Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Ephesians 5:15-17

Time is important to us. When you were in school, you spent a lot of time trying to learn how to tell time. Now, a lot of you are at a disadvantage because you’ve grown up in the digital age and clocks tell you what time it is. Your watch will beep; a digital voice will call out the hour. You don’t have to tell time. The time tells you.

When I was in school (back when we had to walk to school in the snow, uphill both ways), we had to make our own little clocks. We were given a paper plate. You had one of those little brass brackets that they always hand out in Vacation Bible School. You had to cut out the hands of the clock and make sure one was long and one was short. You put all of that on the paper plate and wrote the 12 numbers of the plate/clock, spaced just so.

The teacher would call out a time and you’d have to move the little hands around and show her that you could tell time. Could you put the big hand and the little hand in the right place? She would walk around like a Gestapo guard and embarrass you if you couldn’t tell time. All your friends would laugh if you couldn’t tell time. Learning how to tell time was very important.

When you got a little older, you realized the easiest thing to do is to tell time—but the hardest thing to do is to know what time it is. That’s a whole other question. Is this a time to speak, or is this a time to be quiet? Is it the time to make a stand, or is it the time to sit and wait? Is it a time for action or a time for patience? The writer of Ecclesiastes asked this question a long time ago, reminding us that one of the most important things we can do is to learn what time it is.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not foolishly, but wisely, knowing how to make the most out of every opportunity, for these days are evil. Because of this do not be foolish, but know the will of God” (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Ecclesiastes is a very frustrating book to read because it keeps bringing up problems, but it doesn’t really help you with any solutions. It gives you all kinds of helpful, if somewhat sobering proverbs, such as, “What good does it do to become rich, because you will die and your children will spend it all?” And, “vanity…it is all vanity.”

One of the best ways to understand the Book of Ecclesiastes is to see it as the transitional book from the idea that we can live our lives well enough to be accepted by God to the understanding of the futility of human effort—that no matter how hard we try to do the good thing we’ll end up somehow in there messing it up. We know that from our own lives. Today’s problems are yesterday’s solutions.

We thought it would be a good idea to have a clean source of energy, so we found out we could make ethanol from corn. Well that’s great! Corn is renewable. We can grow lots of corn—we will make ethanol. Well, we also make bread with corn. Now we have priced bread almost out of reach for some people in some countries, because we’re using more corn for ethanol. That was a good idea, but it had bad consequences. No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, there seems to be a painful downside to our best ideas.

This is the thing Ecclesiastes is pointing out to us; in doing so, the book sets us up for the coming of Jesus. The preacher of Ecclesiastes is showing us we can’t do it by ourselves. We have to be reborn; we have to learn to rethink and live in a relationship with Jesus Christ. For a lot of these questions, Jesus is the direct answer. Ecclesiastes is a transitional book between the two covenants—between the Old Testament, the New Testament and the message of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

This book has a lot of very good, practical information, and this is one of them. It points out there is an appropriate time for everything. Be real careful how you read that. A lot of us hear that and see that it says we have time to do everything. That’s not what he says. We live in a culture that wants us to defy our limitations. We have limits. You can only do so much; you only have so much time to do it.

You have seven days in a week; you have 24 hours in those days. In those days, you have the opportunity to do the things you choose to do, but you can’t do everything. You don’t have the talent; you don’t have the ability; you don’t have the opportunity; and you don’t have the resources to do everything. We live in a culture that says you can have it all, you can do it all if you just manage yourself and do what you want to do. We have driven ourselves to distraction, trying to keep up with this false understanding of success. We don’t have time, and here is the first thing we need to understand about time.

We don’t manage time. I know, we’ve all been to those seminars on time management, where we’re told how we are to break our projects down into bite-sized chunks, how to get them scheduled and all of that; but we don’t manage time. Folks have tried to manage the Mississippi River by controlling the rate of the flood. So they opened up spillways and levies to try to handle the flood. People are trying to control the Mississippi River.

You can’t control time like that. We can’t speed it up. We can’t slow it down. We can’t make it do anything different other than what time does. We can’t say to time, “I’m really enjoying this. Slow down.” We can’t say to time, “I am really hating this. Speed up.” In fact, it works the opposite, doesn’t it? If you’re having a real good time and say, “Oh, I want to save this moment forever,” zip…it goes by. It takes forever for Christmas to get here. Then Christmas…zip. You can’t control it.

What you can control is you. You manage you. What you do with your time is determined by your priorities, by what matters to you, and that’s where you make the investment. You can’t do everything, but you have to know what time it is to do what you think is important.

