Scripture Reference: Ephesians 5:8-21
Managing Our TimeDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | April 30, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
Time is a limited commodity. We might be surprised at how much time we waste.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer shows us how our time is best spent. He also points out some things that may be distractions in our way. It’s time to walk in step with the Holy Spirit, and redeem the time.
Let’s visualize for a moment that each day your bank account was filled with $1,440, and then at end of the day it vanishes. You don’t use it; it’s gone. The next day it’s filled again with $1,440. How would you respond to that? You’d have several options, wouldn’t you? One would be to say, “Well, I’ll just let the money accumulate, and since it doesn’t accumulate I’ll just let it vanish,” and day-by-day go on and waste it. Well, a few of us would do that. The other temptation would be to spend it frivolously, to say, “Well, it’s there. I might as well spend it. It’s going to be gone. It doesn’t much matter how I spend it. Just as long as it gets spent! That’s all that matters. Others, perhaps wiser, would say, “Let me budget this money and let me figure out how I can best use it, not only for this life, but also for the life to come.”
Now you realize, of course, that God gives to you and to me 1,440 minutes of every day. Once those minutes are gone we cannot recapture them. We cannot have them back. They are gone forever, and not even God can give them back to us. The question is, how do we use those moments?
This is the conclusion of a series of messages on the topic of Managing God’s Gifts, and today we talk about that miraculous, wonderful gift that we call time. Now there are some people who are what we could say lazy and disorganized. We’ve all met people who do not return their phone calls, unless of course, their own livelihood is dependent upon them, and people whose lives accomplish little because they have few goals except possibly to earn a living. Now imagine standing before God someday and He says, “What did you do for me?” and all that you can say is, “I earned a living.” I hope that you can say more than that. I hope I can say more than that.
There are other people who are what we could call frantically disorganized. I read a story about a farmer who was telling his wife that he was going to do some plowing, but the tractor needed oil so he went to the shop. On the way he noticed the pigs weren’t fed, so he went to the corncrib. The sacks of corn reminded him that the potatoes were sprouting. On the way to the potato pit he passed the woodpile and remembered that his wife wanted wood. By the time he picked up a few sticks, an ailing chicken walked by so he went to check on the chickens.
Well, you know this could go on for a while. At the end of the day you know what happened. He had not plowed a field. He was frantically disorganized. He was not lazy – just disorganized. People like this sometimes don’t really have priorities because everything to them is on an equal priority. If you have ever worked with people like that, you know how interesting it can get.
And then there’s the third kind of person (catch this now) – the frantically organized. Those are the kinds of people who cannot do “C” until they have done “B” and they cannot do “B” until they have done “A.” Everything is mapped out. Their whole life is basically planned. They miss one turn in a revolving door and they need some Alka-Seltzer. And as far as they are concerned, one little thing and it can disorganize their whole structure. They are frantically organized.
Well, there may be other categories as well, but I want you to know today that all of us, and I speak now to myself and primarily this message is for me, have wasted an awful lot of time for which we are going to have to give an account to God. Now maybe you think that I haven’t wasted my time, but I want you to know that I have, and I know that I’ve wasted a lot of time. And possibly you would admit in the depths of your soul that you’ve wasted a lot of time as well.
Now sometimes, of course, we waste time and it’s our fault. Sometimes it may be the fault of someone else. I read this week that the average person who lives to the age of 70 spends three years waiting for somebody else. Now you think about that a bit. Even during those times of waiting there are things you can do. You can always talk to God, but how easy it is to let time pass through our fingers.
I want to make you a promise today. We’re going to look into God’s Word, and after we have looked into the text of Scripture, and we have seen what God has to say about time, I believe that if we follow the principles that I am going to give you at the end of this message, that you and I will find that we will be different people a year from now, two years from now, and especially five years from now. We can be changed if we use our time wisely.
Well, the text is Ephesians 5, and you might be surprised where I am beginning. We might not expect that a message on time management would begin at verse 8. But I think that unless we understand the context, we’ll not feel the full force of what the Apostle Paul is trying to say about our time, and so I begin in verse 8 and say first that we must understand our time. We must understand how desperate our times are.
“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when the light exposes anything, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”
We must understand our times. Paul uses the rich imagery of light and darkness to help us see what’s going on in the world. And I want you to know he doesn’t just say, “There was a time when you lived in darkness, but now you live in light.” That would be fine to say, but this is much more powerful. He says, “You were darkness but now you are light.” Paul is saying, and he’s speaking to believers, as I am this morning, at least in this part of the message, that if you are a Christian you were darkness, but God changed you into light. It’s more than just your environment changing. You have changed! And then he says, “Notice what happens in darkness.”
