Isaiah 55:6-7 & Ephesians 5:15-16
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 10, 2019
Our life consists of the time we have. Thus, what we make of our time determines what we make of our lives.
Lent is a fitting occasion to look at whether we use our time well for the sake of what is timeless, whether we manage it well to allow God opportunity to manage it.
We manage time well when we have 1) a wise sense of urgency and 2) a wise sense of importance.
First, we do well to bear in mind we don’t have all the time in the world.
When Isaiah urges us to “seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near,” he implies there will come a time when we’ve lost our chance to connect with him. While other scriptures tell us that God is patient and gives us extra time to make up our mind about our response to Him, we still never know how soon it might be too late for us to respond. Our life is fleeting and we don’t have unlimited opportunity.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has a big jar of stones behind his house. Estimating his life expectancy to be about 90 years, Kirk’s jar now holds just over 700 stones, with each stone representing one month of the time he has left.
At the start of every month, Kirk takes out the next stone from the jar, puts it in his pocket to carry around for the month, and thinks to himself, “Once this month is over, it’s gone for good, and I can’t get it back.”
His practice to remind himself that his time on earth is both precious and shrinking may sound morbid, but it is biblical. In Psalm 90:12 Moses asks God to “teach us to count days that we may gain a wise heart.” Staying aware that life is brief and that our days are always fewer than they were before keeps us, as Kirk puts it, focused on “making a deposit in people’s lives in ways that matter.” It helps him, Kirk says, to live out his earthly existence in light of eternity and to prioritize loving God and people.
Jesus told his disciples in John 9:4, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” We make the most of our time when we maintain a wise sense of urgency.
Second, we make the most of our time when we maintain a wise sense of what is truly important and avoid majoring in the minors.
Ephesians says, “Be careful then how you live…making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”
The Greek behind “making the most of the time” literally means “redeeming the time”. While English speakers talk of “spending” time, ancient Greek speakers talked of “buying back” time – as if it were already in the hands of forces that would squander it and thus bring about the evil of wasting our most precious commodity. In other words, our days need to be reclaimed from influences and impulses that would fritter away what we have in but small supply. Days can be evil, not just by our doing evil in them, but by our missing the chances they give for doing good.
There is in this awareness no thought that we must always be serious and working hard for God – after all, one of the Ten Commandments tells us to take time off to rest from work of any kind. And the truth is that sometimes the best use of our time is just to enjoy some innocent but “frivolous” fun. But there is certainly here an understanding that we all have a crucial contribution to make in the fulfillment of God’s purposes and we cannot dilly-dally forever in getting around to doing our part. We can squander our life. We can use it up in the trivialities of passing pleasure, ephemeral success or our short-lived attractiveness. We can also miss out on the best of life by faithless worry, self-centered anger or delusionary pride. We can be unfaithful stewards of our time by failing to use it to find our way into what is timeless and of infinite value: walking with the God of love, power and grace and serving His concerns of justice, compassion and witness.
To grasp what is important is to grasp what has priority claim on our time. To make the most of our life is to give what has that priority claim all the time it takes to do justice to it.
This is the first Sunday in Lent when Christians often practice some form of fasting. Fasting may not always involve giving up some food, but it always involves giving up something for the sake of picking up something else.
Two Lents ago, a certain man gave up the use of all devices with screens, except when he had to use them for work or for staying in touch with loved ones. Outside of those exceptions, for 40 days he abstained from looking at his phone, tablet, computer or TV. At first, the discipline disoriented him, but it ended up rewarding him highly. During Lent he exercised more frequently, read more books, and resumed his efforts to learn the guitar. However, the biggest blessing of his fast came in his prayer life. He lingered longer in the word, and allowed himself to be moved to tears by the truth and grace he found in it. He developed the capacity to listen better for the still small voice of God, and to quietly focus himself enough to hear it more often.
While in one sense God is everywhere, in another God is only where we give Him the time of day and let Him into our life. To make the most of our days, we have to be present to His presence – that is, take the time to be attentive, receptive and expectant of His seeking us out for communication and collaboration in doing good.
The main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing. Let us then refuse to let our days become evil by our passing up on the opportunities they give us to connect with God and to serve God. Let us make the most of our life by making the time to seek the Best while He may be found and call upon Him while He is near.