Disciplining our time

                                                                                          Time waits for no man – Jenny Brereton

We are living in an age where there are a multitude of distractions that would compete for our time. When I was a young boy most people did not possess a TV set and we entertained ourselves with very simple pleasures such as reading, listening to the radio, going to the pictures, and occasionally visiting relatives and friends to play games or sing together around the piano. Today in the UK, however, we have a bewildering amount of entertainment available to us, including something like 200 channels to choose from on Sky TV and even on the Christian channels there are now some 12 channels to choose from. Whereas the TV stations at one time would start at about 5.00pm and close down at around 11.00pm, most channels today are on the air for 24 hours a day. One of the easiest things in the world today, therefore, is to sit in front of the TV set any time of the day or night and scroll through the many choices that are available to us, and we will almost certainly find something that will entertain us, particularly after a hard day at work and we are just wanting to unwind. There are perhaps times when this is necessary but after we watch one programme something else will come on and then we will feel uninclined to rouse ourselves to do anything else and so our whole evening can so easily be taken up with just watching television with nothing achieved. And so we can go on with our life, achieving so little and all that is required of us is that we apply a little discipline in our life and watch how we are using our time. This is just one example of the many areas in our life where we can waste so much time in our life and if we are not careful we will go through our life and reach its end with nothing to show for it. Here are some of the areas that I believe can be the greatest time wasters in our life: -

1. Relaxation

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a vagabond, and want like an armed man. Proverbs 6:10

As stated previously there are times when we do need to relax and unwind and build up our strength, but we do need to be disciplined in doing it and make up our minds beforehand how long we really need to do this. If we don't we will surely become less and less inclined to rouse ourselves from our place of rest and before we know where we are more hours of our time have been wasted in the process. I think that relaxation is one of the biggest time killers that we have. In our churches today our midweek meetings such as prayer meetings and bible studies are not nearly as well attended as they used to be. When people are asked what they were doing they will probably say something like 'they were tired' but what invariably happens is that they have sat down to relax and a soap or sporting event or something similar has come on and they have got caught up with that. They just didn't have the inclination to rouse themselves and make the effort to go out of the doors to the meeting. Sometimes just a little exertion is required to get ourselves going. By rousing ourselves for example to go to a prayer meeting can very often re-energise us for as the scripture says "they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles etc (Isaiah 40:31). Sadly though, people these days so often go by their feelings and not by their convictions - "I don't really feel like doing this or that" and so nothing gets done. People who achieve things in this life are not people who live by their feelings but are people who motivate themselves to do things. An author once said to Winston Churchill that he never wrote unless the mood came upon him, but he replied to him that he would never achieve anything if he did so. "Lock yourself in your study from nine to one and make yourself write" he said. "Prod yourself, kick yourself, because this is the only way." Jesus said that if your hand or eye offend you, cut it off and throw it away (Mathew 5:29). This of course was not to be taken literally, but he was really referring to those things in our life that cause us to stumble. If such distractions are the cause of our stumbling or non-achievement, I think that we should seriously consider dispensing with them altogether rather than allowing them to have such a negative effect on our life. As Jenny Brereton says, once we have lost time it is written off at the end of the day and can never be replaced. We should value each day as a precious gift.

2. Dreaming of the future

Do not boast about tomorrow for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1

Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Mathew 6:34

I never think of the future, it comes soon enough - Albert Einstein

So many of us dream of the future, or are forever thinking of the better days that lie ahead. We do not like to dwell on the present because our lives are drab and full of problems and difficulties. We are forever planning for the future when things will be a lot better. Our mortgage perhaps will be paid off, we will be better off financially, or our children will be grown up and we will have much greater freedom. Or maybe we will have all our exams out of the way and will have so much more free time to do what we really want to do. It is a problem with many of us that we are dreaming of a time in our life when things will be a lot better than they are now. This, however, does present us with a number of problems. Firstly, we are wasting our life away by continually looking forward to sometime in the future when we believe things will be better than what they presently are and we can go all through our life like that. Secondly, we are not able to take into account all the unforeseen things that will happen between now and then, i.e. illness, redundancy and sometimes sadly bereavement or divorce. Sometimes people have their future mapped out with great detail. In James 4:13, however, James challenges people who plan in this way and says that we do not know about tomorrow and that such people are really boasting in their arrogance and that such arrogance is evil. As Jesus says in Mathew 6:34 "let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day." This is the right and proper way to treat our

time. It really is in vain to dwell too much on the future because there are too many unknowns and uncertainties.

