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Out of Control? Learning to Establish a Biblical Use of Time and Priorities

As we consider our responsibilities and schedules, we do well to start by remembering some of God’s key principles about time and tasks.

Apr 13, 2023

Albert Einstein was asked on one occasion to explain his theory of relativity in simple terms. He responded by saying, “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it seems like two minutes; when you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it seems like two hours. That’s relativity.”

While he was jesting about our conception of time, there is (at least in the modern world) a virtually universal conception that we do not have enough time. We might frequently echo the words of Winston Churchill, “Curse ruthless time! Curse our mortality. How cruelly short is the allotted span for all we must cram into it.”

Is Churchill right? Do we have a shortage of hours? Are there too many tasks and not enough time? And as we think about ministry in the church and the care of souls in the counseling room, how can we balance our own responsibilities so that we are faithful in all that God has called us to do? And how can we help our counselees discover and follow God’s revealed priorities for their lives?

As we consider our responsibilities and schedules, we do well to start by remembering some of God’s key principles about time and tasks. 

Some Biblical Principles Regarding Time and Priorities

God has ordered our priorities, which He has graciously revealed to us in His Word (Deuteronomy 29:29; Psalm 19:7-14; Ephesians 5:17). Everything we do and all our work is for Him and according to His revealed purposes (Colossians 3:23).

Further, God has sovereignly ordered our days. He has orchestrated all the circumstances of each day and He has decreed the exact number of days allotted to us (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16). He has also given us enough time to fulfill the priorities He has given to us (Ephesians 5:15-16; Colossians 4:5). These principles mean that time is a stewardship as much as (more than?) money, food, position, and influence.

Because God sovereignly plans our lives out of His infinite wisdom, that means He doesn’t call us to do things that He has not given us time to do. He is as faithful to provide for our time needs as He is our shelter and food needs (Matthew 6:25-34). (If I am perpetually overwhelmed by my schedule, I need to examine the daily use of my time and how that relates to my priorities.) 

Because He has both time and responsibilities, we do well to pay more attention to the calendar (seasons, kairos, Ephesians 5:15) than the clock (chronological time, cronos). Be careful to redeem opportunities and seasons. Minutes and hours can be important; seasons are essential. The question, “What should I be doing at this time (season) in my life?” will have different answers in our different seasons; we should be attentive to our shifting God-given responsibilities and opportunities at those times.

God has given us a finite amount of time on earth to accomplish His goals for us (Psalm 139:16; James 4:14). His grace is sufficient for every circumstance and His power is proven and demonstrated in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). That means that whatever my calling for a particular day or season, God has graced me with everything I need (including time and wisdom to use that time) to accomplish those purposes.

We regularly experience changing pressures in our days (“Will you help me with…?”). At those pressure points, we need to remember that my expectations for the use of my time and other people’s expectations for the use of my time are secondary to God’s expectations for the use of my time (Mark 1:35-39; Romans 1:13; 15:22; 1 Corinthians 4:19; Colossians 3:17; 4:3). Because of that, for many years I would pray at the beginning of virtually every day, “Am I content with how God has ordered my responsibilities and schedule?” His providential changes to my schedule may not fit my plans, but they are always His wise arrangement for my day and life.

Life is (at times) exhausting; it was meant to be that way (1 Corinthians 15:58; Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6). When I fall into bed weary at night, it may be because I did the right things (not the wrong things). It was meant to be exhausting to teach us endurance and persistence, to sanctify us, to make us dependent on God (and not ourselves, so God will get the glory for anything accomplished in our lives).

Our wrestling with our schedules is not just about our circumstances, though. Our responses to our schedules reveal our heart desires. If we will honor the Lord with our schedules, then we must not only pare down our Google calendars, but we must also consider the condition of our inner man.

Heart Issues Related to Priorities

We do what we do because we want what we want (Mark 7:20-23; Luke 6:45; James 1:14-15; 4:1-3; Proverbs 4:23). Our calendars and choices reflect our motives. Our calendars do not “happen” to us (though admittedly occasional unexpected events are sovereignly granted to us); our calendars reflect what we want. So as you think about your calendar, remember:1The following is adapted from Kevin Carson, “Helping the Counselee with Priorities, Goals and Time Management,” NANC Annual Conference, October 2011.

  • Busyness doesn’t happen to us any more than anger does; we choose busyness (Luke 10:42).
  • Pursue God’s glory with your schedule and not self-glory (Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31).
  • Let your use of time be directed by God’s priorities for you (Deuteronomy 29:29).
  • Godliness is hard work; make the effort of practicing godliness (1 Timothy 4:6-8, 15-16).
  • Cultivate gratitude every day, in every circumstance, in every season of life (1 Thessalonians 5:18). [Aside: The NT writers regularly use gratitude to fight against a variety of sins and needs; e.g., Ephesians 5:4; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2.]
  • Invest in people (Mark 3:14; 12:29-31; Philippians 2:20ff; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 2:1-8; Romans 12:9-13). Be willing to be used up for the sake of people (Philippians 2:17, 30; 2 Timothy 2:3-6; Romans 12:14-21; Philippians 1:22-24). People don’t get in the way of ministry; they are ministry.

