Reading: “THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF CHRIST AND THE STEWARDSHIP OF TIME” By Darrell Pursiful
"THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF CHRIST AND THE STEWARDSHIP OF TIME”
By Darrell Pursiful
Guiding Scripture Theme: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 90:1-4, 12
New Testament Lesson: James 4:13-15
Time is a Gift from God
Psalm 90: 1-4, 12
(1) Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
(2) Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God
(3) You turn us back to dust,
and say, "Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night....
(12) So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
In the movie On Golden Pond, Jane Fonda played Chelsea, a woman at odds with her aging father, played by her real-life father, Henry Fonda. Chelsea, with a chip on her shoulder, sarcastically expressed her resentment to her mother (as played by Kathryn Hepburn). Her mother slapped her and said, "Life is getting on; why don't you get on with it? Chelsea, your father is nearly eighty years old. When are you going to establish a relationship with him?”
That is a good question. The script writer understood that we do not have an unlimited supply of time. Benjamin Franklin understood this, too, and wrote in the June 1746 edition of Poor Richard's Almanac, "Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that's the stuff life is made of.”
We often act as if we had an unlimited supply of time. If we shortchange the time we devote to our families, it is not because we intend to harm those relationships: we just have more pressing things to do. We assume there will be plenty of time to take care of our relationships. Sadly, we too often end up like Chelsea, reaching middle age with broken commitments and unfulfilled relationships, chasing dreams that do not matter in the long run, and all the while ignoring the blessings all around us.
Time is a gift we dare not take for granted. James reminds us,
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that” (Jas 4:13-15).
Like every other good and perfect gift (Jas 1:17), time is something God gives. Every day--every hour--is ultimately a gift of God's grace. The first chapter of Genesis records, among all the other creative acts of God, the divine ordering of time: "And God said, 'Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years'” (Ge 1:14). The sun, moon, and stars exist at least in part so that humans will know what time it is.
The creation story offers some additional insights into time as a gift from God. In his book, Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson pointed out that in the Bible a day does not begin with sunrise; it begins with sunset. Therefore, the day begins when we go to sleep and God works. At sunrise, we wake up and join God in the work of the day he began while we were sleeping. The day does not begin with us. Rather, we wake up and step into God's rhythm of grace--a day already in progress.
This idea that day begins when we go to sleep is a vital worldview concept. Life, success, and productivity do not ultimately depend on us. They depend on God. This understanding allows us to rest, both in our daily cycle of sleep and wakefulness and in our weekly cycle of Sabbath rest. Trusting in God's providence, we can dare to believe that we have enough time. In this faith, we can receive each day as a gift.
(1) Reflect on the following quotation:
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you, before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so. One day I shall dig my fingers into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch my self taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want all the more for your return. --Mary Jean Irion
(2) How does one learn to "savor” one's "normal days”? How can we avoid taking them for granted?
(3) Why do we so often fail to understand that time is a gift until we are in danger of running out?
Time is Fallen
(3) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, (4) who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, (5) to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Walter Wink has described how otherwise good elements of God's creation can be twisted into dark "principalities and powers” that exert a degrading influence over individuals and whole societies. The things that give order and structure to life can become the very things that hold us back. Time is certainly one of God's good gifts that have the potential to turn against us. We can invest it with power or influence over us to the point that it becomes a burden rather than a gift. At times like this we can identify with Shakespeare's Hamlet, who complained,
The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
The Apostle Paul would have said a hearty Amen to idea of "time out of joint.” He had much to say about "the present evil age” (Gal 1:4). Many English translations render the Greek term aion as "world,” but it is as much a reference to time as to space. In Paul's thought, the present age is a time of rebellion against God. Principalities and powers, defeated in principle by Jesus' death on the cross (Col 2), still hold sway until Christ's coming ushers in "the age to come.”
