A Gospel Life in Hourglass Time
Making tents consumes time. The apostle Paul, amidst the sharing of the most important message mankind has ever heard or ever will hear, made tents (Ac. 18:3). As time has gone by, it appears to me the number of tent making preachers is increasing. Of course, the reference here is to the practice of additional work and responsibility beyond that of sharing the gospel. Most preachers want to fill their lives with nothing but the gospel; yet, a plethora of life’s obstacles often get in the way.
This desire is not exclusive to preachers. Christians as a whole envision a life where they are one, large, harmonious, ever increasing family of believers who are bringing the lost to Christ in droves. The reality is different. After an 8 to 13 hour day of work, running errands, hauling kids around, home repairs, grocery shopping, laundry, meal preparation, etc., the first thing on the mind is a moment of relaxation or hours of sleep. It seems impossible to focus long enough to keep the family from struggling let alone find the time to fit in God, Christian brothers and sisters, and the rest of the world. Who even has a moment read a brotherhood article? Desperation, resignation, and guilt seem to be riding hand in hand as the days grow shorter. You want change, but how?
Jesus once spoke to his disciples about the response of normal folks to the spreading of the Word of the Kingdom. He compared it to an individual spreading seed. The seed fell in many places and one of those places was among the thorns. Here is what Jesus said in regard to that: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Mt. 13:22) This is how many of us often feel. We hear the Word, believe it, and want to act on it. Yet, all the activities of the world seem to choke us out. Perhaps as Felix we are always looking for that right opportunity or convenient time (Ac. 24:25), but it never seems to come. It is as if we are the puppy that runs round and round and never catches his tail.
Knowing your unique situation is impossible for me. My sympathies go out to you. The words above describe my life in many ways. Though I may not have the perfect solution to your life dilemmas, perhaps the suggestions I am about to share will enable you and ultimately those around you to draw closer to spiritual peace. The dilemma really breaks itself down to two components: when and how.
When? Finding time is critical. You could work faster to buy more time but as a practical matter that isn’t going to last. The truth is you will just spend the same amount of time working, only at an increased speed, and end up even more tired in the end. The ultimate solution is prioritization, organization, and realization.
When a person looks at their day and sees they do not have time for everything, prioritization is a must. Something has to go. Most evenings last summer, I spent the day thinking that when my wife arrived home from work we would go kayaking. We ended up going kayaking only two or three times. Predominantly, we simply had to cut it out of the schedule. It was not high on the priority list.
Here are some common things you might have on your list that could perhaps be cut out or shortened: internet time (including smart phone, tablet, and texting), television time, and phone time. What did we do before the days of electronics? How did people function? We carry our electronic devices everywhere we go. Put them down and step away. If you ever had time to research the biggest time wasters in the life of man, you would find much of it has to do with electronics.
Understand also that not everything is really that important. Martha missed the important things while Mary did not (Lk. 10:38-42). Can you find more time if you choose to put aside listening to talk radio, not read that secular magazine or book, dust or vacuum a little less often, or make a simple meal instead of “something special”? Ask yourself: Is spending time on this item really all that critical at the moment?
Concerning organization, remember that the more organized a person is, the more time they have. Do you spend all day Saturday working on laundry? Consider doing a load a day instead. Are you running back and forth to town to run errands? Plan out your day to where you can combine tasks and make one trip instead of three. Are you checking Facebook all day long? Cat videos, selfies, and one-line quotes may be funny, but they are time stealers. Get organized! Confine your Snapchat, Instagram, e-mail, and sports updates to once in the morning and once at night.
Do you spend a lot of time in the car each day? Are you using this time for something other than daydreaming? You can! Organize this time to do something helpful or productive! When you make meals, do you cook enough to cover future meals…or do you have to start from scratch every time? Save time with organization! Do your tasks require concentration? One of the biggest mistakes I make is trying to study when everyone is running around the house. Organize that schedule! Choosing the right hours for the right tasks is critical. Organizing your day will buy you time.
In the topic of finding time, what on earth is “realization”? In this case, realization is short for realizing you cannot do everything by yourself. Ask for help. Solomon established that we do better with help (Ec. 4:9-12). Family, friends, and even hired help can buy us a little more time each day. I am naturally an introvert. I like to do things by myself without others around. However, this isn’t beneficial to my spirituality or my proper use of time.
Don’t let pride get in the way either. It’s okay to admit we cannot do it all. Again, ask for help! You may just find that accomplishing a task side by side with someone will have the side effect of developing closeness too! More on that in a moment.
Prioritization, organization, realization. Simple solutions for finding time. The more time you have at your disposal, the more you can focus on drawing close to God and others. Now I want to provide some direction as to how we draw close to others with the time that we have.
