Tag Archives: Time

It Takes Time

hourglass_time

One day after lunch, Samuel called Saul aside. Everyone else was chatting amiably after a good meal, and Saul may have wondered why they should leave that pleasant conversation. He had no idea how important it could be to step off the path of the crowd and go away and get nearer to God. Samuel said, “stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God” (1 Samuel 9:27 ESV).

Every once in a while, God speaks to each of us with that kind of urgency. Many of us can tell stories of days when we were buzzing about doing our ordinary things when suddenly God broke in. God interrupted. He must do that now and then, because he has a hard time getting our attention.

In Saul’s case, the first thing Samuel did was to anoint Saul king of Israel. To become king is a major event. Even the anointing is an exciting moment. You might think that Samuel should have done it in a  big impressive ceremony, like a political convention where they choose their nominee for president. A crowd was handy, and they had just had a feast. They were in a good mood to be entertained or impressed. Why did Samuel drag Saul away all by himself instead of anointing him king in a way that would impress people?

God is different from us. He chose a quiet place apart from other people for Saul’s anointing, because even though Saul was the man God chose, he was not quite ready to be king.

Saul needed time to get ready to be king. Saul needed to learn that even the king must still obey God. In this time apart, Samuel gave Saul some instructions about the things he was required to do. Taking the time to do them would give Saul time to grow in his relationship with God and learn submission to God’s will. Among other things, Saul would learn to wait for God’s timing.

We all need such lessons. We think that if we know what God wants us to do, we should be able to run do it right away and be a great success and get acclaim for our accomplishments. God, however, knows that we are not ready. We need to know where we are going, but we need to learn how to get there at God’s pace in his time. We need time to mature and get ready for the work God has for us to do.

The time God designates for our preparation is not lost time. We are not “wasting” time as we study and pray, or as we take baby steps forward in service. All the time in the world is but an instant to God. When we are studying to learn skills necessary to do the job he has called us to do, we are making progress according to his purpose and his time. When we are learning to work with people and build relationships, long before we think we are finally starting to do what we were called to do, we are growing in readiness to do the big job for which he called us aside. While we learn, we also mature. Our relationship with him strengthens. Our bond with him solidifies and deepens.

When God calls us to great work, none of it happens overnight. It takes time. His own greatest work took thousands of years. Creation was still new when Adam was ejected from the Garden of Eden. The newness had worn off considerably by the time of the Roman Empire. Yet that was the time when Jesus was born, exactly the right time, and he died for our sins at just the right time. Not too early. Not too late.

Our own callings and the timing of their fulfillment may be separated by years, yet none of that intervening time is “wasted.” God uses time the way Michelangelo used the time of chiseling and chipping and polishing away every bit of extra stone until he uncovered the image of David inside a marble pillar. We all must be ready to spend the necessary time with God as we listen and mature and prepare for our full obedience to his call.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a brilliant student of theology and earned two doctoral degrees before he was 25 years old. It would seem that he was ready to be a great professor, yet over the next five or six years, he recognized that it was more important to live his faith than to dissect it verbally in the classroom. He began to understand that living his faith meant a confrontation with evil, powerful evil in the form of the Nazi party in Germany. His understanding did not happen overnight or in a blinding flash in a worship service. God shaped him daily by new insights that grew out of both his faithful daily meditation on the Bible and his faithful daily experience of trying to be more and more like Christ. His years of being reshaped in the crucible of Nazi Germany led to his death, and might be considered to have been “wasted,” but Bonhoeffer said, as he was about to die, “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.” He understood that God had always been shaping him for the moment of his death, which would be the moment when he, like the apostle Paul, said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 ESV).

