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 (Manna 23: The Household of God)
How to Apportion Your Time for God
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How To Apportion Your Time For God

SHEE TSE LOONG [SINGAPORE]

 

WE HAVE often heard people say that we have to ‘balance our time commitments’. Life seems like one big deadline and demands from different areas of our lives continually fight for our attention. Everyday, we are inundated with options - Do we perform our obligations to the family at the expense of a golden opportunity for enhancing our career? Are we obligated to spend our public holidays clearing the church work that we hardly find time to finish or are we enticed by the opportunity to take the family for a well-deserved trip? What really is a proper balance? More to the point, is balance the biblical approach to time apportionment? Most importantly, how ought we to apportion our time for God?

There are two popular notions that must be addressed before we can see life’s demands in proper perspective. First is the hierarchy approach to priorities. There are different areas that demand our time and attention, so we place them in a sequence of importance. Then we live our lives by this list. Second is the arbitrary division of life into ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ components. This seems to be necessary if we want to apportion our time for God — surely God is much concerned with our Bible-reading, prayer, evangelism, but He takes little interest in our career, our education, our hobbies, our household chores.

FIRST THINGS FIRST?

The hierarchy approach— God first, family second, work third...sounds pretty good at first. But does it really help you tackle competing time demands? How much time do you need to spend with God in prayer and Bible study before you are considered one who puts God first? Fifteen minutes? An hour? But you work eight hours a day! God must take more than eight hours to be put first! And how much must we accomplish in something before we move on to the next on the list? Thirty percent? Eighty percent? Hundred percent? Moreover, we can never effectively prioritise all the many, many little things that require our attention everyday: washing the car, reading this magazine, calling a friend, bathing the baby, visiting a sick relative, calling the plumber, buying grocery. If we spend time prioritising these things, we would have no time to do anything! The hierarchy approach is good only for all-or-nothing situations like choosing between quitting church or quitting your job altogether because your boss does not want church-goers on the payroll. But the little trade-offs that we encounter in everyday life require more than such a list. Because there are so many other factors to consider, we don’t find ourselves strictly ordering our priorities. We situationalise them. At times, washing the church van comes before buying the baby’s milk. At other times, it’s all right to skip a Bible-study to see to a family matter.

There is another interesting ranking that people use, outlined by the acronym JOY: Jesus first, others second, and yourself last. While the element of altruism is commendable, the approach is too simplistic and cannot be adopted without qualification. If others come before self; do we build up the spirituality of others before building up our own? Do we place the salvation of others over and above that of our unsaved family members? Is your responsibility to yourself less important than your responsibility to others?

SACRED OR SECULAR?

The sacred-secular dichotomy likewise crumbles when it comes to real-life situations. Is your relationship with Christians more important than your relationship with non-Christians? Will God be more pleased when we are responsible in church work than when we are diligent at the office or school? Are family responsibilities less important than church responsibilities? Is a family split not as bad as a church split? Is raising a child less important to God than grooming a choir?

Read the Bible and you’ll see Christ’s condemnation of the Pharisaic Coban — neglecting one’s parents by giving to God the money meant for them (Mt 15:5-6). Paul declares that if anyone does not provide for his relatives, he has denied the faith (1 Tim 5:8). James describes true religion as the visiting of orphans and widows in affliction (Jas 1:27). Jesus Himself teaches that feeding the hungry, comforting the sick, visiting prisoners, receiving strangers, are all vital aspects of true Christian faith (Mt 25:31-46). He also teaches how our relationship with non-Christians can be as sacred as that with fellow Christians (Mt 5:43-48). The key to understanding all this lies in the motivation for our actions. Because we are Christians, our motivation in all that we do is Christ (Mt 10:40-42; 25:40). If eating meat causes our brother to stumble, then it is our divine obligation to abstain from meat. If the life we now live in the flesh is for Christ, then taking care of our physical body is a religious duty. In this way, everything that a Christian does is sacred; nothing is secular.

The Bible’s Approach

Once we tear down the dividing wall between the sacred and secular, priority lists become more difficult to construct. However, a Christian still needs a model to base his decisions on. Does the Bible prescribe such a model?

For simplicity, time commitments have generally been grouped into five broad areas: God, family, work, community, personal. What easily comes to mind when we talk about time apportionment is a pie-shaped time chart that looks like this:

 

 

The Christian’s task is to decide what proportion of space each of these five areas should occupy. This is reminiscent of the sacred-secular hierarchy approach which we have earlier found unworkable.

