A friend told me a long time ago that a person, especially a leader, must guard their essence. That is, a person only has so much “essence," only so much personal power and energy that they can give to any one thing. Once given, it can’t be recovered. It’s gone forever. What’s more, he warned me further, there are always people who would want to use your essence to achieve their goals.
I hadn’t thought about that conversation until recently when I attended an event and the leader of the event thanked me for coming. He said my presence at the event showed how important the event was. He said I added weight to the event. I hadn’t thought about it in that way. My friend is part of a vital and life-changing ministry in Middle Tennessee, and I wanted to support his work.
But his comment got me thinking. What things do I give weight to without knowing it? What do I treat as valuable simply because I give it my time? And why do I give my attention — the very thing the tech giants are willing to pay huge amounts to secure — why do I give it away so cheaply?
This internal conversation has been amplified since I turned 65. Things change when you get older. Suddenly, you realize you only have so much time left. I’m not being morbid, just honest. Even if I live to be 100, there’s more road behind me than there is ahead of me.
You begin to look at things differently when you realize your time is a scarce commodity. Since time is scarce for me — and for all of us — I began to look at the things I was giving my time to and here’s what I found out. A lot of stuff just doesn’t do anything. A meeting is called, things are discussed, and then, we decide to meet again. Some wise sage once said that everything is said and done a lot more than it's done. I’ve dropped these obligations — including a lot of social media — because it doesn't add anything to my life.
I have begun a very disciplined practice of sharpening my focus to doing the things, and only doing the things, that matter. If something doesn’t have substance, I don’t want to do it.
So, here are a handful of things I’ve begun to focus on.
I love my wife. Jeannie and I have been married for almost 42 years. She’s beautiful, funny, and gracious. She’s my best friend. Sometimes I’ll say I have something on my calendar when I just want to go home and spend my time with Jeannie. When I die, she’ll be the one I hate to leave and, if she dies first, she’ll be the one I never get over. I’m going to squeeze the life out of every moment with her.
I love studying Scripture. I’m re-discovering a fascination and admiration for the wonder of God. I’m spending most of my time reading and studying the depths of Scripture. Honestly, I think I could preach every night if my church would let me. I don’t read that many books on leadership or culture anymore. I read them once and then I noticed no one was saying anything new. So, I love studying the Word and that’s where I’ll spend my time.
I love my kids and grandkids. Nothing brings me more joy than being with my sons. Unless it’s spending time with my grandkids. I confess. I’m a terrible grandfather. My grandkids stay up too late, eat more candy and get more toys — I never say no. Being with them makes me believe in life again. My hope is restored. It’s one of the best things I do with my time.
I love my friends. Notice, I said friends, not acquaintances. If you can’t count your friends on one hand, you are very blessed. I am very blessed. These friends make me laugh. They give me courage. They tell me the truth. They answer my call in the middle of the night. They have my back and I have theirs. They are worth my time.
I love my ministry. I love being the pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church. Every day I see Jesus show up in unexpected places and in unexpected people. I’m having too much fun for this to be called work.
A friend called and wanted to talk about being nominated to a prestigious, but largely ceremonial, position. I asked him, “What will be different after you serve in this position?”
“Nothing," he said.
I replied, “Then, why would you give your life to something that doesn’t do anything?”
There is a power to our attention. There is an energy to your presence. You only have so much of it. Make sure you use it for what matters...and only for what matters.