My wife turned to me and said, “Michael, isn’t there a better way you could be using your time?” She was right: I was mindlessly scrolling through my social media news feed, seeking the latest goss, as I often did. And often when I had had enough of that, I would wander into the online marketplace in search of a bargain—perhaps another fish tank, even though I had already bought a new fish tank only months earlier. I was finding the pull of entertainment and consumerism at my fingertips all too enticing, and I began to notice this pattern occurring several times throughout my days. I have no idea how many hours I spent on my phone during that particular week. I’m not sure I want to know.
Like me, we often treat time poorly and cheaply. In our fast-paced world, we rush from one thing to the next, often with little thought to how we use our time. We see time as this resource that we can mine, exploit and utilise in order to cram in as many experiences as possible, and we draw from this seemingly infinite well to indulge our selfish pleasures. Our consumerist mindset drives us to binge-watch the latest TV show everyone is raving about. Our phones are always dinging, buzzing and vying for our attention. Our news sources, social media accounts and emails constantly distract us from conversations—or even the task at hand. We consume, consume and consume the hours, never thinking we will run out of time.
Furthermore, we also often treat time as a commodity. We clock on and clock off. We choose how we want to spend our time—and with whom. The old aphorism “time is money” urges us to not waste time, because the logic is that time wasted equals money wasted. Indeed, time is often monetised: advertising agencies work tirelessly around the clock through the medium of TV and social media to milk every minute of it, because time spent on their platforms means more revenue. But if time is a commodity—a resource we can cash in and spend on whatever we want—there are some things that are not worth our time.
Our treatment of time as something cheap and as a commodity to be exploited arises from our selfish nature and results in a warped view of time. We see time as a resource that is at our disposal—something to expect and demand from life so that we can use it for our own purposes.
But recently the Scriptures have reminded me afresh that time is not a commodity; it’s one of the most precious gifts God has given us. Since time is limited, time is precious. And since it is a precious gift from God, we need divine wisdom for how we are to use our time.
Before we go any further, however, please note that when I speak about time in this article, I am referring to earthly time—the time we spend in our mortal bodies here on earth, prior to our death and prior to the return of Christ. In contrast, the eternal life God’s people will experience in the new creation will be infinite in time and different to the time we experience now. This gives us all the more reason to make good use of our earthly time.
Limited and precious
One of the most obvious characteristics about God’s gift of time is that it is limited: our time on earth is short. The Psalmist reminds us,
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!
James also says, “you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (Jas 4:14). We are but a mist—here today, gone tomorrow. The time we have on earth is not an infinite resource, but a limited gift from God. But although our time on earth is limited, our time in the new creation is not: God’s people eagerly await the great blessing he has given us in Christ—when we will experience the fullness of eternal life with him (Rev 22:1-5). This means that this side of Jesus’ return, Christians are not to live for this age and its desires, but for doing the will of God as we look forward to the age to come (1 John 2:15-17).
Since our time on earth is short, it follows logically that time is precious. Unlike money, when time is used, it can never be recovered or made up. Our time is a precious gift from God: in his loving kindness, he gives us life and breath (Acts 17:25), and forms our days, as the Psalmist acknowledges:
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
God our sovereign has appointed the number of days we will live. How are we going to use his precious gift?
Since time is a precious gift from God, we need his wisdom to determine how we are to use our time. So the prayer on our lips should reflect the Psalmist’s:
teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
But as Paul reminds us, wisdom comes from knowing the Lord’s will:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph 5:15–17)
Applying ourselves to understanding the Lord’s will will help us acquire that heart of wisdom. But what does that look like in practice when we apply such wisdom to our lives?
If you saw time as a precious gift from God to be used wisely, how would that change the way you spend your time? I don’t want to be too specific in the following suggestions, because I think this will look different for every one of us. After all, God did not give us a divine manual on how we are to spend our time—for example, sleeping for eight hours, eating breakfast for 30 minutes, spending 30 minutes in devotions, and so on. No: God gave us time as a gift to be used for his glory. Therefore, let me suggest you do these six things.
- Pray to God for wisdom on how you should use your time. Since time is a gift, it is only right to come to him and ask him to change how we view time and how we use the time that he has entrusted to us.
- Plan to use your time well. It’s easy to drift through our days without giving them much thought or intention. Planning how we use our time helps us prioritise what is important and what is desiderata. It allows us to examine our schedules and adjust accordingly. Consider how much time you wish to give to church and ministry, work and study, rest and building relationships, hanging out with family and friends, and so on. Of course, those who are more spontaneous with how they use their time may prefer to set aside time and space to be spontaneous. Remember, the point of planning is to give yourself the space to think through how you would like to use your time and what you should prioritise.
- Seek accountability for how you use time. Ask a spouse, a family member or close friend how they think you can improve in how you spend your time. It may help you identify some of your blind spots—areas where your time could be better utilised or areas where they think you might be spending too much time.
- Limit social media use. We often underestimate how much time we spend on social media. These platforms are set up to be as addictive and as distracting as possible, swallowing up the hours unchecked. They allow us to connect with a multitude, and that is what makes them so great. But often we only see a curated snippet of reality that nurtures just a shallow form of communication and connection. Furthermore, often social media competes with the task at hand or the people in front of us for our attention. Perhaps one way you can approach this area is by asking yourself, “What do I think is a reasonable amount of time to be spending on social media each day?” and stick to that.
- Treasure time with the people you love. The limited nature of our earthly time means we don’t know how long we have left to spend with the ones we love. When Billy Graham looked back over his life, one of the things he said he would have done differently was “I would speak less and study more, and I would spend more time with my family”. He then added, “And I would give more attention to fellowship with other Christians, who could teach me and encourage me (and even rebuke me when necessary)”.1 People are important, and spending time with them is important. For the introverts out there who might object, note that it is not about the amount of time you spend with others, it is about spending quality time together. So treasure the time you spend with the people you love.
- Treasure time with God and time in service of him. God made us relational beings who know him as our creator. Our lips of praise to God and acts of service to others are pleasing to him (Heb 13:15-16). We are to live as children of the light, seeking to know what pleases the Lord (Eph 5:8-11). In humility, we offer our whole selves in worship of God and in service of his people (Phil 2:1-5, Rom 12:1-8). As God’s dearly beloved children we are to love him in response—desiring to know him and his will all the more each day—seeking him in his word and as we commune with him in prayer. Our present experience with God is by faith, ultimately. However, we will experience the fullest reality of his presence before his very face in the new creation (Rev 21:3-4, 22:3-5). When we treasure time with God and time in service of him, we experience a foretaste of what we will be doing in eternity.
The way we can often treat time—as something cheap, as a commodity to be exploited—arises from our selfish nature. However, Scripture orients us to the fact that time is a precious and limited gift from God. That’s why we need his divine guidance on how to use our time. As we begin to view time as a precious gift from God, it must alter the way that we approach it and use it. Like all changes, it will take time to change how we use our time. It will take honest reflection and divine wisdom as we consider how we use the precious gift of time for the glory of God. We do not know how much time we have. But thank God for the precious time that he has given us until he calls us home.
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1 Notable quotes from Billy Graham, 5 November 2009: https://billygraham.org/story/notable-quotes-from-billy-graham/ Accessed 27 January 2020.