It takes time to learn how to live for Christ, yet none of that living may feel like the fulfillment of your calling. While you do the best you can to serve Christ, you may feel as if you are hardly scratching the surface of what needs to be done. You may feel that you fail miserably in every attempt to serve Christ. Yet all the time, he is shaping you. You are learning and growing, whether you are introducing hundreds to the gospel, like Billy Graham, or handing a cup of water to a single child in Myanmar. You may be unknown to crowds, but you are known to God. He knows exactly where you are in your development. Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew that his best work lay ahead of him as he felt the hangman’s noose tighten around his throat.

We all wonder when we will get to do our magnum opus. We simply need to let go of all that concern and let the creator of time manage our time and shape us as he will in his own good time. Time belongs to God, and the passage of time takes place at his direction. Time spent growing in relationship with him is not wasted; it is used with good stewardship. We can take our time in his presence, as we follow him and learn from him. Everyone needs to pause when he hears the call, “stop here yourself for a while, that you may hear the word of God.”

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.  Watch for Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World to be released November 2015.

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A Hymn for Meditation

hymnalAbide with Me

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

By Henry F. Lyte

  • This hymn was written by a man who suffered a terminal illness. When he looked forward, he saw death, and this was his response. Name some of the positive things he sees in his future.
  • How does the change of perspective from time to eternity change the way things look in verse 2?
  • What elements in these verses apply equally to all followers of Christ at all times?
  • What symbol is the key to the power of the faith expressed in this hymn?
  • This hymn debuted at a memorial service for its author. Think of three other occasions on which this hymn would be appropriate.

Everybody Needs More Time

It is a twenty-first century mantra that nobody has enough time. Multi-tasking is an essential skill, even for young children, and in any group of people, if you listen, you will hear a persistent theme – I didn’t have enough time, I don’t have enough time, I ran out of time.

                I say these words, too. If only I had more time. Yet it is well known that nobody has any more time than anyone else, and none of us can manufacture time no matter how hard we try. What’s more, we don’t have any more or any less time than our parents or grandparents. Contemporary advances in technology have truly not given us any more time. Further, because we don’t have enough time, we are under terrible stress.

                Stress is a killer. Doctors say that many health issues either originate in stress or are exacerbated by stress. People can be stressed by fear, inappropriate expectations of themselves or others, and by a perceived need for more time. In an attempt to deal with the issue, personal organizers have become popular, but for some, the organizer is simply a place to record with terrifying orderliness the ultimate depressing truth that they don’t have enough time.

                Where does time come from? How can we get more of it? Why is time such an oppressive taskmaster?

                Time is a gift of the God who created the universe. The reality we all see, hear, taste, touch and smell is an environment bounded by time and space. Try as we will, we cannot be in two places at the same time, and despite our use of the word “multi-task” to suggest that we can do two things at the same time, we actually cannot. Multi-tasking is only very fast switching between two or more single tasks. We are at the lowest level completely single-threaded. And nobody has longer threads or more threads than anyone else. When we stress over what we experience as a deficit of time, we are actually saying that we think God short-changed us.

                Nobody will ever likely be more stressed than Jesus’ disciples the night he was arrested. It is hard to imagine what could produce more stress than the terror of imminent arrest, torture and gruesome execution. We all want to think that we might have been more faithful than the disciples who ran away when Jesus was arrested, but the evidence of people’s faithless behavior in various situations over the past two thousand years makes it quite clear that everyone is capable of falling away when things get scary.

                Jesus knew what was coming, and he knew that his “time” had run out for earthly ministry.  The night before he was arrested, he gave his disciples a gift they would need when they was Jesus dragged away. They would be saying, “If only we had more time with Jesus,” but there wouldn’t be any more. He gave them a gift that would transcend their stress as they realized that for them, time had come to a halt. When we feel stressed, even if our stress is not about imminent death, we, too, can claim this gift as Christ’s followers. The gift he gave to his disciples is a gift for each of us, too. That gift is peace.

