Recently, I was invited to an event where a local non-profit, service-minded group was celebrating the accomplishments of a few of its members. The speaker for the evening talked powerfully and eloquently about the value of volunteerism. She said one thing in particular that got me thinking. Her comment was, “Time, it’s the one thing that none of us ever have enough of.” My silent, gut reaction was a hearty, “Amen!” And then I thought about it again. “Do I really believe this is true? Who would I fault for not having enough of something so intrinsic to the human experience as time? God? Is it really the case that God just doesn’t give me enough time, or might it be the case that I, more often than not, fail to deal wisely with the time God does give me?”
Time is a precious commodity. No…. Strike that. See, there’s the problem! In a culture so thoroughly capitalistic, I am inclined to commodify everything—even the gift of time. Time is indeed precious, but it is not a commodity. It is God’s gift to us and like any other gift God gives us, we need to think carefully about how to steward it. My point then is simple, if I really believe that time is a God-given gift, but experience it as something that it seems I never have enough of, perhaps I need to revisit how I steward this gift.
What follows are three characteristics I have identified in my life that I think negatively effect how I (and I presume others) steward the gift of time. Following each characteristic are three questions that I would encourage you to use in a small group study to stimulate discussion centered around and the stewardship of time.
From fear to freedom
One of the biggest hindrances to stewarding time well is fear. But gifts, including the gift of time, cannot be enjoyed in fear—only in freedom. Whether we fear events from the past, present circumstances, or future possibilities, when how we spend our time is motivated in anyway by fear rather than freedom, we run the risk of failing to be good stewards of the gift of time. We may entertain thoughts like, “What if that happens again? What if people don’t agree with me? What if things don’t turn out how I’d like?” When questions like these drive how we spend our time, we are robbed of the freedom to enjoy God and his gifts to us. We can recall the words of Jesus, who said,
“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” John 6:25-27 (NIV).
Fear is something Satan uses to trap us. As long as we live in fear, we cannot experience the fullness of freedom in Christ and how we spend our time will be directly affected. But, once we move from structuring our time in order to avoid or circumvent that of which we are afraid, to freely enjoying God and his many gifts to us, how we use and spend our time becomes altogether different.
1. Reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus. Name some ways in which he could have let fear control his time. How would his life and ministry have changed?
2. In your life, name some ways in which how you spend your time is dictated by a fear of something or someone.
3. Read Luke 10:38-42.Where do you see fear and freedom in this passage? What does it have to do with the stewardship of time?
From greed to generosity
Another major hindrance to stewarding our time well is greed. We live in a culture bound and determined to convince us that our worth is bound up in what we are able to accomplish and accumulate. But this is not God’s desire for us. Jesus lived a life of simplicity and called his followers to the same. To the extent that we allow greed in any area of our lives to grip us, we forfeit the opportunity to live lives of generosity. We use our time for our gain rather than for the good of others.
In Scripture we are admonished, “Freely you have received, freely give” Matthew 10:8 (NIV). “It is more blessed to give than to receive” Acts 20:35 (NIV). “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” 1 Timothy 6:18 (NIV). Greed gives rise to the selfish understanding and use of time. Generosity, on the other hand, compels us to use the gift of time for the good of others.
1. Looking at our culture broadly or your life specifically, how does greed dominate how our/your time is spent?
2. Thinking of Jesus as a model, what sort of vision of reality do you think enabled him to not let how he spent his time be dominated by greed?
3. Read Luke 12:16-21. Discuss the connection between greed, generosity, and time in this parable.
From impatience to influence
A final characteristic I notice in my life that effects how I steward my time is impatience. I don’t like to wait. I want things now and the culture in which we live has done its job of convincing us that this is indeed my “right.” But here’s what I notice; when I determine how I spend my time by virtue of what I am most impatient about (anybody else out there lose track of how many times they check their email per day?), I lose the ability to truly have an influence on people and situations. Influence takes time and perseverance —impatience kills influence.
Jesus, bound and determined to have the necessary influence in the life of the apostles given their future task, was never impatient. “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” Mark 3:13-15 (NIV).
Did you catch it in there? The first and most vital part of Jesus’ relationship to the disciples, “that they might be with him….” I think there are two lessons to be gleaned here. First, whatever else we do with our time it looses power and potency when it is not born out of our taking the time to simply be with Jesus. Everything else flows from this. Second, we are reminded that this life is a battle between influence and impatience. To steward our time well is to discipline ourselves towards the true influence of others.
1. What are the things you find yourself to be impatient for or about? How does that effect how you spend your time?
2. Jesus was and is the linchpin of all history. How and why do you suppose he was able to steward time the way he did, without even so much as a hint of impatience?
3. Read John 11:1-6 (through 45 if anyone is unfamiliar with the story). Given how we often view time, we should be scandalized by this passage. Reflect on how Jesus’ vision of time plays into the unfolding of this story.
All the time in the world
I’m not sure I can really wrap my head around the idea that God is outside of time. Or for that matter, that time is a created thing, which need not exist. Nevertheless, my faith and hope are in a God who is the creator, sustainer, and Lord over time. All the time in the world is God’s and inasmuch as I endeavor to follow Jesus into a life of freedom, generosity, and influence, fear, greed, and impatience are things which need not control how I spend and steward my time.
My hope and prayer for those of you who read this article and use this guide for group study and reflection is that you will discover and enjoy a new found freedom in God, the giver of time whose perfect love casts out fear, whose generosity nullifies our greed, and whose divine timing renders our impatience foolishness.