Making the Most of Our Time
Do you ever look around at your friends and think, “Wow, that person gets more done in a day than I get done in a week?” Maybe it’s the newness of the New Year, but this season seems to bring the question: How can I use my time better? It’s not a bad question for God’s people to ask, but if we ask it with the world’s perspective instead of God’s perspective, we can find ourselves on the treadmill of performance running after fruitless things.
In Ephesians 5:15-16, God uses Paul to give the Ephesians instruction about how to use time. He says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
What does God want us to do with our time? He wants us to “make the best use” of it. But how do we do that? We do that by walking in wisdom and by understanding our context.
The Big “Why”
Typically, when we have an imperative (a direct command or instruction) in scripture, somewhere there is an indicative (an explanation of the instruction or the “why”). To understand Paul’s instruction about how to make the best use of our time, we need to zoom out and look at Ephesians as a whole. The first three chapters of Ephesians are this beautiful (and almost unbelievable) description of who we are in Christ. We are people he has chosen; we are people who were dead but are now alive; we are heirs awaiting an incredible inheritance; and we are his display of this exquisite mystery to the world. God’s grace to his people in these early chapters is breathtaking.
Then, there is a shift in chapter 4. Ephesians 4:1 says, “I therefore, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling…” Chapters four, five, and six are mainly instructive. They tell us how to live in regard to several things, such as sexual purity, marriage, and raising children. But take note of the word “therefore” in verse one of chapter four. It is our link between what we are to do (imperative) and why we are to do it (indicative).
We cannot forget that the reason we strive to make the best use of our time is out of love and gratitude for Christ who saved us and who now lives in us. Doesn’t that take a bit of the pressure off of running on the treadmill? If we forget this, we can become people who are just checking off tasks on a list with little thought to how those tasks even got on our list.
Walk in Wisdom
In verse 15, Paul instructs us to look carefully at how we walk and “walk not as unwise, but as wise.” Wisdom is to be a hallmark of God’s people. Psalm 111:9-10 speaks of how God has redeemed his covenant people and that we should fear him. We should have tremendous awe and respect for God, understanding that he is greater than us. It is in this fear that wisdom begins.
When we understand who God is and who we are in light of that, we will be able to start walking in wisdom. And God is generous with his wisdom. The Bible promises us that if we lack wisdom, we can ask God for it, and he will give it (James 1:5).
I recently started teaching third grade. One study I read said that teachers make 1,200 to 1,500 decisions per day—from deciding to move math after lunch and do spelling instead to deciding if I’m going to do anything about that note I just saw passed while I was teaching. I am so grateful that God cannot be depleted of his wisdom because I ask for it all day long!
The Opposite of Wisdom
God’s Word is also clear about the opposite of wisdom—foolishness. In fact, if we look just a few verses earlier in Ephesians 5:3-12, we get a clear picture of foolishness: sexual impurity, covetousness, foolish talk, being deceived by people who are still steeped in the world, and taking part in unfruitful works of darkness. A big part of walking in wisdom is refraining from walking in foolishness. Sometimes when faced with difficulties, asking yourself, “What should I not do?” is just as important as asking what you should do. Walking in wisdom means that we understand that God is the ultimate source of wisdom, and therefore, we live according to his Word.
Understand Your Context
Remember the days before your phone told you every turn to make when you were trying to get somewhere? The days of paper maps? One of the weaknesses of a map (even one on your phone) is that it does not give you an accurate picture of your surroundings. It might give you some indication of elevation change or whether the road is paved or gravel, but it doesn’t give you the whole picture. The more context you have, the better decisions you can make. The other piece of using our time well is understanding our context. At the end of verse 16, Paul gives us our context: “the days are evil.”
Already, Not Yet
God’s people live in what is often called “the already and the not yet.” For example, scripture speaks of us as people who are saved now, who are being saved as we become more like Christ in this life, and who will be saved on that great and glorious day of Christ’s return. Our context is a place of expectant tension.
We live in a broken world corrupted by sin where we experience pain and see others experiencing pain. Yet, we know the peace and joy of Christ, and we know ultimately how the story ends (Rev 20:10). Scripture also gives us a sense of urgency (Mat 24:42). This age will not last forever, and we have a part to play. The verse directly preceding our passage calls us to wake up and let Christ’s light shine on us (Eph 5:14). There is no time for sleeping. The days are evil, but we must make the best use of our time.
Maybe you can relate, but the older I get, the more I feel this tension—the more disenchanted I am with the world. Don’t get me wrong, I see the goodness of God here every day, but I also understand more deeply that this world is not my home, and it’s passing away. Each time a marriage ends, or a friend receives a cancer diagnosis, or a terrible injustice is broadcast over the news, I find myself whispering, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
This context of a broken world and an ending age should focus our hearts and minds on God’s kingdom—the kingdom that Jesus ushered in when he came, the kingdom that we belong to because of his sacrifice for us. Walking in wisdom and understanding our context focuses our time on what’s eternal: God, his Word, and people. Time that we spend growing in our relationship with God, learning his Word, and nurturing people toward Jesus (those who know him and those who don’t) is never wasted. Diverting our time away from foolishness so we can reflect Christ to a dying world has immeasurable eternal value.
Sometimes making the best use of our time feels insignificant or unproductive. One of the ways I struggle with this is prayer. For example, I may never see the fruits of my prayers for my third graders, and yet, that is an eternal investment. That time doesn’t result in any graded papers, lesson plans, or recognition, but it is time well-spent. So, yes, ask yourself the question, “How can I make the best use of my time?” And may your answer be rooted in love for Jesus, God’s gift of wisdom, and an eye on what’s eternal.