When I was a college student, I attended several time-management seminars. Invariably, someone would start off with the solemn declaration, “We all have twenty-four hours in a day. The only difference is how we choose to use them.” Each time I heard this, I wanted to shout, “No we don’t! Some people don’t need as much sleep as I do!” More than once, I had tried cutting back on sleep, and every time I got sick. [Read more…]
A frequent question we face is ‘How do we get done all that we want to do?’ It’s a very important question, but if we think about this way, it’s the wrong question. A better question is ‘How do I do all that God has given me to do?’ There is one person who has walked among us who has been able to do just that. John 17 is a well known chapter in which Jesus prays for His disciples. But right before he does that, note carefully what He says in verse 4: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.’ (NIV) That’s quite a shocking statement, especially given the fact that he says this before He has gone to the cross. Yet He has completed all that God has given Him to do. He has not done all he could do, and definitely has not done all that others wanted Him to do, but God simply doesn’t ask us to do more than we can. Ever.
I was thinking about this in reading Nancy Wilson’s recent post on GtS on ‘The Balancing Act.’ She realized that she had placed too high an importance on her coursework, that ‘while I needed to attend to my studies, I didn’t have to give 110% every time.’ How did this good advice go together with my post on ‘Maximize Your Learning Experience’?
When it came to getting things done, Jesus was a master of prioritizing at two different levels: strategic and operational. He got the big picture right – He knew why He was here, what His priorities were, and where He needed to invest most of His time. That meant for some very tough decisions. He focused on doing the will of the Father, on reaching the people of Israel, and on building deeply into the lives of only a handful of men. Everything He did reflected His top priorities. Equally importantly, he always seemed to get it right in-the-moment. He took time out for individuals, to heal people, to go to dinner parties with sinners. His sermons got to the point, His teaching time was focused, He never got bogged down arguing with His critics, and He balanced family and ministry perfectly.
Well, we don’t have perfect knowledge what God has called us to do in detail, nor do we know perfectly what is going on in the lives of those around us “ so how do we do better at getting things done? We also need to think in terms of our time and priorities both at a high level and in the details, and tie the two together as best we can. It starts with making the most vital things top priorities in our lives (not just on paper) “ time with God, with family, taking care of ourselves, serving others, and sharing Christ. Also at a high level, we need to spend time listening to God and exploring His call for our lives. We need to understand our gifts and strengths, as these shed much light on what He expects from us.
What’s the tie-in to moment-to-moment decisions? How does it impact letting a course slide versus maximizing learning? Return on investment of time. With our fixed budget of hours, where do we see the highest return in the light of our calling and priorities? If family is a top priority, block out time on your calendar for it. Figure out how much time you should be spending on studies (the balancing act), then make the absolute most you can the time with your study time (maximize your learning). For example, spending an extra 30-60 minutes writing notes and reflecting on application after I’ve read a book greatly increases the value of reading it. That’s a super return on investment. All courses are not equal in the light of your calling. ‘Get by’ with those that aren’t, and do so guilt-free knowing that you are focusing your time where God wants you to. Your seminary professor will choose what is required reading vs. what is supplemental, but that doesn’t mean you give all books equal attention (or ignore ‘optional’ ones). Skim some, read others, and devour the ones that can really impact your life and ministry. Go the extra mile when you see an opportunity to tie in studies with your current ministry, do the minimum when the benefit is minimal. Share what you learn with others who would benefit from it “ that’s a triple win: you learn more by teaching others, they benefit from hearing, and you build relationships and build leaders in the process.
We can’t get done everything we would like to do, but when we tie-in what we’re doing and where we spend our time with what God has called us to do, we get a lot more of value done â€“ without short-changing ourselves or those we love.
“There is a danger of doing too much as well as of doing too little. Life is not for work, but work for life, and when it is carried to the extent of undermining life or unduly absorbing it, work is not praiseworthy but blameworthy.”
Ralph Turnbull (1901-1985)
How good are you a tightrope walking? How many items can you juggle at one time? What are the most important balls to keep in the air?
