All of us have been given a little chunk out of eternity called “time,” and all of us will someday give an account to God for how we have used it. “Time” is one four-letter-word we had better guard carefully. The Bible says, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). We are to make the best use of the time God gives us, especially in light of the fact that there are so many opportunities to abuse it.
Time is very precious. Very few other things are so valuable. God hands out time only sparingly, and all of us know that when items become scarce, they become valuable. Time is a scarce commodity. Each of us is given just one moment at a time, and each new moment comes only when the previous moment is taken back into eternity. Time is a gift which God gives sparingly, and therefore it is not to be wasted.
Time is only very brief. David says in Psalm 89, “Remember how short my time is.” Life is uncertain. If a person lives his full allotted time of seventy years, he has only 26,000 days to live. None of us knows when physical life will be snatched away, but the Bible admonishes us to count the days, not the years. The poet says, “Life at its best is short; time flies so very fast. Lord, help me not to waste this day, lest it should be my last.”
Time is beyond the scope of our control. We can re-set our clocks in areas where daylight-saving time goes into effect during certain seasons of the year, but time itself cannot be controlled. It cannot be speeded up, nor slowed down, nor stopped, nor turned back. We cannot return to the days of our youth, and none of us can recapture lost opportunities. And so we are admonished in the Bible to redeem the time—that is, we are to use it wisely.
1. Common Ways To Waste Time
We are to “redeem” the time because “the days are evil.” The days and hours (into which time is divided) are subject to vanity and corruption (to evil and abuse), and therefore we must guard against wasting time.
Time is often wasted by engaging in useless conversation. One of the strange experiences encountered by the Apostle Paul in his ministry, was his preaching before a group of people in Athens who “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). These people came together day after day to discuss the latest new ideas. Their time was spent in speculation. They engaged in general conversation. They talked about anything that was fascinating. This kind of conversation is often called “small talk.” Solomon speaks about it in Proverbs 15:2, when he says, “The mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.” The word “foolishness” in the text speaks of “useless talk.”
“Small talk” occupies much of one’s time in many social gatherings. The conversation centers around the weather, the crops, the neighbors, the news—cars, people, clothing, sports, etc. Much of what is spoken about in ordinary conversation is sheer drivel! It is often an absolute waste of time. Some of us are more talkative than others, and when the conversation is channeled into useful and wholesome directions, it is a gift which God approves. But in the world about us, a talkative person many times tells all that he knows (and sometimes he tells things that he doesn’t know), and frequently much time is spent in empty, useless conversation.
Another time-waster centers around unprofitable reading. Reading is a most important activity, but much time is wasted in reading poor quality materials. Some of the most valuable reading materials have never even been investigated by multitudes in our churches. Many folks never get much beyond the daily newspaper, reading some exciting news item, or the birth and death notices, and things that concern eating and clothing and gadgets to buy.
I received a letter from a couple who live in the Middle East. They told about the deplorable spiritual conditions in Europe and Asia, and about their increasing desire to serve the Lord faithfully. Among other things, they said, “We are convinced that we are living in the last days and that we must approach our task as Christians with all vigor and conviction, and spend every spare moment in prayer and Bible study in order not to fall. We have stopped the newspapers and magazines and television shows, so as to find enough time for what is essential.” One of the great evils of shallow secular reading materials (and of television shows), is that these things snare people into wasting many hours of valuable time. No wonder there is such widespread ignorance about the Bible and about spiritual things in so many of our homes! We are going to give an account to God for the manner in which we spend our moments. The Bible says that we are to walk circumspectly (carefully choosing our steps), and thus redeem the time—because time is subject to vanity and abuse.
2. Right Ways To Use Time
The word “redeem” (Ephesians 5:16) means “to buy up the time” so as to get full value out of it. But how can we make the best use of our time? What are some right ways to use the time which God allots to us?
We should practice diligence in daily work. God’s people are not to be poor workers. The name of Christ is not to be laughed at because we do careless and shoddy work. Colossians 3:22 says that our work should be done with “singleness of heart,” that is, with the single aim of pleasing God. In 1 Timothy 6:1, it says that we should consider our bosses “worthy of all honor” so that the name of God is not blasphemed. The Lord Jesus is interested in how we perform on every day of the week, not merely how we behave on the day set apart for rest and worship.
