I gave a speech in Muskegon on Thursday night, and making my way back to the east side early Friday morning, I think I may have complained to myself five or six times along the way, “This is a long drive.” While I don’t necessarily mind traveling long distances, what I do struggle with is the feeling of time being frittered away unproductively. I’m a doer. Minutes are important to me. Losing two-and-a-half hours behind the wheel of a car makes my primary motor cortex—the part of the brain that controls voluntary movement—start to itch. This is why, as someone who uses a treadmill to stay fit (at least, I did before my injury), a simple walk on the machine is tantamount to torture. I can’t even do it listening to music or watching a movie. I have to accomplish something. I have to produce something. As a result, and because my health matters to me, I made a tray of sorts that fits to the treadmill. It’s perfect for holding my laptop, and it even has a little space for one or two books.
I tell you, many a sermon or article has been written at five-miles-per-hour.
But back to where I began. The issue for me is the feeling of wasting time.
We’re all acquainted with the adages about time. “The time is now.” “Life is short.” “It’s about time.” “Time waits for no one.” “Time flies.” As a colloquialism, the saying “time flies” has had me thinking on more than one occasion. To say time flies is to say it goes away. But from another perspective, I don’t remember seeing my wristwatch ceasing to function at the funerals I’ve attended. It continued to tick. It’s the person in the casket who stopped. It’s the person in the casket who went away. Perhaps I’ve shared with you before my appreciation for Lord Chesterfield’s advice to his son. “Take care of the minutes,” he said, “for the hours will take care of themselves.” These are wise words, and I think about them often. They certainly put into proper perspective the little dash mark between the dates on a gravestone. In a way, that line is all the passerby is given for knowing the details of the deceased person’s life. Even more interesting, whether the person lived a full century or passed away shortly after birth, the line is relatively short. Some might think that makes life insignificant. I think it reveals the intrinsic value to the minutes God gives to each and every moment.
The Psalms have a lot to say about time. Throughout this wonderful hymn book of the Bible, we are called to the remembrance that God has ordered time (104:19), that backward or forward, God is in the midst of each of the moments on the timeline at the same time (90:1-17), that our days are numbered (Psalm 90:12), that He is with us without fail throughout the span of our years (27:1-2; 31:5, and countless others).
Two times Saint Paul urges Christians to make the best use of their time in this life, both in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5. Those who are familiar with Saint Paul know that when he repeats himself, it’s because what he’s saying is important, which means we’d do well to listen.
There’s another point related to faith in Christ that Paul repeats on occasion. In Romans 13:11 he says emphatically, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep!” In 2 Corinthians 6:2 he writes with similar enthusiasm, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” By the time we arrive to 2 Thessalonians 5:1 and read the words, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you,” while the potency of his words is no less than before, he does seem to assume the reader’s awareness of something very important that has occurred—something that relates to time itself.
Paul wrote in Romans 5:6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Here he communicates to us very simply the single most time-altering event that ever occurred: the death of Jesus for sinners. Again, sort of repeating himself, later on in his epistle to the Galatians, Paul gives another accounting of this “right time,” except he gives the sense of it being a fulfillment by the person and work of Jesus.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).
Here Paul holds nothing back. He stakes a claim in the incarnation of Jesus, reminding us that the Son of God crossed over from the eternal spheres of the divine. He took upon Himself human flesh and joined with us in every one of our seconds, minutes, and hours in slavery to Sin beneath the burden of the Law. He did this to win for us adoption into God’s family, having stolen away the unending fate of eternal Death awaiting all of us beyond that second date engraved on our headstones. He made us heirs, not of this world, but of the world to come, and He did all of it by sacrificing His own life that one particular Friday on the timeline so many years ago.
That one moment was the fulfillment of all time.
And now we live in time knowing that Death is not our end, which means we can (as Saint Paul already encouraged us) know how to live our lives making the best use of our time. Of course, this begins first and foremost with hearts set for the regular reception of His gifts of forgiveness doled out through Word and Sacrament. These make for the spiritual food that strengthen us for being His people in the here and now, for becoming attuned to knowing that an hour and twenty minutes in worship each week is not wasted time, but is instead a critical moment giving us the merits of “the fullness of time” located in Jesus. We become fashioned for understanding and committing to producing the genuine fruits born by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in this Gospel. We become people who know “the time is now” for serving others, because, indeed, “life is short.” We know “it’s about time” we reconsider our levels of giving back to Christ from what He has given to us, because we know our lives in this world will end and we won’t be taking any of it with us, anyway. We also know that because “time waits for no one,” every opportunity to give the Gospel to family, friends, and neighbors is a crucial endeavor. We know that soon all are found out of reach from such things—flown away, as it were—and we have retooled hearts for seeing them become members of God’s family, just like us.