These are among the many questions I was faced with during my first semester in seminary. I knew it wouldn’t be easy…not with a husband, two young children and two geriatric dogs in tow. I understood it would require a sizeable adjustment having moved our family (as well as my mother-in-law) to a new area, requiring us to find new dentists, doctors, libraries, schools, grocery stores and more. I sensed it would involve great sacrifice since my husband would be gone nearly five days of each week for his job…only leaving us a small window of time together on the weekends.
So, how did I juggle all of these responsibilities? And, how well did I do in meeting them? To answer this question, I called upon Stephen Covey’s time management grid where Covey* identifies four areas (quadrants) signaling how we should spend our time: (1) urgent and important, (2) not urgent but important, (3) urgent but not important,and (4) not urgent and not important.
One area in which I think I succeeded (in some small measure) was that my family remained in quadrants (1) and (2). Obviously, I had to make judgment calls as to when the needs were urgent or not and I had stress maintaining those levels but I sacrificed to make sure they were honored.
Where I fell short was in how I treated my seminary work, my devotions and myself. Regarding seminary, more often than not, I had placed my coursework in the urgent/important grid. I did that knowing that my family sacrificed a lot to allow me to follow my calling so I thought I was doing them a favor by pursuing my seminary coursework “all out” such that their support would not be in vain. What I realized later was that they had already given enough and, while I needed to attend to my studies, I didn’t have to give 110% every time. Regarding my devotions, I often found myself empty and exhausted from the reading and the writing of seminary work and it ate away at the time I had set aside for personal study and prayer. I think this is what troubled me most because I knew how monumentally important it was. And, concerning myself, I neglected good eating and exercise regimens and I did not get the level of sleep that my body most desperately needed. Frankly, I’m still feeling and seeing the effects of this personal neglect.
As I look toward the fall term and the balance of my seminary journey, I realize I need to make some adjustments or I’ll be paying a price I am no longer willing to pay. Regarding coursework, I’ll give it a good effort and be willing to consider completed assignments to be “good enough”. Regarding my devotional time, I simply need to observe the Sabbath day as it was intended. In so doing, I can spend more time with my family, be more caring toward myself and be able to reconnect more fully and deeply with God. To remind me of these commitments, I plan to keep a copy of Covey’s grid posted on my wall along with Jesus’ commandments to love the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength and to love my neighbors as myself (Mark 12:30-31).
Perhaps Galileo said it best when he noted”I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use.” I, for one, need to heed God’s words of wisdom when it comes to understanding what is truly important and how best to balance that to which I have been called.
*Stephen Covey is the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
I wonder if you have a growing list of things you are going to do ‘when you get time.’ For most people there seems to be at least a few things that are on a project list that are waiting for the right time or resources to be implemented. Some of these have more to do with the way we structure our priorities, and others are just waiting for the right pieces to fall in place. Either way, I bet that list (for most of us) is getting longer “not shorter.
My wife and I have experienced this at a couple of times in our marriage. We tried to get the timing right for me to step into fulltime ministry from a parttime role. We tried to wait for the right time to have a child. Once our boy came on the scene we wanted to wait for the right time for her to become a stay-at-home-mom.
In these few cases and SO many more, if we had truly waited for the ‘perfect’ time “we would still be waiting. We have found it easy to find multiple reasons for delaying some life-changing decision; everyone does. But we have also learned that once we acted on those things “God provided. In fact, it became difficult to understand why we had not acted sooner rather than later.
I have had a similar experience with seminary and it became even more evident to me as I completed my journey at Rockbridge Seminary last month. For several weeks I had been longing for (and dreading a bit) the day when I had a week with no assigned reading, with no papers due at midnight, or some other seminary-related action to complete.
I just knew that once I graduated I would have tons of time to jump into the ever-growing pile of books I want to read. I would have more quality time to spend with my family. I was looking so forward to my well-deserved break of doing whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it.
My realization, however, was found on the opposite end of my assumption of all the free time I had coming. What I found is that I have absoutley no idea how I ever completed seminary! When I look at my schedule, there is no room for classes, homework, or papers. There is no time for me to engage professors or fellow students. And defintely no time to read page after page of something that I’m certain would make even God yawn two pages into it.
My point is that if you are waiting for the perfect time to jump in to furthering your education “that time might be right now. If you are thinking that you just can’t add one more thing or that your schedule is too cluttered “just ask yourself if that situation will be better, worse, or the same a year from now. My bet is that you will be just as busy or busier later as you are right now.
