If you haven't read it already, be sure to check out Part 1.
Before I get down to the practical "how-to's" in Part 3, I want to share just a few key concepts about time stewardship. If you're like me, you're about to skip to part three... don't.
I include these here because I firmly believe that true change in any area must be motivated by love and obedience to God, and real repentance that manifests itself in both lifestyle and mind change. If we don't start with realizing that we need to repent of our sinful time management, there will be no real, God-glorifying change. And if we do not change both our mindset and make concrete goals for how to implement our repentance, we show our repentance to be merely a worldly sorrow (2 Cor 7:10), and have no more repentance than the rich young ruler who sorrowed, but refused to change.
I'm not going to give you my opinions about time management, because there are plenty of time gurus out there who make a living out of doing that. What I want to share with you are the biblical principles about time management that have dramatically changed my own thinking in a way that has impacted my daily life. Please note that this isn't intended to be a comprehensive list, these are just the things that I've personally found especially helpful.
1. Our Time Is Not Our Own. We have to truly come to grips with the idea that our time does not belong to us. If we are saved, then we have been bought with a price and we are not our own. We are simply stewards of the time God has given to us to invest. This means two things:
"You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God in your body..." 1 Cor 6:19-20
2. A Proper Understanding of Priorities. I read this amazing little booklet called "Priorities" by James C. Petty, and it completely changed my understanding of prioritizing. I used to think of prioritizing as simply choosing the most important things on my list, which was usually translated to "the most pressing things on my list", i.e. the tyranny of the urgent.
What Petty pointed out, however, is that we are called by God to manage ALL of the aspects of life that He gives us at the same time. What often happens is that we start to get behind in some category, like our church involvement, so we step that up. Then we get behind in our family relationships, so we "prioritize" that for a while, until our finances get out of hand, and we "prioritize" work. Usually we are playing catch up in some area, and only putting a little time into a few other areas, while other areas are completely on the back burner. Our prioritization often looks like the above photo; it's really just differentiating between the things that need to be done now, and the things that can wait.
The problem with this method is that the things that can wait are often the things we want to value the most. Time in God's Word, family relationships, reading, personal growth, these things can "wait". Our prioritization often means a postponement of what we really value, because we are living under the tyranny of the next email, the next phone call, and the next bill.
Instead, Petty shows that prioritizing means laying out all of the categories (family relationships, work, church, personal growth, friends, etc.) and making lists of your duties within each category. Then you prioritize the individual duties in each category, not the category itself. So let's say this is your list below:
You want to make sure that you've done priority one in all your categories before you move on to priority two in all of your categories. That way, you aren't doing extra things for your friends, before you've done your first priorities with your family. For instance, you should do your Bible reading and chores before you spend an hour studying health.
This understanding is an important application of the stewardship principle. We are stewards of all the areas that God has entrusted to our care. We can't choose to not really be a good sibling today, because we "have pressing work to do". We need to learn to manage all of our duties together. I have found myself saying to my family "Sorry I can't ______, I have a deadline I need to get to today". Instead, I needed to realize that when I get a deadline, I need to plan appropriately. I can't choose not to fulfill my family duties because I failed to do my work before the crunch time. We don't have the liberty to put some spheres of responsibility on the back burner.
I can attest that this shift in my understanding of priorities has helped me tremendously. I'll share what I've done practically in this area in part three, but I am really grateful for a better understanding of how I can be a faithful steward with my time.
"For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability." Matt 25:14-30
3. A Proper Understanding of Self. Ok. I'll admit it. I'm a visionary, and I easily get sucked into seeing all the ways that the world needs to be changed. I see the big picture, and I sometimes blow a metaphorical mental circuit trying to figure how we're going to fix this mess. The temptation I face is in thinking that I can rescue it from it's plight. "Maybe if I just work harder, I can manage to squeeze in enough time to help everyone."
There is just one small problem. I'm finite.
I'm pretty sure that God made us finite just so that we would have to come to grips with the reality that we are not God. We can't fix everyone's problems. Only God can do that. I loved this quote from Kevin DeYoung's book Crazy Busy:
"The person who does not set priorities is the person who does not believe in his own finitude."
We are nothing in and of ourselves. We can't save the world by our own might. God calls us to simply be faithful with what He sovereignly ordains for us to do, and no more. When we are faithful, He rewards us by using us to change the world. But the result is that He gets the glory, because we have only done our duty (Luke 17:10).
In the end, we have done nothing glamorous, we were just faithful in the ordinary ways that seem "foolish" to the world (1 Cor 1:27). He has ordained the foolishness of losing one's life, the foolishness of repentance, the foolishness of families, the foolishness of preaching, and the foolishness of obedience to His law to shame the wisdom of the world. While the Marxists and other anti-Christian systems are trying their impressive best to fix the world apart from God, God is slowly but surely changing the world, for His glory, with His own "foolish" means.
My mother always says, "When you say ‘yes' to one thing, you're saying ‘no' to something else." It's so true! In a budget, you only have so much money, and when you spend it on one thing, you've said no to spending it on something else. Our time, like money, is a limited commodity. The hard truth is, we won't have time for extra things, even good things, that God isn't calling us to do.
We need to trust God to change the world by being faithful with the means that He has ordained, and not try to take shortcuts that we think will work better. We need to have the faith to say "no" to the demands that clamor for our attention, knowing that we are doing what God has sovereignly chosen as our priorities, and we can trust the rest of the world to Him. Our perfect example of this is Jesus.
"As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;
Jesus, our example.
These principles are the same ones that our Savior lived by. Consider these examples from the gospels:
1. Jesus did the will of His Father. Jesus had no agenda of His own, he did His Father's will.
"I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but to do the will of him who sent me... I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me... I always do what pleases Him." John 6:38, 8:28-29
Jesus didn't need to worry because he knew exactly what His Father wanted him to do. He did no more and no less. He was not double minded, trying to serve two masters, he had one aim, and that was to do exactly what His Father had commissioned Him to do, and He didn't worry about doing anything more than that. Consider this story from the gospel of Mark:
"And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons...
Notice that while Jesus could have ministered to many more needy people, He sought the Father's priorities for Him in prayer. With a firm understanding of His divine priorities, He didn't need to attend to the unmet needs of the people in the town He was leaving, He knew exactly what His Father's will was. In John 17:4 just before He is arrested and crucified, He states "I have glorified you on the earth: I have finished the work which you gave me to do." In 33 years, even though He could have done so much more, Jesus could say with confidence that He had accomplished the work that His Father had given Him.
We need to have the same confidence about the work God has commissioned us with. For instance, God tells us that if our brother has something against us, to go to him immediately and make it right (Matt 5:23), and God tells us to help widows and orphans (James 1:27). Do we take these responsibilities seriously? So seriously we have specifics on our list? God gives us the tools in Scripture to sufficiently guide us in life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and through His Word and prayer, we can know what His priorities for our life are. We need to live for the audience of One, just as Jesus did, and do nothing more and nothing less.
How would God would prioritize your to-do list?
Read Part 3 here...