December 18, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
Not long ago I was awake in the middle of the night, reading, and enjoying the silence.
Except I kept hearing a sound.
It sounded like dripping water. But from where?
A short search led me to our main-level bathroom, where the dripping noise was the loudest. Crouching down, I opened the cabinet doors under the sink and discovered a little puddle of water in the cabinet.
The problem was easy to see: The drip was coming from the shut-off valve connecting the main water pipe to the faucet pipe.
A small drip.
A small puddle.
A small problem.
I had two choices: seek help from someone who understands plumbing, or take matters into my own hands and fix the drip myself.
I chose the less wise option.
Equipped with no plumbing knowledge whatsoever, I assumed that turning the shut-off valve would tighten the connection and stop the leak. But as I tried to tighten the valve, it came loose. Powered by the water pressure behind it, the valve was fired past me like a bullet.
Immediately an unstoppable spray drenched my clothes, sprayed through the makeshift stopper of my hand that was clenching the pipe, soaked the bathroom floor, and began to flood the hallway.
The dark, quiet, sleepy household was filled with the loud shouts of a helpless, waterlogged man.
With some help we shut off the water pressure, cleaned up the mess, laughed a lot, and went back to bed. Someone with actual plumbing expertise fixed the problem the next day.
My point is obvious: I am not a plumber. And although sometimes I think I can excel beyond my limited gifting, I cannot. Now that the bathroom has been restored to proper working order, I find great liberation in yet another reminder that I am not called to do everything.
Gene Veith writes, “In our earthly lives, we do not have to do everything. Earthly life—and this is operative with non-believers no less than believers—consists of giving and receiving, serving and being served, in a network of economic and social and personal interdependence” (The Spirituality of the Cross
, p. 76).
Which is to say that God calls us to fulfill specific roles.
What Are My Roles?
It is liberating to know that God has called me to fulfill specific roles. And knowing this can protect me from doing stupid things. But how do I know what God has called me to do?
In the last post we talked about two very helpful questions:
- Where has God placed me?
- Where am I positioned to serve others?
If this all seems illusive to you, it may help to see a list of roles (or vocations). This is hardly a comprehensive list, but in this list perhaps you will better identify specific roles where God has placed you.
- Single man
- Single woman
- Church member
- Ministry leader
- Church planter
- Business owner
- 24-hour emergency plumber
Wonderfully, none of these roles falls outside the scope of God’s calling. By his sovereign grace, he has placed each of us where we presently are. And once we identify these God-given roles, we can begin to think about creating specific goals.
And I think it’s important to note that our specific roles will change over time, so we need to revisit the list (maybe even annually).
So here is where my planning for a particular week begins, not with the schedule, but with considering my God-given roles. If I’m not fulfilling my roles, my goals will be misdirected, and I will be vulnerable to all manner of requests and fail to devote myself to what is most important.
These are the roles assigned to me by the grace of God. I am a…
- Ministry leader
So how has God called you? Take a moment to list God’s callings on your life. Create your own personal list of roles. Writing this list out will increase your awareness of your God-given roles, which will help you prioritize and plan.
As I hope you will discover for yourself in this series, our biblical productivity
depends upon a schedule
, which depends upon clear goals
, which depends upon clearly defined roles
. Working toward clarity on understanding my present roles is my first (and most important) step in developing biblical productivity.
Defining our roles helps to ensure that we are doing stuff that matters each day, knowing we have in some small way advanced the gospel and served others.
It is sweet falling asleep knowing we have redeemed the time.
December 17, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
It’s not hard for us to imagine that pastors and church planters are called
by God. This is clear to us throughout Scripture. So when we come across the first verse in Romans, where Paul says he was “called to be an apostle” (ESV), we have no problem with this.
But what about the rest of us?
What about a stay-at-home mom with two kids? What about an auto mechanic? How about a real estate agent and a business owner? Has God called them?
What about you? Are you aware of being called by God to a particular task?
Theology of Work
Disagreements over a “theology of work” are common throughout church history. In fact (I was just told) the Middle Ages was marked by a stiff distinction between sacred and secular work. Pastors and church leaders were considered called
; laborers were not so called
. One is sacred; one is secular.
Then along came a Reformation.
Not only did the Reformers make a giant stride by viewing “secular” work as a calling from God, they took a second step and broadened this calling to include not only work
but also vocation
Leland Ryken writes in his book Redeeming the Time
(Baker, 1995), “The early Protestants rightly conceived of our callings as being much broader than our job. All of our roles in life are callings. Being a spouse, a parent, a church member, a neighbor, and a Christian are all callings” (p. 151).