Now, admittedly, there are significant reasons to delay the timing of such an important decision, and the contributing factors are much broader than the scope of this post. But waiting for life to cease its incredible demand on you physcially, emotionally, and spiritually will be a long, long wait. Why not jump in and give it a go for a semester? See if you are able to do with seminary the same thing you do with every other hurdle life throws at you “face it head-on and conquer it through Him!
Anytime I think about how to make the most of my time, I am reminded of an episode of the popular television show The Simpsons. In the episode one of the main characters, Homer, has a near-death experience. He is told that he has been poisoned and has just 24 hours to live, and so he makes a list of the things he wants to do before he dies. Unfortunately, Homer starts his day by oversleeping his alarm by 5 ½ hours, and after numerous distractions can only complete the most important tasks on his list. After waking the next morning surprised to be alive, he exclaims, ‘From this day forward, I vow to live life to its fullest!’ But as the closing credits roll, he is shown planted on the couch eating pork rinds and watching pro bowling. This humorous look at Homer’s attempt to spend his last hours in a meaningful fashion also highlight one of the greatest struggles for any seminary student: time management.
Every day we are faced with tough choices on how to manage our time in a way that is prosperous and glorifying to God. Although we may be tempted to think of this as a new struggle in our technology-saturated age, time management has been around since the very foundation of the Church. Paul exhorted the believers at Ephesus to ‘Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time’ (Ephesians 5:15-16a, ESV). Appropriate time management is not only wise, but it is also a Christian mandate. It is also an incredibly challenging discipline. Oftentimes as seminary students we are faced with a choice between good, better, and best. Do we start doing research for that paper that’s due in three weeks or do we spend a night growing closer to our family? Should I go to that baseball game with my friends, or should I mow the lawn? Rarely do we have an easy choice to make when it concerns how we allot our time. On top of all that, we have time that we intend to use for good, and end up wasting. We know we should be studying, but we find ourselves on Facebook yet again. But in order to use our time wisely, we have to gain a biblical perspective.
Psalm 90 is all about the brevity of life. Moses compares the years of man to grass that sprouts up in the morning and has withered by nightfall. The climax of this discourse on the temporal nature of man is verse 12, where Moses prays, ‘So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.’ We’re accustomed to counting our days forward, celebrating birthdays each year, but Moses cautions us that when we look at our life, it should be a countdown. After all, as James says, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Time management begins when we look at life from God’s (and Kansas’) perspective: as dust in the wind. When I started realizing how short my life is, I started thinking twice about hitting the snooze button. I lamented the time I wasted playing videogames and wasting my time on a thousand different meaningless pursuits. Richard Baxter gave a wise reminder concerning the redemption of time: ‘Do not let worthless recreations, idle talk, unprofitable company, or sleep rob you of your precious time. Be more careful to escape that person, action, or course of life that would rob you of your time than you would be to escape thieves and robbers.’
When we’re faced with the tough decisions where both options look equally enticing and equally beneficial, we mustn’t forget that time is one of the greatest resources God has given us. It can be our greatest enemy or our greatest ally. If we don’t take inventory of how we use our time, we can let it slip away. We can procrastinate and race the clock to turn in assignments, or we can redeem the time and let not a single moment pass by. At the end of my life (and my studies), I want to be able to say that I numbered my days with wisdom and that I used the time in such a way that Christ was glorified and made known among the peoples. And that will be time well spent.
May I confess something before we get started? I assume this is a safe place. I am terrible at time management. There, I said it. I am not an expert at it in the slightest. This is borderline embarrassing, but I was given the ‘ok,’ to write this article back in February! It is now November and I am just now getting to it. I didn’t even make time to write an article on managing time! Notice that I said, ‘make’ time, as oppose to ‘have’ time. I had the time. We all have the time to do whatever it is we need to do; we just simply don’t do it at times. My wife, Natalie, says, ‘We make time for the things we want to do.’ So when I try to use the excuse of, ‘I didn’t have time to go run.’ She replies, ‘No, you didn’t make time, because it wasn’t important to you.’ Stings, but it’s true. Why don’t we do _________ ? It’s not because we didn’t have the time, it’s because we didn’t give it time. So whether it was an assignment, a ministry deadline, or time at the gym, it comes down to giving not having.
