"A commitment to kindness does not mean surrendering your convictions."
"Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought."
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things, the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."
The Apostle Paul
Letter to the Philippians
Last month, I wrote about the challenges of managing time as the close of summer and beginning of fall reminds us that time is indeed fleeting. And as we usher in September, the challenges remain. I would like for us to consider another aspect of the passing of time that may encourage us to appreciate the Lord’s redemptive use of time and its passing.
As fallen creatures, we are unable to perceive time in anything but an extremely limited way. We see time in a linear, uni-directional way that does not reflect our eternal, redemptive God. Writers have expressed the struggle to more fully understand time over the past many centuries.
I'm a time traveler.... People don't understand time. It's not the way you think it is. It's complicated, very complicated. People assume that time is a straight progression of cause to effect, but actually from a nonlinear, nonobjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wobbly wobbly timey wimpy stuff.
When I consider the history of the Hebrew people as it is recorded in the Old Testament, I hear a drumbeat: Remember, remember, remember…. The Hebrew people were not very good at remembering the LORD’s holiness, faithfulness, and personal watchfulness over them. Over and over, they fell away from the LORD GOD as time passed. And then over and over, circumstances and events would remind them of their need for the LORD, and they would repent and return to following Him.
We are not very good at remembering, either. We are often tempted to follow the way of the world, to do life ourselves, and reserve faith for emergencies and holidays. It seems to me that remembering might be easier if we considered time more from the expanded perspective of Dr. Who. The Lord has promised to complete the work He has begun in us. He is in the process of sanctifying us, of inviting us to partake in His nature and to become fit for heaven. This means that we need to be willing to change. And the kind of change that the Lord wants for us is eternal; it requires us to embrace change over time.
It is not easy for me to change: I don’t like it! New events and adventures are uncomfortable, and I am always relieved when I can get my life “back to normal.” But that is short-sighted. If I look beyond discomfort to the redemptive purposes that the Lord puts those new events and adventures, I can allow Him to use them to change me. And as this change occurs, I can look back in time and view those uncomfortable times with greater appreciation and gratitude. It changes my view of history, which in turn changes the way I view the future. I can learn to be changed in deep ways that remain as time passes.
And so here we are, at the end of summer and the beginning of fall. It is time to put swimsuits away and get out school supplies and sweaters. The party is over: back to work! But we serve the great I AM, the eternal Being, the Lord who sovereignly guides past, present, and future toward His redemptive ends. So rather than putting summer away, I would like to suggest that we take those parts of summer that changed us: that helped us to see the Lord more clearly or experience His faithfulness more deeply and carry them with us into the fall with an eagerness to continue to see the Lord do His redemptive work in us. And in that way, we are living in three-dimensional time: we apply the confidence of the Lord’s work from the past to the choices of the moment as we look toward greater maturity in Christ in the future.
August. Oh, no! Summer is almost over…. It is a cry heard across the country as Memorial Day Weekend and July Fourth celebrations are in the rear-view mirror, and we look toward Labor Day and the beginning of a new school year. And while not everyone loves the steamy days of summer, the evaporation of what we like to think of as a “break” in our daily schedules and the return of a “back to work” mentality has most of us feeling a bit disconcerted.
Where did the summer go? I would like to suggest that it would be more profitable for us to consider our frustrations with the passing of time within the broader context of Biblical and human history.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth….” So the beginning of Genesis goes. And while we often jump to God’s creation of mankind, it is worth considering that God created day and night, morning and evening, the sun, moon, and stars. When God breathes life into Adam and creates Eve from Adam’s rib, they have the rhythm of the planet and of life itself as a foundation for exercising sovereign care over creation.
But with the fall, time—like the entirety of God’s good creation—becomes distorted. Thistles and thorns make finding and growing food difficult and time consuming. The misuse of free will consumes more time in broken coordination and conflict. Time becomes a precious resource that fallen man will abuse and waste along with the rest of the resources the LORD God has provided. And now, millenia after the fall, we have become adept at cutting time corners as we depend on fast food meals, online shopping, multi-tasking, and copious caffeine consumption as we get less and less sleep. Indeed, time is such a limited resource that Benjamin Franklin’s observations that “time is money” rings very true in our culture.
True confession: I am perpetually busy and time conscious. The white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland”—Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!”—rings very true. I am usually in a hurry, and I am often running late or too close to it. I have done a good bit of pondering about my discomfort with time has a long history and runs deep. Beside the generic issues of the fall, I see two specific consequences that illuminate and magnify my struggles with time. The first is my brokenness and my sin-laden response to hurt and trauma in my past. I have a history of shame: not belonging, not measuring up. My fallen human response has been to try harder, to earn my place, prove my worth. Those efforts are major wastes of time, almost always leaving me with too little left for everything else. The second consequence echoes the fall itself: not only do we know both good and evil, we practice both good and evil. And so once again, the time we use our time to pursue the desires of our flesh, to pursue evil, leaving us with less time to do good.
But as the LORD pronounced the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fateful choice, He also promised the Messiah. The Apostle Paul proclaims an important truth in his epistle to the Romans: “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17). And it is in Christ that we can find our identity and value without wasting time trying to earn or prove it. And it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can use more of our time doing good and less pursuing evil.
I often marvel at the Jesus that we see consistently depicted in the Gospel accounts of His time on earth. Jesus never rushes; He is never in a hurry. He welcomes interruptions as opportunities, and He always has time for any and all who came to Him. It is both convicting and inspiring. And it isn’t just that Jesus models for us the Godly use of time. By dying on our behalf, Christ—the One—earned for us our righteousness, our rightness with God and our eternal identity as heirs of heaven. We have no need to spin our time wheels trying to earn or prove our salvation. And by sending the Holy Spirit, we have the power that raised Christ from the dead living within us to turn away from the desires of the flesh.
Again, I turn to the wisdom of the Apostle Paul: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16). This does not mean that we rush from one ministry opportunity to another with no discernment or rest. It is, however, an invitation to accept time as a gift from the Lord, to use for His good purposes and His glory. If we are to take Paul’s words to heart, we must align our perspective of time with Him and see our frustration with time as a call to grow and to grow together in faith. May we encourage one another to use our God-given gifts with wisdom and we walk toward eternity.