My Time? God’s Time!
Philip Shee—Jakarta, Indonesia
Time is not only precious but, indeed, priceless. We often lament that there are not enough hours in the day, that time flies, and that life is short. The rich cannot buy more days, the powerful cannot extend his hours, and the genius cannot invent more minutes. Even though we can save time by outsourcing mundane tasks to others, and using technology to increase our efficiency, we still suffer from a lack of time. Ironically, one seems to get busier as society becomes more advanced.
We often hear about members who used to live in rural areas, at a time when they lacked basic amenities and conveniences such as electricity and transportation. They would labor on their farms from dawn till dusk, and yet attending morning-prayer and evening services were essential parts of their daily routine. As society progresses and urbanization brings more conveniences and affluence, many worshippers struggle to find time to participate in regular worship, let alone committing to serve in God’s ministry.
This is a real challenge facing Christians and the church today. While we may yearn to devote more time to our spiritual lives and to serve our Lord in His ministry, somehow, we fail to sustain or even to start this commitment. We comfort ourselves that we will do so later, once we have accomplished this or that, but we find ourselves putting it off again and again as new challenges and life goals come along.
How can we break this vicious cycle? We can start by re-orientating our lives so that God is in the center of all we do.
BALANCE OR PIVOT?
It is often said that we can manage our time better if we strike a good balance among the various commitments in our lives. This suggests that we allocate our time equally between work or studies, family, friends, our own interests, and God and His ministry. Also, some say that the balance changes as we progress through each stage of our lives—a student would focus his full attention on academic achievement, a graduate on building his career, and a middle-aged person on providing a comfortable life for his family and saving for retirement. During these periods, any spare time is further divided between leisure, family, friends, and God. Is this the best formula if we hope to make time for God? The Lord Himself has left the following guidance:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…. (Mt 6:33a)
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. (Mt 6:24a)
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Mt 22:37)
While the contexts of these verses are not about how we use our time, the underlying principles are relevant. They reveal the Lord’s expectation of our unwavering, single-minded, and total devotion to Him. If we cannot serve two masters at the same time, how can we possibly see God as one of many commitments to juggle in our lives? Our love for Him should encompass all of our heart, our soul and our mind, and not just an allocated part. It is no wonder, therefore, that the Lord has instructed us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness—and in doing so, we will receive all we need as a blessing from God, rather than through our own tireless pursuit. This suggests that the ideal formula is not about striking an equal balance between God and the other components in our lives. Instead, God should be the center around which our lives pivot.
The difference here is that God is not just another component of our lives, on par with our other activities and commitments. Rather, God is our primary commitment, and the other areas that require our time and energy revolve around this commitment. We may devote more time to some areas over others, and there will be times when we completely drop certain commitments. Our lives may not be equally balanced, but with God as our pivot, whatever we choose to do is entirely driven by God. All of our activities will be God-centered, as Paul writes:
He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. (Rom 14:6–8)
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus… (Col 3:17a)
PRACTICAL LIVING FOR CHRIST
If we understand that God should be our pivot, how can we apply this in our lives? We can look at four steps to achieve this:
1) Stay Attuned to God
We must embed the idea that God is in the driver’s seat as a key foundation in our lives. While Paul devoted his life to preaching the gospel, his path and where he spent his time were entirely directed by the Holy Spirit. In one instance, the Holy Spirit forbade him to preach in Asia or go to Bithynia, guiding him instead to Macedonia (Acts 16:6–12). In the end, he was led to Jerusalem, with the clear knowledge from the Holy Spirit that chains and tribulation awaited him (Acts 20:22–24). Instead of reasoning that his time and life would be better spent in further missionary travels, he submitted to God’s guidance without question.
In hindsight, we can see God’s marvelous arrangement: by spending time under house arrest in Rome, Paul was able to spread the gospel to the people who came to his rented house, rather than having to travel around (Acts 28:30–31). More importantly, being under house arrest provided him the time and setting where he could be inspired by God to write the four prison epistles, which are part of the New Testament today. These letters have reached, and continue to reach, many people across the world. Their impact has far surpassed all that Paul could ever have done in his physical mission during his lifetime. We can, therefore, see how God’s direct guidance helps us make the maximum impact with our limited time. And the starting point must be the constant devotion of our time to prayer and the word of God for guidance. As we stay attuned to God, our paths will be directed by him.