“For the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true (And this is where the contrast now comes in), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Paul is saying that we are children of light, and therefore we should show up the darkness. We must be candles in that cave. And that’s what some of you are at work, aren’t you, living in an environment that is sinful, that is filled with the fruitless deeds of darkness? And you are trying to represent Christ there, and that’s exactly what God has called you to do because you are light.
If you want to know what is happening in today’s world, all that you need to do is to channel surf on your television set. What you will discover is immorality, violence, impurity of all kinds and occultism. That’s where our world is. There’s a whole underbelly, if I can use that word, to the world, with all of its debauchery and all of its sin and all of its hopelessness, and we are called to be a part of that society most assuredly. But Paul says, “Have nothing to do with these fruitless deeds of darkness.”
Could I ask you? Do you have something to do with those fruitless deeds of darkness? Is that a part of your experience? Is it a part of your life? Have you become involved in it? And how easy it is to do that today. It used to be that people had to go looking for temptation. Today temptation comes and seeks us out. It pursues us. We find it at every turn, every opportunity, whether it is the Internet or movies or that television set. Somehow the world has just crashed in upon us and there we are. Paul says, “Have nothing to do with those deeds.”
This past week someone asked me a question. He was actually from a huge country, a country that is larger than the United States land-wise that is north of us. And it’s a good country too. He asked me a question. He said, “Would you give me an evaluation of the church in America?” I’m really not qualified to do that quite frankly because my vision is somewhat narrow here in Chicago, at Moody Church and so forth. But I said, “I want to say two things to you. First, there are some positive things happening. There is no question that the prayer movement, for example, happens all over the country. People are getting together for prayer. You find that there is unity among pastors that I know that we never had in the city of Chicago here 20 years ago. There is a coming together. There is a sense of oneness that is taking place. And people are being saved, and the Gospel is being preached. And opportunities are being given, and for that we are grateful. But the negative part is this. We have not been able to stem the moral and the spiritual slide of our country.
We simply have not been able to put on the brakes. And I don’t know all the reasons why, but maybe one reason is because we as believers, being in the world, have become so much a part of the world that the unfruitful deeds of darkness that are bombarding us, we have become a part of and therefore our light has been dimmed and we are not what we should be in society. We’ve rationalized and become a part of the world.
You’ll notice Paul says that we should live with goodness and righteousness and truth, and find out what pleases the Lord. I was thinking to myself that in Bible classes in seminary we have many different courses on theology and church history and church administration. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a course entitled Finding Out What Pleases the Lord and then doing it? That’s what Paul says we should do. He says, “It is shameful to mention these secret things that are done.” And then he says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Some people say he is talking about the unsaved because we are not dead; we are alive if we are believers. But maybe the Apostle Paul is using this language to speak to us as believers, and saying to us in the clearest possible language, “You are asleep. You are no longer light in the Lord the way you should be, and therefore, wake up. Wake up!”
You see the times in which we live we see society with its debauchery and with its betrayal, and with its rampant sexuality, and with its seductiveness, and with all of the things that are pushing upon us, and Paul would say to us as a church today (to me and to you), “Wake up. Understand your times.”
Well, let me give you now the second principle, and now we’ll finally be able to understand it I think with greater force. He says, “Redeem the time.” Well, let’s read the text. Verse 15: “Look carefully then how you walk (live).”
And here I like the King James Version of the Bible. I know that it is cumbersome sometimes and that’s why we use a different translation, but the King James, which I memorized many years ago, says: “Walk circumspectly.” Here it says very carefully. Circumspectly means that you walk in such a way that your eyes are really all about you. If you could possibly have eyes at the back of your head you would because you know that your enemy, Satan, and the flesh within is trying to destroy you. It’s trying to ruin your fellowship with Christ. It is trying to come between you and the sensitivity of the Holy Spirit.
When we were in Mexico I remember seeing these large walls that were built in order to keep in various compounds or various homes and houses because of theft. They were well-guarded, and some of those walls were perhaps 10 feet high, made around a house, and then on top, as the concrete was being poured, they put many bits and pieces of broken bottles and glass to discourage people from going over the wall. But you know that cats walk on the top of those walls, but they work circumspectly, one foot there, one foot there, and one foot there. They don’t want to be cut.
Listen to me carefully. It is possible for you and for me to make one decision in a moment of time that will bring a lifetime of heartache because we’ve not been circumspect. Walk carefully. There’s a devil out there that hates you and wants to destroy you.
And he says then, “Walk wisely, not as the unwise.” They are the ones that just go across the broken glass. They are the ones who kick the traces. They are the ones who say, “Well, it doesn’t matter how I live. No matter what God says I’m doing my thing.” Don’t be unwise like that.
