Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Tag: Priorities

Time & Attention

“Everything that wants your attention doesn’t deserve your time.”

Shavoris Brown

The beginning of the day, the week, the month, or the year seems ripe with opportunities. We manage to convince ourselves that all is possible, and there’s plenty of time to do it all. 

Then reality hits: unplanned interruptions, unwanted calls, unexpected sickness, unwelcome salespersons, unrealistic expectations, unforeseeable delays. You know what I’m talking about.

When these time wreckers intrude on our well-planned schedules, what do we do? We hit the pause button and ask ourselves, “What’s the most important thing I need to do right now?” Our ability to be productive depends upon our ability to determine what’s most important and to pursue that above all else. It’s a matter of eliminating the unnecessary and concentrating on the essential. To extend the opening quotation, some matters are not only unworthy of our time, they’re also unworthy of our attention.

The same mentality applies to spiritual life. Spiritual life can become cluttered and clotted with unnecessary, attention-grabbing distractions. Not a day passes that I don’t get some kind of invitation to attend a religious or church event. Not a day goes by that I don’t get an offer to buy another religious book. Hardly a day passes by that I don’t get asked to participate in another conference, another online study, another elders’ meeting, another mentoring session, or another church social. After a while, my head wants to explode. 

But the biblical solution is simple. Determine what’s most important and forget the rest. While the Bible isn’t a time management manual, it does speak to the issue of our priorities. Consider:

  • Psalm 39.4: “LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am.”
  • Psalm 90.12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”
  • Ephesians 5.15-16: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
  • James 4.14, 15, 17: “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’… Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
  • Matthew 6.33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

For today and every day, determine what deserves you attention and your time, then pursue it with all you’ve got.

The $86,400 Gift Card

Imagine getting a special gift card for Christmas. Before you can use it, you must activate it. After you activate it, you must spend the entire balance in 24 hours. It comes preloaded with $86,400. You can’t combine it with other funds to make a larger purchase. You can’t save any for additional purchases tomorrow because the balance goes to $0.00 after 24 hours. You can’t share your card with anyone else, and others can’t share their cards with you. You may spend your funds in any way you desire. 

What would you do with such a gift card? You’d spend it of course! I think most people understand that with gift cards you use it or lose it.

In fact, you DO have something like that. It’s called TIME. Each day has 24 hours, each hour has 60 minutes, and each minute has 60 seconds. That works out to be 86,400 seconds per day. Your daily allotment of time works the same way as your imaginary gift card. You begin each day with the full amount, and at the end of the day, you have nothing leftover. You can’t save any of today’s time to use tomorrow, and you can’t borrow any of tomorrow’s time for today. You can’t give any of your time allotment to other people, and other people can’t give you theirs. You may spend your time in any way your desire.

I’m not sure why it’s the case, but most people I know have a better appreciation for money than they do for time. Perhaps it’s because money is more tangible, or at least the things it will buy are tangible. Time, on the other hand, is more of a concept, and an elusive one at that. Often the things we do with time are intangible, and the benefits are also intangible. 

Regardless of the reason, we would all do well to understand that time is one of our most valuable assets. In many ways, it’s the great equalizer. Not everyone has money or prestige or power. Everyone has time. In fact, everyone has the same amount of time available to them: 86,400 seconds per day. That’s true for me, for you, for the CEO, for the President of the United States, for Moses, and for Jesus himself. The difference isn’t the amount of time we each possess, it’s what we do with the time we possess.

Moses said, “For all our days have declined in Your fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away” (Psalm 90.9-10). He was saying that life is a struggle. 

But his conclusion was more hopeful: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom” (v. 12).

As we begin this year, may God bless each of us with a full year’s worth of time, and an awareness of the value of time, and most of all the wisdom to use it well. 

Why Do We Work?

In your lifetime, you’ll spend about 90,000 hours at work. With the possible exception of sleep, you’ll spend more time working than any other activity. It’s worth asking, then, why do we work for so long a time?

Work serves many purposes:

  • It’s a way to provide the necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter.
  • It’s a way to provide for our future in the form of retirement savings.
  • It’s a way to provide for emergencies in the form of regular savings.
  • It’s a way to provide health insurance for ourselves and our families.
  • It’s a way to provide for the needs of others who are unable to work.
  • It’s a way to constructively occupy our time. 
  • It’s a way to contribute to our communities.

Work serves many purposes. But for all the good that manual labor does, it CANNOT ultimately secure the most important things.

The prophet Isaiah said (Isaiah 55.1-3):

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy, and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost. 
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance. 
“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David.”

