The new birth doesn’t only effect a change of mind; it creates new desires for holiness and good works (Titus 2:14). Before our conversion, we gave little to no thought of how we might serve Christ and be spiritually useful to others. Now, however, we desire to serve the Lord with zeal (Rom 12:11) and make the most of our time for the glory of God (Eph 5:15-16).
Doing Too Much
Soon after I was converted, I transferred from a college in Portland, Oregon to the Master’s College in Southern California. As soon as I arrived on campus, I encountered a wide array of opportunities to serve Jesus and his people. Being a brand new Christian with little discernment and even less wisdom, I quickly embraced several opportunities that crossed my path.
Within the first semester I was taking 18 units of Bible and theology, playing drums for my church’s college group, running cross-country, volunteering for street evangelism and local mission trips, going to weekly Bible studies, and seeking positions of leadership in my dorm. I was serious.
Yet, for all my good intentions, this pursuit of ministry productivity soon came to a crashing halt. I eventually stepped away from most of my ministry posts and even took a semester off of school because I was spiritually exhausted. Happily, after a semester at home I re-enrolled and finished my degree the following year.
My penchant for productivity, however, didn’t subside, and it would continue to trip me up periodically from that point on. Historically, it has been easy for me to take on too much and not give adequate thought to matters of gifting and priority. By God’s grace and the admonition of my wife and friends, I’ve made progress in this area, but I still need regular reminders to do what is most important.
Reckon with Your Limits
Here’s the hard truth: we have a limited amount of time each week—168 hours to be exact. This time constraint means that we can only accomplish a limited amount of tasks in our limited amount of time. To put it more starkly: we can’t do everything no matter how badly we might want to. Indeed, we are only able to do a handful of tasks each week, and only a few of those tasks will we be able to do well.
Which brings us to the matter of priorities. Actually, the plural of priority (priorities) is a linguistic Trojan Horse: it sneaks something into your thinking that subverts the very concept you are trying to embrace. How so? Because, by definition, there can only be one priority: that which takes precedent over everything else. Priorities implies that we have several items that can take precedent over everything else; but who determines which among those gets the highest rank. Moreover, leaving the door open for unlimited priorities renders pointless the idea of a ranking our tasks. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.
What’s the answer to our dilemma? The answer is to open God’s Word and do the painful work of determining what is most important in our lives and start trimming away that which is not as important. Yes, we will have to say “no” to some good things, but saying “no” to some good things will enable us to say “yes” to the best things. Consider Paul’s admonition in Ephesians:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (ESV).Ephesians 5:15-16
Notice that Paul doesn’t say make good use of the time, but make the best use of the time. In this case the ESV translates well the word that is translated in the KJV as “redeem the time.” The idea is that time is precious and therefore it cannot be lost by failing to do what is most important.
That is why he follows his instruction in verse 15 with the strong exhortation, “Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (emphasis added). It is folly to attempt to accomplish ten good things when you really only have the time, opportunity, and energy to accomplish three excellent things.
Practically, then, the application of Paul’s exhortation may mean that every morning we wake up and plan our day, we ask God for the wisdom and courage to do what is most important. We embrace our finite skills, finite resources, and finite time, and we yield to God’s Word to help us determine what should take precedent that day and that week. Wisdom will help us identify what is most important; courage will enable us to maintain our course as other potential opportunities present themselves.
I am confident that as we yield to God in this area of “priority management,” we will regularly lay our heads on our pillows at night with a good conscience and the satisfaction of a job well done. Such blessings are the fruit of yielding to our status as finite creatures and humbly embracing what’s most important (Ps 127:2).
So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.