And then he says (and this is our word now), “Redeem the time.” My translation says, “Make the most of every opportunity.” I want to use the word redeem. I’ll tell you why. It’s because it’s in the Greek text. In Greek the word agorazō means to redeem. That is, you go to the marketplace and you purchase something. But what Paul uses here is not just the word agorazō. He uses the preposition ec or ex and we see that, for example when we have an exit, which means out of. exagorazō means to redeem the time, to buy it out of the marketplace. What are we to buy it out of? To buy it out of the bondage of evil! Time must be carved out of the bondage of evil that he has just been talking about.
What do we carve time out of? My dear friend, many people somehow know that you’ll never become a professional baseball player unless you practice. You will never become a vocalist unless you practice. You’ll never be a pianist unless you practice. But many people think that they are just going to be godly without any disciplines of life, without any time management, that somehow it will just happen. They want to be holy in a hurry, but it does take time to be holy, and it will never happen unless you carve time out of such things as individual pleasures. And here we can refer again to things that sap our time so much like television, like the Internet with all of its absorption and all of its fascination where people sit hour after hour after hour after hour.
It can even be good things like sports or the news. I could very easily be “a news junky.” But it dawned on me the other day, particularly because I had been home in recent weeks, that I am getting just absolutely sick of the news. For one thing I’ve discovered that it’s not news at all. All that it is, is the same old thing happening to different people. That’s what the news is.
What are we supposed to do? We carve out the time. We shut off the television. We shut off the Internet and all of these things, and we say to ourselves that we must buy the time out of all of the bondages and the distractions and the things of this world - not only out of personal pleasures, but also out of such things as personal responsibilities where we say there are some things I have to do, but there are some things I don’t have to do, and God is going to come first. If we don’t seize the time, it won’t happen. The time will get away from us and it will be gone. Why? It’s because Paul says, “The days are evil.” Do you believe that these days are evil? If they are, redeem the time.
Understand our times, redeem the time, and now notice – prioritize the time. It’s still all connected in Paul’s mind. We go from verse to verse sometimes not realizing that he has a sequence of thought here. In verse 17: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Paul is saying, “If you want to concentrate on those things that will really help you in your Christian life, if you want to focus on those things that really have eternal impact, then what you must do is stroke off your life those things that distract you, and he mentions wine and debauchery and drunkenness.
There is some similarity between someone who is filled with the Spirit, and someone who is drunk in this sense, that both of them are under the control of something other than themselves. But the alcoholic does things that are shameful. The Christian does things that are joyful. The alcoholic loses self-control but the Christian is fully in control because one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control, and so the contrasts are much greater than the similarities.
And the Apostle Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit,” and
then he says, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father.”
Now what I’d like to do in the next few moments is to give you five steps that you can apply that will change your life forever because there are so many people who are disorganized when it comes to spiritual matters. They are not at all in any realm of discipline. They think that somehow spirituality is going to happen by osmosis, but it doesn’t. And the only thing between eternity and us is time. The only thing that we have to work with until we see our Lord face to face is time, so the question to you and the question to me is how are we going to use it? That’s the question.
Let me give you five steps. Number one, determine what you want to become. I’ll tell you why we have to begin there. Let’s just forget that this is a message and let’s pretend that we are talking face-to-face now over a cup of coffee in a restaurant. It’s just you and me. You’re looking into my eyes, and I’m looking into yours. I have some questions for you. Do you really want to know God? Do you want to really have a passion for God? Do you want to love God more than you love sin? Is there something within you that says, “When I stand before Jesus Christ I want to have something to be able to offer, to say that I did something productive and significant and fruitful for His glory, that I became a woman or a man of character, and a man or a woman of integrity and commitment and focus?” Do you really want to say that? I think that you do or you probably would not be here, but that’s where time management begins because, you see, if we don’t know what the goal is going to be, how can we possibly know about steps A, B and C? If we are content with our disorganization, spiritually speaking, if we are content with our lack of Bible reading, if we are content with our lack of prayer, if we are content with our lack of witnessing, well then everything else that I’ve said so far (and what I’m going to say in the next few moments) might as well not be said. So, in this first point I want to stir within you some holy discontentment, and to say, “I only have so many years. Why should I be idle? I want to use them productively for Christ.” That’s where it begins. That’s number one. Decide what you want to become.
Number two, stroke from the schedule everything that belongs to the unfruitful works of darkness. Do you understand the battle that you are going to be in? Do you understand how Satan is going to rise up and say, “No, no, no”? We’re not talking here simply about time management. We’re talking about spiritual conflict because for those who are involved in secret sins or addictions or unfruitful works of darkness, you can imagine Satan is going to say, “No, this time has been mine in the past and it will continue to be.” And so what you need to do is to say, “Oh, God, come to deliver me and take out of my schedule all those things that lead me into debauchery and out of fellowship with You.”
