By Pastor Mark Combs
There is a story that has been around for a very long time. It will occasionally be sent around again on e-mail and internet sites. While I know that we have all heard it before, I have used it before in Chimes articles, it bears repeating. The story goes:
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of small pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.” The professor then produced a pitcher of water from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed. “Now”, said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your faith, your family, your children, your health, your friends, your favorite passions – things that, if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car.
“The sand is everything else – the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the rubbish. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
Of course, considering the situation that so many congregations are facing in this world today, it would be very easy to get all grumpy and preachy about this story. It would be easy to do that, especially when you look around at the levels of attendance and participation in our congregation. It is important for us, however, to find a way to look past the preachy part of the story to find the real value for our lives.
Think about the things that seem to occupy most of our time in this world. How often do we get completely bogged down in the details of things that, in the grand scheme of God’s creation, don’t really matter at all. Think about how uptight we get about making sure that we have that certain outfit, are seen at that particular restaurant or social event, or drive that certain make of car. Then, while we are so focused on the little things, we forget about the things that really matter.
Where would our lives be if we spent even half as much time and effort on the things of life that really matter? Where would we be if we put real effort into our relationships – with our spouses, children and families? Where would we be if we put real effort into honoring God’s creation by taking care of ourselves – exercising, eating right, and having regular check-ups? Where would we be if we put real effort into our relationship with God – regular worship attendance, being involved in Bible study, daily scripture reading and daily prayer?
The good news for us is that we have the opportunity to get it right. Lent is once again upon us, and Lent is that time of the church year when we are called to re-evaluate our lives (self-examination), to adjust the actions of our lives that aren’t working correctly (repent), and to re-focus our efforts on what we know to be the important things oflife. My challenge for us, me included, is that we would engage the process of the Lenten disciplines, that we would focus on the things that God has shown us are important for our lives in this world.
I look forward to making this journey together with you. Until next time, keep your priorities straight, and . ..
See you in Church,