                Peace I give to you. My peace I leave with you. I do not give as the world gives. Don not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.  John 14:27

                This gift is the gift we all need in order to see the gift of time for the richness that it is. The God who created the universe out of nothing by the word of his mouth, is not stingy with time. The God who fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish has not short-changed humanity by giving us only 24 hours each day. There is plenty of time. The God of abundant provision has provided more than enough time. We do not need to be stressed. Lately God has led me to think about time a great deal, and he has led me to understand that there is plenty of time to do what he has called each of us to do. Plenty of time.

                It has been a while since anyone said to me, “Take your time,” but I remember how it feels to be given that gift. God is saying to me now that he wants me to give that gift to other people.

There was a time in my life when I shopped for groceries by walking to the grocery store, buying my groceries, and taking a cab back home. The people at the service desk in the store called cabs for customers, and all I had to say was, “Would you please call Joe for me?”

                When Joe arrived, I had to unload my grocery cart into his trunk. I always wanted to get the job done quickly and not delay him. I usually managed to spill cans or boxes out of my grocery bags in my hurry, but every time, he said, “Take your time. There’s no rush.” When we arrived back at my home, again I tried to unload my things hastily. Joe always said, “Take your time. Don’t worry.” It was a true blessing to be given time to complete my task without feeling I had imposed on him.

                Lately, I realize that everybody needs that gift. As a Christian, I live in relationship with the Creator of time. Just as God provided manna for the Israelites, God gives me new time every day. By his grace, I am called to share that gift with others. It is easy to do. All I need to say is, “Take your time. There is no rush.” Just as Joe gave me the time and freedom to unload my groceries without rushing and breaking eggs and crushing my bread, I can give other people the time they need, the time they almost certainly believe they don’t have.

                I can’t make more time for myself or anyone, but as Christ’s representative in the midst of daily life, I can give time away like the disciples who began handing out bread and fish at Christ’s command. They all knew they started with not nearly enough food for five thousand people, but somehow there was enough. When I trust Christ and start giving away time, there will always be enough.

                I have plenty of time to listen to an elderly man who is wandering the docks with a crystal block in his hand. He comes up to me and says, “Do you know what this is?” and I say, “No. What is it? Tell me about it. Take your time.” We sit down, and he explains that he made this very beautiful but very functional piece of hardware to be “jewelry” for his wooden sailboat. I remember that Christ has given me perfect peace and that he is Lord of time. I have time to listen.

                I have plenty of time to call my two elderly aunts who live alone and endure the health problems that go with advanced years. I can listen to their stories and share my own, because there is enough time and to spare. When they stumble over the details, I can say, “Take your time. There is no rush.”

                At the checkout line, a frazzled woman with a child in her cart and two others calling, “Mommy, Mommy, can we get candy?” is rummaging in her purse for her credit card. She looks up at me and says, “I’m sorry. I’m so clumsy today.” I can say, “Take your time. There’s no rush.” I can pass to her the peace Christ has given to me, and I can give her the gift of enough time to take a breath and pay her bill and shush her children without fear that I am checking my calendar to see how late I will be to my next meeting.

                I give my order to the fast-food cashier, who discovers someone else took the last bag of fries just as she reached for them. She turns to me and says, “I’m sorry. It will be a couple of minutes.” I can say to her, “Take your time. There’s no rush. The peace of Christ be with you.” Then I can go wait my couple of minutes and hope her day is a bit less stressed because she just received the gift of more time.

                God is telling me that my word for today is “Take your time.” The God who dwells in eternity has infiltrated the world of time and space and given me so much time that I have time to give away to others. When I do, I will remember that Jesus said, “Peace I give to you. My peace I leave with you. … Do not let your heart be troubled.”

                I am the servant of eternal God who created time. Eternal God calls me to live in his frame of reference – eternity. When I think like God, I can give time away to others and know that I will not run out. I can say, from the center of God’s love, with perfect peace, ‘Take your time.”

You Were Not Created to Maintain an Organizer

I know. I know. Everybody needs an organizer. Every family needs a calendar. Even third-graders need organizers. We are all busy, busy, busy. There is not enough time in a day. Too many people get too little sleep trying to get around to the day’s obligations. With all this organizing, you would think we are the most efficient, productive, happy people in the history of the world.

