Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Telling Time

Day 15 of 46 c Lenten Season 2010

Are you wearing a wristwatch right now?

I read a study someplace that said the younger you are, the greater the chances you don’t own a watch. And if you do, it’s more a fashion statement than a utilitarian accessory.

Why is that? People have worn watches for ages. However, since so many of our personal communication devices these days come with built-in clocks, wristwatches are becoming obsolete. And since the younger you are, the greater the chances you’re walking around with a cellphone, a wristwatch just seems redundant. It’s not that young people are necessarily more ambivalent about what time it is, they just don’t need a watch to tell them.

I must be old - I own three watches!

Tyranny of the Urgent

Remember when people thought the more electronics we have, the more expendable our time would become? Wow – what a fallacy, right? Indeed, the more gadgets we have, it seems we have even less time than ever. We still have the same 24-hour day, but there’s so much more to get done. Technology has both greased the wheels of old-time pursuits as well as opened up whole new worlds of things to do. Even if you’re an exceptionally disciplined person, running out of time at the end of the day can be a regular frustration.

A number of years ago, a pastor for whom I used to work gave me a little booklet entitled “Tyranny of the Urgent!” by Charles E. Hummel. Have you ever heard of it? My copy says “revised & expanded” but it’s still only 31 very small pages. Yet it speaks volumes about how we spend our time, and why.

Basically, Hummel says that although Christ lived a relatively short life by most anybody’s standards, His was the most perfect life ever on Earth, and everything He was sent here to do was accomplished completely within the span of about 30 years.

Kind of puts our lives into perspective, doesn’t it?

Never Rushed, Never Late

No matter how well you know the Bible, can you remember reading of a time when Christ was rushing anyplace? Was He ever behind schedule? Sure, He showed up at the tomb of Lazarus two days later, but He wasn’t late, was He?

Not only was Christ never late, He seemed to bathe in an abundance of time. Think of His discussion with Mary as Martha rushed about getting dinner ready. How about 40 days in the wilderness? Wouldn’t you think He’d just want to get Passion Week over and done with, knowing as He did what was going to happen? But He went through it all, one day at a time.

Imagine – the Savior of mankind, constrained by earthly flesh, without Internet access, mobile phones, or chauffeured SUVs, fulfilling all of the prophecies made of Him – mostly within the last three years of His life.

Flash forward to today. All of us worry about getting stuff done. On time. The sooner the better. Not that there’s anything wrong with deadlines, clocks, and calendars, but they seem to rule our days, don’t they? We tend to see time not as a resource but as a liability, or something of which there’s never enough. If time is a resource, it is prized like a luxury item.

Sure, Christ knew what time of day it was, what He needed to do next, and when His time on Earth would be over. But He never panicked that time was running out but He still had all of these prophecies to fulfill, all these sick people to heal, all these demons to exorcise, and all these truths to teach. He got frustrated that His 12 bumbling disciples never seemed to get the message the first time, but Christ's frustration stemmed from His love for them and their - our - pitiful human contrivances that sap our concentration.

I Pledge Allegiance to the Clock...

How often do you talk on your mobile phone while driving your car? You know that’s dangerous, but why do you do it? To save time, right? It’s part of that admirable time-saving skill called multi-tasking, isn’t it? Except experts are now saying that multi-tasking actually means most people can do many things poorly at the same time. Yes, some hyperactive people can learn to do more than one thing at a time, but how much better could those tasks be done individually? And how many of them need to get done at all? I can’t recall one instance of Christ literally multi-tasking in the Bible.

“Tyranny of the Urgent!” is such a great title because it so aptly depicts how we subjugate ourselves to time. And not just time – but urgency. How many mistakes do we make when we’re being urgent? We ignore things and forget others, some of which may be unimportant anyway, but none of which characterizes somebody who isn’t a slave to the clock.

Have you ever visited an overseas country and been frustrated at how long it took for anything to get done? For how many cultures is “manana” a favorite phrase? Obviously, Hummel isn’t endorsing the polar opposite of clock-watching: apathy, procrastination, or simple laziness. If you need to be at work by a certain time, you need to honor that. If church starts at a certain time, you should be there beforehand to prepare yourself for worship. If your kids need to be at baseball practice at 4:30, don’t make the coach wait for them to suit up.

Getting places early is still a virtue. Budgeting time for traffic, lines at the store, and other delays is part of prudent time management. Some things may be out of our control. Hummel doesn’t really touch on this, but life for us isn’t exactly like it was for Christ, is it? He didn’t have an unreasonable employer, a spouse bumped off their flight home, or a car that won’t start.

But He did have an eternal purpose for being here, and so do we. His work involved tasks we will never have to face – indeed, His substitutionary atonement served as His chief and crowning accomplishment. He saved us from God’s wrath. Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit! He did what none of us in the history of the world would ever have been able to do.

And our eternal purpose? To live for Him. To be His salt and light. Not to rack up for ourselves treasures on Earth by working 60-hour weeks. Not to juggle multiple friendships and commitments that compete for the same 24 hours we all have been given. Why do you promise so many things to so many people? Is it to justify your worth to them? Is it to make yourself important and essential? Is it because God has given you so many talents and skills that you need to share them with everybody?

We're Not As Necessary As We Think

Yeah, right. Motives are everything here, aren’t they? You’re not expendable, are you? Affirmation from as many people as possible is essential to happiness, isn’t it? So many things in our world present worthwhile opportunities to serve and become involved, how can we turn them down?

Have you ever realized that God’s sovereign will is going to be accomplished on this Earth whether you’re here or not? That’s not a fatalistic statement, nor am I saying you have no worth. It’s just the plain truth. Nobody dies without first fulfilling everything God has put them on this planet to do. You're not going to die before your time. At first, that can sound brutal. But think about it, and you'll see how comforting it really is.

God will save whom He will save. He ordains all events to suit His purposes. What He wants us to do is glorify Him in what we do, mirroring the fruits of His Spirit to those around us. He wants us to participate with Him in the work that He's planned since eternity past to happen right now, in this precise moment in the history of creation. That’s why you are here. Today.

Don’t fill up this time with all of your stuff. God gave Christ 30 years to save the world. And we think we can do better than that?

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