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Time, Our Most Precious Resource

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Philippians 1:3-6

The country band Alabama put out a song a number of years ago which has this chorus or refrain, describing quite well a common lifestyle of our generation:

I'm in a hurry to get things done
I rush and rush until life's no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die,
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why.

Time is our most precious resource. It is perishable and irreplaceable.1 God in his grace has given us all the same amount — 24 hours per day. The quality, joy, and impact of our lives are directly related to how wisely we use the time we have.

This does not mean that we have to hurry or hustle through life. At this point I'm really preaching to the preacher, because I am a card-carrying member of TOCA, an acronym for Type-A, Obsessive-Compulsive Association. There are many other TOCA members in this congregation. Many are stressed-out, over-committed, and spread too thinly.

Do you wonder whether you are a TOCA member or not? Here are some clues:

  • If the traffic light turns green and the driver up front waits as long as three seconds to move out, a TOCA member toots the horn.
  • TOCA members like to do two things at once, and doing three things simultaneously is heavenly.
  • A TOCA member's two worst nightmares are a terrorist attack and getting caught in a three-mile-long back-up on I-40.
  • If your boss is a TOCA member and you tell her that you have a problem, she may say, "Sit down and tell me about it. You don't mind if I listen to my voice mail while you talk, do you?"
  • A TOCA member's favorite inventions are e-mail and voice mail, so he can send messages to people 24 hours per day.
  • A TOCA member cannot watch an athletic event on TV unless he has a book, magazine or computer in hand, because the time-outs are vexing.
  • A TOCA member always drives eight miles per hour over the speed limit.
  • As a TOCA member passes someone driving right at the speed limit, he mumbles, "Come on, granny, drive it or park it."
  • If the spouse or girlfriend of a TOCA member says, "Let's take a stroll," he responds, "How long will it take?"

TOCA members have never officially organized, because they're too busy.

In contrast, the Bible never says that Jesus rushed anywhere. He was usually busy, but found time to pray a lot. His total ministry was accomplished in three short years, but he found time to play with children, to investigate a fig tree, to take a nap during a boat ride, to rest at noon-time beside a well, and to attend a wedding reception.

The Bible does not say, "If you hurry, you can catch up with God." It does say, "Be still (or cease your striving) and know that I am God." (Psalms 46:10) Jesus did not say, "Join up with me and I will work you eighteen hours per day." Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) 2 Here are three biblical guidelines for managing time well. Each one starts with the letter "P" — purpose, priority, and plan.

PURPOSE

First, in order to manage time well, we must know our PURPOSE. St. Paul stated it well in Ephesians 4:15: " . . . we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ." So, our purpose is to become mature in Christ. How do we do that? By receiving his salvation, being useful in his service, and becoming Christ-like in character.

Our culture disagrees. Most Americans believe that their main purpose is to be happy and/or successful, to grab for all the gusto they can, since they only go around once. But we Christians know we are not on this earth primarily for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," wonderful as those things are. Maturity in Christ is our goal.

Now, maturity is one of those things that cannot be hurried. It takes time. I have no use for tomatoes this time of year because most of them were picked long before they were ripe, so that they wouldn't bruise during shipping. Then before they were sold, they were sprayed with carbon dioxide to turn them red. Eating those gassed tomatoes is sort of like chewing on a sponge. Maturity in tomatoes and people cannot be hurried.

Bruce Wilkinson, author of "The Prayer of Jabez" and "Secrets of the Vine," says this: "God doesn't want you to do more for him. He wants you to be more for him." 3

PRIORITY

Once you know your purpose, then you're ready for the second key word in managing time well. That word is PRIORITY. Priority just means knowing which things are more important and which are less. Once we know our purpose, our priorities should emerge. Jesus said, " . . . seek first his (God's) kingdom and his righteousness." (Matthew 6:33)

Do you know the true story of Charles Schwab and Ivy Lee? Schwab was president of Bethlehem Steel. Lee, a consultant, was given the usual challenge: "Show me a way to get more things done with my time." Schwab agreed to pay him "anything within reason" if Lee's suggestion worked. Lee handed Mr. Schwab a sheet of paper with this plan written on it:

"Write down the most important tasks you have to do tomorrow. Number them in order of importance. When you arrive in the morning, begin at once on No. 1 and stay on it until it is completed. Recheck your priorities. Then begin with No. 2 . . . then No. 3. Make this a habit every working day. Pass it on to those under you. Try it as long as you like. Then send me your check for what you think it's worth."

That one idea turned Bethlehem Steel Corporation into the biggest independent steel producer in the world within five years. How much did Mr. Schwab pay for that idea? He sent a check to Mr. Lee for $25,000, with a note attached saying that this was the most profitable lesson he had ever learned. 4

When our priorities are not healthy and clear, we end up attempting more things than we should and not doing any of them really well. That causes stress. Setting priorities is tough because we have to make hard choices and say no to some things. Often we have to say no to good things so that we can say yes to the best things.

