One morning a farmer told his wife he was going out to plow the south forty. The tractor needed oil, so he went to the shop to get some. On the way he noticed the pigs weren’t fed. So he proceeded to the corncrib. The feed sacks in the corncrib reminded him that his potatoes were sprouting. On the way to the potato pit, he passed the woodpile and remembered that his wife wanted fire wood. By the time he had picked up a few sticks, an ailing chicken passed by. He dropped the wood and reached for the chicken. When evening arrived, the frustrated farmer had not even oiled the tractor, let alone plowed the field!
How many times have you intended to do something important but were distracted and never accomplished it?
In Matt. 25:14-20, Jesus tells of a master who gave three servants money (talents) to invest while he was away. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to the third, one.
When the master returned, he asked for a report. The servants who had received five and two talents respectively had doubled their amounts through wise investments. They were rewarded. But the third servant had done nothing with his talent. It was taken away and he was punished.
God expects us to fruitfully invest whatever He gives us. Though we usually think of investing money or material goods, time is also God’s gift. We are commanded to use it wisely: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).
Four steps to making the most of your time are:
1) Plan long range;
2) Schedule your time;
3) Follow your schedule;
4) Multiply your time.
What does the Bible say about each one? How can we make them part of our lives?
Plan long range. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize… I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man shadow boxing” (1 Cor. 9:24, 26 NIV). Paul says that to win in life we must have purpose.
Sprinters don’t line up in their starting blocks, take off with the gun, and then stop two or three steps later to look for the finish line. They find out where the finish line is long before the race begins.
Yet many of us get thirty, forty, fifty years into life without any concept of our finish line – the sum total God wants accomplished by the end of our lives. To get to our finish line, we must be pointed in the right direction. We must plan long range.
Christ advocated thinking ahead. To those interested in becoming His disciples, He said: “Which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build-and was not able to finish’” (Lk. 14:28-30).
Planning means discerning which way God wants us to go. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;” the Lord says, “I will counsel you with My eye upon you” (Psa. 32:8).
Pray and ask God for His wisdom as you write down briefly what you hope to accomplish in your lifetime. Next, write down the one thing you could accomplish in the next six to twelve months as a step toward your life objectives. Then, record one activity that would keep you working consistently toward that six-to-twelve-month objective. Finally, put the paper where you will be able to read it every day.
Schedule your time. Haggai 1 shows the results of spending time on the wrong priorities. After their captivity the Israelites had put off building God’s temple to build luxurious homes for themselves. To regain their attention, the Lord withheld His blessing.
“You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes” (Haggai 1:6).
If you have been filling your time with the wrong priorities, perhaps God is causing meager returns to get your attention.
To put the right activities into your schedule, first list the activities you could do. (Don’t forget the activity you recorded on your planning sheet.) Second, delegate the activities someone else can and should do.
Third, assess the priorities of the remaining activities. Weigh how well each activity contributes to your goals and its urgency. Fourth, if possible, schedule your number one priority first and keep at it until it is finished. Then schedule your number two priority, and so on.
If you do this the worst thing you could say about a day is that you worked only on your number one priority. How often we must admit, instead, that we never got to it.
Follow your schedule. Impressive plans and schedules are useless if they aren’t implemented.
Paul admonished the church at Corinth for not finishing a fund-raising project: “I want to suggest that you finish what you started to do a year ago… Having started the ball rolling so enthusiastically, you should carry this project to completion just as gladly… Let your enthusiastic idea at the start be equaled by your realistic action now” (2 Cor. 8:10-11, LB).
Proper motivation is the key to following your schedule. “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). God can change our desires. Let Him motivate you.
Some time ago, it occurred to me that my days would be more interesting and productive if I did only what I enjoyed. I had two alternatives. Become undependable in activities I didn’t like, or learn to like them. Then the powerful truth of Phil. 2:13 showed me that God can change my dislike to likes. I just need to ask and trust Him.
Discipline is a second ingredient in successful schedule-following. For some it comes naturally. The rest of us will face a battle, but we can win with self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). The Greek word translated self-control literally means “controlling power or the ability to be under control.” As growing Christians, this ability should characterize our lives.
How can we appropriate this discipline or self-control right now? “And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15). We simply need to ask God and trust Him to manifest “self-control” in our lives.
Two other important aspects of following your schedule are sensitivity and peace. Stay sensitive to God’s leading and to people. Don’t put on blinders and forge ahead without considering the feelings and needs of others.
Then when a job is finished, experience God’s peace. Don’t let the press of activities and problems rob you of a close, peaceful walk with God. He is your top priority.
Multiply your time. Several years ago I attended a training seminar at Purdue University. It had been a long time since I had been in a dormitory.
The first morning I went down the hall to take a shower. As I stepped in, I realized that I had forgotten my shampoo. I walked back, got my shampoo, stepped back in, and discovered I did not have my towel.
Again I returned to the room, got my towel, and walked back to the shower room. There had to be a better way! The next day I brought everything with me.
How many times do we finish a project and then think of a way to do it in half the time? Or return from a shopping trip and realize we forgot something at the store?
Multiplying your time means accomplishing the most with each activity and doing it in the best possible way.
Read Col. 4:2-6. The Colossians were to pray with devotion and alertness. Paul wanted two things from them: an attitude of thanksgiving and prayer for him and his companions. They were to make the most of their interaction with outsiders, speaking and responding sensitively and with carefully chosen words.
To multiply your time, pray and think about what you are doing and how you are doing it. Why are you doing it? Is it effective in helping you accomplish an important goal? If not, modify it or stop doing it. Fill your time with more strategic activities. For example, if the objectives of a meeting are unclear, ask that they be clearly stated.
How can steps be simplified or eliminated and still achieve the objective? Ask an expert or read some material on what you are doing. Challenge traditional ways of doing things. For example, I am more alert standing up than sitting down. So I have a “stand-up” table instead of a regular office desk.
MAKE THE MOST of your God-given time by being a good steward. Implement these few suggestions and you will be amazed and delighted at how you will accomplish much more of what is really important to you. There is enough time to do and enjoy all God has for you.
Stephen B. Douglass, Moody