If you visit Barnes & Noble, you’ll surely find a large section of books devoted to time management. Whether it’s written for professionals on the job, families at home, or pastors at churches, we’re always looking for new and creative ways to squeeze as much productivity as we can out of the limited amount of time we have in a day.
As a result, we often find ourselves stressed, busy, and exhausted. Sure, we may have been able to do in four hours today what used to take six; but at what cost? I’d be willing to bet that you didn’t spend those two hours you gained doing something enjoyable, restful, or meaningful; instead, you took those two additional hours and devoted yourself to more work. The tools that are supposed to make life easier and more productive for us than they were for our ancestors (smartphones, computers, and automobiles, for example) haven’t given us more leisure; they’ve resulted in higher expectations of what we accomplish in the same amount of time that we worked before.
I don’t mean to suggest that time management is always a bad thing. I like to think that it’s one of my strengths, and one of the reasons I’m a semi-decent (I hope) husband, father, and pastor. However, if we become overly consumed with our efforts to optimize EVERY second of EVERY day at the altar of productivity, we’ll quickly get burned out.
Plus, there is something to be said – Biblically speaking – for time management. In Ephesians 5:15-21, the Apostle Paul gives believers in Jesus some helpful instruction on how to best use our time. He says in VS. 15-16:
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
How do we “make the best use of the time” by Paul’s standards? These verses tell us:
First, we walk wisely in this world. What kind of “wisdom” might Paul be thinking of here? Perhaps the answer is found in VS. 17, when Paul challenges the Christians in Ephesus to not be “foolish”, but “understand what the will of the Lord is.”
When we hear the phrase “the will of the Lord”, we sometimes think of some mystery we need to unravel that will solve all of our problems and answer all of our questions. And while there is one sense in which we don’t know for sure what the Lord’s will is, there’s another sense in which we very much do. He’s revealed it to us in Scripture! One simple way to walk wisely is to seek to understand and obey God’s will as revealed in the Bible: doing the things he tells us to do, believing the things he’s told us are true, and looking forward to the things he’s told us will come (more on that in a moment).
Second, we seek to “be filled with the Spirit”, rather than being dominated by temporary, superficial, and even sinful desires (of which drunkenness is just one small, obvious example). Paul gives similar guidance in Galatians 5:16-26, when he challenges the believers there to “walk by the Spirit”.
What does being “filled with the Spirit” look like for believers? It looks like worship and thankfulness to God (VS. 19-20), and mutual submission to each other (VS. 21). These activities are worth your time. These priorities are worth your attention. These attitudes are a product of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our hearts and minds.
Third, we keep our eyes fixed on Christ. As Paul says in VS. 21, everything he’s commanding believers to do – walking wisely according to God’s will, and being filled with the Spirit (with the worship of God and submission to each other that comes as a result) – is to be done “out of reverence for Christ.” Theoretically, “making the best use of the time” – walking wisely, and being filled with the Spirit – ought to come a bit easier when Jesus is at the forefront of your mind, and glorifying him is our goal.
That’s as good an excuse as any to look back again at VS. 16. What in the world does Paul mean when he says “the days are evil”? He could simply be referencing the fact that the world we inhabit has fallen into sin, and Satan still likes (and is still able) to cause trouble in it. However, I suspect that Paul is doing something else with that phrase as well. He’s pointing our eyes to the coming days that will NOT be evil; namely, the day Jesus returns.
Every believer in Jesus – past, present, or future – faces one of two deadlines: our death, or Jesus’s return (whichever comes first). We typically don’t know when the first will occur; we definitely don’t know when the second will occur. But the uncertainty of when those deadlines will arrive isn’t an excuse to be lazy, apathetic, or inattentive; rather, that uncertainty is an incentive to “make the best use of the time” until one of those two events occurs. As Jesus teaches concerning the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21, we could die at any moment – and when we do, temporal accomplishments and possessions will be of no value to us. As he teaches his disciples in Matthew 24:44, “you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
That’s why we strive to “make the best use of the time”. For believers in Jesus, “time management” is about looking back to his death on the cross for our sins, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension to the Father’s right hand. It’s about looking head to the moment we will see God – whether it’s brought about by our death, or Jesus’s return. And it’s about living in light of those moments now.
May we walk wisely, and strive to be filled with the Spirit as we wait.