The next three weeks are a crucial time for us as individuals and for us as a church. I believe that one of the greatest hindrances to the building of the Body of Christ in our country today is the lack of passion on behalf of men and women for using what God has given for His glory. God has given us, each and every one of us, so much that it is overwhelming when I stop to think about it. James wrote to the church and said,
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:16-18)
James makes things as clear for us as they can possibly be – every good gift that is present in your life and mine is a gift straight from the hand of Almighty God. The fact that I woke up this morning and was able to get out of bed is nothing more than a gift, often overlooked, but a gift from God. My wife and kids are a gift, precious blessings that I do not deserve, but a gift from God. The job I have was given me by God in His infinite grace. The fact that I am able to pay my bills each month is due to God’s goodness. The friends I enjoy can’t be attributed to the fact that I have read, “How To Win Friends and Influence Enemies” – they are a gift from God! The clothes that I have on my back are a present from Him. The air I breathe is a reminder of His grace. He is so good!
We are suffering today from an acute lack of awareness of God’s gifts given to us. We have attributed our success, the things we own, the jobs we hold, the time we use, and the relationships we enjoy to our own ingenuity and intestinal fortitude. We landed the big deal. We are good time managers. We found a wife, husband, or friends who bless us. We glory in our blessings taking pride in what we have accomplished while we overlook the fact that, as Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” Not only can we do nothing, but we would have nothing, be nothing, and enjoy nothing apart from His gracious hand that is always at work seeking to bless us.
For the next three weeks I want to encourage you to join me in devoting time to prayer and study so that we can learn more about how to be good and faithful stewards of all that God has showered upon us. I will be blunt with you – I need to learn more about being a good steward of the gifts that God continues to shower into my life. I am a student more than a teacher and I am inviting you to come along with me as I seek to learn where God is leading me in the area of stewardship.
I have to caution you at this point. I do not know what God will show me or where He will lead me concerning the investment of my time, abilities, or finances, but I do know this from my past experiences with God – He will challenge me to go beyond my comfort zone. It is only at that place, the place beyond where I am comfortable, where His greatest blessings rest.
My prayer for all of us is that at the end of this study we would be able to echo the words of the great man of God, Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf – “From now on I will do whatever He leads me to do.” Let me tell you the story of how the great statement of faith came about.
Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf was an aristocrat who, at the age of ten, was sent to a boarding school in Halle. His teacher was the August Hermann Francke, and his mentor was Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, the first Protestant missionary to Asia. Because his parents did not want him to be a preacher, he went to study law at Wittenburg. After his study of law, he went on a grand tour of Europe, the custom for aristocrats of that day. During his tour he visited an art museum in Dusseldorf where he saw a portrait of the “thorn crowned Christ.” Below the image was the inscription which read, “I have done this for you; what have you done for me?” This made such a profound impression on him that he wrote in his diary, “I have loved Him for a long time, but I have actually not done anything for Him. From now on I will do whatever He leads me to do.” (“Moravians, Puritans, and the Modern Missionary Movement,” BibSac April-June 1999, p. 223.)
My prayer is that by the end of our study together all of us will rise up with Zinzendorf and say, “Lord, I will do whatever you lead me to do.” What a great day that will be for us as individuals who seek to live obedient lives to God, what a great day that will be for our work together as a church.
Our study, “Sharing The Gifts,” will take us through the next three weeks. During that time we will take a look at three specific areas of our lives: time, abilities or skills, and finances. Today I want to take a moment to ask the question, “Do you know what time it is?” Do you know what time it is? Is it time to rest or time to work? Is it time to laugh or time to cry? Is it time to give or time to receive? Is it time to pray and be still or speak and move? What time is it? You may think that the answer to these questions is, “It depends on how I feel?” If that is the answer that suits you best then I would encourage you to stick around for the rest of our study.
Solomon, the man whom the Bible has tagged as the wisest man who ever lived said, “There is an appointed time for everything.” Let me read you Solomon’s words found in Ecclesiastes 3. Turn there with me and let’s read together,
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. 9 What does the worker gain from his toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil-this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-14)
If Solomon is right and I believe that he is, then we must acknowledge that there is an appointed time for every thing in life. The real question for us then is this, “What time is it and how do I know what time it is?” There is a time for everything, but the real question is, “What time is it?” This morning I hope to be able to share with you what God has been challenging me with during the past week. God has been teaching me to find out what is on His agenda for my day and to give His agenda, His desires for my day, more attention than the list that I make up every morning.
