There was a boy whose parents promised to buy him a watch if he would be on time for school and church for a given length of time. The boy did his duty and met the requirement, so he asked his parents to get him the watch they had promised. Money in the family was tight at the time so his parents said it might take a while before they could make the purchase. Each day, the boy asked about his reward, until finally, the father told his son that if he mentioned “watch” one more time, he wouldn’t get one.
Each night before dinner, this family read a Bible verse together and they each took turns choosing a verse to read. When it came time for the boy to choose a verse he selected Mark 13:37 which reads: “And what I say unto you, I say unto all—Watch!”
We are all fascinated with time from an early age, aren’t we? As we begin this month-long series on Giving is Living, I want to talk with you about time, and giving God our time. As I have looked over the Bible in preparation for this message, I see at least five lessons on time from the Scriptures.
The first lesson is that our time is in God’s hands. David wrote in Psalm 31:15, “My times are in your hands.” St. Augustine had this verse pinned by his bedside when he died. I think what David was recognizing in his prayer was that all his life’s circumstances are under God’s control. I believe that is true for us as well. All the events and circumstances of our lives are sifted through God’s fingers. The time of our lives is in God’s hands.
This is true for at least one important reason: God created time. God does not live in time. Rather, time is part of the created universe.
In the town hall in Copenhagen stands the world’s most complicated clock (pictured above). It took forty years to build at a cost of more than a million dollars. The clock has ten faces, fifteen thousand parts, and is accurate to two-fifths of a second every three hundred years. The clock can compute the time of day, the days of the week, the months and years, and the movements of the planets for twenty-five hundred years. Some parts of that clock will not move until twenty-five centuries have passed.
Now what is most intriguing to me about this clock is that it is not accurate. It loses two-fifths of a second every three hundred years. Like all clocks, this timepiece in Copenhagen must be regulated by a more precise clock, the universe itself. The mighty astronomical clock of the universe, with its billions of moving parts, from atoms to stars, rolls on century after century with movements so reliable that all time on earth can be measure by it.
Time itself is part of God’s creation and God’s timing is perfect even though our human measurement of it is not.
Now, time is not only something created by God, but it is also governed by God. That’s part of what David means when he says, “My times are in your hands.” Our time is governed by God. All our time belongs to him since we are God’s creatures.
William Law once wrote,
Where did we come up with this concept of “spare time,” anyway? Is there any time for which we aren’t accountable to God? Is there any time during which God doesn’t care what you are doing? No Christian has ever had spare time. You may have spare time from labor or necessity, you may stop working and refresh yourself, but no Christian ever had time off from living like a Christian.
Our time is in God’s hands; it belongs to God. Therefore, when we give God our time, we are merely giving back to God something that is already his. God has entrusted us with time as his stewards.
The second lesson I see in Scripture is that there is a time for everything. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”
Solomon is making a similar point to David. There is a divinely appointed time for everything. The cycles of life itself, birth and death and everything in between are appointed by God. Solomon concludes by saying, in effect, that there is nothing better for us as human beings than to accept what God has sovereignly appointed.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Everything has its time, and the main thing is that we keep step with God, and do not keep pressing on a few steps ahead—nor keep dawdling a step behind. It’s presumptuous to want to have everything at once… Everything has its time.”
Personally, I believe God gives each one of us exactly enough tie to accomplish what he wants.
Imagine what you would do if your bank phoned you every morning and told you that your account had been credited with 86,400 pennies ($864). Furthermore, imagine what you would do if your bank gave you this one stipulation: that you must spend all that money every day. There is no carryover to the next day. Whatever you do not spend is lost. What would you do with such a gift?
We do have such a bank. It is called God’s 1st World Bank of Time. Every morning this bank credits your account with 86,400 seconds—but no balances are carried into the next day. Every night erases what you fail to use. (Tim Hansel)
God gives each of us the same amount of time every day, and I believe God gives each of us enough time in our lives to accomplish his purposes.
The third lesson on time that I see in Scripture may seem like it is in direct conflict with the second, but it isn’t really. That lesson is that time is fleeting. David writes in Psalm 39:4-5,
Show me, O Lord, my life’s end
And the number of my days;
Let me know how fleeting is my life.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
The span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man’s life is but a breath.
God gives us just enough time on earth to accomplish his purposes for us, but we do not have forever. That is how I see lesson 2 and lesson 3 fitting together.
Often, we wish we had more time, but we don’t. It’s like the television commercial years ago for a telephone company that shows a drive-thru window like you’d see at a fast food restaurant. Over the window are the words: TIME “R” US. One customer drives up and says, “Give me a couple of seconds.” Another drives up and with great weariness says, “Can I have another day?” (Donald W. McCullough)
We can all identify with those customers. There are times when we all wish we had more time. Therefore, we must be disciplined about the way we use the time God gives us.
My friend Douglas Gresham says, “There is only one thing that you can steal from a man that he can never replace…. and that is his time.”
Now, I realize that for some of us it is very difficult to be on time. Certain circumstances of life make being on time more difficult for some than for others.
Mary Jane Kurtz has written,
When I was a young, single mom with four children, it was difficult to get them all ready for church on Sunday. One particular Sunday morning as the children started to complain and squabble, I stomped from one room to the other, saying out loud why it was important to have a good attitude. Suddenly, I noticed all four children huddled together and laughing. “What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Mom,” they said, “every time you slammed down your foot, smoke would come up around your feet. It seemed like the wrath of God!” In reality, it was the powder I had sprinkled in my shoes.