By this, the Reformers introduced an understanding of God’s sovereignty that included all of life—every vocation, every detail, every moment.
Today it appears that many Christians aren’t clear on their work as calling. Christians are normally clear that we should live out the Christian ethic in the workplace. But the Reformers were calling for something bigger.
Most Christians believe they can be a Christian at work. To do so involves being a diligent worker, being honest in one’s dealings with an employer, and witnessing to fellow workers. But this still leaves the work itself untouched by one’s Christian faith. The original Protestants were right in going beyond this and claiming that the work itself is a spiritual issue and a means of glorifying God. We can be Christian not only in our work but through our work if we view our work as an obedient response to God’s calling. (p. 148)
This perspective will transform your attitude as you proceed to work, wait in traffic, and arrive to work for yet another day!
But how can I be certain of my own calling? How can I know I am in the right job? Am I in the proper career path? What about where God wants me in the future? How do I determine God’s intended vocation(s) for my life?
In his book The Spirituality of the Cross
(Concordia, 1999), Gene Veith provides two insightful questions.
First, where has God placed me?
How do we know our vocation? Strictly speaking—and contrary to the way we pressure young people to “decide” what they are going to do when they grow up—a vocation is not something we choose for ourselves. Rather, it is given by God, who “calls” us to a particular work or station. God gives each individual unique talents, skills, and inclinations. He also puts each individual in a unique set of external circumstances, which are understood as having been providentially arranged by God. Since vocation is not self-chosen, it can be known too through the actions of others. Getting offered a job, being elected to an office, finding someone who wants to marry you, are all clues to vocation…
Second, where am I positioned to serve others?
Perhaps later, another vocation will present itself. But vocation is to be found not simply in future career decisions, but in the here and now. Nor can a person use the excuse of “not having a vocation for marriage” for getting a divorce, or claim “not having a vocation for parenthood” as a way to dump childrearing responsibilities. If you are married, that’s your vocation. If you have children, they are your vocation. (p. 80)
The purpose of one’s vocation, whatever it might be, is serving others. It has to do with fulfilling Christ’s injunction to love one’s neighbor…Our relationship to God is not determined by our good works (since those with a sinful nature can never have enough of them to earn anything before God)—what we need rather, is forgiveness for our sins and the perfect good works of Jesus Christ. But our relationship to our neighbors is determined by our good works, which themselves are only made possible by God working through us. (pp. 77, 78)
Essentially, your vocation is to be found in the place you occupy in the present. A person stuck in a dead-end job may have higher ambitions, but for the moment, that job, however humble, is his vocation. Flipping hamburgers, cleaning hotel rooms, emptying bedpans all have dignity as vocations, spheres of expressing love of neighbor through selfless service, in which God is masked. (p. 80)
It may be that our vocation is not clear because we have not started with these two questions.
- Where has God placed me?
- Where am I positioned to serve others?
Take a moment to look down at your feet. Go ahead, look. For most of us, our feet are currently resting within the geographic circle of God’s calling on our lives. In the future God may call you outside that circle. But that is for another time.
I fear too many Christians are so distracted by thoughts of the future that they cannot discern with clarity how God has called them to serve in their present vocations. Though they show up for work each day, they don’t work with passion and joy each day.
As you ask yourself these questions, pray that God will help his specific call on your life become clear. Look down, and write down what you discover.
Keep the list handy, because next time we will look at that list and get into the specifics.
December 11, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Busyness | Laziness | Schedule
Currently Amazon.com lists 90,864 books under the topic of “time management.” Titles range from Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, a helpful book I recommend, to Time Management for Dummies, a book I have not read, although it appears I represent the target audience.
“Time management” books are hot and it’s obvious why—we all want to discover some previously unknown secret that will enable us to become more productive. Yet in this series we have discovered that getting more things done does not mean we are getting the right things done.
Or to put this in a little triad: busyness does not mean I am diligent; busyness does not mean I am faithful; busyness does not mean I am fruitful.
In the past several posts in this series, we looked at procrastination: putting off until the last moment tasks that are important (and presumably most difficult), and instead devoting ourselves to what is easy and urgent, but not as important.
My busyness may be procrastination in disguise.
But today we transition in this series from discussing the hindrances to biblical productivity (procrastination, laziness, and the tendencies of the sluggard) to looking at how we can effectively plan and prioritize.
