Making Time: Understanding Our Priorities
Making the Best Use Out of Our Time
Everything has a season and a purpose according to Ecclesiastes 3:1. Indeed, We must look carefully and wisely how we spend our time (see Ephesians 5:15-17). Before we can understand work and what it means to have priorities, let's define them:
WORK : productive or operative activity; livelihood or employment; the result of labor.
PRIORITIES: special attention given to tasks by order of ranking.
We all have different ways of spending our time; work, family, worship, entertainment, sleep. To which degree we do each of those things varies by circumstance and by what we have been taught to hold as important. Accordingly, we rank our time as we feel fit. Sadly, however, the schedules we create usually do not incorporate all of our wants with our needs. For example, nearly everyone can think of an instance where we daydream about making time to do (x) IF ONLY we didn't have to or could do (y). You can fill in the blanks as you see fit, but you get the picture. First of all, what does that say about us as humans? Do we dream too much, or are we spending too much time on things we ought to do less so that we can focus on what's important? Better yet, how do we determine what IS important?
To break it down, let's first take a look at Ecclesiastes 3; you read all about different situations in life being fleeting but sure - all must experience birth, death, happiness, sorrow, and everything in between. In other words, everything is temporal and only serves a purpose for a given amount of time in our lives. Not only does it mean that you can't hurry up a plant's growth to maturity (and fruition) in one day, it also means that we can't stop, rewind, or fast-forward our lives. Therefore, it is extremely important how we plan it out, so that how we spend our time matters and doesn't cheat us out of happiness or God's will.
God's will is the divine order of things in our lives. Without it, we often feel like what we do with our time has no purpose. But make no mistake - doing ANYTHING for God and giving our best TO and FOR God are not the same thing. That is why the words of Ephesians 5:15-17 are very important to heed! Clearly, we must know WHAT God wants of us before doing it, otherwise we are being foolish.
Consider the Ants
Ants are the epitome of the hard-working and diligent, who use their time effectively so that they are always prepared, and have all the food they need. The fact that ants are an example used in the Proverbs 6:6-8 should give us reason to reflect. Ants are wise in their steady but effective manner in which they work.
Equating ants with humans might sound more robotic than applicable to the kind of society we know, but here's the thing: no other generation in history has had it easier than we have! We have technology at our disposal, start-end times for work days, and the ability to buy food when we need to eat it. In many ways, much of the toil that was once done in order for us to survive each day has been eliminated, leaving us with that much more time of nothingness. If we, like the ants, stopped our tasks, what do you think would happen? For a while, others might pick up the slack. But eventually, they too might stop (quit, get stressed) and would ultimately die out. When you think about it, that is exactly what we see happening around us! We are often missing the focus we need in our day, we find ways to avoid responsibilities, and we hurt our minds as well as our bodies and our relationship with God.
Work is important to our identity and development. Those who lack skills are unemployable. If we don't work, we don't earn money, and we lose a sense of who we are if we are not recognized for our talents. The Lord sees this and promises us that we don't have to work in vain - we can serve Him with our time instead. Does that mean spending a majority of our time in church or doing church business? Not always. It means using our time and talents and money in the way God CALLS us to - which means it is different for everybody. God can spot a fake - so if you are going through the motions of something Godly - however well-meant - but your heart isn't in it...guess what? It is actually a sin and is offensive to The Lord! That means we can't do something by copying what our brothers and sisters in Christ do and hope to be walking in accordance with God's will. God specializes in personal relationships with us, so you can be sure He has a plan for each of our lives, complete with what He wants us to do for a living, what hobbies we should learn, and what causes He has for us to pursue. We can be thankful that God celebrates diversity, so that we can all have our fit within humanity! How then can we expect to be fulfilled in the exact same ways as the next person? We simply can't.