Translated literally, we can see time out of joint in verses like the following:
- Do not be conformed to this age (Ro 12:2)
- Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.... None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Co 2:6, 8)
- In their case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers (2 Co 4:4)
- ... to rescue us from the present evil age (Gal 1:4)
- ... in which [transgressions] you once lived, following after the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air (Eph 2:2)
- ... for Demas, in love with this present age, has deserted me (2 Ti 4:10)
In Jonathan Swift's classic, Gulliver's Travels, the Lilliputians saw Gulliver's pocket watch and concluded that it must be his god. After all, Gulliver told them that he never did anything without consulting it first! We all know what that feels like.
When England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, eleven days were dropped from the year so that September 2 was followed immediately by September 14. A popular cry at that time was, "Give us back our eleven days!” Of course, no one in England "lost” as much as a second of time. Only the conventions by which we measure time were affected. But this makes the outrage over those eleven days all the more telling in terms of how the clock and the calendar exert their influence over our lives. Is the clock our god? There is probably no other part of our lives so thoroughly co-opted by the secular worldview than our perception of time. We say that time is a gift from God, but do we act like it?
The Preacher of Ecclesiastes described the passage of time as meaningless drudgery: being born and dying, planting and plucking up, killing and healing, loving and hating, war and peace, all following one after the other in a depressing litany (Ecc 3:1-8). He despaired of finding any meaning or significance in life:
So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity (Ecc 2:20-23).
Rather than a good gift from God, the Preacher perceived time as a meaningless hamster wheel of existence, with much toil but nothing of value to show for it. It is a view of time that is not much different from our own. In our global economy, time never slows down--there is only productivity, 24/7. This kind of time has the relentless beat of commerce as its only rhythm. This is not the way time was supposed to be!
(1) What are some examples of time "out of joint”? In addition to our preoccupation with time and the drudgery of the time-clock, what other factors tend to make time an oppressive force in our lives?
(2) How has the cultural shift from life on the farm to life in the city affected our perception of time? What new challenges has this shift posed to our ability to experience time as God intended?
(3) Some people are overscheduled to the breaking point while others struggle with boredom and the seeming meaninglessness of life. How are these dilemmas connected to our experience of the dark side of time?
(4) What are some possible responses to time "out of joint”? Which of these responses seems most healthy? Do any of them seem only to make the problem worse?
Time Can Be Redeemed
(15) Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, (16) making the most of the time, because the days are evil. (17) So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Many Christians remember Ephesians 5:16 as it is phrased in the King James Version: "redeeming the time, for the days are evil.” "Redeem” is a term from the world of business that implies getting the most out of an investment.
Time is the ultimate gift, and it is what we have most in common. We each get an equal daily allotment of this precious gift, and despite our metaphors to the contrary, we cannot save it, kill it, or even waste it. All we can do with time is spend it, but we can spend it either wisely or foolishly. That is what the stewardship of time is all about: How can we spend our time in ways that are fruitful, enriching, and wise?
Since time is ultimately a part of God's good creation, we can live in faith that time can be redeemed. The Christian hope is that this present evil age will give way to the transformed age of the kingdom of God. Our current experience of the kingdom is both "now” and "not yet.” We experience some of the realities of God's kingdom, but only "in a mirror, dimly” (1 Co 13:12).
Against the cyclical view of time that is prevalent in many Asian cultures (and which is familiar to us from the book of Ecclesiastes), the predominant biblical perspective is that time is linear: it is proceeding toward a goal. We await the Day of the Lord and the consummation of all things, when times and seasons will be made right.
Between now and then, we must heed the biblical call to "redeem the time”--to make the most of every opportunity, to seize the day. Since time is a fallen "power” in our world, redeeming the time is somehow related to the theme of spiritual warfare. Paul urged Titus to live reverently in "the now age” (Titus 2:12, literal translation) precisely because "the now age” is the context of our spiritual struggle. Time is something we must master in Jesus' name, or it will surely master us. Or, to state the matter more positively, redeeming the time is a way of extending God's kingly rule in this world.
Peter F. Drucker rightly noted that "Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.” Christian stewardship of time, however, is more than mere "time management.” To redeem the time, we need richer language than that. We need biblical language that reflects the God who grants us life hour by hour and minute by minute.
