Time: A Gift or A Commodity?

Robert Banks in “The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity,” has shown how we have gone from understanding time by seasonal change to virtual idolatry in wanting to control every millisecond. Even our language reveals our misconception of time. We talk about ‘spending,’ ‘investing,’ ‘buying’ and ‘saving’ time – words that are drawn from the commercial world. It is here that the Preacher of Ecclesiastes gives us sound advice so that we could give our full attention and energy to doing what God wants us to do, no more and no less (Eccl. 3:12, 13). As a divine gift, time should be used playfully as well as energetically in people-oriented as well as task-oriented ways, with an eye to quality more than quantity and with a sense of wonder and adventure.

Secondly, Ecclesiastes also reminds us that time is under God’s control. Today we are quick to consider time to be at our disposal, to be organized and scheduled, invested and spent as we see fit. However, according to the Bible, God is the author as well as the controller of time throughout our lives. Both the beginning and end of life are in His hands (Job 1:21, Eccl. 3:1, 2). We must not forget this and presume that we have control over what happens (Jas. 4:13-16). Instead, we should remain constantly aware that everything depends on God’s will (Jas. 4:15; Eph. 5:15-17).

How are we to receive the gift of God appropriately? Dorothy Bass in her book, Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, gave us 5 practical pointers:

Honouring the body, day by day. Humans are embodied creatures, and rhythms of eating, drinking and washing are an important part of human identity. People who lose their homes report that the loss of this rhythm is one of the hardest aspects of such loss.

2. The offering of attention. Qoheleth encourages us to enter into life attentively. The opposite of attention is distraction, and in today’s busyness, attentiveness suffers.

3. Attending to God. This practice involves making times for God regularly each day. The Christian practice of receiving the day begins with setting aside a part of each day for attention to God.

4. Saying no to say yes. Receiving the day, especially in our hectic consumer culture, involves choosing what not to do as well as what to do. Qoheleth’s exhortation to embrace the ordinary is much harder nowadays than it was in his day, with TV, the Internet and all the things that tend to distract us. Recovering the ordinary will mean dispensing with the clutter that fills our lives.

5. Unmastering the day. This final step involves recognizing that there is much about our days that we cannot control, and we need to relinquish control at these points. It is in this kind of confidence that we are free to receive this day as a gift – and also to receive it as a day that bears gifts, including the gift we become when we lose ourselves in faithful living.

Rev. Mark Tay