Majoring in the Minors

When filling a jar with ping pong balls, it can be considered to be full when no more balls can fit into the jar. However, all of the space between the balls inside the jar can also be filled. By adding plastic beads to the jar, even more stuff will fit into the open space. Likewise, adding sand will fill the space remaining in the jar that the beads do not take up. Finally, adding water to the jar will fill in all of the last remaining air space, until no more stuff can fit. This illustrates how available capacity can be filled, even when it might appear to be full.

By adding things to the jar in order from largest to smallest, we can see that the space is consumed very efficiently. However, when adding the same quantity of the items in reverse order, the result is much different. If water, sand, and plastic beads are added to the jar in that order, there will not be enough room to add all of the larger ping pong balls. The way that we choose to fill available space has a significant impact on the result.

This phenomenon has a parallel in the way that we choose to use our time. The sand and the plastic beads are analogous to activities in our lives that don’t contribute very much to our well-being, but consume our time – such as watching a show on TV, surfing the web, mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these activities, and some of them are even necessary, but they probably don’t provide meaning in our lives or help us to grow. The ping pong balls are analogous to the large, important goals in our lives, such as our spiritual conversion, expressing love for our brethren and neighbors, and other virtuous life-goals. If we choose to fill our day with little things that are less significant and relatively unimportant in our lives, we will not have enough time to do the things that matter the most. The big, important, worthy goals in our lives need to receive the greatest priority to make sure that we have enough capacity in our lives to accomplish them. If we prioritize our activities in the right order, we will have enough space to be fulfilled, and have enough space remaining for the little trivial activities too.

The challenge, of course, is that the little things are generally much easier to do than the big, important things. If we want to use our time in the best possible way, the best place to start is with making a distinction between the big things and the little things in our lives. In his letter to Timothy, Paul provides some guidance to help him in making such a distinction, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Timothy is reminded that seeking godliness is one of the big things, and that it is worthy of a commensurate amount of attention. Bodily exercise is still a good thing, but compared to the activity of practicing godliness, it is less important. If we want to accomplish things that are meaningful and spiritually fulfilling, we are responsible to become conscious of where activities reside on the spectrum of importance.

Once we are aware of activities that are truly important, we can begin to shift our attention to doing those activities first. Following his instruction to Timothy to focus on seeking godly growth, Paul continues to guide him in prioritizing his time, “… be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4:12-15). Timothy is encouraged to grow and make progress! The prescription involves dedicating time, attention, and focused thought in the study of Scripture and conduct in godly love. The corollary to this instruction is to prioritize other activities to follow the more important ones that lead to spiritual growth. These are instructions that we need to take to heart as well. To do anything less is to risk neglect of the development of righteous conduct and spiritual understanding that is expected of us.

It is helpful to consider that time is one of our most valuable assets. By thinking this way, every activity that we give our attention to becomes an opportunity to invest in the fulfillment of the ultimate goal that all Christians share – to overcome sin, and live eternally in the Family of God. If we expect to overcome the sin that threatens us, and to grow in righteousness through the help of Jesus Christ, we need to consciously dedicate our time to activities that contribute to these results. The formula for fulfillment involves putting a stop to “majoring in the minors,” and dedicating the best portions of our time to nurturing the growth of the fruit of the Spirit (compare Galatians 5:22-25

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