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A Spiritually Balanced Life (Continued)
As a Christian grows and matures, he or she must deal with many different aspects of Christian living. There is no doubt that when a Christian begins to implement devotions, giving, serving and other Christian disciplines, he or she will face the question, “How does one manage his time and life?”
This page holds the last three of eight discussions on spiritual scheduling and planning from the alliteration of SCHEDULE: Useful, Limited, Elastic.
“U” is for useful hints in scheduling. Much has been written about our approach to the Christian life because without a Biblical mindset, one will be totally overwhelmed by simply adding further acts of service and spiritual disciplines to your schedule. Let’s think about the best way to foster growth without being burdened down. There are several things to keep in mind.
Each of us are growing. We do not expect a ten year-old to be able to handle an older person’s responsibilities. On the other hand, in a few years he should. We need to be careful not to quickly adopt another person’s schedule as if it is ideal for us. We are growing. David threw off King Saul’s armor at one point and still won the battle. Later, however, he could even manage Goliath’s sword. “There is none like it.”2 Grow step by step and not by making many major changes at once. Learn, change and make it routine. Then take another step.
We can learn a lot from others. I know I have grown slowly over the years. It would have been better if early on I had a mentor in various areas of my life. I struggled so much on my own. When my zeal was high, things were fine, but this was not always the case. When those around you inspire you, this brings great encouragement.
But when it is not the case, what do we do? Make your spiritual disciplines your special times with God. Learn from God. He will lead you. Find the purposes of each of the spiritual disciplines. It will help you to get the most from those times together with Him. I remember once when those around me were fasting for 40 days.
They would drink fruit juice and maybe eat fruits during this time. I did not join them. I don’t like going with the crowd largely because my motive might be wrong, “Do it because others do it.” I also thought of my family not seeing me for forty days (I usually see them at meals). I thought up another way to fast that was suitable to my life and focused on a special goal I had in life. This new routine has been very helpful over the years.
Inner tension & call
Each of us need to realize that our our life purpose, special gifting and training should be more and more enmeshed into our weekly or monthly schedules because it is in our long term one. There are often many stages of preparation to help us reach our final course, but all are important and necessary. Joseph had to go through many things to get him to the position that he early on dreamed of. We should always keep an eye on the question, “What did God make me for?”
Think about mothers for a moment. They have heard for a long time that they are only valuable when they make money. They seem oblivious to the government’s purpose of getting more taxes. They did not grow up caring for the family and their calling as women. They were told to focus on their careers. Many wives have to struggle a long time with the calling of motherhood because they have their ear trained to listen to the world rather than seeing God’s purposes for them. Peace will come when they accept God’s special purpose and gifting. They can learn to be content caring for a little one’s nose and not be in the limelight of a busy office.
Another form of call from God is into full-time service or tent-making. A person is faithfully serving at work and in various ministries at church. His calendar and life reflects a Spirit-filled life. But down deep, he realizes God has something else for him. It might be clear or it might not be. One needs to be particularly attentive to this inner call. God might not be moving him along right away, but He certainly is now letting this person know something about His plan for a reason. He should pay careful attention and see what the Lord wants. He need not be afraid of change. God’s timing is perfect. A man’s willingness, however, to ignore God’s timing always brings pain. The Lord’s plan is perfect.
It is these private preparations that often cause great conflict in relationships. Think of the wife who already feels neglected. She hears her husband has now accepted to be a Sunday School teacher in training. How is she going to react? It will be difficult for her. She might not have faith in God that He ￼will give her grace. She already feels so lonely. Maybe she is thinking that she needs to work extra hard (just to distance herself from the pain of this marriage relationship).
Men love challenges and can accept it on a moment. The godly man carefully discerns the iceberg effect. When I consider planning, I am not only thinking about what I would like to do but how it impacts the other things that I am doing. I must consider what I call the iceberg effect. Most of the iceberg is underwater, hidden from sight. The same is true with responsibilities. Most of our responsibilities are hidden from view.
We need to train ourselves to think about how God is looking at our situations. We need to keep all our priorities in view. If we do not prioritize what God has prioritized, then we will set up a long-term point of tension that hurts a relationship. Short-term usually is okay but long-term means that life is going to change. You might have spent time with the family on Tuesday nights, but now you need to prepare for that Sunday lesson on Tuesday night.
