I have no doubt that most of you remember the great depth and genius of the Spin Doctors, particularly when they sang, “What time is it? Four-thirty. It’s not late, naw, naw; It’s just early, early, early.” Lyrical gold, there. You see, 4:30 is a time that can be considered either late or early depending on your perspective. If you work until 5:00pm, then 4:30pm is late in the work day. However, if you are planning on meeting friends for dinner at 6:00pm, then a 4:30pm arrival is definitely in the early realm.
But that’s just if it’s pm we’re talking about. I always thought 4:30am was incredibly early until I worked for UPS. If I had arrived at 4:30am, I would have been forty-five minutes late. There was truly some great wisdom in the lyrics of the Spin Doctors – or maybe it’s just meaningless drivel, there’s certainly that possibility, too.
But the question is good – What time is it? That’s a question we need to keep asking ourselves. Wise old King Solomon let us know that everything has its time:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–8)
The difficulty comes in knowing what time it is, and when that season turn-turn-turns. One truth that Paul taught us in Ephesians 4:14-16 is that it is always time to grow. Thus, there are some non-changing constants. It is always the time for holiness, it is always the time for worship, it is always the time for submission to the will of God. But in that growing, holiness, worship-filled, submitting life, the Lord works in us in different times and in different ways. Today, I’m going to add four more “times” to Solomon’s list (and for anyone thinking that I’m trying to add to Scripture – there is a time to freak and a time to chill…this is the time to chill).
There is a time to read your Bible and a time to study your Bible. It seems that often people fall into one of two camps with their quiet times. There are the One-Year-Bible types, who need to get through an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, a Psalm, and a Proverb each and every day. It feels good to do that, and it moves them farther along that 365-goal. Then there are those who say, “I could never read that much in a day. I can maybe get through three or four verses, because I want to dig deep – discover the nuances, look up all the cross-references.” Which way is better? Both.
We can’t lose sight that the Bible is an incredible work of literature. Reading the Bible just a few verses at a time is like reading Dostoyevsky’s Anna Karenina a paragraph or two at a time, then digging into the original Russian and looking into the historical context and trying to find personal application. Do that and you miss the incredible beauty of Dostoyevsky’s writing. The Holy Spirit has some serious writing chops – it’s good to step back and enjoy His craft.
However, we also have to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who is writing it. Thus, it’s got some serious depth. It’s more than just a work of literature, it’s a manual for life. It deserves more than a literary pass-over. We need to take the time to stop and dig. During the gold rush in California, there were the occasional nuggets that could be seen with the naked eye. But most of the wealth was discovered when the miners took the time to dip the pan in the water and sluice it around for a while.
There is a time to speak in prayer and a time to listen. I am naturally a listener, which makes it so strange that for such a large portion of my life I never shut up when I was praying. I’d say my prayers, often racing to the Amen, then stand up and go about my business. “Lord, speak to me. Show me Your will. Teach me Your ways. In Jesus’ name…I’m out!”
God wants us to present our requests to Him. Jesus talked about that throughout the Gospels. But there are also times when we just need to stop and listen. Jehoshaphat was a king of Judah. There was a huge army coming his way to attack, and he knew that his little nation was about to be decimated. So, he called all the people together, stood in front of them, and prayed. It’s a heartfelt prayer that you can find in 2 Chronicles 20:5-12. But my favorite part is how King Jehoshaphat ends it and how the people respond. He says, “‘We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.’ All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 20:12–13) Hundreds of people standing silent before God, just waiting for Him to speak. And He did. A prophet speaks up, and essentially says, “Thus sayeth the Lord, ‘Yeah, I got your back.’”
As we pray, take time to praise God, to confess your sins to Him, to present your requests for yourself and for others, and to stop and listen for what He might want to say to you. It probably won’t be an audible voice (but I don’t rule anything out with the Holy Spirit). Instead, it will be the Spirit leading your thoughts and working in your mind – encouraging you, challenging you, leading you, blessing you.
There is a time to serve and a time to be served. This one is quick and easy. We each tend to lean one way or the other on this balance. For those who are the servers and need-meeters – stop. Let other people serve you, too. I know the wonderful feeling that helping other gives to you. Let others experience that feeling, too. That’s all part of the family love relationship in a church. Love means sacrifice, and sometimes the most sacrificially loving thing you can do is to receive the blessings that others want to give to you.
For those on the other side of the serving continuum, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s my calling, Steve. You nailed it! God has called me to sacrificially love others by letting them bless me.” There must be no givers and no receivers in the church – only giver-receivers. Our calling is to be constantly on the prowl for how we can bless those around us. Then, on those special times when God says, “Now, it’s your turn for someone to bless you,” you can celebrate knowing that God is rewarding you for the loving service that you’ve rendered to Him and to your church.
Finally, there is a time to be and a time to do. This is the foundation for our growth in the Lord. There must be that balance between spending time with the Lord and serving Him. If you are always doing stuff for the Lord, but never spending time with Him then how do you know that what you’re doing is really for the Lord? I think that a lot of folks serve in churches not for God, but for themselves. Serving helps to take care of the guilt at our pasts or the fear that God is mad at us. Or, it helps us to avoid having to get deeper with God, which can sometimes be a messy thing.
When Jesus visited the sisters, Mary and Martha, Martha did the “do” while Mary did the “be”. Exasperated, Martha finally said, “Lord, make Mary start doing!” Jesus just shook His head and said, “Mary has chosen what is better.” (Luke 10:42) Doing for God builds faith. Being with God builds love. Both are essential. If you are a doer, stop and enjoy your Lord.
If you are always with God but are never serving, then what good are you? You might as well be a monk in a cave. It’s wonderful to learn read and study and pray and listen, but there must be a So What? that comes from that which will eventually get you touching the lives of others. Remember, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) Yeah, Mary chose better, but eventually Mary got up off the floor and started doing.
Growth comes when we balance our walk with the Lord. We must make time to read our Bible and study it, too. We must present our praises and requests to God and we need to listen to His response. We must serve others and let others serve us. Most of all, we need to relish both the times in the presence of our God and the opportunities He gives us to show our heart-soul-mind-strength love for Him and for the people He puts around us.