Making the Best Use of Our Time

            Last Sunday morning, in our Bible class, we talked about one of the attributes of God, the fact that God is eternal, which means that God has no beginning and he has no end.  He is from everlasting to everlasting. 

            And while it boggles our mind to think about it, God is totally outside our realm of time.  It’s not accurate to say that God was, or that God will be.  God always is “I Am.”  As Jesus put it in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  And that doesn’t make any sense grammatically, but it makes perfect sense when we understand that Jesus is part of the eternal Godhead.

            But for those of us who are humans, we are confined to the limitations of time.  The definition of time is “the progression of events from the past to the present into the future.”  Every single one of us here this morning had a beginning at the moment of conception, and if Jesus doesn’t return first, we will all have a tombstone marking the end of our lives here on this earth. 

            And everything we do in between those two moments is marked by time.  We use time to mark how many years we’ve been on this earth, we plan our events using a yearly calendar, we plan out our daily routine using a clock to mark the hours and minutes.

            And every day, all day long, we make decisions regarding our time.  What time am I going to go to bed?  What time am I going to get up?  What am I going to get done today?  How do I spend my time when I’m at work?  How do I spend my time when I get home?  How much time am I going to spend with my family?  How much time am I going to spend in prayer?

            Time is a unique commodity.  There are a lot of inequities in this world.   When it comes to money, there are some people who have a whole lot of it.  And there are other people who don’t have much at all.  There are some people who have more access to electricity and clean water than other people do.  There are different educational opportunities for different people around the world.

            There are many ways in which we are not equal, but there’s one thing that we all have in common.  Every single person on the face of this earth is given the exact same amount of time every day.  And it doesn’t matter whether you’re Bill Gates or a McDonald’s employee, you have 1,440 minutes to spend every day.

            Perhaps, because we are products of our fast-paced society, we tend to think and act as though God has short-changed us when it comes to time.  We often hear comments like, “There just isn’t enough time in a day to get done everything I need to get done.”  Or, “I just don’t know where the time goes.”  Or, “I’ll try to find time, but I’m hard-pressed for time at the moment.” 

            The truth, though, is that our problem has nothing to do with how much time we have every day; our problem has everything to do with our priorities.  Because we always – we always — make time to do those things that are most important to us. 

            Now, when it comes to time, there are some things that consume more of our time than other things do.  Someone has composed a list of the things that we spend most of our time doing.  It’s different for all of us, but, on the average, for most Americans, sleeping takes up more of our time than anything else we do, #2 is working, #3 is time spent on our smartphones (an average of 3 and a half hours a day).  #4 is watching TV (an average of 3 hours a day).  #5 is eating and #6 is driving.

            Now, it’s obvious that some of those ways that we use our time are good and productive; some of them are even necessary.  But there are other ways that we use our time that are not so good and not so productive.  And every day we have a choice to make.  In fact, because there are 1,440 minutes in every day, you could say that every day, we have 1,440 decisions to make regarding what to do with our time.  That’s a lot of decisions. 

            The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time.” (Ephesians 5:15-16).  As Christians, that’s what we want to do.  We want to make the best use of the time that God has given to us, because we only have a limited amount of time.

            Imagine, as a parent, taking your kids to the store and you say, “I’m going to give each of you $20 to spend however you want to.  So, look around, think about what you need and how you want to spend your money and put it in the shopping cart.” 

            So, one of your kids says, “I could really use some new shoes because the ones I have right now don’t fit very well so I’m going to spend my money on shoes.”  Your second child says, “If I had a notebook to keep my work at school organized, I could do a lot better, so I want to use my money to get some school supplies.”  And then your third child says, “$20 will get me a lot of candy, so pile in the jawbreakers and jolly ranchers.”  You may want to have a talk with that child and ask him or her, “Is this really the best use of your money?”

            There are times when I wonder if God takes a look at what we spend our time doing and he says, “I just gave you 1,440 minutes to spend today.  Are you sure that’s the best use of your time?”  “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time.” (Ephesians 5:15-16). 

