Question: Can you give me some advice on how to use my time wisely? I’m doing lots of things, but I’m not feeling very satisfied with any of them. I feel awfully random and that I would like to do more with my life, but there seem to be no opportunities. How do you both determine how to best spend your time, and prioritize?
You have well summarized the feelings of many young people of our generation. We have seen this malaise strike many young people reaching the threshold of adulthood — an increasing sense of the passing of time, the brevity of life, and a growing realization that we could be doing more with our lives. College girls and daughters at home alike fret about “spinning their wheels” — being always busy and accomplishing nothing. The truth is that we could all be doing more with our time… but we will continue to waste it until we recover the biblical understanding of time: Whose the time is and what it is for.
Part of the problem of our generation, sometimes referred to as the “entitlement generation,” is that we think our time is ours. What do we want to do? What do we want to see accomplished?
We must begin by recognizing that the time is God’s, and should be devoted to doing what He would want done. What are His priorities? Do we understand His mind well enough to know? He is the King and we are the servants, and time is one of many assets He has entrusted to His stewards to invest in His interests (Matt. 25:14-29).
Another problem is how we perceive our responsibility relating to time. Some live as though time is to be passed. The more diligent live as though time is to be filled. But Christians should know that time must be redeemed.
Twiddling our thumbs patiently as we wait for events to come and go is unacceptable; puttering around “keeping busy” while we wait for things to happen is only a little better. Paul commanded the church at Ephesus, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming [literally, "buying back"] the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15, 16)
This attitude was once a mainstay of our American heritage, as noted in Rushdoony’s Systematic Theology: “The great Puritan compliment was to speak of a man as a redeemer of time, one who used time wisely. Charles Chauncey told Ezra Stiles that Cotton Mather was such a man: ‘He was the greatest redeemer of time I ever knew.’ Cotton Mather could, by the age of twelve, read Virgil in Latin, Homer in classical Greek, and the New Testament in Koine Greek. By fourteen, he was writing in Hebrew and mastering sciences. He could write in seven languages, and his works include one each in Spanish, French, and Iroquois. He published 300 volumes and has two large and still unpublished works.”
Back in Europe, the attitude was expressed thus by John Calvin in a letter to Monsieur de Falais in 1546: ” ‘Apart from the sermons and the lectures, there is a month gone by in which I have scarce done anything, in such wise I am almost ashamed to live thus useless.’ It should be noted that Calvin had preached a mere twenty sermons that month and given only twelve lectures.” (Steven J. Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin)
But how do we discern which pursuits will buy back the time, and which will only fill it? How do we know which endeavors are worthwhile, and which will distract us?
We (the authors) each have mile-long lists of interests and dreams we know we will never have time to pursue in our brief lifetimes. We’ve had to learn to prioritize carefully, and give up the things of lesser importance to make room for the things of eternal significance. As Paul said, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient [profitable]: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Cor. 6:12)
To be qualified as a priority, an activity must “engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that [we] will not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14, emphasis added). That the activity be wholesome, or “feminine,” (or “lawful”) is not enough; it must be inspired by an understanding of the pressing needs of the hour, and designed to wisely meet that need. We always loved how John Adams summed up this principle of recognizing what the times require:
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”
Before we make a decision about how to invest our time, we should think about the needs of the hour. What do the people around us need? (Rather than asking, What do I want to do? What are my interests? What are my hobbies? What are my dreams? Even, “What are my current skills?” doesn’t need to be a determining question — in our own case, every worthwhile endeavor we’ve taken up, including our book and documentary, required learning completely new skills.)
Our criteria for judging every project or pursuit is basically this:
Does it meet a pressing need? (Titus 3:14)
Will it shepherd His sheep? (John 21:16)
Is it crucial to discipling all the nations, teaching them to observe all that He commanded? (Matthew 28:20)
Will it build on the foundation with gold, silver and precious stones, or with wood, hay and straw? Will it withstand the test of fire? (1 Corinthians 3:12-14)
On a more practical level, we ask:
First, will it help our family?
Will it help the church? (local and worldwide)
Will it equip us to be more effective servants of Christ?
Is there anything more effective we could be doing with that time?
In the past, when we found ourselves dissatisfied with sundry endeavors, it was usually because we could see they were not doing enough to help others. A Christian doesn’t want to do something just for the personal enjoyment she gets out of it — she wants to serve others. Thus our endeavors, whether entrepreneurial or ministry, should be driven by the needs of others, rather than by our own interests. When we find ourselves feeling aimless and purposeless, it’s time to move our focus back to His kingdom interests, and lay our personal desires and dreams and hobbies on the altar.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)