Not!

I don’t know anyone who has made peace with time. When I call people to visit, I ask how they are. Way too many answer, “I’m hangin’ in there.” That is no kind of answer for a human being. That is a horrible answer to hear from person after person. Maybe one person is under so much pressure that he rightly feels he is barely hanging on, but everyone? I don’t believe it.

What I believe is this: too many people feel obligated to accomplish too many goals set for them by other people or by some unreasoning expectation in their own psyches. This is not the way God meant for us to live. God did not create us for misery; he created us for joy. He created us to know him and to know one another in loving relationships. He created us to achieve fulfillment doing all sorts of wonderful things. He did not create us to keep 3-ring binders neatly annotated for the efficient use of every second.

The organizer is the ultimate weapon of the doctrine of scarcity. The organizer says that there is not nearly enough time for everything, and the only hope of a successful life is to be so well-organized that you can explain any failures by showing that you sincerely tried to make it all work. The organizer says it is okay for a person to be overwhelmed by all the obligations he must meet, and suggests that it is both possible and necessary for him live this way.

I was in high school when my mother announced one evening that that four people in our family had nine places to be, and we would not be going to any of them. She was normally a stickler for people’s commitments and obligations. This behavior was out of character for her. That says something for the level of frustration she experienced. I remember it precisely because it wasn’t the way we normally lived. In today’s language we would say that my mother needed, and took, a timeout.

Unfortunately, the timeout did not prove much. It didn’t really change our lives, except for that night. I actually found that the missed events simply piled up in the following days, which were already overloaded. In those days, and for many years thereafter, I bought into the notion that we are all obligated to do more things than the time allows, and we should shut up about it and quietly put up with it. I accepted the doctrine of scarcity of time.

I don’t accept that doctrine any more. I still need to improve my usage of time, but not because there isn’t enough. I need to learn what it is I am here for. Am I here to have a house that could be a museum of contemporary design, or am I here to help my child grow up knowing I love her? Am I called to wear myself out trying to do a job I hate in order to earn more money than I earn doing a job I love? Did God create me for a purpose, or am I a tool of other people’s definition of life?

Of course, you may reply that you have to take the job you can get, so maybe you don’t get to do a job you like? I have been there. I have done that. And that is why I can tell you that doing the job you took for the right reasons, even though it seemed like the wrong job can be a calling in itself. The job you took in order to meet your obligations to your family and your creditors can be God’s gateway to discovering things about yourself that you would never otherwise have learned. That sort of obligation is not set by someone else; you make that choice, because you have a commitment to principle, and God is with you through such an experience. It can still be the answer to the question, Did God create me for a purpose? Am I doing this for God’s reasons or for somebody else’s reasons?

That is the question we all need to ask ourselves about the way we use time. Unlike God’s other gifts to us, we cannot bank time. I always loved the song, “Time in a Bottle” just for its title. It was such a great image – the idea that time could be hoarded until we were able to use it the way we want. But time doesn’t work that way. Every minute we throw away in misery and frustration is a minute we will never use in fulfilling accomplishment. So we ought always to be asking ourselves, Am I doing what I am doing because God brought me to this place at this time, or did somebody else put me here?

Think about your dreams. Think about your vision of yourself. Where does your mind go when you let it go? Did you always want to write or teach or make people well? Are you doing something else instead? Why? Did God bring you to this place at this time, or did you follow somebody else’s path?

God is the God of abundance. He makes plenty of time for everything you were created to accomplish on this earth. Look at the way he made the universe. Stars in profusion. Flowers in thousands of variations. Children of all colors. He doesn’t do anything stingy. He isn’t stingy with you. You are created with gifts—talents, dreams, a calling. Do what you are created to do, and let everything else fall away. You will be a lot happier, and you will discover that you have all the time you need.