Investing In What Matters
“When your output exceeds your input, your upkeep will be your downfall.” This was an oft quoted axiom during the 20 or so years I worked with The Navigators. The Navs tend to attract type A personalities for whom there is a natural pressure to fill every waking hour with work. The Navigators aren’t the only ones whose tendency is to work at their jobs for a significant number of hours a day. This is especially true of those who love their work and who are trying to establish their own business. It tends to be true for all of those who are trying to work a full time job and also manage the needs of their family, or make a difference in their community by serving on boards and committees. Moms wake up in the morning to a full day of tasks and events with their children which really don’t end until they go to bed at night. The pressure is even increased today when we find ourselves only a text, phone call, tweet, or insta-gram away from not only our friends but potentially from hundreds of people we don’t even know personally. Our cell phones are almost constantly “dinging” from messages or notifications that demand at least a moment’s attention.
Repeatedly what I hear from young businessmen and women is that they seem to have no time at all for personal reflection, little uninterrupted time to read, and virtually no nights where just the two of them can sit and visit. Once their children get old enough to participate in sports or dance or some other extra-curricular activity, time is condensed even more. So we find ourselves pouring out more than we are taking in. Businessmen, businesswomen, moms, and ministers alike find they have almost no relationship with The Lord-just a cursory information oriented acquaintance. It seems odd, and probably should, that ministers might not have much time for a relationship with God when it would appear that ought to be their job, but the truth is, they may be so busy keeping up with study time and leading studies, and counseling that they too never take time to actually know the One they are studying about. They collect, arrange and teach information about Someone that they are not personally connected to in a deeper way.
Like them, I have found myself struggling with these very things as a Husband, Father, Minister, and Businessman. I’ve come to the conclusion that for me this is at least a two part problem. 1. A lack of discipline/commitment. 2. It has mostly been about a lack of genuine interest in knowing my Savior.
Firstly I think it is a matter of discipline because often times for all of us, the Word tastes like dry grape nuts and our prayers seem to bounce off a brass sky rather than reach our Lord. At least we don’t know how to detect that they are getting through. There are times when we feel honestly and genuinely disconnected from the Lord and so we tend to want to “wait until He feels closer”. This is a very sad place to be because the more we don’t pursue Him the less we tend to want to pursue Him. It often requires Him to break through our malaise through crises both large and small to draw us back into a need for relationship with Him. While it doesn’t sound sexy to just have a scheduled time with Him that we keep every day, it is in reality a desperately needed discipline that opens the door to a more robust relationship with Him. It is a two way street with God initiating every day (Revelation 3:20), but because we tend to have filled our world with noisier things we are unaware of the knock on the door of our heart or His whisper in the ears of our mind. Ephesians 5:15-17 puts it this way:
“15 Therefore see that you walk carefully [living life with honor, purpose, and courage; shunning those who tolerate and enable evil], not as the unwise, but as wise [sensible, intelligent, discerning people], 16 making the very most of your time [on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence], because the days are [filled with] evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish and thoughtless, but understand and firmly grasp what the will of the Lord is.”
Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.”
In my personal walk, I’ve found that if I don’t have time with Him in the early morning, I tend never to get to it. I always have good intentions to get to it, but somehow at the end of the day I’m just too tired mentally, emotionally, or physically to sit down and do it. The hardest thing about all of this is that you can still live an enjoyable life without this time alone with Him. In fact you really won’t know what you are missing if you don’t have this time. You can more than likely live a life that appears to be better (more righteous) than many of your non-believing friends. Without you knowing it, you will have lived at the entrance to a gold mine being satisfied to pick up a few tailings without ever having grabbed your pick and gone inside to dig up, see and enjoy the depth and quality of the real gold.
Secondly, I’d say that I must not, for significant periods in my Christian walk, have genuinely desired or wanted the time with Him. If I had genuinely desired it I would have planned it and pursued Him. I make time to eat every day. I virtually always read the Daily OK sports page, and two other sports blogs. I shower and brush my teeth every day. I definitely think about me, and what I want every day. I don’t miss any of those… Before I reached my middle 50’s I would say that it was primarily, not always but primarily, crises or major decisions that drew me in close and made me seek Him out for His will and purpose. While I’m glad that I went to Him during troubling times, I’m sad that it took those to get me to move closer. I am in the process of learning what Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” That word “know” is a deep experiential knowing, not an informational assent. To look forward to and anticipate those rich early times in the morning when as I look into His Word I hear the Spirit pointing out my need to change, and giving me the opportunity to be more aware of the joys laid before me each day.
A few more axioms keep coming to mind when I think about the seeming difficulties of getting this kind of time in. “You are the one who planned your schedule.” I heard this phrase quite a bit as I was growing up and then it became my own remonstrance to myself as I found my schedule so full I didn’t spend time with God. I had to “plan my work and work my plan.” If I didn’t make a plan that had time alone with God in it, I wouldn’t ever actually spend much if any time with him. In some seasons of life it required me to get up a little earlier than the kids. It definitely required me to have my time so that I could guard my wife so that she could have her time with the Lord. Trying to have an appointment with Him at the same time of the day each day-including weekends-became a central part of the plan. This also anticipated me planning what I was going to do during that time. If I waited until I woke up to try to figure things out I usually just winged it with whatever was easiest or most interesting that morning. Each day needed a little time in the Word, a little time thinking about what I read and writing those thoughts down, and a little time praying about that and any other needs that came to mind that morning. Over time I am finding that I have a hard time leaving this early morning meeting with Him.
Lastly, “Children are too young to run the household.” Virtually all parents are guilty of allowing the needs and desires of their children to dictate everything else that happens and when it happens. Children are malleable enough that if we are just consistent and loving with our expectations they gladly adjust to those. For example, if you are having your time with the Lord in the morning and the children wake up, give them a big hug, make sure their diaper is dry if needed, and then put them back in their room or crib and let them play until you can finish. The new night lights that turn colors from a moon to a sun in the morning are a terrific aid. Training the kids to wait to come out of their room until the light becomes a sun enables you to set it at the same time each day in order to get those few moments alone.
In the end we try to tell all the couples we know that the two most important investments you will make in your own and your family’s life is to have time alone with the Lord each day and time alone with each other a minimum of once a week. These are lifelong and life altering investments.