Saturday, November 3, 2007
Time for Time
Journal Entry 23rd February 1996
“Stop the world! I WANNA GET OFF! Yup that’s how it is at the moment. Once again I am too busy at life. The roundabout goes around and around, getting faster and faster until it’s a blur of colour and activity – frenzied music billowing out …It’s gonna blow up soon. Smoke is gushing … there is a whine in the motor…
I’m thinking of Mary and Martha. I would like to be like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus but I would be worse than Martha if you stopped by my house Lord. She flustered around the house … I wouldn’t even be home!”
Hmmmm … this is an all too familiar song.
However … that’s the dance of the world we live in. I am tired of it. I am tired of being too busy … I am tired of significant people in my life being too busy and I am VERY TIRED of pressure crowding out priorities. It is wrong. The Bible says that we are not to be conformed to the standards of this world. We often look at this in terms of our thinking and morals, but what about in respect to how we use our time?
Time is major currency in the world we live. We have more time saving devices in our lives than at any other time in history and yet we are busier than at any other time. This infection of busy-ness is so crazy, that we even catch ourselves competing with others in who is the busiest. Come on … I am sure you have had the conversation at least once in your life … you ask someone how they are doing and they reply with how busy they are. Your response is …” yes, I know … because I have blah and blah and blah and then I have to blah!” It’s almost like we have to be ashamed if we have time in our lives to rest.
People, this is not the plan of God. It is not how he wired us and it is not right. As my friend Kathy says, “we are human beings, NOT human doings.” All this doing is damaging to us, to our walk with God and to our relationships with others. Lets look through God’s eyes for a moment. What is important to him? Hmmm … could it be … PEOPLE? … ummm … RELATIONSHIP …!?!
Are we living a life in balance? Are we exercising? Are we eating right? Are we tanking ourselves up spiritually and emotionally? For a moment, take some time and imagine this … you have 4 tanks in your life: Spiritual, emotional, physical and mental (of course life is not that compartmentalised, but stay with me). All these tanks need to be filled. It is very possible to be tanked up spiritually and drained emotionally. If this happens, there is likely to be a brittleness in your response to people. Perhaps you are tanked up in other areas and not spiritually so you miss the nudgings and promptings of God. What are you doing to fill your tanks? If music helps tank you up … put some on. If a good book recharges your batteries, take time to read. If a latte and conversation with a friend charges you up … take time. You get the point. Put yourself on the list and stop blocking out your time for everyone else’s pressures (work included). This is not an excuse for laziness; it is an encouragement to say, LOVE YOURSELF. You are no use to anyone if you have not got your life in balance and centred on Christ. You might notice I said “take time” not “make time”. As I told my kids the other day, time is not elastic. It is finite. It is limited and we need to manage it well. So TAKE back the time you need to achieve your priorities. If you are running with your tanks full, you will be more efficient with all you have to do.
I recently had a colleague compliment me on a workshop of mine she attended. She then went on to say she wanted to do it but it would have to wait until she had time. I hope she wasn’t too offended when I responded with, “well then, it won’t happen. Either you determine you are going to use this and prioritise the time to make it happen or you don’t. Personally, I don’t mind what you decide, but don’t wait for the time because it will never happen. I am only using it because I determined it was something that benefited my students and put in the time.” I just can’t leave a comment like that any more because we are kidding ourselves if we think time will just open up. It’s not the world we live in.
So how do we take time to achieve our priorities, as opposed to having it all gobbled up by pressure? We put in boundaries. Boundaries are tricky things. We often don’t prioritise self-care, so we find it easier to look to everyone else’s needs. This is even reinforced by a song we learn at Sunday school. “Jesus first, yourself last, others in between.” This sounds all very spiritual. It’s WRONG. Of course God should be first in our life. However, Jesus said love your neighbour as yourself. If you don’t care for yourself, how can you care for your neighbour? We are not called to live life for ourselves, but Jesus modelled it well. There were times he withdrew to recharge. Times that he spent with friends or family – those close to him. Times when he pulled back. One of the difficulties with boundaries is that people who don’t have them, often resent those who do. When we put boundaries in, we can disappoint others or, we can feel guilty because we see others running around. Determine your priorities and then put your boundaries in accordingly.