Instead of using words like, ‘making,’ ‘balancing,’ or ‘management,’ let’s use the word ‘delegation.’ We all have 24 hours in a single day. Our fruitfulness hinges on how well we delegate our time between our different activities and roles.
Was not writing this article back in February a bad thing? Was it a bad delegation of time, or was it a proper use of my time? This is precisely what we need to explore and apply to our lives. ‘How do we use our time in accordance with the responsibilities God gives us?’ Our roles and priorities answer this question. We must strive to organize our lives in such a way that our various roles receive the appropriate amount of love and attention needed to glorify God and love others.
Whether you are only one semester into your journey at seminary or you’ve been attending for several years, balancing your studies with other responsibilities is of utmost importance. God-glorifying time management is a task we will pursue for the rest of our lives.
Here is reality. With every new season or life stage, life only gets more loaded with roles and responsibilities. Those of you who are married know exactly what I am talking about. And if you have children you know what I am talking about even more! Being married with children is a busy and wonderful life! Then add ministry into the recipe and we are cooking up some busy schedules.
Let me give you a quick snapshot into my life and see where you can relate.
- Married for only two and half years
- One year-old baby girl
- One of the Pastors at a church planted less than two years ago
- Preach roughly 15-20 Sundays a year
- In the process of appointing elders
- Setting up membership
- Attending to discipline issues
- Leading a college ministry
- Discipling multiple groups of guys
- Leading a ministry team
- Seminary (5-6 hours a semester)
That’s just to name a few things I’m involved in! Consider your involvements.
Honestly, we are all busy. And we ought to be. Our lives or not our own, they belong to Jesus (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We’re to work like an ant (Proverbs 6:6-11), ox (1 Timothy 5:17-18), a good soldier, an Olympic athlete, and a fruitful farmer (2 Timothy 2:4-6). However, it seems that busyness has almost become a badge of honor. In response to, ‘How are ya?’ people often say, ‘Great! Really busy.’ This begs the question, ‘With what?’ Are we busy with: Facebook, Twitter, blogging, reading blogs etcâ€¦? We must not confuse being a busy with being fruitful. We need to aim at being faithful with our time and lives for Gospel work, not just active. (Acts 20:24).
Church history provides amazing examples of hard workers, oxen-like persons, who impressively delegated their time. In a biographical sermon on George Whitefield, John Piper said Whitefield would sometimes preach forty hours a week! That’s forty hours of actual preaching, not preparation, but preaching! Steve Lawson, in his wonderful book on the preaching of John Calvin, shared how Calvin felt like one month he had hardly done anything. Calvin felt ashamed and useless. What’s amazing about this is that Calvin had preached twenty sermons and delivered twelve lectures that month! (Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin, Reformation Trust, FL. 2007, 45.)
How busy are we? We’re probably not as busy as Calvin or Whitefield. But this begs another question. Was it right for them to be that busy?
At a recent Acts29 boot camp, Matt Carter, lead pastor at Austin Stone Community Church, preached a message on the lives and ministries of Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards.
In that message he shared how Whitefield’s wife, lamented how much her husband labored. She said she loved George, but felt like a widow. Should he have been that busy?
If we give great chunks of time to our studies, books, and ministry but neglect our family, we are not honoring God. God is gracious and still does amazing things, but I don’t want my wife to feel like a widow or my daughter to feel like an orphan. We need to be very careful. Here we find our lifelong tension. How do we do everything we need to accomplish, do it well, and remain faithful to other areas of our lives?
This is where we get really practical. We need to think about prayer, priorities, and roles. In the next installment, we will discuss practical tips for managing our time.
Guest Writer: Jeff Medders is in his first year of studies at Dallas Theological seminary, and has hopes to transfer to Reformed Theological Seminary in 2010. He has been married to Natalie since, March 3, 2007. Between being the college pastor and a member of the preaching team at Redeemer Bible Church, a new church plant in Tomball, TX; he loves playing with his little girl, Ivy, born on November 21, 2008. Check out Jeff’s blog: EatBible.org