You Spend Eight Months of Your Life Opening Junk Mail

Our church is studying John Ortberg's book, The Me I Want to Be, and I really appreciate the framework it gives us for describing the life of a disciple of Jesus. Paraphrasing from the overall structure of the book (and the groundbreaking accompanying tool called Monvee), disciples of Jesus are careful with how their lives are arranged in these four areas: our minds, our time, our relationships, and our experiences for others. This post is from my message on redeeming the time, which ties together the first two of these areas.

In Ephesians 5, Paul instructs, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Or, I appreciate how some of the older translations say it, encouraging us to “redeem the time.”
Obviously Paul understood that, in his day, redeeming the time was an important part of people learning to live wisely. If it was important then, it is at least as important today. While it has always been a key element of living wisely, perhaps the need has never been more urgent than it is for us today, and all of the signs in our world point to this urgency continuing to become more and more pressing.
Consider these facts that James Bryan Smith shares in his book which our Apprentice Groups study, The Good and Beautiful God. He says that, in a lifetime, an average person spends:
  • six months at traffic lights
  • eight months opening junk mail
  • one year searching through desk clutter
  • two years trying to call people who are not in
  • three years in meetings
  • five years waiting in lines
In a single day an average American will
  • commute 45 minutes
  • be interrupted 73 times
  • receive 600 advertising messages
  • watch 4 hours of television
We must learn to redeem the time!
There is quite a bit of overlap between how disciples of Jesus through the centuries have arranged their lives in respect to their time, and how they have arranged them in respect to their minds. Time is always passing. We can neither slow it down nor speed it up. It just is what it is, without respect to what we think about it. Sometimes we feel like time is on our side, and other times it’s a fierce enemy, like for the old basketball coach who said that his teams never lost a single game, they only ran out of time. It’s similar with our minds, because as time is always passing, our minds are always absorbing the things that we put into them, whether those things be helpful or destructive. Paul urged Christians to be transformed by the renewint of their minds, because he understood that the kind of people that you and I are becoming is largely the outcome of how we think. If we “set our minds on things above,” and think great thoughts over the course of our lives, our habits of thinking will play tremendous roles in determining the character that is in us when we come to our last days. And it’s the same with our time.
I’ll invite you to do a mental exercise with me to illustrate. Take a moment and bring to mind a person that you have greatly admired. It may be someone you have known personally, or perhaps you only admired them from a distance, but bring to mind someone whose quality of character has inspired you.
Have someone in mind? Now bring to mind someone as unlike that person as you can think of. Again, it may be someone you have known well or not, but think of someone whose life and character is to you the epitome of being un-admirable. You may even feel a knot rise up in your stomach at these thoughts.
Now, think of the lives that these two people led which either developed them into very admirable or un-admirable people. Two things that are surely differences between them are the ways that they thought and what they did with the 24 hours per day that each of them were given. The un-admirable person in your mind surely had long patterns of thinking un-admirable thoughts, and this led them to use their time in un-admirable ways. And just as surely, the admirable person in your mind took Paul’s advice when he said in Philippians 4, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Then, these patterns of thinking led them to use the time that they were given in ways that made them into people who were true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and praiseworthy, because we really do become what we think.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, paid a lot of attention to these things. He was extremely careful, even highly meticulous with his time, keeping records of what he did hour by hour, and recording the activities of his days in his journals. He lived in such a watchful way over his own time, because he understood the role that what we do with our time has in shaping who we become.
Wesley talked often about “redeeming the time.” He said, “[Save] all the time you can for the best purposes; buying up every fleeting moment out of the hands of sin and Satan.”
And I love this quote from him: “Redeem the time. Improve the present moment. Buy up every opportunity of growing in grace, or of doing good. Let not the thought of receiving more grace tomorrow make you negligent of today.”