From my study of this topic and my observation of those I admire (and desire to emulate), it appears to me that being faithful, productive, and fruitful for the glory of God requires that I accomplish three things:
1. define my present God-given roles,
2. determine specific, theologically informed goals, and
3. transfer these goals into my schedule.
Over the next several posts we will develop these three in some detail.
But you may be thinking to yourself, why go through the trouble of determining these roles, creating goals, and fitting all this into my schedule? Why not take life as it comes?
Perhaps you dislike—or even despise—all things related to planning. Perhaps you, like me, can identify with my friend Michael McKinley when he recently wrote: “I would rather stick a fork in my eye than sit in a planning meeting.” Mike has painfully and creatively captured my tendency to postpone planning, and if possible, avoid planning altogether. But while I think of myself as an all-about-the-moment guy, my avoidance of planning is to the detriment of my schedule and (more importantly) to the detriment of my service to my family and church.
The problem for those of us with this fork-in-the-eye approach to planning is that during each day the most urgent requests will compete with and distract from the most important goals and priorities of our lives. Each day the number of requests we receive normally outnumber the time allotted for the day. My experience confirms that if I fail to attack my week with theologically informed planning, my week attacks me with an onslaught of the urgent. And I end up devoting more time to the urgent than the important.
And at the end of the week there is a low-grade guilt and dissatisfaction in my soul, because I’ve neglected to do the truly important stuff. I want to have as few weeks like this as possible in whatever time remains for me to serve the Savior. I’m thinking you do as well.
December 9, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
Two or three times each year I retrieve a collection of articles in a folder labeled “Time Management.” Among the articles I review is one titled “Time Well Spent: Right Now Counts Forever,” written by one of my heroes in the faith, Dr. R.C. Sproul.
The article first appeared in Tabletalk magazine several years ago (September 1997, pp. 4–7). And if you could see my copy of the article, you would notice that it’s peppered with years of highlights, underlines, and check marks.
I’m thankful Dr. Sproul wrote this article. And today I offer to you the essential substance of the article as we continue our series on biblical productivity.
It’s worth your time.
Time Well Spent (excerpt)
By R.C. Sproul
Time is the great leveler. It is one resource that is allocated in absolute egalitarian terms. Every living person has the same number of hours to use in every day. Busy people are not given a special bonus added on to the hours of the day. The clock plays no favorites.
We all have an equal measure of time in every day. Where we differ from one another is in how we redeem the time allotted. When something is redeemed it is rescued or purchased from some negative condition. The basic negative condition we are concerned with is the condition of waste. To waste time is to spend it on that which has little or no value.
I am a time waster. When I think of the time I have wasted over the course of my life, I am hounded by remorse. This guilt is not a false one fostered by an overactive work ethic. The guilt is real because the time I have wasted is real time.
The late Vince Lombardi introduced the adage, “I never lost a game, I just ran out of time.” This explanation points to one of the most dramatic elements of sports—the race against the clock. The team that is most productive in the allotted time is the team that wins the game. Of course, in sports, unlike life, there are provisions for calling time-out. The clock in a sports contest can be temporarily halted. But in real life there are no timeouts…
Given my propensity to waste time, I have learned a few tricks to help me beat the clock. They may be helpful to some of you.
First, I realize that all of my time is God’s time and all of my time is my time by His delegation. God owns me and my time. Yet, He has given me a measure of time over which I am a steward. I can commit that time to work for other people, visit other people, etc. But it is time for which I must give an account.
Second, time can be redeemed by concentration and focus. One of the greatest wastes of time occurs in the human mind. Our hands may be busy but our minds idle. Likewise, our hands may be idle while our minds are busy. Woolgathering, day-dreaming, and indulging in frivolous fantasy are ways in which thoughts may be wasted in real time. To focus our minds on the task at hand—with fierce concentration—makes for productive use of time.
Third, the mind can redeem valuable time taken up by ordinary or mechanical functions. For example, the mechanics of taking a shower are not difficult. In this setting the mind is free for problem solving, creative thinking, or the composition of themes. Many of my messages and lectures are germinated in the shower. When I used to play a lot of golf, I found that the time I had between shots was a great time for composing messages in my mind.
Fourth, use your leisure time for pursuits that are life enriching. Leisure time is often spent on avocations. Reading is a valuable use of time. It enriches life to read outside of your major field or area of expertise. Augustine once advised believers to learn as much as possible about as many things as possible, since all truth is God’s truth. Other avocations that are enriching include the arts. I like to study the piano and I dabble in painting. No one will ever mistake me for a serious musician or an accomplished artist. But these avocations open up the world of beauty to me that enhances my view of God and His manifold perfections. I also enjoy working cross-word puzzles to warm up the little gray cells and to expand my vista of verbal expression.