But it worked. We made it to church that morning and practically every Sunday thereafter.
A fourth lesson I see in Scripture is that we need to make the most of the time we do have. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:15-17, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Paul is saying that because time is fleeting, and we live in evil times, we need to be very careful and purposeful in how we live. We need to understand God’s purposes and priorities for us and we need to put them into action.
Allow me to lay out for you five priorities regarding the use of our time that I see in Scripture. First, we need to spend time with God.
I love Stephen Covey’s illustration of how we need to prioritize our time. Covey says, “Big rocks go in first.” In other words, if you have a container and you have a bunch of rocks, the best way to put the rocks in the container if you want to be sure as many rocks as possible will fit, is to put the big rocks in first. Then find space for the medium rocks, and finally the little pebbles can just scoot in around the bigger rocks.
When we are talking about prioritizing our time, what bigger rock is there than God? Does it not make sense to give God priority in terms of our time?
Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.” Scripture promises a blessing to those who spend time alone with God.
At the beginning of our journey through Mark’s Gospel we read about a very busy day in the life of Jesus. Yet, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to make time alone with his heavenly Father a priority, how much more do we?
Two sisters, daughters of a former slave, rocketed to fame when a memoir chronicling their lives became a bestseller in 1993. Their book, Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters’ First 100 Years, was adapted into a Broadway play. A second book followed. One of the sisters lived to be 109. One of the sisters’ wise sayings was: “No one should ever be too busy or pressured or tired to make a time and place for God in their lives. After all, he has to manage the whole world, and he’s never too busy for us.”
A second time-priority I see in Scripture is time with our families. 1 Chronicles 16:43 tells us about a time after the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the tabernacle in Jerusalem. David and many of the Israelites had been worshipping God. Then we read, “Then all the people left, each for his own home, and David returned home to bless his family.”
I think this one brief verse contains a massive truth that we dare not forget or neglect. That is that when all is said and done, we need to make it a priority to return home and bless our families. We need to be careful that we not get so caught up in our work that we neglect our families, however important our work may be.
Author Max Gunther tells this story in his book, The Weekenders:
One blustery weekend I was strolling with my little boy on an Atlantic beach. We were scaling clamshells into the onshore wind and watching them curve back to us. I don’t know why this was fun. But on that morning scaling clamshells seemed like the best of all possible things to do. After awhile I looked at my watch. It was lunchtime. We left the beach reluctantly. Only after we sat down to eat did I wonder why I had stopped the game. What is so important about noon? Why must we be hypnotized by the clock? My boy and I went back to the beach after lunch, but the mood was gone. The clamshells and the wind did nothing for us now but blow sand in our eyes.
There are two different words for time in Greek. One is chronos, that is time measured by the clock. Then there is kairos, the time of special moments and events, like the moments Max Gunther spent on the beach with his son. Sometimes we need to take off our watches and just spend kairos time with our families.
A third time-priority that Scripture recommends, which most of us don’t have to be told, is that we need to spend time working. God wants us to spend time working, whether it is a job inside or outside the home, working as a student, or working at any one of the myriad of jobs people do who say they are “retired”. Listen to what Paul says about work in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” In other words—don’t be lazy! God wants us to work to support ourselves financially so that we won’t be dependent on others. When we do this as Christians we win the respect of those outside the church.
Furthermore, Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Enough said.
A fourth time-priority mentioned in Scripture is that of spending time with the Body of Christ, the Church. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
How much of a priority is church for you? Does church easily take second place when “better offers” come along? Is time spent in worship and fellowship one of the first things to slip from your life when the going gets tough? I don’t think God wants it to be that way. One of the ways God wants to bless our lives is through worship and fellowship with other believers. But he can’t bless us in this way when we don’t show up for church.
Finally, Scripture talks about the time-priority of serving others. In Galatians 6:9-10 Paul says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
I know it is a temptation for many of us who have served long and hard and well in the church to want to give up. It is tempting to step aside and let others do the work for a while. But the Lord says to us, “Don’t become weary in well doing.” God is doing great things in this church. And I believe we will see God do even greater things if we do not give up.
At the same time, I want to challenge those of you who are new to the church to step up. Step up to membership. Step up to getting involved. Step up to serving. I believe you will be blessed as you do.
Speaking of time, I’m running out of it! Allow me to close with one final lesson from Scripture about time. We were made to live in eternity, not in time. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
The NIV Study Bible says about this verse: “God’s beautiful but tantalizing world is too big for us, yet its satisfactions are too small. Since we were made for eternity, the things of time cannot fully and permanently satisfy.”
C. S. Lewis once wrote,
For we are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. “How he’s grown!” we exclaim, “How time flies!” as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.
I think the fact that we are so often astonished at the passing of time suggests that we were made to live outside of time. We long to be free of the constraints of time. The good news of the Gospel is that one day, we will be free.
Porris Wittel, a dock worker in Gillingham, England, hated his alarm clock for 47 years. For 47 years, early, in the dark, every morning, that alarm clock shocked Porris awake. For 47 years Porris longed to ignore the clock, to shut it off. But for 47 years Porris submitted to the pressure of that clock. On the day of his retirement, Porris got his revenge. He took his alarm clock to work and he flattened it in an 80-ton hydraulic press. Porris said, “It was a lovely feeling.”
I believe we shall all enjoy that lovely feeling one day, if we have put our faith in Jesus Christ. I don’t refer to the day of our retirement. Rather, I refer to the day when Christ shall return and time will be no more. One day we will enjoy forever, timeless eternity, the eternal NOW which God created us and redeemed us to enjoy.