This past week I have taken a look at the way I have been using my time and I have come to some conclusions that are unsettling to me. I have discovered that the use of my time is more “me-centered” than “God-centered.” What do I need to do? Where do I want to go? What do I want to accomplish? Those are questions that most of us ask ourselves on a regular basis, but I don’t know that they are questions that hold much validity to God. As a matter of fact, when I look at Jesus’ life I see that He withdrew from His buddies early every morning so that He could be alone with God and receive His marching orders for the day. Let me give you two examples.
15Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:15-16)
35Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:35-37)
Jesus went early of a morning to be alone with God so that He could learn what was on the Father’s heart for His day. What was Jesus to do? What was He to teach the people who would come to Him? Who was He to minister to as the day unfolded? During those early morning hours Jesus drew His strength from the Father so that He could fully use His day to the glory of God.
One wise person pointed out the importance of fully using the time God has given us to bring glory to God instead of wasting it on less important matters. He said, “If you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,000 that carried over no balance from day to day…Allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every cent every day, of course, and use it to your advantage! Well, you have such a bank, and its name is TIME! Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off as lost whatever of this you failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balances, it allows no overdrafts. Each day it opens a new account with you. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against tomorrow. Psalm 90:12 says, ‘Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’”
Jesus’ way of doing things was much different than what comes naturally to us. We get up and whatever we have to accomplish we do. Whatever we need to be attentive to we are attentive to. Whoever we have an appointment with – we see.
God is showing me that before I do anything I need to come before His presence and find out what is on His heart. I need to surrender my day to Him every morning in order than I might be made sensitive to the leadership of His Spirit during the day. When I fail to do this, and I fail often, then I am finding that I miss opportunities that God places before me to touch another person’s life with the love and mercy of Jesus.
Often I will get up in the morning and knowing what is before me I will rush into the day to try and get as much done as possible as quickly as possible. I may very well get a lot done, but is it what needs to be done? Is it what is on the heart of the Father? “What time is it?”
We as American followers of Jesus have perfected the art of living hurried lifestyles, but are we have to ask ourselves if we are living holy lives? Monte Unger has pointed out the discrepancy of our lives with the way of living Jesus exhibited while He was living on the earth. He says,
How often have you talked with someone on the telephone who seemed to be in a hurry and wanted to get on with more important business? Or visited with someone on the street and received that same hurried feeling? You’ve undoubtedly experienced it…and didn’t enjoy it. And, perhaps, you have also been guilty of this. If you have, why not decide to tithe time, save up chunks, bits and pieces of it, and give them away to people who interrupt your pre-established plans? It is a great principle of love that people don’t interrupt, not really. Perhaps there shouldn’t even be such a word as interrupt; for when people come into your existence, even for a brief time, that is a wonderful moment of experience for both of you. Relish it. Probe it. Invest some of the time you have tithed. We can’t afford to indulge in the luxury of “being too busy and important” for another person. We have time for such inanimate things as pieces of mail, vast sprawling shopping centers, the television program that starts at 7:30. But what about relationships with people? Isn’t that a great deal of what life is all about–loving other people? Remember Jesus? How he raced about, hurrying from one city to another, collecting great crowds on the way to give them a few minutes of hurried heaven-data, then dashing on to the next place? No, that is not the picture of Jesus the New Testament gives. He had time for people. In a crowd, a woman touched his robe. Lots of people were probably pushing against him, touching his robe, but he discerned the urgency in this particular touch. He stopped, taking valuable time for this “interruption.” His disciples were full of fire and computer-like-efficiency. They wanted to get on with the task of getting something done, even if they didn’t always know what that “something” was. Once a bunch of small, grimy-fingered kids came along and wanted to climb on the Master’s lap. “Get those kids out of here,” thought the goal-oriented disciples. “No, let them stay. Let’s enjoy them and let them enjoy us,” thought the true-goal-oriented Man from heaven who knew and expressed the great worth of the individual. The next time a person “interrupts” you, think not of your work and your deadlines; rather, think of that person’s needs, of his covert compliment in desiring to spend a few moments with you. Your meeting may be a significant point in each of your lives, because it is an encounter with another person God has created. you may impart something crucial to his fulfillment–or he to yours. Paul prayed: “May God, who gives patience, steadiness, and encouragement, help you to live in complete harmony with each other–each with the attitude of Christ toward the other” (Rom. 15:5, TLB). Are you caught up on your time-tithe? (Monte Unger, in January, 1975 NAVLOG)
If we are to use the time God has given us wisely, to make the most of all of the days He has given us, then we must be able to answer the question, “Do you know what time it is?” We need to be like the men of Issachar, of whom it is written about them in 1 Chronicles 12:32,
32 men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do-200 chiefs, with all their relatives under their command; (1 Chronicles 12:32)
Do you understand the times that we living in? Do you understand what is on God’s heart for you today? Have you even given it any thought this morning or did you simply wake up and begin your day by coming to church?
