drill for an important home project and remember a special cash-and-carry price of $17.90.  I put $20 in my wallet and head for the hardware store.  But just inside the door I spot a set of five unusual screwdrivers on sale for $3.95 and purchase them.  Several counters farther on a new kind of wrench catches my eye and I spend another $6.90.  When at last I reach the electric drills, I discover that I no longer have enough money to buy what I came for.[2]

Many of us who resist spending our money this way are not equally careful with our time. We spend hours on the impulse of an unexpected opportunity or demand … leaving some important tasks unfinished.”[3]

Ephesians 5:15-17 reads:

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.[4]

Paul commands Christians to walk carefully as wise men who understand that time is ticking away as well as how God wants them to best use the little time that is remaining. 

The Greek for “time” means appointed and is rendered by the Geneva Bible as, Redeeming ye season. We need to discern a proper balance of work with play and seasons of scheduling with spontaneity.

Hummel challenges, “ … it is basically a problem of priorities.”[5]  He shares a seasoned factory manager’s advice: “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.”[6] As well, “Former President Greenwalt of DuPont said, ‘One minute spent in planning saves three or four minutes in execution.’”[7]  So an experienced pastor once encouraged me to continue maintaining dedicated time in my study before standing in the pulpit: “Sitting down to sharpen your axe will later cut a lot more trees.”

Can we not all lament wasted time looking back over last year’s calendar with Psalm 89:47?: Remember how short my time is.  Let us pause and pray Psalm 90:10, 12: The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years … it is soon cut off, and we fly awaySo teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.  May we redeem our time in these evil days, For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found (Psalm 32:6).  Ultimately, as, Richard Baxter warns, “ … the master-thief that robs men of their time is an unsanctified, ungodly heart.”[8]

In a business journal a manager once said her most important life principle was that most things can wait until another day.  So that we can steal away with our family to make memories of moments. Or not procrastinate on our annual doctor’s check-up while prioritizing daily exercise, rest, and recreation so visiting the doctor doesn’t later actually become urgent in the emergency room.

And of most importance, let us better protect our private evenings preparing for morning devotions while waiting on God with more listening and less talking to maximize Christ’s gift of living daily life abundantly. (With Christ as our example, this is the main remedy Hummel insists on to turn away urgent tyrants.)

Remember what the preacher says, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…(Ecclesiastes 3:1).

As you begin the New Year with providential appointments awaiting you that will deserve proper priority, go Redeem Your Seasons.[9]


Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Reformed Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA, since 2010.  He and his wife, Fernanda, have six covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, and Gideon.  He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.

[1] Charles E Hummel, Tyranny of the Urgent (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 1994) , 15

[2] Ibid, 16.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See also Colossians 4:5: Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

[5] Ibid, 3.

[6] Ibid, 4.

[7] Ibid, 26.  Another nugget to pass on to those who take time to mine footnotes, this advice was striking: “Beware of the tyranny of the telephone!” Ibid, 25.  And this was first written in 1967!  I’ve found by turning off most app notifications on my smart phone that more and more this makes me act less like a dummy with my time.

[8] Richard Baxter, “Time Thieves to Avoid,” in “Redeem the Time,” Free Grace Broadcaster no. 251 (Spring 2020) : 25

[9] For a sermon this article is based off of by the author, see https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=12272159147705


Grant Van Leuven