How I Use God's Time
"There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven--A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance … (Eccl 3:1-4)."
And on and it goes. I used to think that this was a passage that reminds us merely that there are various season of life that come and go. However, when I read the passage in context, I see something different. At the conclusion of this section, the preacher asks, "What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?" (Eccl 3:9). This is not a rhetorical question. The overall tone in the book of Ecclesiastes is ironic. The author seems to highlight the limits of traditional wisdom and the general meaninglessness of much of what humans do. The opening of the book portrays the endless cycle of life that goes on and on and on in weariness (Eccl 1:3-9). There is a circular view of time with little meaning to it. Sure, there is a time for everything. So what?
There is meaning to time, and it will not be found "under the sun." It is found it the God whom we were created to honor, serve and love. Time only has meaning in him. The time that my God has allotted to me needs to be ordered according to him. That is what a passage in Ephesians reminds me of.
"Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:15-17)."
"Making the most of" your time literally is "redeeming" the time. I looked up the Greek word used in this passage, "exargazo," and it means to "redeem, deliver, or purchase the freedom of." This tells me that my time can be held captive. Dominant forces in my life can take my time hostage. Therefore, I need to "redeem" it, or "deliver" it from captivity according to "what the will of the Lord is."
As I reflect on this, it occurs to me that we all have been given 1,440 minutes every day. We all use the time that has been allotted to us. We really have no choice but to use it. But to what end do we use it for?
There are many demands placed on my time. By what criteria do I determine how I allocate it? If I do not give this any prior thought, then my time will probably be hijacked by every perceived emergency or desire of the dominant people in my life. Whether it is a neighbor, friend, boss, or something else, my time may be up for grabs to whoever is the most dominant, demanding or loudest. It may be a boss, a demanding friend, a task, or something else.
Unordered time leads to a disorganized life. Gordon MacDonald shares some traits of a disorganized life, which are indications of unordered time. Some of these hit close to home, such as clutter in my life, including on my desk, in my car, on my dresser, etc. I still remember Joe Jones, one of my teachers at Harding University, who use to say, "If you have to spend more than 10 minutes looking for something, you are not a good steward of your time." Another symptom is the difficulty of enjoying intimate relationships with others, including God. God usually doesn't shout when I neglect my spiritual disciplines. My family understands when I am too busy to go to a ball game or participate in a family activity. There are other forces in my life, which can be more demanding a less understanding. However, I recognize that those forces are often not the most important thing in life and can wait.
Time is the most valuable resource God has given me. Like my bank account, I need to budget my time according to what is truly important. It has to begin with prayer and it needs to be honest. Stephen Covey has some useful time management tools that can be found easily online. I like table below. Every task and demand of my time will fall in one of the four quadrants, and each quadrant has instruction on how to handle it. It is beneficial to spend some time with this reflecting on your use of time.
Urgent Not Urgent Important 1 - DO NOW - Subject to confirming the importance and the urgency of these tasks, do these tasks now. Prioritize according to their relative urgency. 2 - PLAN TO DO - Critical to success: planning, deciding direction and aims, etc. Plan time-slots and personal space for these tasks. NotImportant Not Important 3 - REJECT AND EXPLAIN - Scrutinize and probe demands. Help originators to re-assess. Wherever possible reject and avoid these tasks sensitively and immediately. 4 - RESIST AND CEASE - Habitual 'comforters' not true tasks. Non-productive, de-motivational. Minimize or cease altogether. Plan to avoid them.
It occurs to me that for this tool to be even more effective, I need to have some clear cut criteria as to which activity goes into which quadrant. Nearly every successful organization has a mission statement of some sort. It guides how they appropriate, order, and use their resources. What about a personal mission statement? Can I articulate what my God-given mission in life is? If not, I may have a little trouble deciding which activity or task goes into which quadrant.
Here are some steps that seem to be a logical way of going about it.1) Have a clear sense of mission. I need to have a clear sense of God's mission. My mission should be to love God and love my neighbor. Any particulars of how I carry out that mission needs to flow from thisI pray that I can become a better steward of the time that God has allotted to me.
2) Identify the Non-negotiable parts of my time. These are things that come first that I do not sacrifice for something else. Things such as my alone time with God, my family time, etc., these are non-negotiable and come first.
3) Budget and prioritize. Ibudget other resources in my life, such as money. Time is something that I need to budget. The chart above is a good tool for this. I need to place the current demands of my time, and any demands that come up in one of the four quadrants and follow the suggested instructions there.