There is not enough time for all things, but there is enough time for the most important things. There is enough time to explore back roads, to stroll the beach looking for seashells, to teach a little boy to fly a kite, to doze in a hammock, and to scratch the ears of an old dog. But there is not enough time for unplanned TV viewing, reading trashy novels, gossip, most cocktail parties, gambling, plotting revenge, holding pity parties, bad-mouthing competitors, aimless surfing of the internet, or crying over past mistakes. It's just a matter of establishing priorities.

I saw a very funny and wholesome movie several years ago. Steve Martin is the star of Cheaper by the Dozen. In the movie Steve faces a choice between his dream job as coach of a major college football team and taking care of his large family well. He chooses family and then says, "If I mess up raising these kids, then nothing else matters." That's a statement of priority.

Jesus made an interesting statement about priorities in John 15:2. He seemed to be talking about a grapevine, but really had people in mind. He said, " . . . every branch that does bear fruit, he (God) prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."

Expert vine-growers point out that the vine's ability to produce growth increases each year, but without intensive pruning, the plant weakens and its crop gets smaller. 5

The same principle applies to people. Pruning activities and commitments helps you become even more productive and creative. Most of us are spread too thinly because we hate to make tough choices and sometimes say no.

I know several young fathers in our congregation who love golf, but they have put their clubs away for a few years. One of them said to me, "When my child gets old enough to play golf with me, I will start again. But right now I can't see spending most of my Saturdays away from the family." That's a statement about priorities.

We have a wonderful church member named Mack who sings in our 9:45 choir. Mack has been in retail sales for many years. Recently he interviewed for a new job. His prospective boss asked if he could be flexible in terms of hours. Mack said, "I can work for you anytime, except before 11:00 AM on Sundays and after 6:00 PM on Tuesdays." The boss asked why. Mack said, "I worship at my church on Sundays before 11:00 and my choir practices on Tuesday evenings." Mack got the job. I think the boss appreciated someone with clear and healthy priorities.

PLAN

Once your purpose and priorities are settled, then you're ready for the third time-management word — PLAN. A wise Methodist layman taught me this biblical principle — "He who fails to plan, plans to fail." Paul gave very similar advice to the Ephesians: "Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity." (Ephesians 5:15-16)

I was taught this method back in college. I didn't seem to have time to get everything done. My advisor dared me to compose each night a written plan for the next day, hour by hour. He challenged me to do it for a week. I was amazed at how much more time I had once I started planning each hour rather than just letting many of them slip through my fingers. There is much truth in this simple rhyme: "Let a daily list guide each day or time like a ghost will slip away."I became such a believer in time-planning that I tried to do it even when we went on vacation. That's when my wife drew the line and said, "Nope, there will be no daily lists while we're on vacation. Vacations are pre-planned periods for getting off a daily plan."

Except when you're on vacation or on Sundays, have a written plan to guide each day. The list can be on your hand-held computer or you can use an old-fashioned written copy as I do. Each 24-hour period is precious and unrepeatable. The Psalmist said, "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalms 118:24)

As far back as I can remember the soap-opera Days of our Lives has been on TV. I don't think I have ever watched an episode, but the program's musical theme is captivating, and who could forget the voice of the late MacDonald Carey, saying,"Like sands through an hourglass, so are the days of our lives"? He's right, you know. And sand never runs upward in the hourglass. Each grain of sand, like each day, is unrepeatable. It is a distinctive 24-hour gift from God, and we are stewards of each day. If we know our purpose, we can devise our priorities. Then if we express those priorities through a daily plan, we will become excellent managers of time.

And guess what — none of us ever writes the last chapter of our lives. That is in the hands of God. You could use a baseball term and say that God is our great "closer." God completes our earthly story with his holy benediction, and escorts us across the great divide into eternity. Paul expressed it this way: "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:16)

So, you don't have to be the person described in Alabama's song:

I'm in a hurry to get things done
I rush and rush until life's no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why.

The cure for the "hurry" disease is to know your purpose, establish your priorities, and day by day, work your plan. And to God be the glory.

____________________________________

Notes:
1. Wood, Andrew and Tracy, Brian, The Traits of Champions, (Publishers Press: Provo, UT, 2000), p. 225.
2. From an article by Chuck Swindoll entitled, "It's About Time," p. 51.
3. Wilkinson, Bruce, Secrets of the Vine, (Multnomah Publishers: Sisters, OR, 2001), p. 93.
4. Op. Cit., Swindoll article.
5. Op. Cit., Wilkinson, p. 71.
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