2005-07-26 – “Fatalism or Opportunity”
There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace. Ecc3:1-8
We’re going to reflect on what I think is one of our most valuable commodities: Time.
To kick off, I want to repeat a meditation from the series on Ecclesiastes, because there is no better place to start than the Teacher’s poem on time…
This passage is one of the most oft read and quoted passages in the Old Testament. But it seems that while many people have loved this piece of poetry, there are different understandings it.
For some this is pure fatalism – everything in life is pre-ordained – “Your time is your time.” – God does as He pleases and we have little choice in the matter. For others this passage is just a description of life as it really is – “You have to take the rough with the smooth you know…” Others have used this passage to justify themselves – almost always as an excuse to go to war or do something like that.
But what did the teacher (the author) mean? In the verses that follow a number of perspectives emerge:
Firstly: At the end of the day, God is sovereign and nothing happens that is outside His control. But rather than giving us the sense that we live under the rule of a Tyrant, this knowledge should fill us with a sense of praise. Jesus reminded us that even the hairs on our heads are numbered. This is an indication of the Father’s loving attention to detail. (“I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken away from it. God does it, so men will revere Him.”3:14) There are times that God’s will, even though we cannot fathom it, will endure.
Secondly:We can kick against the rhythmns and cycles of life or we can embrace them and find meaning in them. The Teacher uses work as an example: Work can be seen as a burden and as toil that is subject to the cycles of life (“What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men.” v9-10) Or we can realise that the cycles of life shape us for something greater than this life and that even when we don’t understand it, God is at work. (“He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from begunning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.” v.10) We are eternal creatures and the cycles of life shape us for the glory of eternity.
Thirdly, the roller-coaster of life may seem random and circumstantial to us, but when we choose to allow God to work in us and when we reach out to Him for His help, life will make better people of us. (“He has made all things beautiful in _His_ time.” This is not fatalism or even positive fatalism (“Alles sal regkom – Everything will turn out OK”) – we have a role to play and we must respond to the One who wants to make us more beautiful.
2005-07-27 – “Wise living – Part 1″
Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have all read the poems and stories about time. How it passes us by and cannot be regained. How yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not yet and that all we have is today. Paul, while writing to the church in Ephesus, is concerned with the same issue. For him the passage of time is a queue of opportunities which can be used in three ways:
1. We can let opportunities slip by unnoticed.
2. We can use them badly – i.e. we squander them
3. We use them to God’s glory.
The tough reality check for Paul is that the context in which we deal with these queued-up opportunities is a context that works against us: “The days are evil.” We live in a world that is infected by our sinful natures and unfortunately we are, in a way, predisposed to making bad choices.
Why do I say this? Before we accept Christ, we are governed by a selfish, self-centered, self-directed nature that is the legacy of our separation from God. When we accept Christ, He gives us a new nature, but we constantly battle against our old natures.
This is why Paul has to constantly warn us that when we are dealing with the Opportunity-Queue, we need to be aware that there is a choice to be made with each opportunity: We constantly have to choose. Look at the passage:
— We can be wise or unwise, but the days are evil.
— We can be foolish or understand God’s will
— We can get drunk either on wine or God’s Spirit
The sobering thought is that Paul seems to hint that if we leave our lives on “autopilot” we will make wrong choices by default because the “days are evil.”
Therefore, the first key to understanding time, is to realise that it is all about choices and that we have to consciously choose to use time well, because, in many ways, bad choices come naturally!
Tomorrow we’ll look at some keys to using time well.
# Dear Lord. I’m often too lazy to be careful about the choices I make in the Opportunity-Queue of time. Please help me to be careful and choose well! Help me to be aware of the struggle, and to make a conscious decision to use time well. Amen.#
2005-07-28 – “Wise Living – Part 2″
Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Eph5:15-20
Yesterday we saw that time is really a queue of opportunities which we can miss, misuse, or use well. There was also the sobering thought that our sinful natures predispose us to bad choices. Knowing all this, we are called
to make good choices.