Learning what God's will for each of us can be the biggest hurdle we ever face. It drives people to depression, despair, and suicide. Why we don't spend more time talking about this to young people today is a grave error, because it sets them up for being under the expectation of finding fulfillment in their own actions and in the pursuit of material things. And managing time - what's that? They don't know how, because they just know that from the time they wake to the time they sleep, they have an agenda they are trying to cram with all the stuff they want to do - good or bad - because it's their prerogative and they don't want to be told to change because, quite frankly, they like who they've shaped themselves into and don't need someone telling them what to do!
If, on the other hand, we match our talents with the duties of the church (and life goals), we begin to have a plan for our lives and time. Here is the list as described in 1 Corinthians 12:28:
apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, administrators, and interpreters
While it's easy to see how these roles are fulfilled within the church, there are other ways we see them actively in our daily lives too, such as with medical staff, school principals, government workers, tutors, and bankers, to name a few. You might think at first glance that these have nothing to do with a relationship with God, but think again! Any profession from these categories done with the right attitude and for the right reasons is just as pleasing to God as being in a church position!
So what is the right attitude to have? Check out Galatians 5:22-23:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
How many of you love your job or take joy in stepping into your office each day? Does the work you do fill you with peace, and do you have patience with your co-workers and customers? Does goodness motivate your actions? Are you faithful in what your boss gives you to do? Are your words and actions filled with gentleness and self-control? Those are some loaded questions. Take a moment to ponder.
If you can honestly say that your job doesn't fit one or more of these traits, you may not be in the wrong job, but you may be approaching it all wrong. Yes, there are times we must move on in our careers and part ways with the old. But more often than not, job dissatisfaction comes from settling on a job we hadn't prayed about before accepting, or when we go into a career with a mindset lacking humility and the desire to serve, seeking our own gain instead. When that happens, we get distracted with what we were asked to do in the first place, because we are too busy looking out for ourselves. Unfortunately, this is not only in non-religious jobs, but we also see it happen in church-based organizations as well. For that reason, it so easy to turn people off from God! We do The Lord a great injustice when we completely rob ourselves and Him of the blessing of doing our work, whatever it is, unto The Lord.
But what does that mean, to "work unto The Lord"? How are we serving God by...selling a product, cleaning a room, organizing shelves, or managing money? Well, every time we deal kindly with others, and take pride in what we're doing on behalf of where we work, God sees what's in our hearts, what our motivation is, and calls it holy. We are blessed when we are giving 100% of ourselves into what we have promised when we agreed to be hired, as well as the people with whom we interact.
Aside from the job, though, we move on to another caveat of where our time lies, namely, what we do outside of our work. Remember all that free time we've created for ourselves through modern technology?
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." - Philippians 4:8
Admittedly, I enjoy games and reading in my spare time. Things like cooking, cleaning, and laundry often take a back seat because they aren't as appealing. But, here too is a time and purpose for all things - provided they are of benefit in some way. Entertainment shouldn't overtake our responsibilities, because this life isn't all about our pleasures and comforts. There must be a balance between our relaxation time, and when to work. Work first, enjoy later. When the scale shifts disproportionately, look what happens - the overworked can't enjoy what they've earned, while lazy people have no lasting rewards and thus have nothing to show for their idle pursuits.
We must remember that while all activities might be permissible, they are not all edifying. By neglecting other priorities in favor of more selfish ones ruins our relationship with others and God, by way of our motivation. Distraction is also the #1 way to make a mistake or sin. Many times, I have regretted my failure to act or restrain myself, which resulted in my not having planned out my day well. Such is lost time that could have been used to reach out to people who needed a kind word or who needed me to be a witness for Jesus. To keep this from happening, then, I have to first honor God and spend time with him; lay-out and perform my tasks for my day; and lastly then see to my needs. All of this is done, however, while watching and being ready to assist anyone who comes in my path. It might be strange for you, too, to do at first, but the more you practice your daily life this way, you will find your needs fewer, your hours more peaceful and routine, and your life anything but mundane!