Ultimately, material things don’t satisfy our deepest desires. Food for the body is important, but food for the soul is what we need most. We may work hard, save, economize, watch our expenses, cut corners, clip coupons, and even cut back on the Amazon, and still not be satisfied. 

Through Isaiah, God invited his people to a feast that satisfied their hunger and quenched their thirst. He invited them – and us – into a relationship that that brings abundance, delight, and fulfillment. A relationship with the God whose resources are infinite. A relationship with the God who knows what we need, and who offers us even more.

Each and every day, work hard, but remember what matters most. 

Rich or Organized?

Question: Would you rather be organized or rich?

To answer the question requires: (1) A sense of priority – which is more important? (2) An understanding of the risks involved. (3) A willingness to trade one thing for another.

People who deal in financial analysis and decision-making face these choices every day.

One Old Testament text addresses this very question: Proverbs 14.4 says, “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.”

This proverb illustrates a common farming decision. In biblical times, owning oxen would be like owning a tractor today – it was a huge advantage. It involved additional costs but was generally considered worth the risks for the sake of extra revenue. Most farmers would gladly trade a clean manger (or stable or barn) without oxen for a smelly, messy barn with oxen. More oxen meant more crops which meant more income.

The application to business is obvious. Businesses constantly must decide about the maintaining and upgrading hardware, software, offices, furnishings, equipment, factories, fleets, and a thousand other things. It’s all about risks and rewards. 

A broader application is to the stewardship of our blessings. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25.14-30) teaches that when we’re entrusted with blessings – money, possessions, abilities, time, opportunities, relationships – we have a God-given duty to invest in them and grow in them. We must weigh the priorities, risks, and tradeoffs to properly evaluate and make good choices. Growth is the expectation.

An even broader application is to our personal growth. At a surface level, Proverbs 14.4 is about growing one’s business. At a deeper level, it’s about any kind of growth: spiritual, relational, educational, vocational, or financial. To grow requires prudent risk-taking and pushing ourselves beyond our normal limits. Growth is still the expectation.

Solomon is telling us that we need to properly evaluate things. There’s a time and place for cleanliness and organization. There’s also a time and place for risk, work, and growth, which means there’s a place for messiness, too.

The takeaway is this: Whenever you’re confronted with an opportunity for growth, take it! By all means analyze it and measure it and weigh it. But never forget that growth is the expectation of wisdom.

What’s Your Thing?

I grew up in the 60s & 70s, and I remember hearing people say, “That’s just my thing.” Or they’d ask, “What’s your thing?”

Doing one’s “thing” is to “pursue one’s interests or inclination; do what one does best or enjoys most.” 

  • A character trait: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841) “But do your thing and I shall know you.” 
  • A dogged pursuit: “I really admire him for just doing his thing and not listening to the critics.” 
  • Peculiar habit or mannerism: “That’s just her thing. You’ll get used to it.” 
  • If we can’t agree, or if we reach an impasse: “You do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

As a Christian, what’s your thing? What are you about? What is your pursuit? The Bible talks about our “thing”; it says that we need a “thing” to help us pursue the right kind of life.

  • Luke 10.41-42: Martha was distracted by many things; Jesus wanted her to pursue only one thing
  • Mark 10.21 (see also, Luke 18.22): The rich young ruler owned many things; perhaps more accurately, his many things owned him; Jesus said he needed to simplify – “one thing you lack.

Let’s look at three texts that help us define our “thing”; three things worth pursuing. (Note: Based on a sermon by Alistair Begg; SBTS chapel service, 10/29/13). 

“One Thing I Know” (John 9.25)

Here, Jesus healed a man who was born blind. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus did this on the Sabbath. Twice they asked the blind man to explain what happened, hoping to discredit Jesus in some way. He replied, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9.25). He didn’t know who Jesus was or how Jesus healed him, but he recognized the power of God at work. 

“One Thing I Do” (Philippians 3.13)

Here, the apostle Paul talks about the most important thing in his life: knowing Christ in an intimate way. For Paul his suffering as a Christian was simply his passport to the resurrection from the dead. He knew he wasn’t done yet, and that much work remained. So, he said, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3.13). Paul knew that his work in this life was never done, so he pressed onward and upward.

“One Thing I Seek” (Psalm 27.4)

Here, the psalmist is experiencing persecution by his enemies. He has no doubts about the Lord’s willingness to intervene, and his power to thwart his enemies. For that reason, he knows that the presence of God is his best hope for survival. So he says, “One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to meditate in His temple” (Psalm 27.4). He wanted the presence of God.

So, “What’s your thing?” For Christians the answer is simple. “One thing I know” (the power of Christ); “one thing I do” (I press onward and upward); and “one thing I seek” (the presence of God).