We can begin by noting that there are at least two different biblical terms for competing concepts of time. In the New Testament, time is sometimes denoted by the word chronos. This is time as it is measured out in minutes, hours, days, etc. It is the time of clocks and calendars, proceeding at an unchanging pace day after day. For most of us, this sort of time, and the work-weeks and time-clocks that go with it, moves too slowly.
But there is another way to conceive of time. Another Greek word for time is kairos. This is fitting or opportune time; we might even call it "existential time.” It is also the Greek word for "opportunity.” Kairos is time measured not by the clock or the calendar but by the quality of what is experienced in that time. If chronos says, "Nine months have passed,” kairos says, "I'm going into labor.” Kairos is our perception of the natural rhythms that God has built into the world and into human existence.
While chronos tends to drag, kairos often passes before our eyes in a blur. But the existential quality of our existence is wrapped up far more in kairos than chronos. When Charles Dickens penned the famous opening line of A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” he was describing kairos.
As Art Buchwald observed, "Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time we've got.” So, what shall we do to make the most of it? Here we are confronted with a paradox: if we want to enhance our kairos, we need to get our chronos under control. How do we do this?
The most fundamental biblical strategy for the stewardship of time is the Sabbath. One day out of seven is meant for rest and spiritual renewal. It is, in Jewish thought, a time to refrain from using God's creation in any way: not by lighting lamps, plowing fields, or working animals. Keeping the Sabbath is a silent testimony to certain biblical truths:
- We must honor our bodies by keeping sensible schedules and getting the rest we need.
- We must make time to attend to our spiritual needs as well as our physical and emotional needs. Prayer and meditation on the word of God must be built into our schedules.
- It is permitted to say No, and sometimes it is mandatory. Overscheduling our lives is unhealthy and dishonors God.
- God will provide enough time to work, rest, love our families, and attend to all of our other responsibilities.
- We can enjoy the freedom of the Sabbath as a foretaste of our eternal rest with God.
Stephen Covey has discussed something similar to this Sabbath principle through the memorable word-picture of "sharpening the saw.” Covey told the following story to make his point:
Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
"What are you doing?” you ask.
"Can't you see?” comes the impatient reply. "I'm sawing down this tree.”
"You look exhausted!” you exclaim. "How long have you been at it?”
"Over five hours,” he returns, "and I'm beat! This is hard work.”
"Well why don't you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. "I'm sure it would go a lot faster.”
"I don't have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. "I'm too busy sawing!”
Like the Sabbath, "sharpening the saw” is about taking the time we need for self-renewal--physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Of course, this can be done legalistically, but that defeats its very purpose. Some observe Sunday as the Christian Sabbath; others do not. Some people such as nurses, fire fighters, and police officers work odd shifts and cannot set apart same day of rest every week. Some, such as doctors, have to be on call and run the risk that their day of rest will be interrupted. And obviously, Christian ministers are expected to work every Sunday! Remember: time is fallen--it is out of joint--and if we are not careful, we will make it into a god. That is why Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath (Mk 2:27). It is a gift--though a gift we neglect at our peril.
We become wise stewards of time by honoring the rhythms for which God created us:
- A daily rhythm of prayer, work, and rest.
- The weekly rhythm of Sabbath (whenever and however we observe it) and ordinary days.
- The yearly rhythms of our economic and spiritual lives: the school year, the busy season at work, the celebrations of the liturgical calendar, etc.
- The lifespan rhythms of childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age.
Submission to these rhythms helps clear some space in our schedules for things that, although not as urgent or pressing as some of the things on our calendars, are nevertheless almost infinitely more important.
(1) What do you do to "sharpen your saw”?
(2) Describe an average weekend in your house. How does your family set apart time for rest, recreation, and renewal?
(3) What is the role of humility in the proper stewardship of time? How does the Sabbath principle require an attitude of humble submission to God?
(4) What is one thing you need to add to your daily or weekly schedule? What is one thing you need to remove from your daily or weekly schedule?
Stephen R. Covey, The 7Habits of Highly Effective People (Free Press, 1990)
Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles (Eerdmans, 1990).
Walter Wink, Naming the Powers (Augsburg, 1983).