Ecclesiastes 3:2

One day a professor took out a one-gallon pitcher from under her desk. She also produced about a dozen fist size rocks. She carefully placed the rocks in the jar. The rocks stacked up to the rim of the pitcher then she asked her bright students if the pitcher was full. “Yes” was their reply. Then she reached under her desk and pulled out a bucket of gravel and poured it into the same pitcher. The gravel of course worked its way in between the rocks. Then she asked again, “Is the pitcher full.” A few said, “yes” but most were on to her now and reserved their judgment for later. She then reached under her desk and pulled out a bucket of sand. She poured the sand in and it penetrated the spaces between the rock and the gravel. This time when she asked if the jug was full everyone said, “no.” The professor said, “Good” and then proceeded to pour glasses of water into the pitcher until the water reached the rim. The professor then asked what the point of this exercise was. One student answered, “You can always cram more into life than you think.” Another answered, “Looks can be deceiving.” The professor calmly and politely said, “No. The point is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first you’ll never get them in at all.” Put the big rocks in first.

What are the big rocks in life? Can we tell the difference between what is important and what is urgent? What is the difference between needs and wants? C.S. Lewis put it well, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in, put second things first and we loose both first and second things.”

This morning I hope for us to leave worship determined to put the big rocks in first. To do this I would like us to first look at how time shapes our life. Then we will look at the power of saying, “no.” We will conclude by determine how to manage our life by managing our time.

Shaped by Time

The dictionary devotes more than a page to defining the concept of time. As a measurable commodity, time is treated as something to be measured, gained, lost, or wasted. We say things like, “She has too much time on her hands.” “I’ve spent hours on this project.”

Time is also viewed as an opportunity. We speak of a timely event. Time can also be seen as an experience, “I had the time of my life.” Time is often spoken of as an action, it can march or fly.

Most talk about time centers around frustration. “I ran out of time.” “Where does the time go?” We only have three commodities to spend with our life, money, energy, and time. When we don’t use our time well. We feel bad. Time gets away from us. We were once young. Our children were once small. Indeed, where has all the time gone?

The way we use time shapes our life.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born a time to die, a time to plant a time to uproot … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn a time to dance … a time to be silent a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:2-7)

Is time our friend, enemy, or tyrant? It is what we make it. We can waste time or use it. As Christians, bearers of the nature of Christ, we look at our use of time seriously. What did we do with our time in 2001 to honor God? Did we use time in pursuit of the kingdom or did we use our time for other interest? Consider the past week, did we use anytime serving others, nurturing relationships, reading the scripture, or praying? Yet as we stand at the threshold of 2002 the more pressing question is how will we use our time this next year? How will we use our 16 `” year on planet earth? How will we use our 42nd year? How will we use our 73rd year?

The Power of “No”

We all start the year with the best of intentions. We write down our priorities in our day planner. We set some goals and put them on the refrigerator. Yes we want to use our time wisely, to honor God. We have a plan (1) Read Bible daily (2) Volunteer at Eastside Crisis Center monthly (3) Use my gifts when asked in the church or community (4) Invest regularly. Yet there is one word that if we do not learn to say our plan will be destroyed.

In the opening two chapters of Mark’s gospel he portrays for us several episodes in the life of Jesus. Examined together we notice a subtly conflict. Jesus has an agenda, a plan. Yet it seems everyone else also has an idea of what Jesus should do. Jesus makes it clear that he must do the Father’s plan.

So Jesus learns an important lesson. You can have an agenda or you can let others plan your agenda, and they will if you let them. We must learn to stay focused and we do that by saying, “no.” By saying “no” you are not saying, “I don’t care,” you are only saying, “no.” You are saying, “I am mature enough to know what I like and what I don’t like.” “I can distinguish between my gifts and your agenda.” “I know the difference between the important and the urgent.”

Here are some ways to say “no.”

1. Avoid desperate request. Have a policy to never say yes to anything immediately. Unless it is an invitation to dinner. Consult your calendar. Consider your family.

2. Suggest someone else who would enjoy doing the job. “Will you bring potato salad to the get-together?” “No, but maybe Cindy would do that she loves to cook.” Life is too short to spend it doing things we despise. Of course this one does not work for children with chores to do. Don’t be so prideful either, if they ask you to bring the potato salad, don’t be ashamed to go by the grocery store and get some from the deli that is if Cindy want make it.

3. Set limits on what you say “yes” to. “While your driving to camp you wouldn’t mind cooking would you?” Stick to your priorities. “I am happy to drive and take the kids but I can’t stay and cook.” When the PTA calls it doesn’t mean you are the only one they are calling. There’s another name after yours. This does not mean never say “yes.” Determine what you like doing and then always say, “yes” to that.

4. Ration your time. There are a lot of things that need your time, the kids have sports, you have a bible study to teach, you have been trying to restore a ’55 Chevy, and now they need you to coach one of the kids ball teams. What do you want to say “yes” to? You can’t do it all. Maybe the Chevy will have to wait to the fall or maybe the kids will have to find another coach. Don’t spread your time thin; make it thick where it counts.

5. Go with your gifts. The church has asked you to serve on the finance committee and the youth council wants you to serve as a chaperon this year, choose the one where your gifts lie. The family needs you to serve as the organizer of the annual family reunion and the civic organization needs you to direct a fundraiser. Go with your gifts. Don’t spend your life trying to force a round peg in a square hole.

Managing Life

One day in the 1920s Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem Steel, met Ivy Lee, a pioneer management consultant. Schwab said, “Show me a way to get more things done with my time and I’ll pay you anything within reason.”

Lee handed Schwab a blank piece of paper and told him to take a few minutes that evening and write down in order of importance six tasks he needed to do the next day. The next day work on the first priority until it is completed, then move on to the second item, and so forth. At the end of the day tear up the list and make a new one for the next day.

“Don’t be concerned,” said Lee, “if you finish only one task, or two task. The main objective is not to do everything on the list but to spend your time on the most important.” In other words do first things first. “Try this for a while and if it works send me what you think the advise was worth,” is how Lee left the conversation.

A few weeks later Schwab mailed Lee a check for $25,000, equivalent to $250,000 today, with a note that said this was the best advise he had ever received.

“Conduct yourself wisely, toward others, making the most of your time. ” –Colossians 4:5

Early in the 20thcentury, management sciences developed time-and-motion studies to evaluate workers. Cameras and calculators were used to determine productivity.

Eventually time management became as interested in the president’s office as it was about the factory floor. Most organizations by the end of the century monitored their use of time with some time management tool. In recent years Barnes and Nobel and other bookstores have been overrun by books on time management. The pressure and pace of life has caused everyone to examine their use of time. The pulpit even dedicates a sermon to looking at the implications of time on Christian stewardship.

Nevertheless the term “time management” is a misnomer. A person cannot do anything to time itself, delay or hasten, save or lose, much less manage. What we can do is manage ourselves, under the direction of Jesus Christ. Life management by surrendering to Jesus. The bottom line becomes, “managing ourselves for the glory of God during this time and at this place of our life.”

To accomplish this for this coming year we need to follow this simple but difficult process.

1. Establish no more than 3 goals for the year.
2. Spend time in daily prayer.
3. Daily make a list, in the order of importance, of the six most important things to do with that day.
4. Learn to say “no” when what you are being asked to do anything that will keep you from one of your goals or from one of your daily priorities.

God has given us another year, how will we spend it, on the big rocks or on the gravel, doing the important things or doing the urgent, following God’s agenda or following others plan?


John Roy is Pastor of Pelham Road Baptist Church in Greenville, SC.

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