An instructor at a seminar placed a wide-mouthed gallon jar on a table. Next to the jar were a number of fist-sized rocks. He asked the group, “How many of these rocks do you think we can get inside this jar?” The participants began to make their guesses. The instructor said, “Let’s find out.” One by one he began to put as many rocks as he could into the jar until the rocks inside were level with the top of the jar. The number was four.
“Is the jar full?” The attendees said, “Yes.”
Then the instructor dumped some gravel in the jar and shook it. The gravel went in all the little spaces left by the big rocks. “Is the jar full?”
The attendees were uncertain.
The instructor next pour sand into the jar, filling in the gaps left by the rocks and gravel. “Now, is the jar full?”
The audience roared, “NO!”
Then, the instructor poured a pitcher of water in the jar until it ran over. At this point he stopped and asked the group, “What’s the point of this?”
Somebody said, “Well, there are always gaps, and if you work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”
“No! No! No!” raged the instructor, “that’s not the point. The point is this: If I hadn’t put in those big rocks first, I would never have gotten them in.”
It was an object lesson on priorities.
Unfortunately, many people go through life stuffing gravel and sand and water issues into our jar leaving the rocks, the big things, the important matters, outside the jar. We choose the trivial over the significant. We sacrifice the best for the good. We yield to the urgent rather than devoting ourselves to the important. We say yes to the lesser things in life and no to the greater things.
The rocks are our priorities. Without taking charge of our lives, determining what is really important, we will never accomplish what we want. Otherwise, pressures, other people, our own weaknesses and natural laziness will take over. We will fritter our life away to nothing.
E.M. Gray spent his life searching for the one denominator that all successful people share. He wrote an essay entitled “The Common Denominator of Success.” He found that the common denominator of successful people was not hard work, good luck, or astute human relations, although these characteristics were important. The one factor that seemed to transcend all the rest was the habit of putting first things first. He observed, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”
The rocks go in first. As Dr. Richard C. Halverson has indicated, “Priorities are not just marginal options . . . they are life determining. One’s personality is molded inescapably into the image of his priorities.”
Deciding what rocks to put in the jar is the most difficult decision one will ever make. Those choices don’t come quickly nor do they come easily. But in making those tough decisions we usher a great freedom into our lives. We also make future choices easier because we have already made the decision of what we will do. Life becomes more fulfilling and rewarding.
Putting the rocks in first, determining our priorities, enables us to avoid the tyranny of the urgent; keeps us from falling into the trap of saying “yes” to everyone; assists us in managing our time; helps us focus our energies; and prevents the negative influence of dominate people.
Life places before us hundreds of possibilities of what rocks go in the jar. Some are bad. Others are good. A few are the best. But each of us must decide, “What are my rocks? What is priority to me?”
Which rocks will you choose? Chuck Swindoll wrote, “Life is a lot like a coin; you can spend it any way you wish, but you can spend it only once. Choosing one thing over all the rest throughout life is a difficult thing to do. This is especially true when the choices are so many and the possibilities are so close.” Yet, in doing so, we uncover a gold mine of possibilities and opportunities. Life will become more meaningful, not to mention simpler and productive.
Got your rocks?
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