One of the things I have learnt to do with boundaries is just say I am unavailable if I have something scheduled, rather than telling people what it is. I found that when I would say what it is, there was pressure about why something else was more important. My priorities for my time are not always the same as other people’s priorities for my time! If I have scheduled coffee with a friend going through a hard time, or a workout at the gym, is this not as important as a work meeting someone is scheduling at short notice? Of course my work is high up my priority list and I want to do my job and do it well in a God honouring fashion. However, I find (and it is the nature of teaching) that work will consume everything I give it and still want more. Lines must be drawn. Similarly, with church and ministry. A friend was telling me of a great coffee she had with a workmate. She was building relationship with someone who did not know God. Previously, she would have been so busy with all the activities going on in her church she wouldn’t have had the time. Have you been there? I have! So then, if this is our reality, how do we fulfil the great commission? Just a thought!
C S Lewis has a great passage in Screwtape Letters. Wormwood is trying to derail the “client” (the new Christian). Wormwood’s advice is to get him really busy. And … not just busy, but really busy doing GOOD things … so busy doing the work of God, he has no time FOR God. Hmm … recognise that tune?
Ephesians 5:16 (KJV) exhorts us to “redeem the time, for the days are evil”. I have to say that this is a much clearer message than my NIV, which says to make the most of every opportunity! Lets look at what that means:
Redeem (exagoranzo). It means, “paying a price to recover from the power of another, to make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good, so that zeal and well doing are, as it were, the purchase money by which we make the time our own.”
I like that! We certainly do pay a price to take our time back. We disappoint others, we have to say no to things we would really like to do. I also like the idea of taking it back from the power of another. This ties in with what I was talking about earlier – not being conformed to the standards of this world. We must take control of our time – not let external pressures dictate.
What does it mean, the days are evil?
Evil (ponhrov – poneros).
Get this! The first two meanings are
1. full of labours, annoyances, hardships
2. pressed and harassed by labours
WOW! Full of labour … pressed and harassed by labour! Are you getting this? Are you feeling harassed and under pressure? What are you busy at? Do you have too much on your plate? Is it causing you to be out of balance? What pressures are you reacting to? Stop. Breathe. Refocus. Be strong and be courageous. Your life has a purpose. Stop rushing. Where is it going to take you? I heard a speaker once who had been talking with people in the concentration camps back in the Holocaust. She said the thing that stuck with her was the comment from one of them to rush. The survivor said everywhere they went, they were rushed and herded … not allowed to stop … shouted at to “hurry, hurry” … all the way to their deaths. One of them reflected back and said, the sheer numbers of people in the camps were huge in comparison to the numbers of guards … maybe they could have done something … but they were driven, exhausted, fearful … not a moment to be in any shape to even think or be organized to act differently. Obviously the situation was more complex, but this is a really important thing that the survivor brought out. Rush, rush … all the way to their deaths.
In his book Prophet, Frank Peritti writes an incredibly memorable scene. It so captures the way our world is today (and he wrote this in 1992). John (one of the main characters) is in a shopping mall. While there, he is people watching and starts to muse on how it all is fluff. People are consumed with shopping and spending and eating … but none of it is real … none of it is life. It is empty and meaningless. He starts to have a vision. He feels a draft and a disruption in the balance of the floor. He wonders if it is an earthquake and looks around to see what the people are doing. They don’t seem to notice but their activities increase … get faster and louder. The mall starts to tilt. He looks again at the people. This time they notice something. They look around and their voices go up. There is more of a buzz in the air. The floor tilts some more and now, when he looks to look at the end of the mall, all the lights are out. Everything is in darkness. He starts to hear screams and cries of people in pain. As he looks, he sees the end of the mall is not just dark, it is a huge cavernous vortex – a spinning whirlpool of darkness, sucking everything in. He looks back towards the area he is in and people are shopping faster, buying more, talking louder … completely oblivious to what is happening at the far end. Then the people start to notice, start to panic. But instead of fleeing, they become frantic to buy things, see things, handle things. Now the vortex is sucking with the roar of a tornado, the mall is a crazy tilt and people are flying into the gaping throat. As they are sliding by, he sees they are still trying to spend and shop and hold things … all the while the voices screaming in pain continue.
I read this and to me it is a picture of the world we live in. A frenzy and blur of activity and froth – while all the while people are in pain, are dying … What are we going to see? If we do not stop and step out of the frenzy ourselves, we will not hear the still quiet voice of God. We will not sense the nudges of his leading and we will not be Jesus with skin on to those around us.
Redeem the time my friends, for the day is evil.