“STEWARDS OF OUR TIME”

EPHESIANS 5:15-20

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            A farmer’s son went off to college.  His first term courses included biology, botany, and geology.  Returning home from term break, he said to his father, “Dad, I’ve discovered a lot about life while in college.  I’ve found that God made a lot of mistakes.”

            “What kind of mistakes?”

            The young man pointed to a big watermelon and said, “Look at that watermelon growing on that tiny vine.”  Then he pointed to an acorn and said, “Look at that little acorn growing on that huge oak tree.  That’s backwards!  I would have made it differently.”  Just then a little acorn fell off the huge oak tree and bounced off the young man’s head.

            The father looked at his son and said, “Gee, I bet your glad that wasn’t a watermelon.”

            As we continue this stewardship sermon series, I want you to know I would have done it differently.  If I were God, I would not have put humankind in charge of so many things.  I wouldn’t have done this because we can’t always be trusted to do the right thing, but God sees things differently.  Like a father giving the car keys to a teenage son or daughter, saying, “Drive carefully,” God gives us the keys to all he created here on earth, and says, “Drive responsibly.”    In this series Stewardship: It’s More Than Money!  we are looking at eight areas over which God has put us in charge.  Thus far we have seen how God has made us stewards of the earth, stewards of our bodies, and stewards of our gifts.  This morning we turn to our being stewards of our time.

            Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul.  I’m reading from Ephesians 5: 15-17.

 

            Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.  So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.

 

            Paul draws here upon his familiarity with the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament, especially in the Book of Proverbs, wisdom and foolishness are compared and contrasted.  For example, in the Book of Proverbs we have pithy sayings like, “A wise child makes a glad father, but a foolish child is a mother’s grief (10:1),” and “The wise of heart will head commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin (10:8),”  and “Doing wrong is like sport to a fool, but wise conduct is pleasure to a person of understanding (10:23).”  The authors of Proverbs compare and contrast wise behavior and foolish behavior, and the Apostle Paul does the same thing here.  Listen to his words once again ...

 

            Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.  So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

 

            So what does a wise person do?  He or she makes the most of the time allotted to him or her.   A wise person is a good steward of his or her time, a foolish person is not.  A foolish person spends time getting drunk on wine rather than the Holy Spirit. 

            Now as we unpack what it means to be good stewards of our time, I want to start with three principles. 

            Principle #1:  God prizes the stewardship of our time as much as the stewardship of our money.  God expects us to be wise steward of our time.

            Principle #2:  We all have the same amount of time.  People who get things done have the same number of hours, minutes and seconds as those who do not get things done.  People who get things done use their time more effectively and efficiently.

            Principle #3:  We are never powerless over time problems.  We can take control of our time and our lives.  If we don’t, other people will take charge of them for us. 

            Taking these three principles into account. Let me suggest four things we can do to make sure we become or remain good stewards of our time.  In so doing I want us to think about spending our time like we spend our money.  By that I mean, good time stewardship resembles good money stewardship, and here are four things to keep in mind when spending time.

            First, buy quality.  I’m sure you have heard the saying, “You get what you pay for!”  That’s true.  In fact, Consumer Reports Magazine and the Consumer Reports web site make lots of money helping people buy quality goods, from cars to stereos to washing machines.  Buying quality in goods and service and in time makes good sense. 

            By the way, a heads up for next weekend.  Next weekend we change our clocks.  We gain an extra hour of time next Sunday morning.  We move from Daylight Saving Time back to Standard Time.  We used to do that this weekend just in time for Halloween.  In fact, it was easier to remember for me when “springing forward”  took place the first weekend in April and “falling back” took place the last weekend in October, and I much prefer the “fall back” weekend because we get an extra hour of sleep on Saturday night, but I do not like having to reset the clocks in our house.  We have eight clocks in our house that do not automatically reset, so we lose part of that extra hour resetting clocks, but it’s important to reset all of them, because having one wrong clock can lead to trouble.

            For example, during spring when we spring ahead, a pastor was meeting a member of his church for lunch.  They were to meet at 11:30 AM to avoid the lunch hour rush, but the only clock the pastor had not changed in his home was the one in his study where he was working that day.  A few minutes before he was ready to leave, he walked into the kitchen, and glanced at the clock on the microwave.  It was 12:15 PM and not 11:15 AM.  He missed the lunch because he was watching the wrong clock.