3. Dwelling on the past

Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

Philippians 3:13

Let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do.

1 Peter 4: 3

Many of us are guilty of dwelling on the events of the past, particularly older people who like to dwell on the "good old days." In some ways the older days were good and I would like to see some of the values that were held dear then, with us today. It is also sometimes lovely to remember times past when our parents were still alive or other loved ones who are no longer with us. I often think of my spiritual mentors from the days of my early Christian life and wish they were with us today and seek their godly advice. All those things are okay but sometimes they can become a problem area in our life. For example, continually dwelling on past mistakes or missed opportunities or forever speaking of the "good old days" when things, as we perceive it, were so much better. These things can give us a great deal of comfort inasmuch as they take us out of the present day harsh realities of life and lock us into the world of the past. We can sometimes find ourselves dwelling on thoughts of what would have happened if we hadn't made that mistake or if we had taken up some missed opportunity, how different things would have become. These things, however, are not healthy and they are certainly great time wasters. The past has gone and there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it. "Yesterday is history," quotes Jenny Brereton, and that is where it all belongs. Somebody also once said, "Thank God for days of old; but don’t live in them." In the scripture quoted from 1 Peter 4:3 Peter is exhorting his readers to completely lay aside all thought of their past life and move forward to occupying thoughts of their new life in Christ. Similarly the apostle Paul in a personal testimony speaks of his forgetting what lies behind i.e. his past attainments in life and straining forward toward to what lay ahead in his life. Paul did not waste time dwelling on his past achievements or regrets (he was partly responsible for the murder of Stephen) but put them all behind him and moved forward to what lay ahead in his life.

4. Procrastination

Now is the acceptable time…now is the day of Salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:2

Procrastination is the thief of time - Edward Young

The biggest thief of time as quoted above by Edward Young is procrastination. The Anglican martyr Junani Luwum whose life was in constant danger from Idi Amin, the brutal Ugandan dictator, and who

was eventually killed by him, once said "I live as though there will be no tomorrow. While the opportunity is there, I preach the gospel with all my might." In his case he didn't know if he had a tomorrow and the day came when he didn't and from what he said above I don't think that he died with any regrets. As we saw previously we do not know about tomorrow so we should always be careful about putting off things till another day, because the opportunity may not exist then. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians..."now is the acceptable time…now is the day of salvation." There is an inbuilt tendency in some of us to continually put things off that we should be doing now, until a more convenient time. How many of us, for example, did not spend the proper amount of time studying for exams and then at the last minute crammed everything into our brains. This applies particularly to things that we don't like doing and we have a job facing up to what is required of us. By putting it off to another day it seems a lot less threatening to us than what it does at the present time. But of course when the day arrives the dislike or fear of it is just as strong and we then put it off even further until sometimes we are forced into doing it, or we miss out on it altogether. With regard to the gospel, the scripture in 2 Corinthians is particularly relevant because the acceptable time is always now and like the young man who was killed on a motorcycle it is vital that we do not delay in such matters but seek God whilst there is time. The same applies to God's calling on our life. If it involves something we don't like doing we sometimes have a tendency to try and put off the day of decision. God is gracious and will often give us time to respond to his call, but there may come a time when the opportunity is no longer there. I remember an old lady that I used to know by the name of Mrs Lally who seemed to me to be a rather sad person. She confided in me once that God had called her to be a missionary when she was a young girl, but that she was disobedient.

Instead she settled down to married life, had a family and the calling became increasingly distant. Eventually it was far too late to do anything about it and I feel that this was the reason for her sadness. I cannot imagine anything more awful for a Christian than that, so I think that this should be a warning to each one of us not to put off what God is calling us to do today, because the day may come when the opportunity will no longer be there for us.

5. Indiscipline in prayer

Lack of discipline in our times of prayer can also be a great time waster. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul says, "take every thought captive to obey Christ." How many of us at times when we seek to pray suffer from wondering thoughts. When we should be praying we find ourselves dwelling on all the activities of our life, what we did yesterday, all the conversations we had, all that we are proposing to do today, planning everything in our mind, etc. This is the activity of an undisciplined mind, and before we know where we are the time we have set apart to pray has almost expired and we have to rush through the last few minutes to pray all we are wishing to pray. The same can also apply when we are seeking to read God’s word or to meditate on the truths of His word. I think that Paul was well aware of this problem and hence his word of exhortation to bring our thoughts into captivity to Christ.

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