The devil on time management: Squander, stretch, squeeze

Yesterday I proposed a basic theology of time. Today I will give you a devilology of time, time from the devil’s perspective. I’m really asking, “What would the devil teach a class on time-management?” He would have three main points:

Squander it
This hardly needs amplification. It is simply letting time slip through our hands without using it productively. And it’s especially easy for a pastor to fall into this as he has no time-clock or boss to check how he’s using his time. Time can be wasted in various ways:

Laziness: We simply go about our business too slowly, too halfheartedly.

Disorganization: We may be running around, but we are running around as headless chickens because our studies, our finances, our administration, our libraries, etc., are a mess.

Inefficiency: We may not be using the available technological tools to simplify tasks. We phone when we should email. We use Strong’s Concordance rather then Bible software. We write out things by hand again, and again, and again, rather than use a word-processor. We try to study in the afternoon when we are sleepy rather than first thing in the morning. We read where there are lots of distractions rather than where we can really concentrate, etc.

Indiscipline: We too easily choose to surf the Internet rather than study a text. We spend too long on the phone to friends when there are people to visit in hospital. We fail to plan the week or our day and end up aimless or simply reacting to the demands of others.

Procrastination: Someone once said that the Devil only has one day on His calendar: “Tomorrow.”

Stretch it
This involves lengthening our days, our working hours, so that we can do more and more work. Psalm 127:2 addresses this and calls it “vain” or pointless, partly because when we stretch our hours, we often simply stretch our work to fill the hours, rather than pack more in.

Again, with no fixed hours, this is so easy for pastors to do. We can start stretching our hours, and yet we are not getting more done, just taking longer to do it. Isn’t it amazing how quickly we can prepare a sermon when we have a deadline!

Set yourself office and working hours, let your wife and family know them, and try to stick with that.

Squeeze it
This happens when we have so much to do that we do nothing well. We try to squeeze so much into the day that we squeeze the quality out of our work, and also the joy and satisfaction out of our work. We aim too high, spend our day stressed, and end up looking back dissatisfied at all we were not able to do. We can sin by doing too little, but we can also sin by attempting to do too much.

It always strikes me, when reading the Gospels, that there did not seem to be any sense of rush about the Lord’s life. He seemed to be largely unhurried, calm, and peaceful. Yet he never sinned sins of omission.

Disenrolling now
When born, we are automatically enrolled in this dark class under this dismal teacher. And even if the Son has disenrolled us and set us free, we find it hard to unlearn the lessons completely. How much we need the Holy Spirit to empty our minds and hearts of devilology; and instead fill them theology; and maybe especially with Christology.

Fighting Time Poverty

Why are those of us who live in the richest countries in the world suffering from so much painful and debilitating time-poverty?

Time is far more valuable than money. It is far more limited and far more difficult to recover when lost.

So what are you doing reading blogs?

And what am I doing writing one?

Well, I’m going to spend a few minutes outlining a basic theology of time. And maybe a few minutes spent reading this today could save you much more than a few minutes in the future.

1. God gives time (James 1:17)
We do not deserve a second of time in this world. Through sin we have forfeited our right to exist. Every moment of life, therefore, is a gift of God. If a man were standing beside me giving me a dollar bill every second, or every minute, I would love him. But God is standing beside me and giving me something far more valuable – the seconds, minutes, and hours themselves.

2. God gives enough time (Eccl. 3:1-8)
We often say, “I just don’t have enough time.” I know we are rarely saying it as a complaint against God, but it does reflect upon God. If someone gave you a hundred tasks to do in one minute, you would view that person as unjust and unfair. It’s simply not enough time. But God has given us enough time to do all that He requires of us in this world. He is not unfair or unjust. Perhaps, our perceived lack of time is caused by trying to do more than God requires of us.

3. God gives limited time (Psalm 31:15)

We have a limited time on this earth. Our arrival and departure times are on God’s timetable. However long our time here may be, it does have a limit that we shall not pass.

4. God judges our use of time (Romans 14:12)
We are used to the idea of God judging our words, or our use of money. But the idea of God watching over our use of time is not often at the forefront of our thoughts. Words are audible, money is visible, but time seems so much more nebulous, so much more difficult to get a hold of. Yet, as it is His gift, we will be called to give an account for our use of it.