The issue we are talking about is discernment. How discerning am I concerning God’s agenda for my life? Jesus sought to know where God was working in His life and what He wanted for Him at the present time. It is this knowledge that Jesus gained by spending time with the Father that enabled Him to resist being influenced by others around Him. That is one of the most distracting aspects in life concerning doing God’s will. We allow others to influence our schedule to the point where we schedule God right out of our life. I know this to be true more than anybody. I have a very hard time saying “No” to people. Someone can call and ask me to do something and if it sounds like a worthy cause then I immediately say, “Sure, I can do that” without ever spending time praying about it. The opportunities that come my way are not bad. They aren’t evil enticements, they are good and noble projects that people are working on to bless the lives of others, but if they are not what is on God’s heart for my life then they are a bad use of the time God has given me.
If we want to live lives that are pleasing to God and be good stewards of the time God has given us then we must understand what time it is. Jesus understood His time, He understood God’s timing for His life and ministry. Jesus didn’t allow others to dictate His schedule, He yielded only to God’s agenda for His life. Let me give you an example.
1After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. 2 But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him. 6 Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. 8 You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” (John 7:1-8)
Those around Jesus said, “You ought to do this,” but Jesus said, “This is not the right time.” Oh how I pray that God will give me such a passion for what is on His heart that I can hear His voice so clearly as to say “Yes” to His agenda and “No” to others whose agendas are less than God’s.
When it was time for Jesus to move — He moved, He acted intentionally and with firm resolve. He acted with the confidence of knowing that He had spent time with the Father and that God’s will was clearly evident to Him. Near the end of His ministry Jesus said,
18 …”Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. (Matthew 26:18-19)
The time had come for Jesus to offer Himself as a sacrifice for my sins and yours. He knew the time had come and now was the time to move forward. My prayer for us is that we will have the deep desire to know God’s will for our lives so that we can move forward with the same kind of resolve and passion.
I have to ask you this morning, “Do you know what time it is in your life?” Is God calling you to step forward? Is He leading you to venture out into new areas of ministry that you’ve never experienced before? Is He leading you to get involved in a Bible study so that you can gain some insights into discovering His will for you? Is God leading you to come before His presence so that He can evaluate the way you use your time and make adjustments where they are necessary? Is God leading you to move from the back pew of leadership to the front lines of leading His people into His will and ways? What time is it in your life?
I have no doubt that God is speaking your name this morning. He is desiring that you and me trust Him with our time so that He can use it to bring Him glory and others the Good News of His love, grace, and mercy. The only factor left to be determined is, “Will you yeild to His voice that is calling you?” Will you continue to settle deeper and deeper into your comfort zone, easying your way through life, or will you step out of what you know and feel comfortable with in order to experience the depth of His blessings and purposes for your life?
I want to invite you this morning to step out and learn what time it is in your life. I know that it is time for you and me receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives. To surrender the reigns of our life, to give up control of our calendars, to give Him the final veto when it comes to our activities so that we can begin to live life as He intends. Won’t you invite Him in today?