            So, what I want to do this morning is to take a look at some of the mistakes that we make in regard to how we spend our time.  And I actually want to break it down into three different categories, because remember the definition of time is this — “Time is the progression of events from the past to the present into the future.” 

            And I think there are mistakes that we make in regard to each of those three areas.  We sometimes make mistakes in the way we deal with the past, we sometimes make mistakes in the way we look to the future, and we sometimes make mistakes in the way we deal with the present.

1.         In regard to the past, we need to LET GO OF THE PAST 

            If we are going to make the very best use of our time, then we have got to learn to let the past stay in the past.  Now, there is a great deal of value in looking to the past for the purpose of learning from the past.  Paul said in I Corinthians 10, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.” (I Corinthians 10:11). 

            So, we can look to the past and we can learn from the mistakes that other people made in the past.  We can even learn from mistakes that we made in the past.  That’s what wisdom is all about.  But, when we look to the past, but there are two mistakes that we need to be careful not to make.

A.        Nostalgia

            Nostalgia is a sentimental longing for the past (either one’s own past or a past time in history).  The feeling of nostalgia is usually brought on by the belief that the world was better place in a bygone era or that a previous time in our life was better than the one we’re in right now.  And so, we may remember back to a time when our health was better and we were stronger.  Or a time when our kids were younger.  Or maybe we wish we could be back in college again without all the responsibilities that come with being an adult.  Or maybe we wish for a time when a loved one was still alive. 

            Those of us who are older often wish for a world like it was decades ago – a time before 9/11, a time when kids could play in the streets and you didn’t have to worry about security at airports, and prayer was a regular part of the school routine.  And so, we sometimes talk about “the good old days.”

            And it’s normal to have those feelings of nostalgia.  Life’s changing seasons can cause us to have a natural longing for the way things used to be, and though it is not necessarily sinful, it can become so. 

            In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon said, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’  For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

            What Solomon is addressing here is not the feeling of nostalgia per se but the resentful attitude it can sometimes foster.  Sometimes we feel that the past was better in some way than the present. Especially during difficult times, it’s easy for us to remember ourselves as happier than we currently are.  But we all tend to have selective memories.  Most of the time, things weren’t quite as rosy as we picture them.

            I think about the Israelites in the wilderness.  They had the escaped the slavery of Egypt, the Pharaoh who was killing all of their male children.  But then they got tired of eating manna in the wilderness and they said, “Oh that we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” (Numbers 11:4-5).  Back in the good old days, we had plenty of food!  Sure, we were slaves and we were being killed, but we had plenty of food! 

            You see, sinful nostalgia causes us to idolize a time when life was “better” and the result is that we live in constant discontent with our present circumstances.  It’s okay to grieve the passing of happy seasons in our lives, but we cannot allow ourselves to resent their loss.  There is a difference between missing the past and coveting the past.  Longing to have things the way they used to be is really a form of covetousness.  It is wanting something that we don’t have and that we can’t have. 

            Again, I think about the Israelites when the temple was built for the second time.  The first time it was built, Solomon built a glorious temple.  Then it was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Jews were carried away into captivity.  When they came back, they rebuilt the temple.  But, this time, it wasn’t as glorious because they didn’t have the kind of money that Solomon did.

            So, when the foundation of the second temple was laid, we read that “all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.   But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid.” (Ezra 3:11-12).

            They said, “This isn’t as nice as it was back in the old days!”  Never mind that they had just returned from 70 years of captivity.  Never mind that they were finally able to build a house for God where they could worship.  There was so much for them to be thankful for.  But all they could think was, “This isn’t as good as it used to be!”  And they cried.

            Be assured of this.  If you remain focused on how wonderful things were back in the “good old days”, you will never appreciate what God has blessed you with right now.  I said earlier that sinful nostalgia is a form of covetousness.  And the antidote for covetousness is always gratitude.  We can overcome a sinful love of the past by counting the gifts we have been given in the present.

            So, nostalgia can be a sinful way to look to the past.  Another mistake we sometimes make is…

B.        Regret

            Regret is defined as “a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.”  And once again, not all regret is sinful.  In fact, if we have committed sins in the past, it is appropriate for us to feel a sense of sadness.

