Time is Spent On that Which You Love
This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of FOCUS.
We live in a society that is overworked and over stressed. We have a thousand important things to do and not enough time to do them. We are up to our ears in commitments. It feels that there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done. We measure time, give excuses that we don’t have enough time, give people our time, give up and give away our time. It is as if time is a commodity for our use. We spend our time on the things that we love. It is not time that needs to be managed so much as our purposes, goals and plans. We need to refocus on our first Love. We need a heart transplant to reclaim time.
I am an ER doctor. I work about 12 shifts per month and do hospitalist medicine about one month in 4. My wife Sandy is a busy family physician and works in the office about 3 days per week. We have 3 children. The oldest at the University of Western Ontario studying urban development. Our middle daughter is 17 and planning her future in nursing. Our son is 15 and is in grade 9. Our children, by the grace of God, love the Lord. We attend a community church where we are becoming active participants in the community, mission, and work of the church. We have nurtured a very small, but supportive group of friends twe encourage us in life and our work. We are filled with a sense of awe, gratitude and expectation that our time on earth will be blessed by the Lord as we seek to use time faithfully.
You have heard the colloquial statements: You are what you love. Show me your calendar and your wallet and I will tell you what you love. Whether it is opening the newspaper, flipping through social media accounts, or the amount of time wasted avoiding tasks that are drudgery, the way that we spend our time reflects our values and priorities. Popular culture has provided innumerable solutions to these distractions and competing priorities. We are bombarded with ways to save, prioritize and optimize our time. We are encouraged to nurture habits, behaviors, postures, and attitudes that optimize our time and performance. An approach that looks at life this way is helpful, but it is like looking through a telescope backwards. It doesn’t help to see more clearly.
The Bible talks about time in both a temporal sense as well as an eternal sense. In Psalm 90:10 the Psalmist notes: “The length of our days is seventy years-or eighty, if we have the strength; […] for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” The author of Ecclesiastes 3 also reminds us that our time is limited. “Man’s fate is like that of the animals […] as one dies, so dies the other.” (v19) The Bible contrasts the time and seasons of man with the timelessness and eternal purposes of God. The start of the sacred revelation in Genesis 1 starts with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The Bible starts with the eternal presence of God, hovering over the waters. God was present before the beginning of time, His existence is eternal and from His will, His intention and from His word, life springs forth life. “And God said Let there be light and there was light […] and there was evening and morning on the first day.” (Gen 1:3) The starting point of time begins with God by His word. John in his gospel John 1:1-3 reemphasizes this point “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” John goes further than this by emphasizing that Jesus was with God in the beginning, He is the incarnation and embodied revelation of God. “In Him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1: 3-5) The Psalmist reaffirms God’s eternal presence. “Lord you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born you brought forth the earth and the world, from ever lasting to everlasting you are God.” (Ps 90:1-2) In contrast to man who lives life with the pressures and limits of time, God is timeless and forever. That is a hard mystery to fathom. Not only is God the starting point of time to “Him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Pet 3:8) Verse 9 speaks of the patience of God not wanting anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance. Philippians 2:12-13 continues this idea that we are to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to fulfill his good purpose.”
What I have attempted to show is that time is created by God, through God and for His purposes. The purpose of time and the purpose of our time is to do the things that God does. We can see those things by God’s works and the things Jesus does. I hope now to review practical advice on reclaiming, restoring, and redeeming time.
NURTURE YOUR FIRST LOVE
Teacher what must I do to get eternal life? […]There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life , obey the commandments […] All these I have kept […] what do I still lack? […] Jesus answered sell your possessions and give to the poor. […] Then come, follow me. When the young man heard this, he went away sad because he had great wealth. (Matt 19: 17-22)
The rich young ruler asked Jesus the way to life. He was committed to following the letter of the law to the period. His problem wasn’t outward obedience, as he claimed to follow the law since birth, but in loving something more than God. Jesus asks him to give up the one thing that he truly loves. The same theme underscores the narrative of Abraham when God asks him for a sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac. I know that I have many things competing for my time and attention. I have many other loves, priorities and idols. When I think about the things that compete with God for the top spot: my wife, my kids, my career and reputation, they are all good things. They are not first things. God wants to be the Lord and King of my life! He wants to be my first thing, the thing that I think about in the morning, the last the thing in my night and a constant presence on my lips and heart.
RECLAIM YOUR EMPLOYMENT
Work at times can be drudgery. We can conceive of work as being an obligation. It can be a life stealer, a time robber a sleep killer. A huge Christian tradition has conceived of work very differently. What if work is “a calling”? If we conceive of work as a mission, the place where the Lord has placed you to reclaim and restore. If we see our patients and staff as fellow journeyman in this mission, we can reignite a passion for our employment. Work is the place where God calls us to be healers and restorers. It is one of the places, as in all our life, that God calls us to do the work of the Kingdom. Although I have not seen the miracles of Matthew 11: 5 “The blind receive sight, the lame walk […] and the good news is preached to the poor,” I pray regularly that God would work through me. Time is reclaimed because work is a sacred calling.
