Time marches on! A Christian perspective on time management

January 10, 2012

If you, like me, have not flown since 9/11, the whole airline thing can be a little intimidating. Figuring out all the fares and schedules really brings home the complexities of modern life. Some of the worst sermons start off condemning this or that supposed atrocity that has occupied the recent news cycle and it is often followed by the preacher’s slanted opinions on how Holy Scripture might condemn this or that. I know this because I watch an inordinate amount of cable television.

Modern culture is simply bad. In fact, it’s rotten. What else would you expect from the minds and hands of sinful human beings? Everything we do on our own is bound to end up being corrupted. Television, music and movies are not the originating cause. Take it from somebody who knows, the media guys have to run like crazy just to keep up with the past year’s social trends. The opinion shapers are very good at exploiting the lowest forms of human emotions; fear, tribalism, greed, lust, anger, resentment, envy, and a heapin’ helpin’ of carnal desire. Let me suggest that there are some things at work on the human psyche that are so subtle and pervasive we fail to recognize them. This happens all the time, even though the existence of an undercurrent of stress seems fairly obvious. We are living in a pressure cooker and it is worth considering whether time management plays a key role in creating the “bad society.”

There is a man I know who regularly travels to Africa with his family Most Evangelical Christians are vitally interested in bringing the Gospel to the developing nations. The stories of missionaries can be captivating, mostly because the people they serve get by on so much less. Poverty and hunger are serious problems and we should never understate the evil connected with them. In these distant places, it is interesting to hear about how the local folks organize everyday life.

If you have an appointment with somebody, I am told that in many places one simply arranges to meet in a certain place “tomorrow morning.” One goes to that place, or the general whereabouts, and settles in until the other person comes strolling in. There are lots of well-mannered preliminaries and you would never dream of getting right down to business. Based on stories from those who have been there, it is the same way at the other end of the meeting. Now, this would make me crazy, but it is apparently against the rules to just get things wrapped up and move on.

This is by now means an original thought, and the theological topic has been developed previously, but what on earth did people do with themselves before the invention of accurate timepieces? When folks could know exactly what time it is, the ones in charge got way too much power over the rest of us. Time measurements brought a more precise and exacting method for observing productivity, and, let’s face it; modern people are largely evaluated, rewarded and favored based on productivity. The secular world view is that a productive person is a valuable person

If you think about it, that kind of system is rather arrogant and is certainly opposed to the biblical idea of human being created in God’s “image and likeness” (Gen 1:27). If humankind somewhat resembles the Most High, then every person deserves respect. Sure, that sounds a radical, but only because we are immersed in the culture of economic competition and the unceasing requirement to buy more “stuff.”

One glance at a wristwatch and it is time to get on to the next thing. Hurry along and get things done. Squeeze too many things into every working day and never mind that we do not know the other bearers of the divine image that drift in and out of our daily travels. Take a few minutes to pray in the morning and evening? It sounds like such a good idea, but brings nothing to the bottom line. Serious people have big obligations that demand their full attention. We can pray whenever we get a minute.

The reality is that God wants to spend time with us. He knows each person individually, but he wants to share the stories that reveal his character, his vision for the world, his desire for everyone. In the creation story, a week of work is completed with a day of rest. It is an allegory, but there is an important point. God sanctifies a piece of time as a gift to man so that we will slow down and pay attention to his kind intentions. Jesus often went off before sunrise by himself prayerfully seeking his Father’s will. Time management is a high priority with the Creator.

One nagging difficulty right here is that you and I have bought into the prevailing cultural and economic system. To be more precise, we are on the roller coaster and there is no easy or obvious way off. Besides, free market capitalism has its benefits and, if we possess a lot of stuff, it can be used for good. There is no reason to form a cult in which the adherents smash their clocks and watches (and I hope I have not given anybody ideas!).

It would be far better, first, just to recognize what is happening to us in our own daily routine. In the tough economic times, many people are downsizing what they own and consume, and it might be a good idea to downsize what we do. These are serious decisions and every one of you will have to work that out in your own mind, and with your families. What would life be like with fewer scheduled commitments?

There is a positive side to this as well. How can time be spent to develop closer relationships? What good can we do for others with the time we now have available?  Are we substituting old commitments for new commitments? Sort of.

Think about it this way. There is no such thing as an individual Christian. Do not misunderstand, we come to faith individually and we are judged personally. Nonetheless, we are members of the body of Christ, the church. That is the true context of the Christian life and that is where we should be generous with the precious commodity of time.

            So teach us to number our days

that we may get a heart of wisdom.

(Psalm 90:12 ESV)

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