One big irony is that as technological advancement has made the world more efficient, our lives seem to be even busier. To break out of this contradictory state, we must first seek to understand how we ended up this way. Firstly, as things get done faster, we often look to get even more things done. Secondly, we are quick to fill up our free time to pursue the next level of achievement. Thirdly, we are ever ready to embrace the novelties that the world presents, including new gadgets, new restaurants, new holiday destinations, and new leisure activities.
The key to addressing this
challenge is to simplify our lives. The Bible encourages us “that you should
aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business” (1 Thess
4:11a). Indeed, if we can manage our ambitions by not setting our minds on
“high things” (Rom 12:16), stop the endless pursuit of secular achievements,
and find contentment in the satisfaction of our daily needs (
3) Prioritize Our Commitments
As we face increasing demands on our time, it is critical to prioritize our commitments, especially if we are unable to find time to serve God. With God at the center of our lives and all other commitments built around Him, then the time to serve God will become readily available.
When Jesus visited a certain village, Martha welcomed Him into her home. While she chose to busy herself with serving her guest, her sister Mary chose simply to spend time at the feet of Jesus, listening to His teaching. When Martha complained, Jesus corrected her by praising Mary for having chosen the good part (Lk 10:38–42). Although Martha was serving Jesus, she was deemed to have had the wrong priority. Hence, as we apportion the scarce time we have, the key is to consider how God would have us prioritize.
When Jesus reached out to people to follow Him, one person asked to be allowed to bury his father first. Another asked to go and bid farewell to those in his house. While both requests seem reasonable from a secular perspective, Jesus’ response was less favorable—He concluded that these were not fit for the kingdom of God (Lk 9:59–62). Hence, in comparison to directly serving God, our secular commitments become insignificant, or even irrelevant.
As we prioritize our commitments, the activities that make up our service to God should be non-negotiable. For example, we should be firmly committed to attending regular church services and spiritual convocations, carrying out our assigned church duties, and devoting time each day for prayer and Bible reading. Once these are fixed in our schedules, we can then allocate time to other activities. The activities we should prioritize are those that will contribute indirectly to our service to God. For example, a student should absolutely devote time to their studies and a working adult should work hard in their vocation, as long as they are not distracted from their direct service to God. Hence, even when a student is busy with examinations and a working adult has a project deadline, they should not de-prioritize the non-negotiable fixtures such as prayer and attending church services. In addition, these other activities should be pursued only with the mindset that they are for the purpose of serving God more effectively. A student pursues education to be better equipped to serve God, not for riches or success. Any activities that add little or no value to the work of God should be the last on our to-do lists. These could be binge-watching television serials, aimless Internet surfing, or being addicted to computer games.
4) Employ Our Gifts
“But one and the same Spirit works all things, distributing to each one
individually as He wills.” (
This Bible passage highlights that God has given different gifts, or talents, to each individual. We may also have gained different strengths and skills through our education and work experience. We should be proactive in employing these gifts to serve God. If we choose to serve God in areas that are not aligned to our natural gifts, talent, or skills, we would not be using our limited time wisely. Hence, to make good use of our time for God, we should not attempt to focus on areas where others are clearly more suited to do. If each of us devotes time to serve God in the way for which we are best equipped, then our collective service will deliver the maximum impact in the minimum time.
Finally, as we continue through life attempting to make the best use of our time, we need to realize that our time, and our lives, are completely in the hands of God. Hence James reminds us: “Come now, you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’ ” (Jas 4:13–15). This realization makes it imperative for us to place God as the pivot of our lives. And as our lives revolve around God, we can minimize distractions and ensure our activities naturally stay within the boundaries guided by Him.
If we adopt the practical steps suggested above, to stay tuned to God, simplify our lives, prioritize our commitments, and employ our gifts, then making time for God becomes an irrelevant consideration as our entire lives and the way we spend our time will revolve around Him. With this understanding, let us endeavor to use our time wisely to fulfill what God has intended for us to accomplish for Him; while we are still alive, and while we still have time.