Fifth, find ways to cheat the “Sand Man.” Several years ago I had an epiphany about time management. Though my life-long pattern had been to stay up late at night I realized that for me, the hours between 9–12 p.m. were not very productive. I reasoned that if I used those hours to sleep I might secure more time for more productive things. Since then my habit has been to retire between 8–9 p.m. when possible and rise at 4 a.m. This has effected a wonderful revolution for my schedule. The early hours of the day are a time free from distractions and interruptions, a marvelous time for study, writing, and prayer….
Sixth, use drive-time for learning. Driving a car is another mechanical function that allows the mind to be alert to more than what is happening on the roadway. The benefits of audio tape can be put to great use during these times. I can listen to lectures and instructional tapes while driving, thereby redeeming the time.
Finally, in most cases a schedule is more liberating than restricting. Working with a schedule helps enormously to organize our use of time. The schedule should be a friend, not an enemy. I find it freeing in that the schedule can include time for leisure, recreation, and avocation. It helps us find the rhythm for a God-glorifying productive life.
[The article “Time Well Spent: Right Now Counts Forever” was written by Dr. R.C. Sproul and published in Tabletalk magazine (September 1997, pp. 4–7). This excerpt is reprinted by the kind permission of Ligonier Ministries.]
December 5, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
There is nothing like corporate worship to stir our affections toward God, encourage each other, and remind us of the glorious gospel. And few experiences better remind me of the value of corporate worship than T4G 2008, where over 5,000 voices were led by my favorite worship leader, Bob Kauflin. If you were in Louisville for the conference, you know what I’m talking about. And if you were not there, you’ll be able to experience for yourself something of what it was like by listening to the live recording from the conference. The album is titled Together for the Gospel Live
. For more information (and three free MP3 song downloads) go here
December 3, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
My study in the book of Proverbs began shortly after my conversion in 1972. And it wasn’t long after this that I began reading and learning from Dr. Derek Kidner’s little commentary
For decades now Dr. Kidner has been one of the scholars holding my hand, leading me through the book, and helping me to discover what he calls “the neglected wealth of the Proverbs” (p. 9).
One of the most distinct features of the commentary is his brief subject studies. In these summaries he covers the topics of God and man, wisdom, the fool, the sluggard, the friend, words, the family, and life and death (see pages 31–56). I wish all Christians could read these brief and pointed studies and experience the grace and wisdom I have derived from them.
When I began my Christian life, I held to a narrow and limited understanding of laziness. Then I read Kidner’s subject study on the sluggard.
I’ll never forget it.
As I began reading, I saw my face in the picture. My definition of laziness was expanded, and its subtlety was exposed. I discovered that I could be—and often was—a sluggard.
Here are the words I read:
“The sluggard in Proverbs is a figure of tragi-comedy, with his sheer animal laziness (he is more than anchored to his bed: he is hinged to it, 26:14), his preposterous excuses (“there is a lion outside!” 26:13; 22:13) and his final helplessness.
(1) He will not begin things. When we ask him (6:9, 10) “How long…?” “When…?”, we are being too definite for him. He doesn’t know. All he knows is his delicious drowsiness; all he asks is a little respite: “a little…a little…a little…”. He does not commit himself to a refusal, but deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders. So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.
(2) He will not finish things. The rare effort of beginning has been too much; the impulse dies. So his quarry goes bad on him (12:27) and his meal goes cold on him (19:24; 26:15).
(3) He will not face things. He comes to believe his own excuses (perhaps there is a lion out there, 22:13), and to rationalize his laziness; for he is “wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (26:16). Because he makes a habit of the soft choice (he “will not plow by reason of the cold,” 20:4) his character suffers as much as his business, so that he is implied in 15:19 to be fundamentally dishonest…
(4) Consequently he is restless (13:4; 21:25, 26) with unsatisfied desire; helpless in face of the tangle of his affairs, which are like a “hedge of thorns” (15:19); and useless—expensively (18:9) and exasperatingly (10:26)—to any who must employ him…
The wise man will learn while there is time. He knows that the sluggard is no freak, but, as often as not, an ordinary man who has made too many excuses, too many refusals and too many postponements. It has all been as imperceptible, and as pleasant, as falling asleep.”
-Derek Kidner, Proverbs (IVP, 1964), pp. 42–43.