Some time ago I was speaking to a group of young people and they asked me, “If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?” I told them that I would say to myself, “Martin, you don’t have as much time as you think you have. Your time is short. So don’t fritter it away on frivolous things that don’t ultimately matter. Use your time wisely, redeem it, count it valuable. Fill your life with gospel busyness. Get a sense of urgency. Get clarity. Get focus. Get busy. Get the words of the apostle Paul to the Ephesians: ‘See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is’ (5:15–17; NKJV).” The idiom “redeem the time” means to do something with intensity and urgency and can be translated: “make the best use of time” (ESV), “make the most of every chance you get” (The Message), “capitalise on every window of opportunity” (MaGee), or “take full advantage of every opportunity” (Louw and Nida). So, how can we make the best use of our time in a practical way? I want to suggest two things: One, we ought to redeem the time through gospel busyness; and two, we ought to take practical steps to redeem the time.
Redeeming the Time Through Gospel Busyness
Paul writes in 1 Cor 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” I want to briefly observe three things:
1. Gospel Busyness
When Paul speaks of “always abounding in the work of the Lord,” he is talking about busy people (“always abounding”) who fill their days with gospel work (“the work of the Lord”). For Paul, the hope of the resurrection (the focus of 1 Cor 15) does not lead to lassitude, laxity, or laziness, but should propel believers to press on and persevere in the work of the Lord. Matthew Henry said: “It is wisdom to fill up our vacant minutes with that which is good, that the fragments of time may not be lost.”
2. Gospel Grounded
Busy people should also “be steadfast” and “immovable.” This seems almost paradoxical: they are to be “always abounding,” moving, and yet “immovable.” That is, they must stand firm, “stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Col 1:23). Paul is saying to busy people who are always abounding in the work of the Lord: “You must be established and settled, not wavering from the truth of the gospel.”
3. Gospel Enabled
All true gospel busyness always operates according to a basic rule: What God has done, is doing, and will do for us, always provides the foundation for what we do for him. Paul says earlier in the same chapter: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor 15:10). In grace-based productivity, as opposed to works-based productivity, we remain acutely aware that we are always dependent on God’s grace to do everything that we do.
Redeeming the Time through Practical Means
How do we put gospel busyness into practice so that we truly redeem the time? Here are six practical ways to redeem the time.
Redeeming the time implies that time is precious and worth being redeemed. Jonathan Edwards said: “That upon time we should set a high value, and be exceeding careful that it be not lost; and we are therefore exhorted to exercise wisdom and circumspection, in order that we may redeem it. And hence it appears, that time is exceedingly precious.” Edwards made this one of his resolutions: “Resolved never to lose a moment of time but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can” (no. 5). How are we using our time? Are we treasuring every minute as if it were valuable?
Whatever your current situation, the key is to use your time well. The best way to utilize your time strategically is to schedule your time each day. This will involve setting goals and then making plans for how you will achieve them. To meet deadlines and make progress toward your goals you need to identify the steps that you will need to take to achieve those goals and then schedule those steps. I do this in two ways: One, I have a master calendar on which I put all my important events and deadlines so that I know exactly what I must do and when. Two, I use a daily planner in which I schedule each hour of the day. That way I have a plan for how to divvy up my tasks throughout the day, and I set time constraints for completing tasks so that I am more focused and efficient. If you are looking for a good productivity app to help you get organised I recommend Amazing Marvin Task Manager.
You can’t do everything and so prioritizing your time in light of your priorities is important, because it will ensure that you are not just filling each day with busyness, but you are thinking strategically about how best to maximize your time. The most useful productivity method I have encountered is The Rule of Three. The rule of three is a productivity principle that focuses on achieving three meaningful outcomes every day. This forces me to plan ahead and focus my attention on what really matters instead of spinning my wheels and later finding that I have wasted valuable time. Instead of thinking too broadly (revise a semester course, write a sermon, write a talk for a conference), I focus on three specific steps to achieving these goals: One, revise one lecture in a semester-long course; Two, write the introduction to a sermon; Three, write 500 words on an article. This approach is specific, measurable, and achievable. Above all, prioritize time with God in his word and prayer and worship.
I try as much as possible to purge every single time-waster from my day so that I can devote what precious time I have to my priorities. Let me share with you how I do that: One, I never surf the internet; I know what I am looking for, I find it, and then I close my browser; Two, I do not use Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or any other social media platform (if you do, that is okay, just keep them turned off during your work time); Three, I check and process my emails only at certain times in the day, otherwise, my email programs stay closed; Four, I try to purge from my life those things that do not have any abiding value; Five, I am very careful with my reading time making sure I only read the best books; Six, I try to stamp the reality of the brevity of life, the certainty of death, and weightiness of eternity on my time. Jonathan Edwards resolved: “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life” (no. 7); “Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world” (no. 50). But does that mean I should have no rest or recreation? Of course not. That leads to the next principle.
Pause to rest, relax, refresh, reenergize, and rejuvenate. Our ability to be productive requires health, energy, and physical health. We need to take care of our bodies so that we have the energy and enthusiasm, strength and stamina, vigour and vitality that we need to accomplish our tasks. Pause and plan your rest and recreations, vacations and entertainment. Pause to sleep. Sleep allows our bodies and minds to recharge, leaving us refreshed and alert when we wake up. Pause one day in seven. Observing the Sabbath reminds us of our limitations, our need for rest, and our need to find true rest in the Lord of the Sabbath who gives rest to those who labour and are heavy laden (Matt 11:28–30). Prioritize public and private worship, time with family, and time in prayer, scripture, and good books. Pause to exercise. Exercise increases stamina, energy, cognitive function, creativity, and productivity. Pause to eat well. Think strategically about what you eat, because what you fuel your body with impacts your physical health, mental health, and energy levels.
Finally, persevere to the end. When we persevere we develop holy habits and personal routines that enable us to persevere, make progress toward our goals, and live effective and productive God-honouring lives. Let us live in such a way that when we come to the end of our lives we will not be filled with regret and remorse because of all the time we have wasted. Rather, let us live in such a way that we may hear the Lord’s “Well done!” spoken to our life’s work at the Judgement: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:23).