            From time to time we watch the wrong clock.  We do not focus on quality, on things that last, but on the temporal, on those things that have passing value.  Listen to these words,

 

            Recently, after a particularly disturbing day, I arrived home, weighed down with the knowledge that I needed to go back to the office that night.  I rifled through the mail and in the midst of the bills found a letter from Dwight.  I opened it and learned he was about to graduate from college and put his mark on the world.  I met Dwight ten years ago when he stood on the brink of another challenge, junior high.  He was a kid with an infectious grin who left a trail of mischief wherever he ventured.  Dwight and I became friends and our relationship quickly evolved into one of informal mentoring.

            It had been nearly a year since I had spoken to him, but out of the blue he had penned a letter thanking me for our time together when he was facing the traumas of adolescence.  Dwight’s letter exuded the enthusiasm of a young man who loved Christ.

            Later that evening after clearing my desk, I leaned back in my chair and reminisced about the times Dwight and I had shared.  The more I remembered the joys and rewards of our friendship, the more concerned I became.  Perhaps at this stage in my life I’m so caught up in projects and responsibilities that I’m not spending time with young men like Dwight.  I’m working many hours, but am I buying quality?

 

            Second, buy what fits.  Let me take a quick poll.  First, the women.  How many of you usually try something on before you buy it?  How about the guys?  How many of you usually try something on before you buy it?  I didn’t use to try things on, but Trudy got tired of taking things back for me, so I’m learning from the gentle, loving encouragement of my spouse to try things on before buying them.

            The same applies to time.  Often we buy things that do not fit our area of giftedness or our passion for life and ministry.  Last week Trudy received THE dreaded phone call.  A representative of the presbytery nominating committee called and asked Trudy to consider a two year term on the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry, and we spent two days discussing if serving on this particular committee “fit” her gifts and her passion.  Would dealing with churches looking for pastors and church’s dealing with personnel issues, fit her gift mix?  And would the monthly meeting time, late Tuesday afternoon into the evening, fit into her schedule? 

            After the service you can ask her if she decided it fit or did not fit. 

            You see, each of us are gifted to do certain things and if we spend too much time doing what we are not gifted or fitted to do, we use up needless time and energy that could have been invested more wisely.  We need to spend money and time on what fits.

            Thirdly, avoid impulse buying.  Perhaps, like me, you have made a spur of the moment purchase only to wonder why on earth you parted with your hard-earned money for that less than necessary item?  Unfortunately, I do something similar with time.  Some days I come into the office and do an impulse buy.  Instead of doing what really needs to be done, I do an impulse buy, I do something else. 

            Years ago Bethlehem Steels hired a consultant Ivy Lee, and Bethlehem Steel agreed to pay Ivy Lee “anything within reason” if his suggestion worked.  Lee handed a sheet of paper to the President of Bethlehem Steel.  He said, “Write down the most important tasks you have to do tomorrow.  Number them in order of importance.”  Then he said, “When you arrive in the morning begin at once on number one, and stay on it until it is completed.  Recheck your priorities, then begin with number two.  Then number three.  Make this a habit every working day.  Pass it on to those under you.  Try it as long as you like and then send me a check for what you think that piece of advice is worth.”

            A month later the President of Bethlehem Steel sent Ivy Lee a check for $25,000.  He was reminded of the dangers of impulse buying when it came to spending his time.

            Fourthly, and finally, don’t buy on credit.  Someone made the observation that July 4th is a unique holiday.  “Where else,” he said, “can we find people who are paying off a revolving charge card, a home improvement loan, a 48 month car loan, and a 30 year mortgage, and who are still celebrating their freedom?” 

            Some of us spend our time like we do our credit cards.  We charge our calendars to the limit and deal with the consequences at the end of the month.  That often results in our borrowing time from essentials to pay for the discretionaries.  When the demands of our schedules begin to stretch us, we typically borrow from our families or from time with God to fulfill our daily obligations. 

            How many of you have had an “out of body” experience?  I have them all the time.  Someone will ask me to do something and my mouth will say, “Sure, no problem,” while my mind says, “Are you nuts?  When are you going to find the time to do that?”  It usually happens when someone butters me up and tells me how wonderful it will be to have me do such and such.  The hook my ego, and I’m done.  I add something more to the schedule that I don’t really have time to do. 

            Before buying another activity, another project, it behooves us to ask, “Can I afford this?  What am I going to have to stop doing in order to do this?  Am I buying quality?  Does this fit who I am?”

            We began on a wise and foolish note this morning.  Let’s end on one.

            Two friends were talking.  The first man asked, “How did you like last night’s play?”

            His friend answered, “Oh, it was fine, but we only got to see the first act.”

            “Why did you only get to see the first act?”

            “Well, I wanted to stay for the whole thing, since this was the first play I had ever attended, but the program said that the next act was taking place three days later.”

            There is no reason to wait three days to start becoming good stewards of our time.  We can begin today.