How Christians Can Be Wise With Their Time

My six year old son recently stumbled upon a miniature notebook. He was delighted to discover that it was brand new, and even more thrilled when I told him he could keep it. He grabbed a red marker and wrote “Henry” on the front.

“What are you going to use it for?” I asked him, noting that we share the same enthusiasm for blank notebooks.

“I’m going to start my bucket list!” He found a pencil and sat down at the table.

“Do you even know what a bucket list is?” I asked, skeptical.

“It’s all the things I want to do before I die!”

I left him alone then, because he was already jotting his thoughts down. Curious, I asked him later what he had listed in his notebook. Here’s a quick sampling:

  • Swim in a lake
  • Make a scientific discovery
  • Walk the Great Wall of China
  • Blow a bubble with chewing gum
  • Go to the moon

Naturally, I was very enthusiastic about his list. As his mom, I want him to live a full, happy, and meaningful life wherever his desires take him. I’m not sure about traveling to the moon, but I have every reason to believe that he will accomplish all that he sets out to do!

Time is a God-given resource

We don’t usually think of kids as being pressured by the passing of time, but we adults are very much aware that time is a resource that is usually in short supply. As a parent, I’ve experienced how time seems to stop in some moments and how it speeds by in others. The kids’ phases and stages come and go, as do the various seasons in our own lives. But time as a resource is different than money. Although both are consumable, you can often get your money back so long as you have the receipt. There is no such opportunity when we spend our time. There is no cosmic cashier we can approach with our receipt, asking for a full refund for the time we spent:

“I really loved this month, can I live it again?”
“I made a lot of mistakes this year, I can I go back and try to do better?”
“I wasn’t fully present with this time, can I have a do-over?”
“This hour was a waste, can I get it back?”

This isn’t how time works, unfortunately. Time passes regardless of how we choose to spend it and it’s on us to make wise decisions. Our culture would have us believe that our ultimate goal should be to hustle, to be productive, to have something to show for our time. But I doubt anyone lays on their deathbed thinking how proud they are of all they accomplished.

Jesus himself only devoted three years to his ministry when he walked the earth in human form. (Why didn’t he get started sooner? Did he “waste” his twenties?) And even then, his mission wasn’t to squeeze the most out of each day. No, he focused on people. He took the time to be interrupted. He took naps. He got away to spend one-on-one time with his Father.

How to be wise with our time

When I think about my life on the micro level (What will I do with my time today?) and the macro level (How do I want to spend my life?), I long for a heart of wisdom. It brings to mind that verse in the Psalms: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 NIV). I wanted to dive deeper into this idea a bit more, so I did some digging. This is the only psalm attributed to Moses, and this is what he said:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
    Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

Moses starts out by acknowledging the eternal nature of God: He brought forth the world, and a thousand years are but a day in his sight. He goes on to highlight the brief lives of humans, filled with trouble and sorrow, and explains that death is a result of our sin. (Moses was surrounded by the disobedience and death of an entire generation of Israelites he was leading through the desert.)

The psalm shifts in verse 12. The correct response to God’s eternity and our sinful, brief lives is to turn to God for wisdom. The correct response is not to numb ourselves with pleasurable distractions, not to mindlessly consume the good things this world has to offer, not to distract ourselves with ever-present entertainment. Instead, we turn to God, acknowledging our eternal creator, asking him for wisdom, for compassion, and for his unfailing love. In the last verses, Moses prays for the future – twice! – that the favor of God would establish the work of our hands. Even though our lives on this earth will be over in a flash, the work of our hands can have long-lasting impact with the Lord.

Even though our lives on this earth will be over in a flash, the work of our hands can have long-lasting impact with the Lord.

What does it look like to take the words of this psalm to heart as a mom in the trenches? How can we make the most of our God-given time in the midst of the daily, never-ending work of motherhood? I’ve written a short book to explore the answers to this question, filled with encouragement and practical advice. If you’d like to be in the loop, get behind-the-scenes content, or just help me along in this writing journey, the best thing you can do is to sing up for my twice-a-month newsletter! I’d be grateful to have you along for the ride!

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*Feature Photo by Rachael Crowe on Unsplash

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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