The World Today
The most valuable asset in our lives is not money, but time. Money is a renewable resource. We make money, we spend money, and we make more money. Time, however, is seconds that you never get back. You can’t wish them back, you can’t earn them back, it is simply life as we know it ticking away right now! Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock! Aren’t you glad you came to church today to hear such encouraging words? I bet you’re thinking that this message better be getting better soon!
We’re obsessed with time. How many times each day do you check the time? It’s easy to do. You have a watch on your wrist, a cellphone, a clock on the dash of your car, a clock in virtually every room you may enter in virtually every public place. I can stand in the kitchen of my house and count no fewer than three displays that show me what time it is without ever looking at my watch or my phone. I’m willing to bet that some of you will look at your watch or phone at least once during this message to see how I’m doing on time!
We lose track of it when we’re reading a good book or enjoying a lively conversation. We’ll excuse ourselves, saying, “I’ve lost track of time,” as we ask ourselves or others, “what time is it?” It’s been said it’s the single most asked question in all of history. The better question, especially right now is, “Am I making the most of my time?” Time. It’s so valuable; are you making the most of it? How do you know that you are?
In Ecclesiastes, on 32 separate occasions, Solomon uses the word “time” as he offers some amazing advice on how to make the most, or better use, of it. At the end of his life, with a noticeable tone of cynicism, he reflects on doing things he shouldn’t have, “I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 1:12-13, NIV). Of all the things he’s done in his life, he says that they are, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV). When we jump ahead to verse 14 of that chapter, we realize that Solomon is throwing life as we know it “under the bus,” “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14, NIV).
I truly believe that in a curious way, through his obvious cynicism, Solomon is trying to motivate the reader with a key phrase that all of us probably missed in our first look at that verse. Let’s take another look, with the highlighting of another phrase, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14, NIV). In these opening verses of Ecclesiastes, Solomon is making it quite clear that he feels that he has experienced everything humanly possible. With more than 300 wives and more than 700 concubines, I’d say that he was off to a good start in that area of his life. In other words, he is saying that in everything he has done, there’s something missing.
It’s somewhat understandable, but equally curious, that he uses the phrase “under the sun” 29 times. I believe it is literally the key to all he is writing about in Ecclesiastes, asking of himself and the reader, of all the things I’ve done “under the sun,” is this all there is to life? In our world today, you take your first breath, you grow up, go to school, get a job, work hard, marry, have kids come along, buy your dream car, one day you retire, and out of nowhere, life is done and you die – is that it? In all of this, Solomon is baiting us, unpacking the ways we can make the most of our time. In this context, as we together look at portions of chapter 3 this morning, I want us to first look at the point Solomon is trying to make in this chapter, his big idea. Then we’ll look at three thoughts through which Solomon directs us in ways we can make the most of our time.
Solomon’s Big Idea: When you see time the way God sees time, only then will you make the most of your time.
The Word Revealed
So, what is God’s design for making the most of our time: We are to Be present. Accept the fact that God has a purpose for both the good and the bad times in life. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV). In verses 2-8 of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon lays out the fourteen seasons that we all go through in our life. A bit of music trivia is the fact that those verses and the seasons of life of which they speak are listed verbatim in the lyrics of the 1965 hit single by The Byrds entitled, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The reality for us this morning is that all of us, at this very moment, are somewhere on that list. The negative side of that reality is that, in the confusion and despair we sometimes feel as it relates to time is captured in our expression, “I just need more time!”
We don’t need more time. We need to be present more of the time. All of us can remember those times in our lives when we felt we weren’t as present with our spouse, our children, and our family as we should have been. Times when an uncompleted task from work seemed more critical than helping prepare the evening meal, a time to share with the person you vowed to love and to cherish. Times when watching your favorite television show was more pressing that reading to the little ones as they snuggled in your lap or saying prayers at bedtime. Times when your Saturday morning golf or fishing outing seemed to be more important than watching your kids play in a youth sports event. Times when you chose what you wanted to do rather than what others needed you to do.