SEE THE SACRED IN THE SECULAR
I have recently cared for a patient I’ll call K. K is a drug addicted patient who I see regularly in the ER department with overdoses. She has been labeled with the usual labels that say she is unhelpable. Staff almost always moan when she arrives. She is almost always discharged. I felt helpless to help her. I know her time is limited if something doesn’t change as she will die. I decided to stop and take some extra time with her one day. Sitting at her bedside, I said to her that I felt helpless to help her, but I was a man of faith and although I couldn’t promise her much, I could pray for her if she wished. I was surprised when she agreed for me to pray for her. I prayed for the spirit of God to rest on her, to heal her of sickness, to give her His heart. I asked for the Lord’s blessing on her. While she still comes in regularly, my heart toward her changed. I now see her differently. I love her and care for her as a child of the King. I found out later that she is a hard-working employee at a local Christian mission and she is reluctantly seeking Christian counselling. Unfortunately, she is far from well, but the Lord has His hand on her with Christian influence. Learn to see the streams of the Lord’s work in everything. Look to become His hands and His feet, particularly for those who are “unhelpable”.
LEARN TO SAY NO
When Sandy and I started work, we were very intentional to start in the way we hoped to finish. We limited work. Many people are confused when they talk to me about busyness. They assume that I must be an overworked, stressed ER doctor. When I tell them that I work 12 shifts per month, they are then surprised to learn that my shifts are not 12 hours long, but 9 hours. We say no to a lot of good things. Work is wonderful, more work is an obligation. We have likewise learned to say no to a lot of good things, like committees working groups etc. To be fair we say yes to a lot of good things as well. Just this year I was the educational lead on a department initiative to improve pain control for hip fracture. This was good, valuable and rewarding work. I took the work on out of a sense of obligation that someone needed to lead this work. I took the attitude in this obligation that it was important work and needed to be done.
HONOUR YOUR OBLIGATIONS, BUT LIVE FROM YOUR HEART
We often live life out of a sense of duty. “I should do this or I ought to do that.” I was recounting to a friend how I had done dishes one day. Participation with family chores is important to the family function, it is important to my wife and helps with the endless tasks she assumes. I was proud that I had stepped up to help. My friend responded with encouragement, and a challenge: “That’s great, but now you have to do the dishes out of love.” We often do things out of a sense of obligation. It’s an entirely different motivation to do something out of love. Try doing something your partner appreciates because you love them and out of love. One of my favorite passages on the Bible is from Matthew 5. Jesus starts many of His statements: “You have heard that it was said,” referring to the Old Testament Law. He then finishes “But I tell you…” Jesus does something brilliant and life transforming as He moves us from the Law, our obligation to what the true intention of the law entails — living out of a new heart. Our commitments are important, they can hold you when times are tough, but living out of our hearts is better.
PRACTICE SABBATH REST AND ENGAGE IN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Part of the creation narrative is the creational imperative to rest. After completing the creation and calling it good, the Lord rested. The command to set aside a day to rest is commanded in Exodus 34:21: “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh you shall rest […]you must rest.” The idea of rest is captured in the idea of peace or Shalom. It is the idea that the world is as God intended and we can rest regardless of the circumstances. Jesus says in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” The work of Christ on the cross has reconciled us to God, it has redeemed and restored us from our sin and provides for us peace with God. It also provides inner peace, a peace that can be found nowhere else.
The spearhead of Christ’s work is lived out among the people of God. The starting point of God’s work is the church. The church is where we receive good teaching, where we engage in active worship, where we rub shoulders with other believers ,and where we feel refreshed to go into the world. Christ loves the church, with all it’s faults. It is to be a visible representation of Himself. A mystery. Join a church and become part of the community. Life is not meant to be lived alone, but with others by your side.
We do not need to be victims of time. Time was created by God for His purposes. He has given us rhythms and patterns, skills and responsibilities to restore and redeem time for His glory. We need to reclaim our purposes, goals and plans for His purposes. We need to refocus on our first love. The result is peace, the sense and place that we are where we should be.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper and not to harm you to give you a future.’” (Jer 29:11) Tellingly, a few versus prior to this, the Lord encourages the Israelites to settle, build houses, plant gardens, to seek the peace and prosperity of the city. The Lord encourages people to pray for the city to prosper, because if it prospers, the people will prosper. The city is the city of Babylon, a corrupt city, a nation that had captured the Israelites and put them in captivity. God knows our plans, He has a purpose for our life, regardless of the circumstances. He wants us to use our time to seek the peace of the places where we currently live and reclaim them by building beautiful things: houses, gardens, medical programs, families and church initiatives. His promise is peace and a knowledge that the Lord’s plans are being accomplished through us. He further promises Jeremiah 29:13 that if we seek Him with all our heart, God will be found.
There are many pressures we face with time constraints, time limits and time deadlines. Taking an inventory of the way we spend our time and a critical review of our first loves will show us whether the Lord is in the rightful place. The dishes still need to be done; the garage still needs yearly cleaning. Putting right our loves, seeing the sacred movements of God through the daily grind, learning to say no, reclaiming our employment, living from our heart, and practicing community are practical ways to maintain hearts, practices and patterns that reclaim time.