Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is There Time?

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace."

As I was rereading this well known passage, which was popularized by The Byrds in their song "Turn, Turn, Turn", I was reminded just how precious and limited the resource of time really is. Unlike financial and human resources, time is the one resource that cannot be replenished. Time is also no respecter of persons. Time does not play favorites. It does not matter whether you are the president of a nation, the CEO of a fortune 500 company, a waitress at a restaurant, or a pastor. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, and 8760 hours in a year.

So why is it that some people seem to be able to get a lot more accomplished in the time they have?  It is because they understand that the question is not "What am I doing with my time?"  The question is "What am I accomplishing in my time?"  It comes down to priorities.

I came across the following story a number of years ago.  I have since seen it demonstrated in several conferences. It speaks of effective time management and its relationship to values and priorities.

One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students. As he stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” He then pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed Mason jar and set it on the table. He produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them one at a time into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?”

He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing it to work down into the space between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied.

He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand and started dumping the sand in the jar until it filled the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good.”

Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager student raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!” “No,” the speaker replied, “that's not the point.”

“The truth this illustration teaches us is that if you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all. What are the 'big rocks' in your life? Your children, your loved ones, your education, your dreams, a worthy cause, teaching others, doing things that you love, your health; your mate. Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you'll never get them in at all. If you sweat about the little stuff then you'll fill your life with little things and you'll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff.”

So, tonight, or in the morning, when you are reflecting on this short story, ask yourself this question: What are the 'big rocks' in my life? Then, put those in your jar first.

Effective time management cannot be disconnected values and effective prioritizing.  So how do I prioritize activities in my calendar?  I use a procedure I learned from John Maxwell.  It involves asking myself three questions:

What is required of me? In other words what must I do that no one else in the organization can can do for me?  For example, I am required to prepare and preach messages from God's Word every Sunday morning.  That is what my church hired me to do.  I cannot, on a regular basis, pass this responsibility off on someone else.  I have a number of other responsibilities that my job requires of me.  These I cannot dump on another person.  Once I know what is required of me, I must make sure that I schedule time to fulfill those requirements.

What brings me the greatest return? In other words, what are my strengths? What can I do that will bear the greatest fruit for me and the organization?  The key is staying in my strength zone and out of my weak zone.  I don't need to be working in areas that I am weak in.  For example, I am not good with my hands. I am not good at word-working, landscaping, decorating, painting,... you get the point. Whenever I try fix something at home I always end up making a bigger mess and calling a repairman anyway. I am good at teaching, preaching, vision casting, and leading. These are the areas that I need to spend most of my time on.

What brings me the greatest reward? What activities bring me the greatest joy and fulfillment?  What activities re-energize me?  These need to be priorities and included in my calendar.  I enjoy spending time with my wife on the water.  I enjoy reading.  I like to watch football.  I have to put these on the calendar.  If not, something else will end up taking their place.

The question is not, "Is my calendar going to be filled?"  It will be filled. The question is, "Who is going to fill my calendar?"  There are plenty of people who want to fill my calendar for me and they will fill it based on their priorities and not mine.  The danger is that, if not careful, I could find myself drowning in activities that accomplish nothing.

Is there time? Yes. But you must learn that there is a connection between time and priorities. Think of it like this:

Time minus right priorities = activity
Time plus right priorities = accomplishment

One more thing.  For the Christian leader time is not just about the hear and now. Solomon said God "has put eternity into man’s heart" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  The Christian leader understands that people were made for eternity.   The Christian leader works within the confines of time but always with eternity in mind.  The question that I constantly ask myself is "Will what I'm doing now help people to know Christ, grow in Christ, or go in Christ?"  I know that one day when time is over, I will stand in eternity before God and He will judge me based on what I did with the time He gave me.