Another heart issue is that disorganization and lack of direction may be a reflection of a lack of self-control and a lack of discipline (Galatians 5:23). Daily and weekly schedules should be organized around life goals and priorities—and that takes effort to plan. Just like godliness takes particular discipline (structure and order, 1 Timothy 4:7), so structure in our calendar takes discipline.

While we often consider the cost of various tasks and responsibilities, lack of discipline may also reflect that we haven’t considered the blessings of faithfulness—what good is God working in us and others as we sacrificially carry out our roles:2Ibid.

  • We will have stability under pressure (Psalm 1:3).
  • We will save ourselves and those that hear us (1 Timothy 4:16).
  • We will encourage others by using the gifts God has given us (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12).
  • God will be honored (1 Corinthians 10:31).
  • We will receive eternal blessing (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) and not suffer loss.

To help reveal the motives of the heart, here are some heart-examining questions to ask:

  • “Since our motive in all time and priority decisions is the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), does this reveal God’s nature and character (and honor Him), or does it honor me?”
  • “Is my work a manifestation of flesh-work or Spirit-work?” (Galatians 5:16ff)
  • “Is this activity an essential part of my calling or am I doing it because I am seeking the approval of men?” (Galatians 1:10)
  • “Is my busyness a reflection of laziness? That is, am I doing too many (small) things because I am unwilling to do the biggest (and hardest) things?” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
  • “Does my procrastination demonstrate a belief that I have been given unlimited time?” (James 4:14)
  • “Have I pursued God’s revealed will to direct my schedule and calendar?” (James 4:15)
  • “Am I doing the ‘right thing’ for this moment/season in time?” (James 4:17)
  • “What should I be doing at this time in my life?” (Ephesians 5:15-16)
  • “Am I content and joyful serving others, even if ‘my goals’ are not immediately met?” (Mark 10:45)

How to Help Counselees (and Yourself) Make Decisions About Time and Priorities

Many years ago I came across a form of the following diagram that illustrated how to prioritize our responsibilities.

A typical way of thinking about priorities is to arrange them sequentially: “God is first, family is second, I am third…” But that kind of system can often lead to a compartmentalized life: “God gets 30 minutes in the morning, my wife and children get 20 minutes at dinner, and I get the evening to watch the ballgame…” But this diagram affirms that Christ intersects with each part of our life and that we have multiple responsibilities in each segment of life that cannot be ignored (or kept out of balance).

With a counselee whose schedule is disordered, I will draw this diagram on a whiteboard and help him identify the God-revealed priorities for his life and how they should be apportioned in his life (this wheel can be used for daily activities as well as weekly or “seasonal” calendars). 

Having seen what the God-revealed standard is, we will then evaluate his schedule and life with questions like these:

  • Do your daily goals and activities reflect and flow out of your life goal of following Christ?
  • How do your daily goals and activities reflect the unique way God has created and gifted you?
  • Have you thought about your life purpose? If not, cultivate a list of your primary values and goals in life and then craft a life purpose statement.
  • Have you considered the changing use of time and goals in the changing seasons of life (e.g., toddlers at home vs. empty-nesters)?
  • Are you doing what is important and essential, not just fun and interesting?
  • Are your activities generally rightly balanced in time and energy? Are you perpetually unbalanced (spending a disproportionate amount of time on one or more items)? If so,
    • What is motivating your ungodly use of time? (What is your heart desire—what do you want?)
    • What must you do to discipline your life according to God’s priorities?

Where We Go from Here

When we assert that there are too many tasks and not enough time, we really are suggesting that God has decreed too much for us to do, and in making that assertion, we are doubting God’s wisdom (and that’s sin). What we need is not more lament about the responsibilities allotted to us, but to properly examine how we are apportioning our tasks in our calendars. Centuries ago, Jeremiah Burroughs wisely observed, “Thou you have much business in the world, watch your time. You who are servants should not neglect your Master’s business.… Christians that would have their conversations in heaven must look for opportunities for heavenly exercises.”

Full schedules are not our problem. The way we prioritize our time and schedules is the problem that needs to be addressed. We do not need more time or fewer priorities but greater perspective on how to redeem the responsibilities God has granted to us in the time He has allotted to us, for each day He has given us all we need to accomplish all His calling for us.3I have also found the following resources to be particularly helpful in organizing my calendar and priorities: Tim Challies, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity (Minneapolis, MN: Cruciform Press, 2015), Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), Matt Perman, How to Get Unstuck: Breaking Free from Barriers to Your Productivity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).

This blog was originally posted at Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship. View the original post here.