Many men ignore their spousal responsibilities. Maybe after an argument and agreement to pay more attention to the home, he will for the first week defer to his wife and do something special, but as the weeks progress, he violates his verbal commitment, “I will spend extra time with you at another time.” The same things happens with the Lord. We want to do a very good job on that lesson so we squeeze a little extra time preparing, and the time with God is lessened.
There are two kinds of squeezes. We just mentioned the time squeeze. There is only so much time. So when we add something, we have to take something off. The other kind of squeeze which is much more subtle but disastrous is worry. We worry we can do this or that. Our worries chase away God from our lives because we are not trusting Him. The quality of time with God greatly deteriorates.
If we in mind or in time have squeezed out our spouse, children or God, then it shows that they are not important to us. Satan easily comes in any sense of bitterness and drives the spouse and children to resentment. This is why we must not treat one aspect of our lives as not important. Each area is important, and I need to keep faithful to each one.
Sometimes we need to make a sacrifice. It might be a longtime sacrifice. I love chess. I could play it all day long. When I pastored, I realized that it had to be set aside. Chess is not bad in and of itself, but it took up valuable time. How I looked forward to computer chess when I could play without first finding a partner! But now although I have such a game on my computer, I rarely play it.
Only now after more than a decade do I have the delight in playing with one of my sons. This is because it fits into another ‘family’ priority. God will ask us to do this as we go along in life. Of course, I and you need to seriously think about what we are doing. Is it something we should give up or not?
I remember how God trained me in the area of meditation. I used to listen to a 1/2 hour or hour week day radio show. I wanted to keep up with what was going on. But then the Lord challenged me by settling a question in my heart. Do you think listening to the radio show is more important than listening to me? The answer was self obvious. A news show only tells you what is while God through His Word can tell even the future and how to solve crises. This became a deep personal struggle. I did not have time for both. I finally gave up (see the story in Abiding in Christ) that radio show and found an endless delight in further meditating in His Word. Without this time my ministry would have been much less effective.
We are not sacrificing what belongs to another but what belongs to us. Many talk about movies, sports and computer games. I virtually have given them up. I will occasionally see a movie, but it usually comes not under my interests but under the family.
When I need more time because of an expanding ministry such as a bigger family (new addition), I also need to make sacrifices. There are natural sacrifices. I sleep less. With a new baby, I remember that I had to get up one hour earlier in order to still get to church for prayer meeting with my whole family. My wife needed help, but I couldn’t give up my prayer time or message review time, much less the prayer meeting. I found out that I needed to get up one hour earlier on Sunday for the first two months to get everything done. I sacrificed my sleep. It is okay. Through it He first tested my love and dependence upon Him and then trained me to regularly get up even earlier to meet Him.
God will at times ask for us to give up sleep, but let me mention a few things about this. Giving up some sleep for a couple of months, is fine. Some of us, however, think we can neglect sleep. Sleep forms one of the largest part of our schedules. God made the darkness to cover over the earth so that we can sleep. Artificial light enables us to push ourselves beyond our limits. So do drugs like caffeine. This is not good. I find that if I for some reason been regularly taking caffeine, if I fast, then I will get a strong steady headache. This will occur until I break from its influence. Some of us joke about a cup of coffee, but we need to realize that we have weakened ourselves in these areas. We need sleep. We must adjust how we handle our time rather than chip away at our sleep time. “It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” Psalms 127:2.
Jesus at times stayed up long times at night or even all night. I do not think He had a local coffee shop nearby to do this. He had learned to have true sleep when needed, live without worry, be faithful in what He had to do and find that extra alertness to this spiritual discipline. The disciples were frazzled. They had not got to this point. They fell asleep, good intentions and all. Be careful thinking you can steal sleep to accomplish something else. If this is done on a long basis, then you will pay it back in another way.
There will always be points of contention between a man and woman. They operate differently. Even if motives are good, they approach life differently. Let me get down to real life here. Do you make time in your schedule for arguments or fights between each other? Of course you do not say, “Saturday night from 9:30 p.m. to 11:00 my wife and I will argue with each other.” Some of us could, though. It is so predictable. Saturday nights and Sunday mornings are good fight times. Put ‘fight’ with spouse on your schedule. Looking back on our lives, we will find that such things could be put there, but we don’t want them to be regular. Let me give you a better way.