Did you also notice these things are directly opposite of each other—diametrically opposed? You literally can’t do them at the same time. You can’t sew something up and tear it at the same time. You can’t dance and mourn at the same time. (Although, when some of you are dancing it may look like you’re grieving.) You can’t do both at the same time. You can’t throw away and pick up at the same time. There is a time to do one or the other, but not both. There is a time for letting go and a time for grabbing hold.

Graduation is one of those days when both will be going on. Our seniors will be letting go of high school. There’s a grief involved in that, there is sadness; this is an important transition. You have to let go of high school, because a lot of us know friends who never let go of high school. It’s sad when you’re 45 and 50 and have never let go of high school. You have to let go of the past so you can grab hold of the future. These are necessary transitions. You have to know what time it is for you.

Just as there are seasons in nature, there are seasons in your life. Now the challenge is, these seasons don’t necessarily line up with the seasons on the calendar; but there are seasons in our lives. We have winter, spring, summer and fall. These seasons may happen in a whole different month than they are everywhere else in the world, but these are natural cycles God has given to us for the living of our lives. Each season does an important thing. Each season is necessary, and you have to know what time it is—what season it is for you—in order to maximize the opportunities.

There is spring. Spring is the starting of new things. It’s the planting of new seeds. It’s the anticipation of new outcomes and a new harvest, and it’s a lot of work. Spring is a lot of work. Yes, there’s a lot of excitement, but there’s a lot of work. You have to break the ground. You have to plant the seed. You have to make sure the water is getting to the plants. You have to prepare everything for the coming harvest. You have to be sure you do these things when it is spring. Summer is too late to plant. Fall is a time of harvest, not planting; but you may be in spring, which is the time of beginnings.

We live in a culture that tells us it is always spring. It’s always an opportunity for growth. We should always be growing. That’s not true. Nature has a word for things that are growing out of control. Do you know what that word is? Cancer…Cancer is a group of cells that are growing out of control, and we live in a culture that says you always should be busy, always growing, always starting something new, always anticipating, always in this anxious kind of effort to make something new happen. Spring is wonderful; and if you’re in spring, work hard.

Summer is when you work the seeds you’ve planted. The days are long, hard and hot. You spend a lot of time making sure the weeds aren’t devouring your seeds. You spend a lot of time making sure your seeds are cared for with water and fertilizer. There’s a lot of hard work to make sure the new thing you are starting is happening.

Fall? Fall is the harvest. Projects come to an end. Work comes to an end, and we celebrate the harvest. We celebrate what God is doing through us and around us. We celebrate all that God has been working through us. We enjoy it. We take time and relish it. We tell stories. We bring in our friends. We share that, but it’s not a time of starting new. It’s a time of things coming to an end.

Winter? Winter does some important work. The roots go deep in winter. The earth is replenished and prepares for spring, catches its breath and nourishes itself; and things die in winter. That’s hard for us, isn’t it? We want everything to keep on going all the time. It can’t. There is not enough space in your life; there’s not enough time in your life. There’s a necessary time in your life to let things go.

I was stunned a few weeks ago when some of the young ladies showed up at our Kairos service in bell-bottoms. There is a time for things to die. I looked at them and I said, “If I had known you were going to dig them up, we would have buried them deeper.”

It’s a hard moment, isn’t it, to realize something that has been part of your past can no longer be part of your future? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. There are some things that have been painful; there are some things that have been hurtful that we need to let go. We don’t need to carry that burden or grudge around anymore. You can’t keep carrying that and be ready for what God wants to do in spring. You have to let it go.

Sometimes it’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s been fun and helpful and has made you stronger; but you have to let that go so you can do something that works now. You’re a different person than you were. You have different challenges, opportunities and needs.

Let winter do its work. Don’t try to start anything new; don’t try to make something happen. Winter is the time when God, through His Spirit, calls you to be quiet. He calls you to a time, yes, of grief. He calls you to a time of nourishment and preparation. You need to know what time it is for you. It may be winter; and if it’s winter, good. Important things happen in winter. Let winter do its work. It may be spring; and if you’ve had a good winter, the soil is ready for new beginnings. You’re nourished and ready, and the field has been cleared. You can start something new and exciting.

It may be summer, which is hard, hard work—a busy time. It may be fall. If it is, celebrate. Something has come to an end. If you’ve finished a project, ended a time of mission, celebrate. This has been a good time, and some good things have happened. Celebrate the harvest and get ready for winter. You have to know what time it is for you.

