When Jesus told the rich young ruler to give up all of his possessions (Luke 18), He wasn’t making a blanket command that every person who follows Him has to sell everything. He was picking out the one thing He knew stood between the ruler and true discipleship, and He was forcing the man to choose. When the rich young ruler sided with his wealth, Jesus turned Him away.
Though perhaps not as directly, Jesus offers that same challenge to us. He knows what is the biggest obstacle standing between each of us and our full commitment to following Him, and He wants to make us choose which option we will give our lives to. In 2018, the one that may be the biggest obstacle to the most people is our time. We are busier than we’ve ever been, and even in those moments where we aren’t busy we instinctively turn to our social media apps to occupy that time as well.
To be a “living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), though, means there will be costs. David’s example in 2 Samuel 24:24 should be our template for giving – “I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing.” We preach sermons telling people this about their money. “Give ’til it hurts,” the old saying goes, and it’s fair to ask people to be sacrificial with how they give their money. There’s also an aspect of consideration to our financial giving. It’s not randomly putting in what we have in our pockets when the plate goes by, but setting aside something out of what we’ve been prospered. We often say that Christians who give without consideration or sacrifice are robbing God, and it’s true.
Since we live in a society where our natural tendency is to be as protective of our time as possible, that tells us how highly we value it. So, it’s important that we handle our time much like we handle our money, being both sacrificial in our giving and intentional in planning how we spend it.
In calling for Christians to spend more time together (in the footsteps of Acts 2:41-47), I’ve been told by some that it’s unfair and unreasonable to expect people to make time beyond Sunday and Wednesday gatherings. Some feel that the 4 hours per week in the church building is more than enough. That attitude can stem from the checklist Christianity ideology, that we attend a couple of times and try to read and pray if we get a chance, and our Christian duty is done for the week.
It also has a basis in the idea that the bulk of Christian duty is the preacher’s job, that most Christians are too busy to visit, be hospitable, disciple, evangelize, etc., so we pay somebody to take care of all of that. But, remember, Jesus calls us to give where it hurts. He calls us to look at the one thing that would be the hardest for us to give up in order to follow Him and make a decision.
Obviously there are limits on how much time we can give. We have to work, and family time is important. But I think we have a lot more time than we tell ourselves we do. The typical 3 Sunday gatherings plus Wednesday night comes to about 4 hours per week, plus the added time of getting ready and making the drive. Let’s be incredibly generous and call prep and drive time 4 hours, bringing our total to 8. The average football game takes 3 hours, so if you watch your college team on Saturday and your NFL team on Sunday, that comes to 6 hours. Not a football fan? That doesn’t change things too much, as the average American watches 8 hours of TV per week. The average American also spends 2 hours per day on social media, so that’s another 14 hours in the week. The point is, we have time for the things for which we make the time, and our church commitment is often dwarfed by our commitments to other hobbies and interests.
Sacrifice and consideration. Those two factors must govern our use of time. Knowing God is faithful to bless those who serve Him and always makes it worth our while, how can I make sacrifices in my time each week? And, knowing that time easily gets away from us when it’s not planned, what specific time can I use for God this week?
Would we be willing to cut back on commitments? I know youth sports and other kids’ activities can take up every spare minute in a week if we let them. For others it might be weekend yard work or other hobbies. But if they preclude family time spent around the Word, or time spent carrying out the “one another” commands, maybe it’s time to look for ways to cut back. We serve a God who rewards those who diligently seek Him in faith (Hebrews 11:6). Cutting back might hurt or be undesirable at first, but we do so with the full knowledge that God will bless and reward our time. No one has ever regretted putting Him first.
Would you be willing to wake up 20-30 minutes earlier for Bible and prayer time if you’re having trouble squeezing it into your day? As the world’s worst morning person, this is my struggle. But I know that God deserves that time, and it’s not right if I put off my personal time with Him until right before I go to sleep at night and my mind is drifting. Our days are busy, yes, but no Christian should be going through a day without spending time with the Father.
Would you set aside one block of time per week for ministering? Maybe it’s a discipleship group, or a men’s or women’s study in a home with some fellow Christians. Maybe it’s a time set aside for visiting, or inviting fellow Christians into your home. Whatever form it takes, our Christian duties to each other have to extend beyond seeing each other briefly on Sunday and Wednesday.
Church leaders, would your church be willing to be accommodating of peoples’ time constraints? Sometimes there can be too much going on at the building, and it burns people out and makes them more protective of whatever spare time they have. It can also add to the checklist mentality, just providing a longer list. And, if we’re constantly trying to keep members busy at the building, there’s a good chance we aren’t sending them out. If your church calendar is packed, consider cutting back a bit on building-centric events and encourage – and especially equip – folks to connect with each other more organically.
Bottom line – would we be willing to sacrifice some comfort? I love nights spent at home with my wife and daughter, or nights where we get a chance to go out to eat together. Those are needed times. I love my hobbies and interests, and there’s nothing wrong with making some time for those. But I can’t spend all of my non-work time that way and be pleasing to God. He is worthy of the most valuable offering we can give, and nothing is more valuable than our time. Let’s make it our goal to find some spare time for God in our days and in our weeks.