Whether we’re talking about our 20-something-year-old self or our current-day self, we need to understand that God has a purpose for our life, regardless of the season. Solomon asks, “But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does” (Ecclesiastes 3:9, MSG)? We can’t control the passing of time. Does it really make a difference what we do with our time? The unstoppable passing of time and all that can happen to us in the course of its passing seems like such a burden. Solomon says, “I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race” (Ecclesiastes 3:10, NIV). People getting sick, a company downsizing, the experience the losing a loved one; they are all so hard to bear. In the midst of the resulting misery that we bear, Solomon drops an amazing truth of God squarely in our lap, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a). The term we translate as beautiful in this passage has multiple meanings in the original Hebrew. It can also mean appropriate or fitting. So, we read that passage as saying that while God has made everything appropriate and fitting, He’s also made it beautiful, in its time. So, in our season of anguish and despair, we want to ask God why? Solomon points out that the more appropriate response is to –
Be grateful. Don’t waste a season of your life just because you don’t understand what God is doing. How are we to be grateful amid anguish and despair? How can God allow what is happening to us? How can a good God allow pain and suffering? I have an answer for all of those questions, but not today. To know the answers, you’ll have to come back next Sunday. Yes, on Mother’s Day, we’ll look at the uncomfortable and probably the question I’m asked the most, especially by unbelievers – “How Can a Good God Allow So Much Pain and Suffering?” I promise that there is a Mother’s Day connection to the answer. So, bring your mother, bring a friend, bring your friend’s mother, bring everyone you can for this is likely a question everyone has asked at one point in their lives. But, for now,
Our job is not to always understand God, but to trust his timing. Consider this tidbit of Solomon’s wisdom, “He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b). Remember how the first half of this verse spoke of God making everything beautiful? Now, He goes on to say that He has set eternity in the human heart! My understanding is that Solomon is referring to God placing the longing for eternity within the human heart – that void in our hearts that is oftentimes referred to as “the God space.” It’s a place that only God can fill in our lives, a place where we try to cram everything else “under the sun.” It’s a space where nothing other than God can fit, a space uniquely created for Him. God wants us to embrace an understanding that what we are experiencing now, in our lives today, is just a moment in the context of eternity. Beyond now, there is so much more going on than we can ever fathom. The third and final point that we should glean from this pivotal chapter in Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s admonition to –
Be generous. Invest your time in doing good, and you will be more satisfied with your time. “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:12, NIV). Solomon’s words are not just some biblical platitude. They are backed up by modern-day research. In my hand, I’m holding a research article from the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The opening paragraph reads, “Despite medical advances that have lengthened the human life span and technological innovations that have automated many chores, Americans report feeling more time constrained than ever. Many, in fact, perceive themselves as victims of a “time famine” – having too much to do and not enough time to do it.”
Having too much to do and not enough time to do it – sounds like they’re describing my life. How about yours? The title of this research article – and I promise I’m not making this up – is “Giving Time Gives You Time.” You can find it not only in that obscure journal, but also in references to it in the Wall Street Journal and a variety of other mainline publications. The premise of the article is that, in a world where we complain that we have “too much to do,” feelings of having more time, more satisfying time, is realized in the lives of those who give up time in service to others. It points to the reality that –
We don’t need to expand our time. We need to narrow our priorities. Bonnie Ware, author of the best-selling book entitled Five Regrets of Dying, speaks of the time she spent with thousands of patients experiencing the final weeks of their lives during her career as a Hospice nurse. In conversation with them, she would ask what regrets they had in their life. She chronicles the five most common replies in her book. The number one reply to her question was, “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself and my values, not the life others expected of me.” Let’s not forget that Solomon was thought to be the wisest man on earth of his time. So, at the end of his life, he’s reflecting upon it, the reality of how important and how precious time is, and asking of the reader, of us, what are we doing with our time? Are you making the most of your time?
Time. How are you doing with it? Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock! Are you finding that you’re feeling guilty about the time you’ve wasted in the past? Don’t! That’s a huge mistake! You must accept that you can’t get it back, it’s done, forget it, it’s gone! The only thing that matters in this moment, right now in this very moment as God might be speaking to you, is to ask of yourself what you are going to do today, going forward from this very moment, with your time?
Our Take Away this week is really quite simple as it asks you to do one small task. Give 1 hour of your time away to someone who needs it. Take a step, try to practice the idea that Solomon suggests of finding satisfaction with your time and your use of it by being happy and doing good. Take just 1 hour this week and invest it in the life of someone who needs it. It can be a neighbor, a family member, a church family member, an acquaintance, or a stranger. What is Solomon asking you to do? What am I asking you to do? To consider how you plan to make the most of your time from this moment forward. To Be present (all the time), to Be grateful (no matter what season of life you’re going through), to Be generous (in the giving of your time, recognizing the satisfaction it affords).
The only way to do these is to never forget to see time the way God sees time. Not just here and now, but in the perspective of the eternity that is at stake for countless others. Right now, in our community, there are those who desperately need to know Jesus. How are we using our time to reach them? It only takes 1 hour to make an eternal difference in one person’s life. But, it will never happen until we see time the way God sees time, when we’re willing to make the most of our time.