Why not put in your schedules three times a week that you will talk and pray with your spouse? It does not need to be long. I have found that if I proactively learn about my wife’s concerns and share what is happening in my life, arguments can largely be put aside. I think of it like this: either put times of discussions and prayer with your spouse in your schedule or put arguments in your schedule. I spend good amounts of time with my wife talking and praying everyday. Early on in a marriage a couple should talk about Biblical topics so that they come to have one opinion.
Time is needed to talk. discuss and pray about concerns. I oftentimes do not have an answer for some difficulties brought up. We wonder how God will help us through this one. But we pray together. My wife might disagree on how I handle a certain issue. At least I can hear what she thinks is missing from my life. I then can evaluate this in my time with God, or confess my error if appropriate. This hour with my wife is not on my schedule, but it could be. It never occurred to me to put it on. If I am not on a trip, we just meet together before going to bed. Do I have sermons to prepare, people to write or talk to? Yes I do. This time with my wife is one of those life spiritual foundations I spoke earlier. It will seem crazy to take up this time when I have so many other things to do. When we maintain a good relationship with our spouse, our relationship is sweet. The same is true with the Lord.
So how does my wife think about giving a gift to a certain ministry when our finances are tight? How does she think about me leaving for several weeks on a mission trip when she is home homeschooling six children and in charge of the children’s ministry? Do I just go? What if God is leading me? What if my wife doesn’t think it is good? Do you see how we need to keep our spheres of life in balance? I go because we share one vision about service. We give because we have one heart to God’s work. It is wonderful. She did not always trust me so. She grew up believing that she had to jealousy guard her husband’s time with the family. Over the years, she has seen my love for her and attention to the family. She can now trust that in the Lord’s hand.
“U” is for useful hints. I hope these have been useful! We sacrifice our personal time, not the time with the family. If it is with other people like our spouse or in the ministry, we should seek their input and adjust things as needed.
“L” is for limiting our schedules. We must feel the constraint and pressure of a schedule if it is going to do us any good. It must push and pull us to do what we ought to do even when we do not feel like doing it. This helps maximize the efficient use of our time for which we are stewards before God. This goes for spending a time with my wife as well as preparation time for leading a Bible study.
We wish we had time to do everything good but realize there is only time enough to do some things well. Did you ever meet Mr. Yes? He would agree to everything, but in the end he could not manage the things he agreed to do.
One brother said that he had said enough ‘Yes,’ and now he will say ‘No’ to everyone. I told him that this is not realistic. Whether one is a pastor, friend or father, how can one not be agreeable to do what God wants. It is good that this person saw that his quick accommodation to the requests of others was leading him to an impossible life, but his response is unrealistic. It is not how Jesus lived.
Jesus always had a ‘yes’ to what the Father asked of Him even at points of no sleep, no rest, no time to eat, no strength (Mark 6:31). He trusted God for what He asked of Him. This is where we can see if we live by sight or by faith. If we are going to accomplish these things, then we must do them by faith–by our trust in God.
On a trip to Nigeria I allowed the local administrator schedule my time. I know it is dangerous to do that. Early on I share my purpose with him and ask to see a schedule (if he has one). On this recent trip I felt overburdened. It was hot, I had preparation time and the travel time in a hot car really wiped me out physically. Then I learned he scheduled me to speak not only in the evening which was fine but in the afternoon. It was not the speaking that was the problem as much as the traveling in the hot car. This was the busy time with a lot of traffic. I told him that I did not come to speak in churches but for the seminar. He said it would all work out. How was I going to respond?
I was reluctant to engage that demanding schedule. I warned him I might be wiped out for the morning sessions. In the end I agreed. I needed to trust God for extra strength and wisdom on what to say. God provided. I somehow got through a difficult time in my life because I said “Yes.” He was so happy because of the increase of the ministry. This was okay short term, but it will not work long term.