You know, I want to tell you that you can have a heart that is hot for God. You can have a heart that has been cleansed by God. You can come to church with a great sense of worship and expectation and leave with a sense of cleanliness and joy, and then turn on the television and watch a sensual program, and an hour later all of your passion and love for God has been drained, and there’s a cloud between you and God. So what do we have to do? We have to stroke from our lives everything that is the unfruitful works of darkness.
Number three: Now what we need to do is to add those disciplines that are honoring to God, and to realize that if we’re going to buy out the time from its evil bondage we are going to have to recognize that there will be some extra time just along there. By the way, since I’m on the topic, have you ever thought about how godly we would be if all of the time that was spent on the Internet and the television was spent in Bible reading and prayer? I mean really seriously, folks, we would glow in the dark.
So what do you do? You add the spiritual disciplines. You get yourself a devotional guide and you begin to read the Bible systematically, perhaps only a chapter or two a day. And there are many fine devotional guides that will help you along this line. And if you ever miss a day you don’t wait until January the first to get started again. You simply say, “I’ve missed a day,” or “I’ve missed two days and now I’m going to pick it up where I was and I’m going to continue,” and you calmly continue. And you begin to pray through the Scriptures, as we’ve been teaching you how, so that you can now pray with a sense of freshness and a sense of ease. And every day, as you come into the Word of God, you are saying, “What new way am I going to be able to pray for my friends and my family and for the missionaries and for The Moody Church? What new way am I going to be able to pray for them now because I’ve been reading the Word, and I’m going to be praying these Scriptures back to God?
And then you carve out time from even things that are not sinful but that you enjoy doing. And you say, “God, I love you so much I am willing to say no to something to say yes to you.” That’s really what our wives want. Those of us who are married, we know that they want not only our leftovers in terms of time. What they would like is to see us say no to something that we like to do, but to say, “I love you more than I love this activity so you come first.” That’s what God wants too. So you add those things that are pleasing to Him.
Number four: Now you sign up for some course, or you take some step that will help you in the right direction. For many of you it may be beginning to attend our Sunday school classes and bringing your children, or an Adult Bible Fellowship. It’s beginning to broaden your horizons, or perhaps volunteering for some ministry. Maybe as we think about the opportunity that we have here at the church with branch ministries, you begin to say, “I want to be involved; I want to do something that is going to get me out of my comfort zone, taking Evangelism Explosion so that I am going to learn how to witness, and so that positively I am going to have input from others in my spiritual growth because God knows how many years I have left, and soon they will be gone, and I must use the time wisely for His glory and for His honor.”
Number five: You begin today. Today is a good day to pray. Today is a very good day to be reconciled with someone that you know you should be reconciled to but you have not done it because it feels uncomfortable and you don’t want to go over those emotional upheavals. Today is a good day for you to say, “I am going to begin to turn off whatever needs to be turned off and I’m going to turn on to God, and I’m going to be in His presence until that holy passion is kindled within my life,” because you and I know that we will never, never overcome our passion for sin until we have a greater passion for Jesus, because it’s a battle of the passions so we stay there until God does all that He needs to do in our hearts.
By the way, today is also a good day to be saved. The Scripture says, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” I speak to some of you who are listening who have never transferred your trust to Christ. You have never have come to believe on Him personally, and you know that you should because you are disconnected from God. Though you admire Christ He has never become your Savior. “Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” Don’t turn away from Him when He calls.
Someone has written:
The clock of life is wound but once.
And no man has the power
To say when the hands will stop,
At late or early hour.
Now is the only time we own
To do His precious will.
Do now wait until tomorrow,
For then the clock may be still.
One thousand four hundred and forty minutes! A gift from God! How will we use it? Let’s pray.
Our Father, as we think together today, we are so thankful to You for the gift of time. We do not know when it will run out because the hourglass is running. But we ask for a sense of faithfulness and commitment until we see You face to face. Oh Father, many of us blush for shame for the many, many hours used frivolously, carelessly. And how shall we give an account for You? But that’s past! Transform us for the future, we ask, and make us all that we should be to make those changes that would bring honor to Your name.
And by the way, if you’ve never received Christ as Savior and if you are here today and you’ve never believed on Him, even now you can pray and in the quietness of your heart say, “Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I know that Jesus died for sinners, and today I transfer my trust to Him. I believe in Him and accept Him as my personal sin bearer.” Would you tell Him that?
Father, do in us that which is well pleasing in Your sight. And do not let us go until You have blessed us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.