Last week we were talking in general about the biblical idea of adding margin to our lives. This week I want to be specific and talk about time, about our schedules and our diary, or our calendar – however you manage your commitments.
Last week, when I took Danny and Lily to Auckland to catch their plane, I’d decided to put my bike in the back of the car and do a training ride in Auckland if I could. Tuesday it was pouring down, we drove up and it rained. I dropped Danny and Lily off under shelter and circled back to avoid the rain. We drank coffee and said our goodbyes and still it was raining. I’d just about given up on going for the ride when I felt God lead me into the city. I got to One Tree Hill where I was going to start this loop, and it was still raining and I’m thinking, “Hmm”. So I prayed one of those really conversational prayers. “So, what do I do now Jesus?” I checked my weather forecast and it looked like it would be OK in an hour. Well I’m not that patient, what do I do? Then I heard that still small voice say, “Go to that Theological book shop”. So I did. I looked around and I bought a book, and read it for almost an hour, and then I headed out for the ride. And it was spectacular, 2 hours 10 minutes and not a drop of rain, 52kms. The miracle wasn’t the weather – it was me being willing to wait. (The irony of time is that often being willing to wait, makes the best time.)
Job 14:5 ‘A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months, and have set limits he cannot exceed.’ I want to start today with 3 fundamental truths that, if you grasp, will change the way you live.
1. Your time is limited. Your days are numbered but we act as if we will go on forever. When you are young the world is before you, when we’re older, as westerners we spend a great deal of money on extending our lives, and a great deal of effort on denying the fact that our days are limited. We only get one life-time and, while none of us know how long it will be, it most certainly has a limit. First truth.
2. All of your time will be spentdoing something. At the end of every 24 hours you will have consumed 24 hours of time. You cannot save, nor preserve time. It is not like money, or food, or any asset that at the end of the day you can say, “I’ve saved $50” and put it away for next week. Next year you cannot pull out an extra week that you saved. We all put things off and think, “I’ll do that when I’ve got time”. You cannot horde time. Time is supremely perishable.
3. Someone will determine how you spend your time. Are you in control of your time? Do you have a PA who organises your diary for you? Do the dictates of the school day determine what you will do with your time? Is it your boss? Does your anxiety rule your day? I want to suggest that for most of us who think we are in control, the urgent so often outweighs the important. If I really want to get something done I stay away from my office.
When we are in charge often what happens is that we just keep filling our lives with more and more things, important or unimportant. Cell phones, and especially smart phones, are actually robbing us of quality time, because busyness takes away intimacy.
Let me just repeat this crucial point - at the end of every day you will have consumed, well or poorly, a day of your life and you cannot have a box full of extra minutes.
The book I bought in Auckland was called ‘Halftime’ by Bob Buford and was all about making the most of the second half of your life. He used a sporting analogy that I think is really helpful - it’s usually the second half of any game that is most important. You can recover from many mistakes with a good second half. If you are in the midst of life, it’s the second half that will determine how your marriage goes; in your second half you still have time to change the way your kids feel about you. Even if you’ve made some mistakes in the first half of your life, in the second half you can change them.
So, if someone is in charge of your time, wouldn’t it be logical to ask God to be in charge of your time? After all, he is the one who gave your time to you, and only he knows how much you’ve got left. I’m 44, my dad made 91, I’m hoping for 47 more years, but maybe I’ve only got 47 more days. I told a few of you about my friend Colin who got to 70 years and then had a diagnosis of cancer and only had 26 more days. This question of who guides our time is a crucial question of discipleship.
What would it look like to you if you surrendered your time to God?
Scripture has a lot to say about reckoning on God’s authority to manage our time.
2 Kings 20 - King Hezekiah gets sick and the prophet Isaiah tells him he is going to die. Hezekiah breaks down in tears, he repents and calls out to God, and God speaks again through Isaiah invs 5 and 6 –‘I have heard your prayer and seen your tears, I will heal you … and I will add 15 years to your life.’ God asserts the right to add time to our lives.