We have agreed that the whole of our lives when surrendered to Christ, becomes totally sanctified and consecrated (Rom 6:13; 12:1-2). Since everything we do is for God, He is the Lord of our lives, not just a portion of the pie. Thus we replace the time chart with a relationship chart:

 

 

This chart is boundless, without any surrounding time line to form the circumference. The segments do not represent equal time blocks devoted to particular areas of responsibility. It is meant to show that God is the centre of our lives and He works through us to perform our obligations in different areas, which represent simultaneous responsibilities rather than sequential priorities. Note that they are all biblical obligations:

 

ROM

Self

Church

Family

Work

Community

 

12:1-2

12:3-21

14:1-23

 

 

13:1-7

EPH

4:17, 5:21

6:10-20

4:1-16

5:22, 6:4

6:5-12

 

COL

3:1-17

 

3:18-21

3:22, 4:1

4:5-6

1

THESS

 

4:9-10

 

4:10-12

 

2

THESS

 

 

 

3:6-15

 

1 TIM

 

 

5:8

 

 

 

We fail God if we neglect any of them, not only when we neglect the church. It becomes immediately clear that there is really no such thing as apportioning our time for God. Everything we do must be for God, and God must have 100% of our time. “Seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Mt 6:33) does not teach us about sequencing; that we can seek God first and seek the world second. It teaches rather, that we seek God and none other, laying up treasures in heaven and not on earth (Mt 6:19-20), serving God and not mammon (Mt 6:24).

It is admitted that there is the danger of abuse. A workaholic can say he’s working for God. Newly-weds may give up church duties unnecessarily. Community work can subtly overtake soul-saving. However, such will not be the case if God is truly central in our lives. All areas will be taken care of as God directs, thus fulfilling His will in our lives. The following principles will help us understand what this means:

The Principle of Optimisation

Paul charged the Ephesians: “look carefully how you should walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph 5:15-16) Optimising the limited time that we have to accomplish God’s will in our lives involves two key elements. One is diligence. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Eec! 9:10) before night comes when no one can work (Jn 9:4). Do not take the easy way out by choosing to do things that are more pleasurable and less pressurising.

 

Next is a correct sense of value. The many things that we do may all be lawful, but not all are beneficial (1 Cor 10:23). The value of what a man does with his life can be likened to the grade of material a builder uses for his house — gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw (1 Cor 3:12-15). And value is not measured only in terms of present contribution. It should be assessed with an eye on the overall benefit in the long run (1 Tim 4:7-8). If academic pursuit can help you serve God better in the future, by all means, study hard! On the contrary, if it robs you of time now and would most probably hinder your future service to God, then stop wasting your time on books.

The Principle of Accountability

Since God is the centre of our lives, we yield to Him as our Master — we are accountable to Him for the way we lead our lives and how we spend our time(Eccl 11:9). Paul lamented to the Philippians about many who “look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:21) and those with “minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:19). Such people are like the parabolic fig tree which takes in nutrients only for its own growth, without benefiting the owner with any fruit, the prospect of which is to be cut down (Lk 13:6-9).

The Principle of Christ

In all that a Christian does, he must never lose sight of the ultimate goal of living: knowing Christ, pleasing Christ, loving Christ, following Christ, becoming like Christ (Phil 3:10-14). This is the overriding principle. For want of a better name, we term it the principle of Christ.

Not losing sight of this goal is not enough. Everything that we do must be in tandem with this goal, and must enhance our ability to attain it: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I suffer the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:7-8). This powerful conviction caused Paul to make many personal sacrifices for the sake of others. And we know he ultimately did not lose out, for he said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less?” (2 Cor 12:15). Like Paul, every true Christian would have already made this ultimate trade-off when he took Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. Such a realisation would better equip us to handle life’s little trade-offs effectively. So by all means, preach the Gospel in season and out of season, but do spare a little time to attend a wedding feast, or to prepare a special meal. Be devoted to the soul’s welfare, but it’s all right to drink a little wine for your stomach’s sake (1 Tim 5:23). The important thing is to find Christ in everything you do, and be in union with Him every moment of your life.

 

Applying The Model

Returning to our relationship chart, and using it to honestly examine how we have been spending our resources in the light of the above principles, we may find that we need much adjustment to put things right. We may have been over-involved in one area and negligent in another:

 

 

 

We have seen that putting things right does not mean having a fixed list of priorities and expecting all our time commitments to fall neatly into place, like a marble that naturally settles at the exact centre of a semi-circular bowl:

 

 

Life’s demands and situations are constantly changing. A static balance as described above is elusive and unreal. Rather, one should adopt a dynamic approach to time management, like balancing a marble at the apex of an overturned bowl:

 

 

Responsibilities and time demands tug from every side, but the Christian remains at the top. This more accurately describes the model advocated in the Bible —a God-centred life achieving dynamic equilibrium in all areas of responsibility according to biblical principles. It requires a Christian to be in constant fellowship with Christ, seeking to understand His will (Eph 5:17). It is not going to be easy, but this is what Christian maturity is all about. Paul also experienced being “hard pressed” between two decisions. He admitted, “Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.” But as he allowed God to choose he became convinced of the benefit of that choice (Phil 1:21-25). As a Christian matures, he will be closer to the goal of Christlikeness, tending towards dynamic equilibrium. The actual order in which his responsibilities are discharged is the consequence of this equilibrium, rather than a reflection of a rule of thumb, prior sequence.

Conclusion

The Bible’s approach to time management does not call for the rigid adherence to a fixed list of priorities which reduces us to children who cannot be expected to make responsible decisions. Christians are expected to be mature enough to exercise their freedom in Christ as long as they do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (Gal 5:13). And when a Christian subjects himself to the rulership of Christ out of his own free will, his life becomes a fragrant offering.

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Author: Shee Tse Loong
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