How do you tell time? What clock do you watch? Is your season written down somewhere? At least with nature’s seasons there’s Poor Richard’s Almanac to tell you, “This is when winter is starting,” or the weatherman will inform you, “Today’s the first day of spring!” It’s 28 degrees. How do you tell what time it is for you?

Paul reminded the Ephesians that in order to know what time it is—so you could redeem the time—you had to do that in the context of knowing God’s will. There is this image of space and time and this current of God’s will running through space and time. It’s of God working in situation after situation, circumstance after circumstance, person after person to accomplish His good and ultimate will that will be completed with the coming of Christ. Christ will establish His kingdom and will be part of that; but until then, there is this current of God’s will that is working. Sometimes He’s working in ways we can see and celebrate. Sometimes it flows underneath and is hard to find. Nevertheless, He’s still working.

Paul says, “In order to know what time it is, you have to know what the will of God is.” You have to know what God is doing in and around you—in situations around you—so you can align your life and put your life in the center of this current of God’s will. As God is working in those situations, He will make you part of His work. As part of His work, there will be a time for you to speak and a time to be quiet. There will be a time to embrace and a time to refrain based on what God is doing in the moment.

That means the first thing you and I have to do to begin to understand what time it is, is to start aligning our lives with God’s will. Now, everybody has a question. “Well, Mike, if I just knew what God’s will was…” as if this is some deep and mysterious secret—as if you have to climb some mountain or go on some great adventure or pilgrimage. You say, “Oh, finally—I have found God’s will.”

Let me be real blunt with you. You know several things right now God wants you to do. You know at least three things, maybe four that He wants you to do. It may be these:
1. Repair a relationship;
2. Get back into the Bible study you started, and then quit;
3. Call a friend you know is hurting; and/or
4. Spend some quality time with your spouse or one of your children who needs some special attention right now.

You know three or four things. Do those, and God will tell you the next steps.

God is sometimes like the old country preacher who showed up at the new church. You’ve heard this story haven’t you? He preached the same sermon for the first six weeks. The deacons pulled him aside and said, “That’s a good sermon, but we’d like to hear another one.” He said, “Do what I’m telling you to do in this one. Then I’ll preach the next one.”

Why won’t God tell you three more things to do until you do the three things you know He wants you to do? You always think it’s going to be this big flash of light and God’s going to say, “Here’s the end of the chapter; here’s the end of the book; and here’s how you’re going to get there.” It’s not that way. It’s one step at a time. It’s one day at a time.

First for the disciples was the call, “Follow Me.” That’s it. Not where, not how long they’d be gone, not what they were going to do. The simple question is, “Are you going to follow Me? If you follow Me, then you’ll find out the answer to all these questions and more; but first, you have to decide to follow Me.”

See how that goes? The first question—answer that one, then you’ll know the next one. Step by step, day by day, staying in the center of God’s will, you will arrive at the place, the destination to which He is taking you. It’s never the big moment when you understand everything. It’s always step-by-step and day-by-day. You get the manna you need for the day, and knowing God’s will moment by moment, you’ll know what time it is.

Our world has two words it likes to throw around about time. One is efficient. That is doing things right. The quick use of time, getting things accomplished. We all go to those seminars. We’re all worried about how we can be more efficient in the use of our time. What gadget can we get to help us use our time more efficiently? What plan can we use to help us use our time more efficiently? The problem with that is we’ll end up being really, really efficient in the wrong thing. We’ll be really, really fast in the wrong race.

The other word is a more important word: effective. Are you doing the right things? Scripture calls us to be effective in the use of our life. Paul, to the Ephesians, talks about redeeming the time. The coin of time is given to you, and you choose then how to invest it. Are you going to invest it in those things that make a difference, those things that last?

Paul talks about a judgment in which the acts and deeds of the faithful are tested. They are tested by fire, and those works that are straw are consumed, burned up. Those that are gold are refined and made more pure. So are you investing your coin? Are you redeeming your time, those things that last or those things that will be consumed? Effective. Efficient.

The Bible has different words…same idea. The Bible has two words for time: chronos, which is chronology, the order of time—quarter ‘til 12—that kind of thing. The other is kairos, which means “the right moment.” It’s the right moment to pick the piece of fruit or the timing of a joke. The Bible talks about knowing the kairos. In the fullness of time, God acts. When everything was ready, God did this. It’s in the fullness of time—in the kairos moment.

The most important thing you can do is learn to tell the time. What time is it for you? You can only know that kind of time in a relationship with Jesus Christ. So, can you tell the time? Do you know what time it is for you? There’s a time for everything under heaven. Do not live foolishly, but make the most of every moment. Know what time it is for you.

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