It was one of those defining moments—a moment of enlightenment. I was 18 and wanted to entertain my 5-year-old brother, so I offered to take him to the rides at the county fair. With twenty-one dollars in my pocket, I was the model big brother.
Through the gate into the fairgrounds we went, past the farm implements, livestock barns, hot dog and popcorn stands, craft buildings with jams and quilts. We had one thing on our minds: the rides. The towering Ferris wheel marked our destination.
Unfortunately, we didn't make it. A distraction diverted us.
Just past the gaming area I heard a hawker call my name. Or so I thought. I spun around to see who was calling, and a man in a booth beckoned me over.
Suffice it to say that within five minutes he had most of my money, and I was still five points away from winning the stuffed panda.
That's when I came to my senses. I was angry at the hawker, but mostly I was angry with myself. I'd lost 17 dollars and several rides for my brother. But I learned a lesson: Distractions can sidetrack you from your goal.
The Bible tells us to live wisely by making the most of our opportunities and by understanding God's will: "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is" (Eph. 5:15-17).
Three time-management principles emerge from these verses:
1. Know your destination.
Discover God's will and purpose, and you'll use your time more effectively. If God wants us in Dallas, we're wasting our time traveling to the Grand Canyon or the rocky faces of Mount Rushmore.
Too often we spend months or even years moving in one direction, when in retrospect it becomes clear that God was nudging us in another direction. Knowing the will of God is easier said than done. It requires discernment. It requires prayer. And it may require the insight of a spiritually astute friend who knows us well, and who recognizes the work of God.
Here at the beginning of a new year, mark out some time to consider your destination and the destination of your ministry. What do you know about the direction it appears God has your ministry headed? Is it the destination you are suited for? Are you excited about it? Or do you need clarification?
Now is a time to correct your path to reach your stated destination or change your destination entirely.
2. Make the most of every opportunity.
Bear Bryant, Alabama's famous football coach, told of his early days coaching at Kentucky. His team fumbled the ball in front of the bench, and in the resulting scramble someone kicked over a box containing eight more footballs. A free-for-all ensued, with Tennessee recovering five balls and Kentucky four. The officials gave possession to Tennessee. The moral: When the ball comes bouncing your way, grab it. Seize opportunity when it comes along.
We can create opportunities when we have to, but sometimes when we do, we find ourselves involved in work God did not plan for us. If, instead, we determine to be ready for opportunities whenever they come, we save time and we are more likely to act on God-given opportunities.
Are there opportunities that you or your ministry have failed to make the most of? What opportunity is before you now that you have not seen as a chance sent by God?
3. Be careful how you live.
Wiser now, I'm not distracted by hawkers at the fair. But urgent needs still try to distract me from my main purpose and vision. So many preachers complain that people and personality problems eat away at their sermon preparation time, and organizational issues distract from ministry.
When we manage our time effectively, we will work at not allowing the urgent to keep us from what is most important. This requires identifying our priorities and a willingness to say no to those interruptions that are obviously not divine appointments.
Take a few minutes to identify the tasks that are truly central to your ministry. What are you doing to guard them and to protect the time you need to focus on your calling? Who can you enlist to help you stay focused?
We have 527,040 minutes this year (it's a Leap Year). With prayerful planning now, we can begin to redeem the time, before we've wasted a single minute.
Richard Doebler is a pastor in Cloquet, Minnesota.