Luke 12 - The story of the rich fool. A man has abundant crops and decides to store away all this wealth in large barns and hedge funds, take life easy, eat, drink and be merry. In verse 20 God says, ‘You fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you.’ God asserts the right to subtract time from our lives.
It only makes sense to let God be in control of our time.
If we give God control of our time, I bet he’ll put more margin in your days and weeks and years. Because he knows what matters most, and because he knows important things happen in our downtime.
1. Psalm 90:12 ’Teach us to count our days - that we may gain a wise heart.’ If we put God in control of our days, he will teach us that we only get to do some things once. We only get to be 19 once. We only get to influence our teenagers for a few years while they are at home. We only get a few years with our grand children while they are young. I know Karen and I sat down last year and realised we have only four more summers before Jono, my beloved oldest son, probably leaves home. And he will be welcome to come home every summer after that, but God teaches us to count our days. I rejoice that my kids grandparents have moved close and are getting to watch them play sport, and come to music recitals. Counting our days grows a wise heart. If I were to live as long as my father lived, I’d have 47 more years and 2, 444 more Saturdays. I heard about a man about my age who got a jar and put those two and a half thousand marbles in it, and took one out for every Saturday. O God, teach us to number our days aright – that we might gain a wide heart. That we might love the things that matter.
2. If we surrendered our time to God, he would teach us to prioritise better. Ephesians 5: 15-17 ‘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’. So God would teach us how to make wise use of our time. That doesn’t mean just filling out time up with activity. That means giving the right priority to the right activities, and letting God set your agenda – not someone else. We tend to add, add, add to our diary. Are you free Thursday night? Look it up, yes it’s free – no it’s not. How often have you sat down and thought about what you could subtract from your diary? People in their dying days usually say, “I wish I had spent more time with my family.” I think God would agree. Karen’s just recently learnt how to access my icloud calendar and for this week put in hockey prize giving, soccer prize giving, basketball prize giving. Important things. Margin means doing less, and doing what you do better. Here’s a great axiom, ‘priority determines capacity’. Get the most important things in first and you will be productive in the broadest sense, and some of those important things are downtime. Isn’t this one of those obvious but really hard to apply rules. I like it when I ask someone to do something if they say they will go away and pray about it – often they will say no. That’s wisdom.
3. Make time alone with God a priority. Give God the first part of the day. Over the years I have waxed and waned on this. I know that my life goes better when I start with prayer. But I can testify that often I feel too busy to start the day with sufficient prayer. Matthew 6:33 ‘But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Jesus got up very early in the morning, went out and ordered his day with our father. When we give God the first few minutes or portion of the day, we are giving him time to direct us. And I don’t mean just in our bible study. Ask God to direct your day - who should I see, what should I do, what about my family, ask God how to deal with situations, pray to him for the words you will need to say to certain people.
I encourage you to do this as an individual, but also as a couple. Ask what is God wanting of us at the moment? How does he want us to spend our days? As a family?
We can so easily start to be driven by the pressure of urgency. I’ve got to get in, make a decision, do it now. I’m chronic – once I’ve made a decision it’s really hard for me to change – but we need to let God monitor our time. What’s the best way to be spending this day, this evening, this week, this month, this year?
I believe that if we surrender our time to God, he will actually put more margin in our lives, and he will teach us to number our days, and to value today. I watched that program on the Christchurch Quake a few months ago, ‘Hope and Wire’, and it brought home to me how urgency and anxiety can merge together to make bad decisions. I remember one of the girls declaring almost a mantra of our culture, “I don’t want to die a virgin”. But let’s replace that with, “I don’t want to waste my first time with someone who won’t be around for a long time.” (That involves two rings in my thinking.) Urgency and anxiety; “I just need to work longer to get ahead” can be replaced with “I want to get ahead with the things that matter most”. We should all live so that if tomorrow was our last day, we would have no lasting regret about relationships unrestored and words of blessing unspoken.
Teach me O God how to number my days.
* These sermons are based on a series called “Take it to the Limit” by Andy Stanley from North Point.