God is interested in all our work. He wants to be a Helpful Partner in every activity. And so it becomes our responsibility to do our work diligently, whether that work is in the office, the shop, the classroom, the kitchen, or on the farm. Our work should always be done with the single aim of pleasing God. Every one of us should resolve to work creatively and diligently while on the job, so that when our day is completed, we can sit down with confidence, knowing that we did the best we could.
We should engage in regular study of the Bible. If we are to do better work for Christ, we must know Him better, and one of the ways to learn to know Him more intimately, is to study and to read His Word. Wise Christians make Bible reading a practice as regular as the habit of sitting at a table for daily meals. After all, God’s Word is food for the soul. It is compared to milk, to meat, and to bread. Jesus says that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
The message of the Bible is bread for the inner man. Without it, the soul shrivels up and dies. Thus we should always carry with us something to read—a wholesome book or a small tract or a New Testament—so that we can use wisely those golden moments when we have to wait (at the barber shop, the doctor’s office, the bus stop, or the automobile garage).
We should do well the ordinary duties of life. Worldly people often seem to think that the Christian life must be dull, and that the people of God never have any good times—and that to serve Christ must be a dreadful experience. But actually, there are many worthwhile activities that are wholesome and rewarding, and bring joy to the heart. And one of those activities is cultivating the habit of prayer. The prophet Samuel said that if he failed to continue in prayer for the people, his prayerlessness would be a sin against God (1 Samuel 12:23).
There are many occasions when we can engage in prayer. As we travel on a bus or plane, we can pray for those with whom we travel. As we make our purchases in the store, we can pray for those who serve us. As we pass hospitals and prisons, we should pray for those who are patients and inmates of the institutions. As we learn about those homes where children are born, where young people marry, where death has come—we can send up a prayer for the spiritual welfare of those families. I don’t know how prayer works, but I know that it does.
If God’s people are actively engaged in doing good, in witnessing for Christ, in mortifying the flesh, and in crucifying evil passions—they will hardly have time to be caught up in the grip of mere earthly amusements. Always, there is a letter to write, a neighbor to visit, and a prayer-life to strengthen. We must fill every minute with sixty seconds’ worth of service and devotion to God.
3. Practical Ways To Save Time
There are some basic principles that we ought to follow, if we are to make the best use of the time which God has entrusted to us.
Have a place for everything. A basic law related to saving time involves the easy location of our belongings. Similar things should always be kept together. For example, jams and jellies should be stored together. Cans of soup should be together. Bars of soap should be together. Shirts should be kept at one place. Trousers should be together. Paper clips should be located at a particular place. Keeping things of a kind together, saves time when putting them away, and it saves many hours when trying to find them again.
Some people are simply not well organized. Take the Jones family, for example. They often can’t find the car keys. After jumping into the car, Bill Jones realizes that he doesn’t have the keys again. He calls, “Elizabeth, where are the car keys?” She responds, “Well, I don’t know; who used the car last?” Bill runs into the house; he looks on top of a couple of tables; he pulls out a few drawers; he shouts at his teenage son; and finally, he discovers the keys under some papers on his desk! It would be much better to always keep them at the same place. They could be put into a little box in a kitchen drawer, or on a key ring fastened to his belt, or on a hook by the side of the door. One practical way to save time, is to have a place for everything.
Carefully budget your time. People who accomplish the most in life, are people who budget their time. They set time-goals for themselves. They try and have certain jobs completed by a specific time. The person who fails to set deadlines for himself often discovers that he has permitted minutes (and even hours) to slip away without really accomplishing very much.
How does one go about budgeting his time so that everything you need to do can be fitted into the day’s schedule?
First, make a list of all the things you do in the course of a day. Number each item, even if there are scores of items. Include also, matters that need to be done only every couple of days.
Second, take another piece of paper and rearrange all the items according to their importance—and then number each one of those items in order—placing the most important items on top.