We are not very good at saying “no.” If we do not, then we will eventually fail. Let’s think of the brother who is already heavily involved in various ministries and up comes another opportunity. He is thinking of adding another one to his already busy schedule. How can we discern if the Lord wants to give us extraordinary grace for some task? (Maybe our name is Samson!)
We have spoken allotting time for needed rest when discussing “H” and the planner. Rest, along with our other non-work plans, do limit the amount of work we do. This is fine. In the end we all need to understand that we are finite. We can only squeeze so much work in a certain timeframe. If I feel guilty about stopping work for a rest, I usually go back in time to Jesus or Abraham’s time. When it got dark, they had to be home. One could not do anything. Today with all the chemicals and artificial light we can push ourselves too much. We are only people. We live under the constraints of time. We may as well enjoy the pauses of life and enjoy a quiet prayer, simple meditation or quiet rest. We just might end up spending more time speaking to our spouses!
One, however, has to deliberately place a day off, sleep, rest, vacation in our schedule. Some churches have a great difficulty giving the pastor a day off. Is this not the model in the scriptures? Did not the Lord take a day off after creation? Churches should have a sabbatical plan for the pastor if at all possible. If we refuse to create rest times and feel guilty about getting a good sleep or having a day off, then there is something wrong with our schedules. We can get away with the abuse for a while, but it will catch up on us. Some of us need more faith to trust God to give to us even in our sleep!
Decision making - should I?
One of the basic questions we should ask after thinking that it is something we would like to do is, “How much time it will take?” This will begin to allow us to have a better understanding of the question. We should think of this question in at least three aspects:
- How much meeting/speaking time (public time)?
- How much preparation time (private time)?
- What are my responsibilities?
The last question is perhaps the most important and ignored. While some people look at a responsibility as the public time, it is important to realize that how one person handles a responsibility might be different from another. Let me give you an example. If I was in charge of a prayer meeting, I could just plan for the public side of things with maybe ten minutes of private preparation.
On the other hand, I believe that it is vital to pray for prayer meetings. The evil one so easily discourages God’s people to pray. The person asking me might not think about it, but I would need to make conscious time in my schedule to pray for the prayer meeting, maybe each day for 5 minutes. It might be while I am on a bus or walking from where I parked to my work place. This does not matter, but it is important to schedule it in. Do you put it in a planner? You might need to especially in the beginning. Responsibilities, however, do require certain duties to be properly carried out.
All are important!If I am to lead a prayer meeting, it goes in my planner. I do not put the other preparation time in my planner. This is because I am largely trained to automatically look a couple of weeks ahead at my schedule and adjust my heart and prayer time to pray for these things. It is good to look at the upcoming week’s special activities as special prayer items through the week.
If my schedule gets too packed that I forget to look ahead, or I am learning to do something new, then it would be good to write it down to jot my memory. If I find myself forgetting to include my private preparations in my scheduling for whatever reason, then I need to schedule them in.
Some people do not know how busy they are because they have never thought about their private preparation time. It is essential. We want to do all things well. Yes, there will be emergencies where we cannot rightly prepare for teaching or preaching. We can trust God for extra grace for that time or perhaps it is a signal to pass it on to another brother, but we need to carefully seek God on the matter. Just because we like doing something (we think we do it the best), it does not mean that God does not want others to take part.
What if it involves others?
What a married person does greatly impacts his or her spouse. A good example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 7:5, “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
The context is regarding sexual relationships. One of the problems of the Corinthian church is that they thought of spirituality from a wrong angle. They were, it seems, infected by early Gnostic thinking. The Corinthians thought that they were more spiritual when they refrained from fleshly relationships. A wrong view of pleasure and spirituality brought about wrong conclusions in the minds of some of the Corinthian believers. Some spouses were so-called abandoning their marital responsibilities in order to pursue so-called spiritual ones. This sounds good until we think about how their decision affected their responsibilities to their spouse.
When our decisions impact others such as our parents or spouses, we should carefully observe their viewpoint. There needs to be agreement. In the case above there also must be a common goal to grow in prayer as well be for a limited time. Paul had no qualms limiting this spiritual discipline even though it sounded so spiritual. Listen now to Peter on how what we do impacts others.
“You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
It is important that we learn early on that the way we treat others will affect our lives and ministries. In the verse above, we discover that God actually will not listen to a husband’s prayer if he ignores his wife even if he is a pastor!
