“Time flies,” we say. Time, even as you read this, is tick tick ticking away never to return (are you sure you want to read further?!).
Thinking of the fleeting nature of time can be depressing. Yet, as we think of our limited time it should awaken in us intentionality and seriousness. Of course, that does not mean we shouldn’t have fun. If anything it means we should be more intentional about having fun (Ecclesiastes 2:24).
So as we think of the fleeting nature of time we must not become unhelpfully rigid. We must be intentional and purposeful not only in the good that we want to accomplish but also in the good we want to enjoy.
We must realize that much of American culture is akin to a hamster wheel. There’s many people going and doing but for what? To what end? Is it intentional, calculated, purposeful? Or is to no end (see Eccl. 2:26)?
We must also acknowledge that cultures think of time and promptness differently. Some cultures are more relational then prompt. The issue is not really about how much we do or about what people think about what we do but about being an intentional wise steward of the time that God has given us. This will likely look different in different cultural contexts but the stewardship principal remains.
God does not want us, His servants and workman, to waste the time that He has given us to labor for Him. We can rest from time to time like any worker but we must remember that there will come a time when we can no longer work at all (Jn. 9:4). We must keep in mind the perfect rest (shalom) and reward that He has waiting for His laborers.
In this post we will look at why being conscious of the way we spend our time is important. Jonathan Edwards is especially insightful here because he realized the importance of time (See esp. “The Preciousness of Time and the Importance of Redeeming it”).
The Preciousness of Time
Why is time valuable and precious? Edwards said, “Because a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it” for you and for others. “Things are precious in proportion to their importance or to the degree wherein they concern our welfare.”[i]
“Gold and silver are esteemed precious by men; but they are of no worth to any man, only as thereby he has an opportunity of avoiding or removing some evil, or of possessing himself of some good. And the greater the evil is which any man hath advantage to escape, or the good which he hath advantage to obtain, by anything that he possesses, by so much the greater is the value of that thing to him, whatever it be. Thus if a man, by anything which he hath, may save his life, which he must lose without it, he will look upon that by which he hath the opportunity of escaping so great an evil as death, to be very precious. — Hence it is that time is so exceedingly precious, because by it we have opportunity of escaping everlasting misery, and of obtaining everlasting blessedness and glory. On this depends our escape from an infinite evil, and our attainment of an infinite good.”[ii]
For example: The life preservers on the Titanic, “the unsinkable ship,” were not thought of as valuable at the outset of the cruise. People must have thought: What is the need of a life preserver on a ship that won’t sink? But that mindset changed. What was it that brought a new and priceless value to the life preservers? People realized that they were, in fact, not on the unsinkable ship; for it was sinking.
In a short time the value of the life perseveres sky rocketed. The people now clinched the life preservers tight, perhaps even fighting over them, when before they would not even give them a second thought. Just like the passengers treated the life preservers differently once they realized the ship was sinking so we must treat time differently once we see that our lives are fleeting. When we realize that time is precious we will clinch it tight and use it wisely.
Life is transitory and we do not know how long we will live. Our life is just a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14). Time is so valuable, in part, because it is very short. Our time on earth is but dust in the wind, vapor that is here for a moment, grass that withers in the sun. Our time on earth is short and “the scarcity of any commodity occasions men to set a higher value upon it, especially if it be necessary and they cannot do without it… So time is the more to be prized by men, because a whole eternity depends upon it; and yet we have but a little of time.”[iii]
“Time ought to be esteemed by us very precious, because we are uncertain of its continuance.”[iv] We know that time will end for all people; however, we do not know when. We do not know the date and the time.
Time is valuable because when it is gone you can never get it back. Edwards said,
“There are many things which men possess, which if they part with, they can obtain them again. If a man have parted with something which he had, not knowing the worth of it, or the need he should have of it; he often can regain it, at least with pains and cost… But it is not so with respect to time. When once that is gone, it is gone forever; no pains, no cost will recover it.”[v]
“Once the time of life is gone, when once death is come, we have no more to do with time; there is no possibility of obtaining the restoration of it, or another space in which to prepare for eternity. If a man should lose the whole of his worldly substance, and become a bankrupt, it is possible that his loss may be made up. He may have another estate as good. But when the time of life is gone, it is impossible that we should ever obtain another such time. All opportunity of obtaining eternal welfare is utterly and everlastingly gone.”[vi]
The way we spend our time on earth has eternal consequences. This is not a subject to be taken lightly. “A person cannot do anything to time itself—delay or hasten, save or lose it—much less ‘manage’ it. The challenge is to manage ourselves under the lordship of Jesus Christ, from whom we get our goals and values.”[vii]
May we be intentional and wise stewards of 2016.
[i]Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards:2 Volume Set, (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 233.
[ii]Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 233.
[iv] Ibid., 234.
[vii] Charles E. Hummel, The Freedom from the Tyranny of the Urgent (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 1997, 31.