One of the things that frustrates me most is other people wasting my time. My kids dawdle when we have to get our the door, and spill milk for me to clean up after I just told them to be careful. The people whom I am supposed to meet at 10:00 decide to waltz in at 10:45 or 11:00 as if they are right on time. No apologies. No excuses. No nothing. Just smiles. On a good day, I am able to take these things in stride. But on a bad day, I am not always a pleasant person to be around.
Time is a valuable commodity and I only have so much of it. I have stuff that I want to (need to!) do other than wait around for other people or clean up their preventable messes. There are emails to respond to, books to read, lessons to prepare, laundry to hang, and a thousand other things on my to-do list. But am I doing them? No, I am sitting here waiting for someone who can’t be bother to show up on time. I am looking for the stuffed toy that is now missing even though I told her to bring it to her room earlier before bed time.
The Bible says to redeem the time for the days are evil (Eph. 5:16), but how am I supposed to maximize my time when everyone around me seems dead-set on wasting it? Do they not know? Do they not care? Don’t they realize how inconsiderate they are being in taking this time away from me through their own negligence and selfishness?
Up until recently, I have always understand the biblical admonition to , ‘redeem the time for the days are evil’ (Ephesians 5:16) to be a biblical affirmation of the value that I (and most Americans) place upon efficient use of time and productivity. Since our time in this world is limited, does not God want us to use our time for maximal productivity for the kingdom of God? Many classic missionary biographies seem to confirm this. As a child, David Livingstone kept his Latin grammar book propped up on the factory loom to study vocabulary words as he worked. Hudson Taylor replied to correspondence at 2 am in order to get it all done. Should not all our time be mobilized for the kingdom? Is it not righteous anger that I feel when people take that time away from me?
But as my kids grow and as I spend more and more years in Thailand, I am confronted with the fact that my time is not my own. In many cases, what I perceive as “wasted” time is not preventable. Kids will be kids. And Thai culture functions in a certain way as regards making appointments. Their values are different than mine. And when people do “waste my time” (as I have traditionally understood it), is getting angry at those people really the best way to “redeem the time”? Is there anything God-honoring about yelling at my kids or harboring resentment against the guy who shows up an hour late? It hardly seems like those reactions to “wasted time” could be a proper application of this Bible verse.
After being repeatedly disappointed by my sinful reactions when people and circumstances ‘waste my time’, I have come to the conclusion that ‘redeem the time’ can not mean accomplishing the maximum amount of work that I set out for myself in a given period of time. Rather, it must mean acting and responding in a God honoring way no matter if I am in control of my time or not. Regardless of what my kids or other people do, I must respond in grace and humility, taking into account their needs and not just my own (Phil 2:4). The fuller context of Ephesians 5:16 seems to bear this out:
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15–21 ESV)
In this passage, there are commands to be wise, to understand the will of the Lord, and to give thanks always. As I look at how I have responded to people who supposedly prevent me from redeeming the time, I am ashamed to admit that I am often do not give thanks or seek to understand the Lord’s will for me in that situation. I am more focused on “them” getting in my way, and keeping “me” from doing what “I” want to do... all with a supposed Biblical justification for my actions and attitude.
But I can’t go on like that any longer. I still struggle with having a godly reaction in less than ideal circumstances, especially when I have a lot on my plate. But getting upset about it is no answer. I must resign myself to the fact that many times I will not be able to work as efficiently as I like, or accomplish things on the timetable that I set out. But when can’t use my time as I like, I must redeem that time in that situation, not the situation that I would like to be in.
Since I was born and raised in America, and inculcated with American values, I don’t think I can (nor want to) completely shake off the value that I place upon productivity and efficiency. When I can work hard and accomplish things on my “to-do” list, I want to do that. But the higher Biblical value is upon how I behave, think, and feel in whatever situation and circumstance I am in, and to live in a Christ-honoring manner with those around me. If I can do that, I will be on the road to being a more patient father, a more well-adjusted cross-cultural missionary, and a more gracious follower of Christ. Not to mention, I will probably be a more pleasant person to be around in general.