The Apostle Paul challenged the Christians in Ephesus to be careful how they lived and to not be unwise, but wise. And then he said, “Make the most of your time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
Paul is telling us that wise people make the most of their time. Then he tells us why, “Because the days are evil.” What does he mean by that and what does that have to do with managing my time?
Paul is saying we don’t live in a healthy, morally good environment. As Christians, our value system is always going to be challenged by the world around us. If we are not on our guard, the culture will draw us into a lifestyle where our time is frivolously consumed rather than invested in what is important.
So how do we make the most of our time? It is essential to know there is one criteria that determines how a person allocates their time. Priorities.
Priorities mean to care for something above all other things. Wise people recognize what their priorities should be. In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shares how he spent a great deal of his time studying time management. He says the best thinking in the area of time management can be captured around a single phrase, “Organize and execute your life around your priorities.” The reason is because you get the future you plan for.
Think about how you manage your life. Do you mange by crisis or urgency? By what is pleasurable, easy, and comfortable? Be honest with yourself, if entertainment is a priority, then you will watch a lot of television. If knowledge is a priority you will read a lot. Then you have relationships—starting with God, your spouse, your children, extended family members and friendships.
So what are our highest priorities and what should be our highest priorities? I find that in this modern world, our lives are scattered, going in many different directions. We become easily distracted from what matters most. This is particularly true when it comes to our spiritual lives.
I am reminded of an incident in the Bible in the book of Luke, where Jesus is in the home of Martha and Mary. Luke describes it in the tenth chapter verses 38-42.
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.
But, Martha was distracted with all her preparations, and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But, the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Notice the words that were used to describe Martha: “distracted, worried and bothered.” Does that ever describe your life? Notice that Jesus’ response to her has nothing to do with right or wrong. It is not a moral issue that He raises with Martha. It is a priority issue. Jesus is revealing that as humans, we get too busy, distracted and worried about trivial issues in life. Only a few things truly matter, and there is one thing that should be our highest priority, more important than everything else. Jesus points to Mary as an example. We see in verse 39, “she was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.”
Jesus makes it clear that only a few things in life have great value, but so many of us are like Martha, moving in countless directions, drawn away from what matters most. In the end, I believe we are required to simplify our lives so we are less likely to be diverted by the things of life that are ultimately of little importance.
Several years ago, Bob and Judy Fisher, a husband-and-wife team living in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote an interesting book on the subject of long-term thinking. Their book, Life Is a Gift, focuses on, among other things, a life of regret. The Fishers interviewed 104 terminally ill patients, all of them under hospice care. In each case, a recurring theme appeared:
So many people realized too late that there was a significant gap between the things they ought to be doing in their lives and the things they actually did.
Sadly, this is what happens. We fritter our lives away because we refuse to establish proper priorities. They never make it onto our calendars. We unknowingly create a huge gap between the life we dream of and aspire to, and the life we end up with. These words stand repeating, “Organize and execute your life around your priorities.”
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.