If there is one area of life I imagine most of us wish we could improve upon it would be, without a doubt, that of time management. It’s not simply those who foolishy squander time who need to grow in this respect–it’s anyone trying to balance the responsibilities of family, work, church and personal care.
Everything that fills our schedules falls under one or more of these four categories; and, in many cases, these categories overlap. There is a danger in over-emphasizing any of these spheres in which we are called to live to the exclusion or neglect of the others. Those who are most eager to emphasize the importance of family life can end up isolating themselves from the life of the church and the world in which we are called to live out our life of faith in Christ. Those who are overly ambitious for productivity may give an undo amount of time and energy to work–seeking to accomplish as much as then can in as short a time as is possible. Those who love being engaged in ministry can do so to the neglect and harm of themselves and their family. There are those who choose to give themselves to the care of family, work and church and they neglect a private devotion to Christ and a personal care for exercise and rest. I have often heard Christians say things like, “I don’t have time to come to this church event, or that ministry opportunity, because I work until such and such a time…” or “I can’t really come to a mid-week small group meeting because I only get so much time with my wife…” These excuses, while sometimes justified, are often merely a guise for not giving yourself to the call of God to be actively engaged in the life of the local church. So how can we bring better balance and faithfulness to each of these spheres in which we must live?
When we come to talk about time management, we have to first talk about time. Augustine, in his Confessions, makes the following observation about the nature of time, and the difficulty of explaining it, when he wrote:
But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than time? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I do not know.1
When I was at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Phil Ryken, or some guest speaker, would come in and speak to the interns about various subjects. Knowing that time management was the principle area of my life in which I needed growth, I asked Dr. Ryken if he would address this specific subject. You can listen to the audio of that talk here.
Of the many helpful things that Phil said in that talk the following are those that stood out most to me:
“Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” - Gerald Hawthorne
“You can’t be in two places at once.”
There are two factors we must keep in mind when considering our limitations in regard to time management: (1) Fallenness and (2) Finitude
“Time can be wasted through sloth; and that’s a sin.”
“Typically when we waste time through sloth that has other consequences because that was time that could have been used for other purposes. Maybe it could have been used for prayer, and now I’m more vulnerable to temptation. Maybe it could have been used for service, and that would have been a blessing to someone else–and that was a missed opportunity.”
“It is possible to steal time, to overstep the boundaries that are appropriating a relationship–to demand more of someone’s time than is appropriate or that they have time to give.”
“We can’t be in all places at the same time…because we’re created beings. Adam had six days to work and one day to rest. This is a good thing because it reminds us that we are the creature and not the Creator.” It’s ok that we do not get everything we want to finished.
“There is a redemptive aspect to our use of time…If time belongs to God then all our time should be used well for His glory.”2
Phil spent the rest of the talk speaking about our need to “recognize the value of things that are task oriented and those that are people oriented” and all the nuances of how we should approach these two spheres of responsibility. As he introduced this distinction he noted that no matter what is said it’s certainly a complex thing. I recommend that anyone interested in growing in their stewardship of time listen to Phil’s talk.
In an article titled “Embracing Finitude,” Ryken draws out the major application of this point he says:
Embracing finitude also means living by faith. I need to trust that God has given me enough time to do the things he has actually called me to do. This doesn’t mean that I have enough time to do all the things I want to do. Nor does it mean that there won’t be times when, through my own negligence and sin, I won’t have enough time. If I squander the time God has given me, then I won’t have all the time I need to do what I’m supposed to do. But I still need to trust God for time as much as for everything else. Rather than stressing out over all the things I don’t think I have time to do, I need to live by faith, trusting God to give me the grace to do what truly needs to be done.
Sinclair Ferguson has summed up the nature of our relationship to time when he said, “Time is in essence our experience of life; time is in essence what we put into that life.”3
We need to have our minds renewed by the Scriptures to such a degree that we understand precisely what it is that we are called to do. What would this look this with regard to the relationship between family and church, or family and ministry?
There are several ways in which the Scriptures bring clarity to our need to prioritize our engagement in each of these spheres. When the apostle Paul gives the qualifications for eldership he says, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” Here it is clear that family must take priority to ministry in order for a man to be qualified for ministry. It is possible, and actually quite common, for men to neglect their families for ministry.
On the flip side, Jesus taught, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Clearly what the Savior was teaching was that it is possible to make an idol out of family in such a way that loving and serving Jesus takes a back seat. When we consider all the ministry that the apostle Peter was engaged in we must remember that he had a wife and family to care for as well. It is interesting to note that we never read about the apostle Peter’s family life. We do, however, read a great deal about his church involvement and evangelistic ministry. Perhaps what we can take away from this is that all believers are members of the church–which is the family of God–and as such are to give themselves to ministry in the church as they give themselves to ministry of their family. Jesus cared for His own mother’s well-being even as He was entirely engaged in the ministry of redeeming our souls. We don’t have to pick one over the other. We should be seeking to integrate the two as much as possible.
In addition to learning the biblical approach to the use of our time in the spheres of family, work, church and personal care, we must learn the categories of work and rest. All our activities in life will rightly fall under one of these two categories. Phil Ryken’s father, Leland Ryken has written a helpful book on this subject, Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure. William Still has also written a helpful little book titled, Rhythms of Work and Rest.
While so much more could be said about this issue than could be said in a blog post, I would recommend a recent short post by David Howard on “How to Keep Drainers from Taking Over Your Life.” In this post, Howard observes that there are always things that drain you in life and things that energize you. While there will always be things that we don’t enjoy doing–and yet have to do–we should try to spend less time on things that tend to drain us–and that we don’t need to do–and more time doing those things that motivate and energize us to bless others. This too is part of learning the rhythm of rest and work.
1. St. Augustine Confessions (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1876) pp. 301 ff.
2. Excerpts taken from a 2007 intern roundtable talk at Tenth Presbyterian Church, “Time Management”
3. Sinclair Ferguson “Managing Your Time” (audio sermon on Ephesians 5:15-21)