How do we do this? Paul has some hints:
1. Understand God’s will – get God’s picture of reality. The worldview that gets thrust at us all the time helps us make bad choices: it is based on selfishness, temporary satisfaction, greed, and competitiveness – “Eat and
drink for tomorrow we die.” A Godly perspective or worldview is based on people being more important than things, love being more important than power, generosity being more important than position or status – “Our time here on earth is training for heaven.”
2. We need to realise that the world’s temptations are intoxicating – we can get sucked in and lose contact with reality. We sometimes really believe that all those extra hours in the office really do matter while our spouses and
children lose out.
3. Drink deeply of God’s Spirit – if we allow Him and open our hearts to Him – He will give us gentle reminders about what is right… How do we do this? If being drunk implies that the alcohol controls us, then being filled with the Spirit implies that we listen to His gentle prompting. The more we listen, the better our hearing gets.
4. We need to encourage one another with the principles of worship, praise, and celebration of life. These attitudes counteract the attitudes of cycnicism, criticism, and jealousy that underpin the rat-race. There is a
sense in which the Christian community needs to be a counterculture that always marches to the beat of a different drum.
5. Cultivate an attitude of joyful thankfulness. There is nothing that sorts out possession obsession, corporate climbing blues, and societal stress than a regular counting of blessings. When we do this regularly, we find that
people and not things are really important to us and that we are full people who overflow into life and not empty people who desperately need life’s ‘stuff’ to fill us! And our gratitude is not an abstract gratitude, but a
clear focus on Christ who gave His everything to free us from the rat race.
# Dear Lord, time can be a rat-race or the opportunity queue of life. Help me to get my perspective right and be guided past the intoxicating temptations by the voice of Your Holy Spirit. Give me an attitude of gratitude and praise that will help others on the right way, even as they help me. Amen #
2005-07-29 – “The Brevity of Life”
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psa90:12
This little gem comes from a psalm attributed to Moses. It has two other references to time:
- In speaking about God’s perspective on time, he says: “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by.” (vs.4)
- In speaking about our experience of time he says: “The length of our days is seventy years- eighty if we have the strength.”
As I looked at this verse this morning, I realised that there is a striking deduction that one can make from this verse: If you want to see if a person is wise, look at how they use their time!
Wise people see time as a commodity to invest. They use time to add value and make a difference. They have learned to stop complaining about not having enough time – they just get on with using what is available to them. They are the ones who know that all people are given equal amount of time: 24 hours in the day. Wise people are the ones who know that cramming every spare moment with activity does not necessarily constitute good use of time. Wise people know the value of slowing down and resting as well as the importance of diligence when it is tempting to be distracted.
Wise people do not live in the past, but have learned from it.
They also do not live in the future, but they move decisively toward it.
They are rooted in the present and make it all count.
At age 33, in His high priestly prayer in John 17:3 Jesus says: “I have completed the work You set out for me!” What an incredible statement! You and I would say: “There are still people to heal, and parables to teach, how can you say that it is finished???” But Jesus understood that good time usage is not frantic activity or ticking off other people’s agendas – it is discerning one’s core mission and what needs to be done to achieve _that_.
We need help to use our time well, and so our prayer is guided by Moses:
#Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Amen#
2005-08-02 – “Time for outsiders”
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders: make the most of every
Paul is writing to the church. Outsiders are those who were outside the church – people who were not believers. Our usage of time must include those who are outside.
We have been challenged to use time well. We have been reminded that there are priorities and values that we should put in place when we use our time. These priorities are God first, family second, job third, church fourth, and everything else after that.
Paul’s call to be outsiders-orientated is a stark reminder that we should not become so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly use. So often Christians have been accused of being “holier than thou” because they have
no time for people outside the Christian fold.
We need to use every opportunity to be wise in our dealings with outsiders. In the midst of our time usage, we will encounter people who do not necessarily share our frame of reference. We are to strive to deal with
them with integrity, humility, compassion, respect, and a servant heart.
It is not neccesarily that we always have to _make_ time for outsiders (although sometimes that will also need to be done) but more that we _use_ time to reach out to others in all the opportunities that God brings on our
2005-08-03 – “D.V.”