            In the 1 Corinthian letter, Paul rebuked the Corinthians for some things that they were doing that were not pleasing to God.  Later on, he heard about their reaction to his rebuke.  They were sad, they were grieved.  And Paul said, “I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief…For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

            God wants us to reflect on mistakes that we have made, and he wants us to be sad and repent.  But a sinful regret causes us to dwell on those past mistakes or hurts, which ends up robbing us of joy in the present.   It’s this attitude of, “I can believe how bad I messed up.  I just can’t believe that God could ever forgive me for what I’ve done.” 

            A good example of this was the apostle Judas who made the mistake of betraying Jesus, but he allowed that regret to consume his mind so much that he couldn’t see the value of going on living, and he killed himself.

            On the other hand, Peter made a similar mistake – he denied Jesus three times, but out of his regret, he found forgiveness and then he went on with his life with the knowledge that he had been fully forgiven of the mistakes he had made.

            We all have to deal with regret because we all have things in our lives that we would change if we could.  Sins we committed in the past.  Or maybe sins we committed yesterday.  People we’ve hurt.  Poor decisions we’ve made.

            I’m tempted to regret mistakes I made with my children.  Time that I’ve wasted.  Failures as a preacher.  Things I wish I had done differently in my life and in my ministry.  We all come to regret many of our decisions.

            The devil wants to keep us in a state of regret, but God wants us to use regret as a stepping stone.  As Paul said, “but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead…” (Philippians 3:13)

            The truth is, the past is gone and we can’t change it.  We can, however, change the present and as a result, we can change the future.  When things from the past haunt us, we need to deal with them and find forgiveness and healing.  God is more than willing and able to forgive us and to take our shame away.  Don’t let regret for things done in the past ruin the time you have right now.

            But it’s not just the past.  We also make mistakes in the way we look to the future.

2.         In regard to the future, we need to LET GO OF THE FUTURE

            Making good use of our time means that we let the future stay in the future.  But we can hold onto the future by making two mistakes.  The first is….

A.        Anticipation

            Anticipation merely means looking forward to something in the future, which isn’t wrong, but just like nostalgia can become sinful if we covet what lies in the past, anticipation can become sinful if we covet what lies in the future. 

            We engage in sinful anticipation when we constantly covet the next stage of life. The teenager who wants to be a college student.  The young mom who can’t wait for her kids to be out of diapers.  The man in his fifties who can’t wait to retire.  Looking forward to the future is not wrong in itself.  But, viewing a future life stage as an escape from the present is.

            We normally think of covetousness as wanting something that someone else has.  And that’s true.  But the essence of covetousness is dissatisfaction.  Your life is OK, but it could be so much better if you had a better car, a better vacation, a better house. The spirit of covetousness says that you must have something in order to make you happy, and as a result, you’re not satisfied with what you have right now.

            And that’s what we can do with the future, if we’re not careful.  Life is OK right now, but it will be so much better when I get to the next stage.  I can’t wait for that time, so I can be happy.  And just like with sinful nostalgia, the result of sinful anticipation is that we don’t appreciate what we have in the present.  We have our minds so focused on the future that we aren’t thankful for the blessings we enjoy here and now.

            A second mistake we make in regard to the future is…

B.        Anxiety

            Anxiety is really the opposite of anticipation.  Anticipation says I’ll be so much happier in the future; I can’t wait!  On the other hand, anxiety lives in dread of the future.  We fear what’s going to happen.  I might lose my job, I might get sick.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that we have no idea (or control over) what tomorrow holds.

            We live in what has been referred to as the “Age of Anxiety”.  It seems like everyone is worried about something.  If we don’t have a job, we worry.  If we do have a job, we worry about losing it.  If we don’t have any money, we worry.  If we do have money, we worry about where it goes and keeping it.  If we don’t have a car, we worry.  If we do have a car, we worry about it breaking down.  If we’re sick, we worry.   If we’re well, we worry about getting sick. 

            But, of course, Jesus said that we shouldn’t be anxious.  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” (Matthew 6:25).  He says that we shouldn’t be anxious because we live with the knowledge that we have a heavenly Father who will always take care of us.  “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). 

