Is there anything more tragic than time? Is there anything that brings about deeper grief than seeing time pass us by, than acknowledging how much has already elapsed and how little remains? We who were made to live forever are now given a mere “threescore years and ten” (Psalm 90:10) before we are gone. “If a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all,” says wise old Solomon, “but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 11:8).
Christian men, you have been given a race to run, and you have been called to run to win. At times this race will seem like a marathon and at times a sprint. During times of sorrow or adversity, the days may seem to drag, each one bearing the weight of a lifetime, grueling days giving way to long, sleepless nights. But during times of joy the days will fly by, and you will marvel at how quickly time has passed. An Olympic sprinter spends years in training to prepare for an event that is over in 10 seconds. At times it will seem like your life has gone by just as quickly, that the child you were only just cradling in your arms is now holding your arm as you escort her down the aisle. Whether life plods by or speeds by, you are responsible for each moment. If you are going to run to win, you must redeem your time.
Redeem the Time
There is nothing you have that has not been given to you, no good thing you possess that is not a gift of God’s grace. You who deserve nothing but wrath and condemnation have been given innumerable blessings. You are responsible before God to faithfully steward each one of them. If God has given you the blessing of marriage, you must always keep in mind that your wife is first God’s daughter, his creation. Your foremost responsibility is to care for her in a way that honors and pleases the Father. If God has given you children, they are first his children, created in his image and for his glory. The call of the father is to discipline and instruct his children on behalf of God. If God has given you money, it is his money, and you are meant to use it as if God is going to require an accounting for every penny. What is true of a wife and children and money is true of time. Yet, as Donald Whitney says, “If people threw away their money as thoughtlessly as they throw away their time, we would think them insane.”
God has given you the gift of time, and he has given it to you in trust with the expectation that you will use it wisely and that you will diligently commit it to the highest of purposes. When Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he calls them to live lives of extraordinary holiness, then says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). “Making the best use of time” is, more literally, “redeeming the time.” Time must be redeemed by liberating it from useless pursuits and dedicating it to the highest purposes. Time is laid out before you, and it must be grasped, it must be seized from all the ignoble purposes that could otherwise steal and waste it. You relate to time well when you understand it as a precious gift to be used, not a valueless possession to be squandered.
God knows the number of years, months, and days he has allocated to you. You cannot add to or take away from them. But what you can do in greater or lesser measure is put that time to use. While still a young man, Jonathan Edwards resolved “never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.” He understood that time had been given to him in trust, and he meant to use it well. He, like the wise and loyal servant in Jesus’ parable of the talents, longed to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).
Time Wasted, Time Redeemed
Time is a gift you are meant to accept and treasure. Yet there are many things competing for your time, many temptations to misuse it. Let’s consider a few common ways time can be wasted.
You waste time in laziness. If Solomon so regularly warned of laziness in his day, how much more do we need to guard against it in a world of endless entertainment and ubiquitous social media? The lazy man is the one who makes any excuse not to work, the one who lies in bed or on the sofa when there is work that needs to be done, the one who begins projects but never brings them to completion, the one who cannot learn because he considers himself surpassingly wise (Proverbs 26:13-16). Your mother may have warned you that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Behind the cliché is a sober warning, for those who pass their days in idleness are those who practically beg Satan to tempt them to sin.
You waste time in busyness. Busyness is a cousin to laziness and no more noble than its relative. It is a modern-day plague. Even if you reject laziness, you may swing to the opposite pole of busyness, filling your every moment with activity and judging yourself by the number of tasks completed. Today you practically expect that when you ask a friend how he is doing he will reply, “Busy! So busy!” Yet busyness must not be confused with diligence, the number of activities with meaningful accomplishments. God has given you a short little life and expects that, of all the great things you could do, you will identify and pursue the few that matter most. Because there is only so much you can do, diligence and redeeming the time involves saying “no” to a million good opportunities to focus fully on a few excellent ones.
You waste time in spiritual carelessness. It was Martin Luther who famously said his busiest times also needed to be his most prayerful. When responsibilities threatened to overwhelm him, he knew that he was too busy not to pray. You fail to redeem your time when you fail to prioritize your spiritual growth and health. If life is too busy for you to read God’s Word, to spend time in prayer, and to attend the local church, it is far too busy. If you are too unmotivated to commit to such basic disciplines, you are in spiritual peril. Before you do anything else, take a step out from the whirlwind of busyness and reassess your priorities in light of eternity.
You waste time when you do not rest. God himself chose to work for six days, then to rest for one. He did this not because he was worn out, but to set a pattern that we would follow. We are weak and limited creatures who need to rest. Our need for rest requires that we commit enough of our time to sleep and to activities that will refresh our minds and spirits. Rest and recreation are necessary to renew us and to prepare us to diligently carry out the tasks God has assigned to us.
Do It Now
Right now is the time to redeem your time! Consider how you can commit to diligently steward your moments and your days.
- Pursue and grasp a biblical understanding of productivity. Properly understood, productivity is not “getting lots done” or “getting more done than the other guy.” Productivity is using your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. A biblical understanding of productivity will free you from lesser pursuits and help you focus on the ones that matter most.
- Plan to be disciplined. It is very telling that when we are busy or lazy, the spiritual disciplines tend to be among the first things we neglect. Be sure you plan the time, place, and context in which you will read God’s Word and pray every day. Be sure you prioritize worshipping with the local church and never allow anything to supplant it. And then, once you have put first things first, plan how and when you will do your most meaningful work throughout the week.
- Resolve to constrain or cut out enemies of your diligence. In our day, there is no shortage of distractions eager to bring you from meaningful labor into meaningless sloth. What needs to be cut out or significantly restricted from your life in order for you to redeem the time? Do you need to limit Netflix time so that you can spend more time connecting with your wife and children? Do you need to delete social media apps that lure you away from diligence throughout the day? If you are going to run to win, you need to remove whatever is slowing you down.
- Speak to someone who does it well. We have all encountered people who model the faithful use of time. Find one of these people and ask him how and why he does it. Ask for practical pointers on using time diligently.
Run to Win!
You came into this world with nothing and will leave this world with nothing. All that you have between the beginning and the end is a gift of God’s grace, and that includes the little dash on your tombstone. That simple line will represent the time given to you. It was given in trust with the expectation that you would take hold of it and put it to the best and highest use. If you are going to run to win, you must redeem your time.