“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). Paul’s words alert us to the precious resource of time, our responsibility in our use of time, and the reason we should use time wisely.
The Resource of Time
A vital resource God has given us is time; or, as the NIV reads, “opportunity.” Kairos is one of two Greek words for “time” or “opportunity.”
It doesn’t refer to calendar time or clock time (chronos) but to an opportune or unique moment or season in time. Paul uses the same word in Galatians 6:10, where he says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Opportunity is a fleeting thing. Isaac Watts captured well the fleeting nature of time in one of his lesser known hymns:
Time, what an empty vapor ’tis!
And days, how swift they are!
Swift as an Indian arrow flies,
Or like a shooting star.
The present moments just appear,
Then slide away in haste,
That we can never say, “They’re here,”
But only say, “They’re past.”
Our life is ever on the wing,
And death is ever nigh;
The moment when our lives begin
We all begin to die.1
Time’s fleeting nature should strike us all the more forcefully when we consider how most of us in America spend our time. According to U. S. News and World Report, the average American will spend:
* six months sitting at traffic lights
* eight months opening junk mail
* two years unsuccessfully returning phone calls
* three years in meetings
* five years waiting in lines
In addition, the average person will:
* commute 45 minutes every day
* receive 600 advertising messages every day (television, print media, radio, billboards)
* travel 7,700 miles every year
* watch 1,700 hours (over 70 days!) of television every year
* open 600 pieces of mail every year2
Time is a precious commodity that can be easily squandered on trivialities. That’s why the psalmist prayed, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psa. 90:12).
Our Responsibility with Time
We have all been given the resource of time or opportunity, and a responsibility comes with this gift. “Make the best use of” comes from the Greek word exagorazo, which was common in the marketplaces of ancient cities; it means “to buy up, to purchase, to redeem.” It’s the word Paul used in Galatians 3:13 when he said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.”
The idea here is simply, “Make the best use of your time.” Carpe Diem! (“Seize the day!”)
The Reason to Use Time Wisely
The next phrase in the verse explains why we must redeem the time: “because the days are evil.” Paul is referring to the fallenness of the present evil age from which God has delivered us through Jesus. As Galatians 1:4 says, Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.”
Because God has delivered us from the grip of the present evil age through Christ, the light of the age to come has dawned upon us. We are now called to live with a different perspective in the present. In a similar passage, Paul says:
The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:29–31).
How to Best Use Time
Following are seven practical suggestions for making the best use of our time:
1. Write a mission statement.
Few experiences have helped shape my life more than the process of writing a personal mission statement when I was 20 years old. I was challenged to do so when reading Steven Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.3 Although it took several days to write, it has helped chart my course since.
As a young man, Jonathan Edwards wrote in his journals Seventy Resolutions which functioned in much the same way. One resolution reads, “Resolved: Never to lose one moment of time, but to always improve it in the most profitable way I can.”
As you write your personal mission statement, be sure that your mission is in harmony with God’s overall redemptive purposes in the world.
2. Define your roles and goals.4
In addition to my personal relationship with God, my roles include husband, father, shepherd, preacher, and author; but with each role comes distinct responsibilities, which should determine goals. My goals as a husband include regularly helping my wife at home, taking her on dates, and spending time talking to her. My goals as a preacher include spending adequate time in reading and study and giving specific attention to sermon preparation. Defining your roles and goals is crucial to knowing how to manage your time.
3. Put first things first.
Let your mission statement and your roles and goals define your priorities. Weed out trivialities. Learn to sift out that which is truly important from that which is just urgent. Steven Covey’s book includes a grid with four quadrants into which all our activities can fit:
* Quadrant 1: Urgent and important--priorities with deadlines and crisis situations
* Quadrant 2: Important but not urgent--prayer, meditation, exercise, relationship building--often neglected because there are no deadlines attached
* Quadrant 3: Urgent but not important--phone calls, junk mail, a lot of e-mail--have the illusion of importance because they “demand” our immediate attention but can be neglected or refused with little consequence
* Quadrant 4: Neither urgent or important--time wasters such as television, browsing the Internet, etc.5
He recommends that we learn how to schedule in as many quadrant 2 activities as possible, while eliminating as many activities from quadrants 3 and 4 as possible. This is one of the keys to true effectiveness.
4. Plan in advance.
This is another crucial strategy for pastors. If I leave my schedule up to the whims of a day, I won’t accomplish what needs to be done. I find it helpful to focus on planning once or twice a month and then review the plan frequently.
This is especially true when it comes to spending time with other people. I often schedule appointments three or four weeks in advance and try to balance time between leaders, developing leaders, guests, counselees, and fellow pastors or professional acquaintances.
Even more important is planning the church calendar in advance. Pastors with larger churches and multiple staff will already be doing this, but pastors of smaller churches may need to develop this discipline.
5. Develop good systems.
It’s important to develop good systems for filing, delegation, communication, and task management. This was the real gain of David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.6 I’m still gradually applying his excellent recommendations, and every step forward has helped me increase efficiency.
6. Buy up the nickels and dimes of time.
Use small amounts of time well. Think in terms of minutes and hours, not just months and years. Utilize the time you spend sitting at traffic lights or standing in lines to pray or memorize Scripture. Seize the extra seconds and minutes to encourage someone or share your faith.
Thinking this way helps me. Frequent short calls keep me in better touch with people than lengthy conversations which may be more rare.
7. Know when to turn things off.
Technology dominates much of our time and attention. The constant barrage of bytes and images can easily diminish our capacity for concentration, reflection, and prayer. Sometimes we need to turn off the phone and refuse to check e-mail so we can do heavy reading or devote time to Scripture and prayer.
If we live through the next week, each of us will have exactly 10,080 minutes at our disposal. Most people probably spend roughly 3,360 of those minutes sleeping and another 2,500 to 3,000 minutes on the job. What will you do with the other 3,720 minutes?
I have just one minute,
Only 60 seconds in it.
Can’t deny it, can’t refuse it;
I can waste it, I can use it;
It is mine, and I can’t lose it.
If I’m careless I’ll abuse it.
So my life rolls on in seconds
And in minutes every day,
As they paint the panorama
Of my life along the way.
Didn’t make it, didn’t choose it,
There’s no way I can but use it.
Just a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it.7
1. The full text of this hymn can be found online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/watts/psalmshymns.ii.ii.lviii.html.
2. Quoted in Steven J. Lawson, The Legacy (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1998) 27.
3. Steven R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989) 128-144.
4. Ibid., 135, 162-171.
5. Ibid., 142-162.
6. David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (New York: Penguin, 2001).
7. By Roy Homerding.