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
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
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
2) Simplify Our Lives
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 (1 Tim 6:6–8), we
should be able to find time for the Lord’s ministry.
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
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.” (1 Cor 12:11)
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.