3 Lessons About Time I Learned From Great Men of God

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Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from J.R. Duren – journalist, husband, father, and the author of Living Like Lions.

 

Time is a curious thing.

In many ways, the perception that we have time to become the men we want to be leads us to become lazy and drags us farther away from the image of Jesus to which we hunger to conform.

These past two years, I worked on a nonfiction book called “Living Like Lions.” I examined the lives of 20 Christian men, and, in the end, I found myself seared with the memories of men whose lives reflected Jesus in a way I can only dream to emulate.

Among the men I studied was Jim Elliot, the famous missionary who died at 29 at the hands of the very Ecuadorian Indians with whom he was trying to share the gospel. I also examined the life of Christian statesman and Nobel Peace Prize-winner John Mott.

Their lives taught me a few important lessons about the relationship between time and godliness.

1. Time Should Never Be Used As An Excuse For Spiritual Mediocrity

When our spiritual life is flailing, few things feel as comforting as the thought that we have plenty of time to correct our mistakes. The absence of urgency is a soothing elixir for the lazy heart. Elliot wrote the following journal entry in October 1948:

“Prayed a strange prayer today: I covenanted with the Father that He would do either of two things: either glorify Himself to the utmost in me or slay me. By His grace I shall not have His second best. For He heard me, I believe, so that now I have nothing to look forward to but a life of sacrificial sonship … or heaven – soon. Perhaps tomorrow. What a prospect!”

The immanency of heaven motivated Elliot to live life as a sacrificial son. His hunger was such that sacrifice – either in his daily routine or in his death – was the primary purpose of his life. There was time for nothing else.

After reading this passage in his journal, I ask myself, “How would my life change if sacrifice was my primary vision and the immanence of heaven was the fuel of that vision?”

2. Time Should Be Used To Make Fierce The Fire of Our Soul

I wake up every day to a world in which I will choose how to take advantage of my time. Like any average married guy in his thirties, my decisions and thoughts are caught up in a crazy web of altruistic aspirations of serving and loving my wife, superficial hopes of choosing the right fantasy football lineup, professional desires of doing well in my job as a journalist and spiritual longings of becoming more like Jesus.

As I researched the life of John Mott, I came across a stunning passage he wrote for a missionary conference in Kansas City in the early 1900’s. His words made me realize that while I cannot become a spiritual giant overnight, I must have a sense of daily urgency in which my primary goal is to become more like Christ by spending time with Him.

This philosophy is losing steam – and, depending who you ask, may have lost all its steam – in a world where we coddle men who believe spirituality has more to do with personal preference than it does the daily habits of prayer and reading Scripture.

To the contrary, Mott said Christ-likeness comes through seeking His face, meditating in Him and studying His word. “I have discovered no exception to the truth of this statement,” he said.

Then Mott tells the delegates at the conference that, while nobody becomes like Christ overnight, the time it takes to become like Him must be devoted to this singular pursuit:

“Fellow delegates … it takes time for the fires to kindle and burn. It takes time for God to draw near and for us to know that He is there. You ask me, How much time? I do not know. I know it means time enough to forget time, I know it means that time enough to meet God and to hear His voice, and to be sure we hear it.”

Time, Mott says, is the servant of spirituality. If you do not devote it to Christ – and we do not have much of it – it will be wasted.

I want to hear God’s voice and I want to be sure I hear it. I wonder, “Will I be bold enough to devote my time to the pursuit of God in the quiet hours –  in the times when I need His voice the most?”

3. Time Is The Context In Which The World Sees Christ In You

As we move to the daily priorities of life – wives, children, friends, ministry – we realize our seconds, minutes and hours will not all take place in a quiet room with a cup of coffee and a Bible. We cannot all be monks, wearing long robes and taking vows of silence as we walk the shadowed halls of a monastery.

This paradox – that time is both short AND a plentiful mosaic of daily experiences – brings us to an important point of crisis. How can we be men who exude Jesus moment by moment?

It starts with the realization that our time is short and our lives are a sacrifice. It continues with the idea that what time we have should be devoted to knowing God, hearing His voice and becoming like Him. It culminates with men whose nearness to God transforms them into a fierce image of Jesus.

“Father, make me a ‘crisis man’,” Elliot wrote in his journal one day. “Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road. Make of me a fork, so that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.”

The element of your life which will create the change you want to see in the world is not you, your compassion, your love or your transparency or your failures – it is Christ in you.

Time Is Short

There are literally billions of men in this world who are willing to be kind, to be loving or to confess failure. There is only one Savior, and, as I learned through the lives of John Mott and Jim Elliott, your time to know Him and reflect Him is short.

Do not languish.

 

J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren is a journalist and freelance writer. He is also an author with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. His book, Living Like Lions: 20 Influential Christian Men Past and Present is available on Amazon. J.R. and his wife Heather live in Barcelona, Spain.

  • MLStewman

    Your points were indeed challenging, especially the quotes. Spiritual mediocrity… God help us all and deliver us from being okay with spiritual mediocrity. Living like Lions sounds like a great read. I look forward to checking it out.

    • jamesduren

      These points still challenge me day in and day out. I feel like mediocrity is always creeping up on me…it’s a constant battle to follow Jesus with the fervor he deserves. -J.R.

  • Brian

    Great post about time and how it relates to our journey as Christ followers and leaders that point others to Christ. Your quote-“As we move to the daily priorities of life – wives, children, friends, ministry – we realize our seconds, minutes and hours will not all take
    place in a quiet room with a cup of coffee and a Bible” -is very true and a big challenge. We have to carve some of that time out intentionally, to be sure. But we also need to learn to pray without ceasing and include God in everything we do!

    • jamesduren

      Brian, I totally agree with you! Trying to find that balance between spending time with God, working hard, loving family and being mindful of Jesus throughout the day is tough. One of my biggest challenges these days, actually. -J.R.