            Being anxious about tomorrow keeps us from enjoying today.  Anxiety does not take away tomorrow’s trouble; it only takes away today’s peace.

            So, we can make mistakes in the way we deal with the past.  We can make mistakes in the way we deal with the future.  All we have right now is today. 

  • In regard to the present, we need to LIVE FULLY IN THE PRESENT

            And again, I think there are two mistakes that we can make in regard to the present and how we use our time.  The first is….

A.        Laziness

            A lazy person believes there will always be more time to get around to his responsibilities. He is characterized by procrastination, missed deadlines, and excuses.  

            Solomon described a lazy person in this way:  He said, “I walked by the field of a lazy person, the vineyard of one with no common sense.  I saw that it was overgrown with nettles.  It was covered with weeds, and its walls were broken down.  Then, as I looked and thought about it, I learned this lesson:  A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit.” (Proverbs 24:30-34, NLT)

            A lazy person is just like a person who spends money in a wasteful manner.  A lazy person spends his time wastefully, making the mistake of believing that he has an endless credit of hours.

            The other extreme of using our time is…

B.        Busyness

            A lazy person believes that God has given us an endless credit of hours.  The compulsively busy person believes that God has not given us enough hours.

            This person believes there will never be enough time to manage his or her responsibilities. So, he’s got to try to pack in more and more into the day, complaining that there aren’t enough hours in the day.  His life is characterized by exhaustion and over-commitment.  He believes that rest is for when we die.

            But God had a lot to say about rest.  The fourth commandment that God gave to the Jews was this: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work…” (Exodus 20:8-10).

            God commanded that this day of rest be observed by the Jews on the seventh day of every week.  And God was serious about this commandment.  He said, “You Jews need to take a break, prop your feet up, and rest for a while.  I don’t want you doing anything strenuous on the Sabbath.”

            Now, in terms of seriousness, this commandment may not sound as serious as “Thou shalt not commit adultery” or “Thou shalt not murder.”  But, in the midst of all these other serious commands, God said, “I want you Jews to take it easy for a while.  I want you to take an afternoon nap, play some checkers, go for a walk.”  What do you suppose the penalty should be for breaking that command? 

            God said that the penalty for breaking his commandment to rest was death (Exodus 31:15). If you don’t stop and rest one day a week, you get the death penalty.  Folks, you can’t get any more serious than that!

         God knows how important it is that we rest.  Jesus demonstrated this in his own life.  In Mark 6, after Jesus had sent the apostles out into the community to preach and to heal people, it says, The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’  For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6:30-31)

            This was an exciting time!  The apostles had been out in villages talking to people and I’m sure they had a lot of stories to share with each other about who they had talked with.  And they had cast out demons, and healed people!  And then Jesus said, “Let’s get away and rest for a while.”

            I’m sure there had to be at least one apostle who said, “But Jesus, we can’t stop now.  Lots of good things are happening.  We need to keep the momentum going.  Let’s keep on doing what we’ve been doing.”  But Jesus knew they needed to rest.  He wasn’t telling them to stop working.  But he knew that before they continued to do any more work, they needed a break.

            Making good use of our time means taking time to rest when it’s needed.

            I think one of the toughest things for us to do as Christians is to find the right balance.  Throughout the Bible, God tells us that work is important.  So much so that Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”  But God also warned the Jews about working too much.  God knows that we need to work, and he also knows that we need to rest.

            “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time.” (Ephesians 5:15-16). 

            In regard to the past, don’t get so caught in longing for the good old days that you don’t appreciate what God has given you today.  And don’t allow regret for what has happened in the past keep you from seeing God’s grace.

            In regard to the future, don’t live your life constantly looking forward to a better day.  Appreciate what you have right now.  And don’t live in anxiety, worrying about what the future holds.  God your Father will always be with you.

            In regard to the present, don’t get the idea that God has given us an unlimited number of hours and be lazy and wasteful of the time you have.  But don’t be so busy that you spend your time cramming as much as you can into the day, not allowing yourself the opportunity to enjoy life.

            Time is a gift.  A gift that God has given to each one of us.  Use it wisely.

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