I was in trouble with my high school English teacher. It was in my sophomore year—not long before I met Christ at summer camp—that she called me aside.
“Where did this writing come from? You’ve plagiarized this project, haven’t you!”
I was stunned. The project was a simple composition that I had taken very seriously, and now I had an upset teacher glaring at me.
“It’s my own work,” I stuttered. “You told us to write it on our own and that’s what I did.”
The assignment was to describe, in one page, what was most important to us in life. I had written my honest response and it was wholly my own work.
“No one your age ever writes that Time is My Greatest Treasure. This is the voice of an older adult,” she said, “so you need to be honest with me: where did this content come from?”
I stood my ground with her and the small crisis soon passed, but I came away feeling like an oddball. Even if my teacher thought I was too new to life to have this insight, it seemed obvious to me that time is to be treasured.
And now, as an older adult, I still feel that way. So if you have a moment to spare, let’s think about the importance of time.
My high school project made this point: time expresses the context—the milieu—for every element of life. So that among all the possibilities before us only a few activities actually find a place in our lives. The secret to success in life, then, is to give our time to the most significant priorities.
It was actually a practical observation. Even a high school sophomore thinks about who does—and who doesn’t—get to share his or her time. Students might not take much time to think about the actual process of prioritizing time, but that’s how they all operate.
I knew, for instance, that my high school devotion to sports—football, wrestling, and track—were time consuming and took away time from my studies. I knew, too, that there were any number of students to talk with, eat with, play with, but that I would only spend time with some of them—and that only a few would become good friends. Time is the stuff of priorities so that our lack of endless time forces us to make hard choices.
More recently and on separate occasions I’ve had two friends who read Spreading Goodness entries tell me that they only drop by the site from time to time because my posts are too long. It’s honest feedback and much appreciated. And by treasuring time myself I was able to translate what each was really saying: “Given my priorities, your posts take too much time to get through—I have other stronger interests.”
At some level we all know how this sort of thing works. It isn’t necessarily a statement about whether someone likes us or not. Mainly it’s a simple critique of the content and quality of a given post. If a topic grabs us, the question of time evaporates. If the writing itself is clear and clean enough so that’s not the issue, the reader is actually offering a glimpse of his or her priorities. Any reading, or any selection of other activities, is measured by whether that activity deserves our treasured time.
This, by the way, is also the key insight of Affective Theology. We are all made in God’s triune image as lovers, and our time—that is, what we do with our time—displays what we love most. Time, as the fabric of our lives, shows off what we treasure: our “values”, or our “priorities”, or our “interests”, or “what is really important”—or, biblically, “the desires of our heart”. Whatever we give our time to, especially our discretionary time, is what first makes, and then expresses, who we are.
We may be blind to this connection, of course. I recall, for instance, a high school student in a youth group I once led. He volunteered to do a Bible read-through, but his reading progress turned out to be very slow. His reading partner, an avid college student, asked about it.
“I’m just too busy with everything,” he answered. “I don’t have the time to do all this reading, but I’ll keep trying.”
A few days later, during their Sunday read-through meeting, the same student commented to his reading partner that he had to get home right away.
“I need to get to the TV schedule for the week that comes in the Sunday newspaper so I can schedule my week.”
It turned out that the student was committed to watching certain television programs each week and was ready to add some new slots if anything in the schedule caught his attention. His reading partner asked him about how many hours his viewings involved.
“Oh, I average 22 hours a week,” he gushed.
I should add that he never completed his Bible read-through.
I had another conversation last week. A friend commented, rhetorically, “God takes a lot of time, doesn’t he.”
He wasn’t complaining, but was commenting on how his own growth as a Christian always came when he took good stretches of his discretionary time to read the Bible, to pray, and to be quiet while reflecting on God’s ways and words. He saw a clear linkage between his sense of spiritual well-being and the time he devoted to Christ.
It soon dawned on me that all these conversations were linked to the point of my old high school project. What’s more, my conversion—an event that came after my sophomore year—echoed that project. My faith came alive once I gave God the full treasure of my time, without holding back.
Here’s how it happened. Through a number of circumstances that I’ve explained elsewhere I sat on a Montana hillside waiting for God to speak to me—actually, for him to introduce himself to me. The event took about two hours on a beautiful summer afternoon. It was time I might have been spending with some very attractive Christian friends. But I wasn’t sure that I was a Christian myself. Thus my waiting after I had asked, aloud, “God, are you really there?”
I then met God, in Christ, by two stages. First I simply sat there, stubbornly waiting with this thought: “God, I need to hear from you. If you choose to speak, I’m here listening.” Then, after about an hour of absolute silence, a distinct thought came to mind: try reading your Bible, dummy.
That brought me to my second stage: of taking time in the Bible, starting with an hour of reading from Matthew’s gospel. It was there that he indirectly touched on my insight from the English course and gave me its spiritual application: time is a treasure, and it’s the great treasure God requires of us. He wants all of it—in order to become our time-Lord. Specifically, in Matthew 6:33, he called on me to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.
I responded: “It’s all yours.” Then, once I gave him my time, he began to give me his values through even more time in the Word—including my present enjoyment of Bible-reading—which offers the basis for investing that time most effectively.
Time, then, is our front porch for entering into a timeless eternity. We have the opportunity now to reorder our priorities in light of God’s grace and in view of our long-term future. It makes all the difference, both for today and for the ages to come!
Thanks, then, for sharing your time—it was an honor to enjoy this treasure together.