How? My father or mother once told me, “If you want to have a friend, you must be a friend.” From this simple piece of advice, I suggest three points for drawing closer to others: seek others out, communicate with them, and serve their needs. These points apply not just to earthly relationships, but to spiritual ones also.
If your objective is to draw closer to others, whether they be brothers or sisters in Christ or those who do not yet know Christ, then you most often must take the time to seek them out first. Jesus Himself came seeking (Lk. 19:10). If there is anything I have learned in this world, it is that we all have issues. Insecurities, selfishness, and feeling like we have no time are problems with which most people struggle. Consequently, folks just don’t dive right into getting to know you. Frequently, you have to take the first step, and then another, and then another toward reaching out to someone. Relationships aren’t “I did this, now it’s your turn.” If either you or your spouse didn’t make the first move, it is likely you wouldn’t be married. A Christian gentleman once expressed to me that the building where we assembled to worship had a sign on it letting people know where we were, so it was up to them to show up. Sadly, there are a lot of near-empty buildings where people aren’t seeking and are just waiting for someone to show up. Get out there! Go Ye! If they are busy working, help them out! Spending the time will create bonds whether in work, play, conversation, or study.
“Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse YOUR hands, YE sinners; and purify YOUR hearts, YE double-minded” (Ja. 4:8). Yes, the ball is in your court when wanting to get closer to God. We cannot see God, but He has promised we will find Him if we seek Him (Mt. 7:7). Man has what we need before us to get to know God (2 Ti. 2:15; 3:16-17; 2 Pe. 1:1-3). It takes effort and even change on our part to truly draw close to Him. Perhaps the time we save by prioritization, organization, and realization can be filled with coming to know Him. Perhaps that commute can be spent listening to His Word. Perhaps the little things can be put aside to sit at His feet. He is not so far we cannot find if we seek (Ac. 17:26-28).
Communication is difficult. My daughter is like me in a lot of ways. She is introverted, which means she would rather you did the talking so she can listen. Over the years, I have learned how to start, maintain, and yes, at times dominate a conversation. Yet, my daughter is at that point in her life when communication is very hard. What do you say beyond “Hello”? This will be expanded upon in a moment when discussing serving others, but for now consider what you have to communicate.
You have information that will change another person’s life eternally. You have something important to say. Second, you have family, you have been places, you have seen things, you have experiences, you have commonalities with others which you can share. Once you let others know you are just a normal friendly person, you are likely to get communication in return. It’s that conversation which enables a closer relationship.
Communication is also important if you want to draw closer to God. Prayer is something we must not overlook in our life (1 Th. 5:17). God wants to hear our cries for help, our concerns, and our thanksgiving. Could that quiet time right in the morning when we get up, or perhaps before we go to bed, be shared with Him? He has shared His mind in scripture. He has expressed His love toward us. Can we communicate that in return?
All good relationships require both sides be willing to serve the other. It took my wife and me years to realize that happiness in marriage wasn’t about having our own needs met, but being able to meet the needs of our partner. Jesus Himself provided the biggest example of love and closeness by sacrifice. It is the Golden Rule! Love others as thyself! (Mt. 22:39) Service and kindness to others is what Jesus communicated to His disciples when He washed their feet (Jn. 13).
When we communicate with others, the conversation isn’t just about us. The conversation involves us serving the needs of the other person by enabling them to share aspects of their lives. It means us listening so we can hear about their hopes, concerns, and encouragements. Quite frequently, there is nothing someone likes to do more than talk about themselves! Yet, that too can be therapeutic. Such interactions draw us closer. The simplest of conversations can build into much deeper matters.
How do we show love for our Savior? We serve! We keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15). His ways are higher and deeper than our ways, so we serve to draw closer so that we can be more like Him. The more we know Him and act like Him, the stronger that bond becomes. The apostle Paul described his own actions as a servant of others: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more” (1 Co. 9:19). As mentioned previously, when we spend time with others we build bonds. Everyone on earth needs help in some way. Service can be provided to young or old, in big and little ways. As you serve others, you will find opportunities to better serve God by glorifying Him through good works.
Our life and time are not our own. They are gifts given by God. We can show ourselves to be good stewards of what God has given us, or we can simply ignore what has been given (Mt. 25:14-30). God desires we use our time wisely (Ep. 5:15-17). This means we must prioritize, organize, and realize. When we do this, we will find time to further devote to getting closer to God, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and those of this world.
Yes, this requires effort on our part. We must seek the closeness of others. We must communicate with others. We must engage ourselves in the service of others. These suggestions for redeeming the time and making the most of it are simply stated. Putting them into action requires concentrated effort. We don’t need to worry, for we can do this when our service is focused upon Christ (Ph. 4:13). I pray we all may achieve the closeness we are seeking.
[I first published this article in the Carolina Messenger under the title “Growing Closer to God and Each Other”] – Travis