Time Will Tell
Helping others takes time, and time, it is said, is precious. There never seems to be enough of it to finish all that we need to do and all that we want to do. Time is the usual excuse for not being able to help. We can sometimes make the time for helping in the big circumstances of life, but the little, insignificant ways that we can be helpful usually get excused to death. But ‘making the time’ already shows our hand. Do we make time? Is it mine to begin with?
Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood is insightful (and sobering) here. He says:
‘Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him… Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own”. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.
You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defense. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift… The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged’1
The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift…
Time too, is a gift. If this is so, then we need to do some serious recalculating about how we think about our time. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, ‘God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.’2 We will find that God is always interrupting our time, or rather, that God is giving us time. It can be easy to pass by opportunities to help others that God gives us. We usually are busy with ‘more important things’, like the priest who passed by the man beaten and left for dead by the thieves (Luke 10.25-37). He was probably reading or reciting Scripture. That shouldn’t be interrupted, should it?
We guard our time, but as Bonhoeffer says, ‘it is part of our discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.’3
Allow it to be arranged by God. I like that. Time is a gift to be received with gratitude. The Christian life is one of learning to live in the space opened up by the gospel, the time opened up by the gospel, the exploration of the gift of life. We are not the possessors of time, the creators of time, but the recipients of time, the stewards of time. Viewing time this way, biblically that is, must change our view of the ministry of helpfulness that we ought to give to one another. After all, you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God with your time, given, with your body, as a gift (Eph 5.16; 1 Cor 6.20; Col 4.5).
The Christian life is one of learning to live in the space opened up by the gospel, the time opened up by the gospel, the exploration of the gift of life. We are not the possessors of time, the creators of time, but the recipients of time, the stewards of time.
Screwtape again, ‘And all the time the joke is that the word “Mine” in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say “Mine” of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong– certainly not to them, whatever happens. At present the Enemy says “Mine” of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say “Mine” of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest.’4
The devil is a liar, and not everything he says is true. He believes that time belongs to him, that he makes it, makes himself, that he can say “Mine”. This is a lie. But he is half right: our time is not our own, it is a gift. It is not your own. Help then. No service to another is a “waste of time”, or “stolen time”. After all, God the Son did not count it stolen or a waste of time to take on flesh, suffer, die, and rise from the dead to help us. He did not count himself too good, but took the form of a servant. Have this mind among yourselves, which also was in Christ Jesus.
- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 112-114.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1954), 99.
- Lewis, 115.