Third, indicate how much time should be given to each item (according to their importance). Be sure to allow enough time for work, study, meals, family, sleep, and other people. The total may add up to much more than 24 hours.
Fourth, take the list and cross off the less important items—items which can be discarded. Every one of us must learn to weed out the nonessentials—and this is different for different people, for it will depend on your gifts, abilities, and your calling in life.
Philip Doddridge was asked how he could teach in the Bible School, and preach so frequently, and write so much—and his answer was that he redeemed the time by planning carefully each of his activities, and then firmly adhered to that plan. He allowed eight hours for sleeping and eating, nine hours for his daily occupation, two hours for his family, and five hours for private study and devotion. It takes some time to budget your time—but preparing a time-budget will be very well worth the effort.
Begin early and plan ahead. This is another practical way to save time. Planning ahead nearly always saves time. When shopping at the grocery store, try and foresee the things that you will need for the whole week, and get everything at once. Keep a list of items that you need, and arrange the list approximately in the order you know you will find the things in the store. When packing the suitcase for a trip, begin early and jot down on a piece of paper the items you will want to include. Every time something else comes to mind, write it down. And then, just before the trip, everything can be gathered together very quickly. When preparing breakfast, and trying to have everybody ready for school or work on time, plan breakfast at a definite hour. Have a fixed time when everybody in the family should be finished. Stick by a definite time each day for family worship. Plan your day, and stick as closely as possible to the schedule.
Keep in mind too that certain situations permit our doing more than one thing at a time. If you do automobile or truck driving, take along a cassette player and listen to some worthwhile tapes. If you are a housewife and you need to stir food items, you sometimes can (at the same time) read stories to your smaller children. If you do a lot of stop-and-go driving, you can memorize Bible verses written out on 3 x 5 cards. You will, of course, have to plan ahead and write out the Bible verses on the cards before leaving home.
Keep a list of “Things to do.” The list should include not only the big things that need to be done, but small chores too. These may include a brief hospital visit with one who is sick, a game of checkers with your son, a walk of one mile, going over a prayer list, or checking over the day’s mail. When each job is finished, strike out that item on your list. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from “crossing things off.”
These have been practical ways to save time. They include having a place for everything, carefully budgeting time, beginning early and planning ahead, and making a list of “Things to do.”
Each day passes by so quickly. The shadows toward evening get longer. The sun sets. The date on the calendar is crossed out and it will never come again. One time while preaching a revival series in the central part of the U.S.A., I stayed for the week in the home of an undertaker. The thing that impressed me most about my stay in that home was—not seeing the rooms where corpses are prepared for burial—but noting the fact that someone always stays within hearing distance of the telephone. The phone is never left unattended—simply because death may come at any moment. Time, for every one of us is quickly going to run out. The writer of the poem which follows is unknown, but the words are indeed very true:
When as a child, I slept and wept, time crept.
When as a youth, I laughed and talked, time walked.
When I became a full grown man, time ran.
And older, as I daily grew, time flew.
Soon (I shall find), in traveling on, time gone.
We can hardly conclude a message on “time” without seeking to impress upon those who are unsaved, the great truth that “it is later than you think.” Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near.” It is evident that there is a time coming when God will no longer pardon. The time may well come for you—if you keep on rejecting the Lord Jesus and insisting on going in your own way—that the harvest will be past, the summer will be ended, and you will not be saved. What a terrible tragedy that would be.
If you are reading this message and you are unprepared to meet the Judge of all the earth, why not decide now to take a stand for Jesus? If you will open the door of your heart, and say, “Lord Jesus, come and take control in my life”—He will do it. If you ask Him, He will do it; He will come in and fellowship with you. Revelation 3:20 says so. Go to your room; get down on your knees; tell God the burden of your heart; confess your sins; repent of your past. And then say, “Lord Jesus, come in and take over my life. Control my will! Anoint my lips! Help me to go straight! Clean me up!” When you have believed the message that Christ died for your sins, and you have repented of your sin and rebellion against God, then seek Christian baptism and identification with a group of believers who are carefully seeking to follow the instructions of God’s Word. There will be a new joy in your heart when you have once taken these simple steps.