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Jam3:13-16
We grew up in an Afrikaans church and I was always puzzled by the abbreviation (DV) which appeared behind so many of the notices in our intimation sheet. It was only in my year of confirmation that our minister explained that these letters stood for the Latin phrase “Deo Volente” which means “If the Lord wills.”
The thinking behind this phrase comes from this passage where James confronts his congregation about their cavalier attitude toward time. We talk about “my time” and we have very firm ideas about what _we_ will do with _our_ time.
James is promoting a more humble attitude. His argument is that we are not as ultimately IN CONTROL as we think! When we have an arrogant or cavalier attitude toward time, we are in danger of thinking that we are god. James is not saying that we should not plan and that we should not go about our business, he is simply calling us to be a little more humble and a little more open to God’s leading and direction.
Does this mean that we have to write (DV) behind all our appointments? No. But I do it from time to time to remind myself that I am in His hands and that He is not subject to my diary and my agenda. Probably the most effective way to honour James’ concerns here is to always be open to our plans being changed if we sense a Divine nudge in another direction!
2005-08-04 – “Living in the moment”
31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
This short passage is part of a longer section in which Jesus urges His hearers to live a life of patient trust rather than a life of fearful worry. In terms of our focus on time – the important thing to concentrate on here is the urgent call to live in the present and not the future.
Being worried about the future is something that robs us of the joy of each day. Being afraid and concerned about tomorrow means that we don’t do the today-things properly and this effectively hamstrings tomorrow. The very best way for us to take care of tomorrow is to do today well.
Jesus emphasises this here:
1. Being ridiculously stressed out about tomorrow is to be like a pagan – someone who does not trust God.
2. God knows what we need – the question is: Do we trust Him?
3. We are not passive in that we wait for a Divine Handout – we are active – pursuing God’s will and plan – doing things His way!
4. We have very little control over tomorrow – we can plan all sorts of things but they can only be executed when tomorrow comes.
This does not mean that we don’t prepare or save for tomorrow. It just means that we do what we can and leave the rest in God’s hands. There is no point in stealing from tomorrow by stressing about it today!
2005-08-22 – “The Ultimate use of time”
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.” Ecc12:1
We started our series on time with the Teacher’s poem about the cycles of life, we end with another nugget from Ecclesiastes.
This verse launches a beautiful but sombre poem in which the Teacher explores the tragic possibility that a life may be lived without acknowledging the Author of life. As one reads the poem, there are some incredible images of the relentless passage of time and the inevitable process of aging:
- The keepers of the house tremble
- The strong men stoop
- The grinders (teeth) cease because they are few
- Those looking through the windows grow dim (fading eyesight)
- Men are afraid of heights and dangers in the street
The process of ageing cannot be avoided or ignored, and the Teacher’s only advice is “Remember Him.” We must remember that it is not only physical ageing that is at issue here…
It is God’s presence, peace and strength in our lives that gives it meaning. Before we grow old and cynical it is vital that we reach out to God who is always reaching out to us. The danger is that life can make bitter and twisted people of us (we grow “old”). We _have_ to hear the Teacher’s urgent plea: “Remember Him!”
When life is hard and we begin to feel that everything is meaningless, when we question the point and value of life, when we feel as though time is slipping through our fingers, and when we find very little in life that gives us satisfaction, then we are in danger of forgetting our Creator. When we find ourselves at a point of such absolute frustration with life, we need to reach out to the One who makes sense of it all.
It is significant that God is identified as Creator. The Creator has a purpose and plan, the Creator knows where everything is headed, and even when we deviate from His planned path and purpose, He will meet us where we are and be with us. When we remember our Creator, life will not necessarily “come right”, but we’ll find strength and comfort because the Creator is not bound by our brokeness – He can accomplish a new creation in us.
As time marches relentlessly on, remembering Him means the following things.
- He is the Creator and Source of life: We will find meaning nowhere else.
- He is the One Constant in a world of variables: He is our source of Truth and Guidance
- He is the Creator who re-creates us through Christ so that we are not bound to the past!
Remembering Him means that we walk with Him through the highs and lows of life and have His comforting guidance and perspective for each moment of time.