“L” is for limiting our schedules. This pleases the Lord. Don’t be afraid to do it. If you are supposed to say ‘no’ and do not, then you are readying yourself for failure. Schedules determine priorities. Heavy schedules test our commitment and faith.
“E” is for elastic or stretchy. A good plan must be flexible. You might have a schedule and keep to it. That is fine, but what about the other person who does not? He comes late. She doesn’t show up. Don’t worry.
We should take what steps we can, but the most important part is to remember your purpose of edifying the other person so that you do not allow yourself to get angry. You do not want to write an appointment in your planner that you got angry at 10 a.m. When the other person did not show up, you instead are concerned for them and why they might be late.
Patience is a virtue, a fruit of the Spirit. When we are patient, we humble ourselves to remind us that we are there to exercise God’s will rather than ours. When someone comes late, we still look to the Lord for grace to work all things out well. This does not excuse the person coming late, but it does allow the Holy Spirit continue to work in our meeting or time.
Another aspect of this flexibility is to wait upon the Lord. We subject our calendar, our plans, our planner to the Lord. ‘Wait upon the Lord’ means that we cannot get done what we would otherwise want done.
“Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31).
Waiting upon the Lord is a spiritual discipline. We feel overloaded, burdened down, put off by others, ignored, avoided, shunned and even rejected. We will, however, walk and not become weary. Our fixed attention upon the Lord provides renewed energy and strength to see how God is not limited to the circumstances and will carry out His good will when it best suits Him.
As God’s people we must be able to change our direction in a flash. Jesus’ own ministry is a good example. Each of us want to do God’s will. We do not allow people popping into our lives control our schedule unless the Lord is sending them to us. In this case, it still is the Lord’s plan.
The problem is to determine when we are to change our schedule for a need and when not to. People are too influenced by their personal nature. Some are more task-oriented, and they will ignore the needs of people. Those who are people-oriented are willing to give up the task at hand to minister to some needy person. How does one find a balance? Again, we need to meet with the Lord early in the morning so that we can hear His guidelines for the day.
We need to be poised to change as the Lord would direct. Pay close attention to those people God brings into your life whether it be in the plane next to you or a new colleague. Be attentive to changes in the schedule. Ask, “Why is God doing this?” “Does He want anything for me to do here?” Always be ready to evangelize. Ready to preach in and out of season.
On a recent mission trip to Nigeria I was scheduled to leave early that Sunday afternoon. They had be preaching at a church. When I got there, I realized that it was a preaching point, that is to say that it was a new church start. The people were largely not Christians. I had to adjust my message. I kept asking the Lord what I should speak. “Do I need to change my topic?” Besides this, however, they led me into the African village of 3,000 to where one man lived. We went by the village chief also lived.
When we went back, we talked to the group on his front porch. Then the local pastor told me to share the gospel with the chief and his family there. I was totally surprised. But how could I turn down this offer? I was quickly shooting up prayers to the Lord for wisdom. It was not in my schedule. My mind was elsewhere, but I was sure this opportunity was of the Lord. Praise God for His enabling me to share the Gospel with this chief. I had to be flexible. I needed to live in the Lord’s guidance.
“E” is for elasticity. Our schedules are really the Lord’s. He can change it even without letting me know in advance. But if He does change it, I can trust Him for grace to endure difficulties and speak forth His mighty Word!
Let’s recap what we have learned. There are three areas that we addressed: planning, scheduling and discipline.
At the heart of planning is always seeking to do God’s will. God is at the hub of the wheel. We deliberately edify and evangelize others. We positively involve ourselves in the activities that God has purposed and even planned out for our lives. God has these things for my life and I must allow Him to accomplish these great things through my life and ministry.
God wants us to understand that our God-given responsibilities largely shape what we do with our time. Each aspect of our lives is important including sleep and vacation. We therefore make sure that we carefully and diligently get these things done for His glory. When necessary, we are willing like our Master to make sacrifices for the sake of others.
Each aspect of my life is holy and important. I need God to help me make sure that I do not neglect any particular area of life. With a foundation of spiritual disciplines, I then can listen to His voice and find encouragement and strength to accomplish His great works.
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