5. God commands us to redeem time (Ephesians 5:16)
To redeem a person means to act to secure a captured person’s rescue by paying a price. To redeem time, therefore, means to act to secure the recovery of wasted time by paying a price.  And that price, as we shall see in the next few days, is self-discipline and self-denial.

6. God offers eternal life to those who have abused time (Romans 6:23)

Though many of us grieve over “the years the locusts have eaten,” God promises to restore those years (Joel 2:25). And what a restoration! He gives far more than we have taken. Despite us taking God’s gift of time and using it against Him, God still offers us the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23).

Leading by listening

Listening is a vitally important skill and as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well. We spend 45% of our time doing it. Yet 75% of the time we are meant to be listening, we are distracted or preoccupied, and we only comprehend about 25% of what we hear.

The historian, Paul Johnson, recently wrote in Forbes Magazine: “Any leader aspiring to greatness must do two things, and he must do them not just at supreme moments or occasionally but all the time. Of course, there are many other things a leader must do, but these are the two that matter most: to listen and to tell the truth.” Here are seven ways to improve your listening (and leading).

1. Careful listening
When was the last time you had a phone conversation without checking your email, or filing, or driving, etc., at the same time?  When was the last time you had a face-to-face conversation that you stayed with mentally and emotionally from start to finish?

Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project stormed it’s way to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List, but Linda Stone’s Attention Project might actually be the best way to start any Happiness Project. Stone argues that most of us operate with “continual partial attention,” She distinguishes CPA from the simple and useful multi-tasking of the past, and warns that it leads to over-stimulation, a cascade of stress hormones, and a lack of fulfillment. The remedy, she says, is to re-train ourselves to pay attention.

Make sure you are paying continuous careful attention to what the person is saying. Listen for change of tone, volume, pace, intensity, and for pauses. Unless you have pre-arranged it with the listener(s), do not interrupt conversations and meetings by checking your email or taking a phone call. And don’t be looking everywhere else when talking or listening to someone.

2. Patient listening
We can think at 1000-3000 words per minute (wpm) and listen at 400-500 wpm; but the average speaker speaks at 125-175 wpm. We have to deliberately slow down our minds to listen well.  Don’t interrupt and don’t jump in immediately; that looks as if you were not listening but really just waiting to speak

3. Loving listening
What makes a man a great preacher? Not sure if “being a great listener” would be among the top answers. Yet, that’s what Burk Parsons persuasively argues in The Wisdom of Listening:

In fact, the greatest speakers, the greatest teachers, and the greatest preachers are the greatest listeners. Often, it is assumed that in order to be a great preacher one must merely be a great speaker. However, it must be understood (especially by men who are training for future pastoral ministry) that the greatest preachers, the most consistent, steadfast, staunchly biblical preachers are the greatest listeners.

Burk says that great listening produces great preachers because “they have earned the right to be heard.” Years of listening and learning have produced wisdom that’s worth hearing. Burk’s focus here is on the head: great listeners are great learners.

I’m going to “piggy-back” on Burk’s insight and also add a focus on the heart: great listeners are great lovers. Let me quickly explain what I mean. Passionate love produces passionate listening. One of the best ways to communicate “I love you,” is to communicate, “I’m listening to you,” even when what the person is saying is so boring or so wrong.

When people feel listened to, they feel loved, and respond with loving listening. When people sense that their pastor is carefully and prayerfully listening to them in their homes on a Thursday evening, it’s so much easier to listen to him on a Sunday morning. His great listening in their homes produces great listening in the church. In fact, his great listening transforms him (in their hearts and minds) into a great preacher.

4. Gracious listening
The pastor is a trained communicator. That’s his business. He’s good at it – or should be. Most people have not had the training or practice that we have had, their speaking skills may be poor, and we may catch ourselves wanting to get away. Try to listen to the content rather than judge how they are saying it (stop counting the coughs, eh’s, ah’s, etc.) or how they appear.

There are others who are passionate about something (like their arthritis!) that completely bores you; and again you are tempted to excuse yourself. Or you see the multi-millionaire pass while you are talking to an unemployed man, and the money-man seems to be so much more interesting.

Listening gives us an opportunity to exercise grace to the poor speakers, the boring speakers, the unimportant speakers. Think about how God listens to your poor, boring and unimportant prayers!

5. Interactive listening
Listening is not just one person talking and the other person standing there doing nothing. Good listeners interact with what they hear, which in turn encourages the speaker to keep going.

  • Remind that you are listening with short affirmations and nods.
  • Repeat what is said from time to time:  “Did I hear you say……?”
  • Rephrase what you heard to show you are not just listening but understanding: “You mean that he actually..?”
  • Reflect the feeling that accompanies what is said: “You seem to be (upset, lonely, etc).”

6. Body listening
In a sense everybody is bilingual – we all have verbal language and body language. Statistics show good communicators make eye-contact 50% of the time when speaking and 90% of the time when listening.We also listen with our eyebrows, our facial expressions, our arms, our body angle (facing = warm, turned away = cold), our posture (erect = defensive, bowed shoulders = teachable), our legs (open = friendly, crossed = resistant), hands (fist = aggressive, open = friendly), angle (leaning away = disbelieving, leaning in = interested). Talk to a border guard or an immigration officer if you want an intensive course in body language.

7. Christ-like listening
Listening, when done well is a tiring activity. It is an active rather than a passive ability and a lot of it it should leave you feeling exhausted. But listening is also a rewarding activity. It is personally rewarding and people will reward you too. As we have seen people are more likely to listen to you if you listen to them. But listening should be a natural activity. Sometimes a discussion like this can make a person analyze themselves and everyone else in a scientific way. Try to absorb some of these lessons, but let them become second nature to you rather than a conscious effort. Finally, listening is a Christ-like activity. He is not only the greatest Message, and the greatest Communicator, but also the greatest Listener.

Depression: The 6 R’s

One reason for the dramatic surge of depression in our Western culture is the stressful lifestyle that so many are living for extended periods of time. Addressing this is not the whole answer in recovering from depression, but it is often a large part of the answer. It is vital to lead a balanced lifestyle in order to relieve the “stretch” that threatens our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

1. Routine
One of the keys to a balanced lifestyle is regular routine. This is also one of the first things to fall by the wayside when someone becomes depressed. Depressed people often find it difficult to resist being guided by their feelings. When a person feels down he will often do only what he feels like doing and avoid what he doesn’t feel like doing. For example, if you are depressed and you don’t feel like getting up, you won’t. If you don’t feel like working, you won’t. If you don’t feel like doing the laundry, you won’t. If you feel you want to drink or eat to excess, you do it. A positive step in recovering from depression is to restore order and discipline in your life. Regular and orderly sleeping, eating, and working patterns will rebuild a sense of usefulness and healthy “self-esteem.” It is also glorifying to God who is a God of order, not of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).

2. Relaxation
We need to build times of relaxation into our lives. This may involve finding a quiet spot at various times throughout the day to simply pause, calm down, and seek the peace of God in our lives. Jesus recognized and provided for this need in His disciples when He took them “apart into a desert place, and rest[ed] a while” (Mark 6:31).

Another helpful area to explore is whether you are breathing properly. It is common for depressed and anxious people to be extremely tense, which often leads to hyperventilation or over-breathing and then to inevitable weakness of body and brain. There are many helpful books and Web sites that, without straying into “New Age” ideas, give good basic advice on re-learning how to relax and breathe properly.

3. Re-creation
Moderate physical exercise helps to expel unhelpful chemicals from our system and stimulates the production of helpful chemicals. Outdoor exercise has the added benefit of the sun’s healing rays.

4. Rest
A Christian psychologist recently said to me that he starts most depressed people on three pills: “Good exercise, good diet, and good sleep!” That’s great advice, so I would encourage you to make use of the plentiful resources available today on these subjects.

As regular sleep patterns enable the body and mind to repair and re-charge, set fixed times for going to bed and getting up, and try to get at least eight hours of sleep. Avoid caffeine, vigorous exercise, phone calls, TV, and Internet use within three hours of sleeping. Get into a set routine for going to bed, and try to secure cooperation from others in the house. And remember God’s gift of weekly rest. The Lord’s Day was graciously made for us (Mark 2:27), partly to ease the tension of our busy, overstretched lives.

5. Re-prioritize
Examine your life and see what you can do to reduce your commitments and obligations. Areas to consider are your family, your work, your church, your neighbors, and travel. Once you are better you may be able to pick up some of these activities again. But the priority is to get better.

6. Repentance
We may also need to look at the reasons for choosing such stressful and damaging lifestyles. What is driving us? What is motivating us? What are our aims and ambitions? What are we living for? Above all, who are we living for?

Christians get depressed too at Reformation Heritage Books, Ligonier, and Amazon.