I was in a Bible study group lately where the question was posed to a couple of retired couples—“So, what’s it like being retired? What do you do with your time?” Free time is one of those coveted commodities in the busy-ness of our ‘working’ years. We’re sure that if we had more of it we would be able to fulfill all our dreams, develop our talents and find true contentment. We would be… well, Happy!
I remember being in the throes of homeschooling family life—that was my career--designing and implementing curriculum to shape the minds and hearts of the five young people under our roof, and making our house a home besides. They were busy times.
“So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom”
was emblazoned on my teacher notebook. I didn’t want us to be just busy; I wanted us to end up wise and God-fearing, knowing His thoughts in all the areas we studied… Friday was Lesson Plan making day. I loved setting goals and filling in the squares for each weekly assignment sheet. I am a lover of order and books and learning new things in a bookish way. My career seemed a perfect fit. God knew.
Considering my own school days, this was really no surprise. I thrived on a rigid schedule, prescribed reading, regular lectures, note-taking, gaining head knowledge irrespective of its practical value… ahh yes, school was my ‘thing’. And there was even homework to take home to give direction to the free hours of time and provide an excuse not to do extracurricular social things…Then the bells would ring and another predictable school day would commence. I was good at regurgitating a fixed array of knowledge and the tidy rows of A’s on my report cards made it all seem worthwhile. Life was simpler then, but it left whole parts of me underdeveloped, neglected in the satisfying busy-ness of achieving grades and filing knowledge away on paper…
Being busy can be a great stand-in for being truly significant. So long as you’re busy in approved practical ways, you are OK in North American culture. And better yet if you’re making lots of money at it. It’s generally recognized that to be busy is to be important.
“How are you doing?”
--“Oh, I’ve been busy….” is the unquestioned right response.
To ‘read books all day’ is irresponsible, lazy, and frowned upon. As are other occupations that don’t appear ‘productive’. But what is God’s measure of our days?
I find myself now neither making money nor directing a busy household and yet confident that God has directed us to this place and time. We have abandoned the American dream and are in fact both jobless and homeless by some definitions. And worst of all for this ISTJ personality of mine which functions best with a carefully delineated job description and a schedule, my days lie uncharted, free for the filling. But don’t be too quick to say, “I wish.” With freedom comes responsibility and decisions! How do I best fill my days? What will be my priorities? How can I best use this stage in my life to prepare for the next unknown one? I wrestle with these questions on a daily basis. I’ve even considered drawing up a schedule and Lesson Plans for myself to keep me on track. I’m just not sure how to fill them out, for now I am the pupil. But my Master Teacher hasn’t changed. The promises I held onto back in the busy homeschool/parenting stage of my life are still relevant. Though they were not given directly to me—they speak of God’s covenant with Israel—they stand as warnings and reminders of the character of God and of man. These have not changed.
In Isaiah 30 the Lord addresses His people: [here’s the warning part!]
Ah, stubborn children, who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit…unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD.”
To this people God speaks that oft repeated promise:
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved: in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”Is.30:15
Alas, His people weren’t wiling. They couldn’t wait. They looked to the nations around them for direction; they copied their worship and were led astray by their idols.
So Isaiah reminded them: “…the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and he exalts himself to show mercy to you…blessed are all those who wait for Him.”
I’ve read and re-read these words over the years when decisions have had to be made, and curriculum developed and schedules arranged. They remind me still that God is eager to direct our steps. He only asks that we give Him our attention and wait for Him to point the way:
The passage continues: “your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:20,21)
So these days I bring my heart back to these evidences of God’s character and my propensity to doubt His guidance, and my prayer continues to be that of Moses:
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations…
from everlasting to everlasting you are God…
the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;
they are soon gone, and we fly away….
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom…
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
And as I have prayed asking for guidance to direct the nitty-gritty of my days these six principles point the way:
A heart of wisdom…
1-—trusts that God’s Spirit within is leading through thick and thin and in the plain mundane, regardless of the seeming ‘significance’ of the product. It is the privilege of the child of God to be led by the Spirit of God. He only asks that I present this life of mine a daily sacrifice at His disposal. “Take my yoke and learn of me…”
2—makes the Word of God a priority. I read and meditate to know God’s heart, to see what matters, to hear His voice. His Word is light and life to me. (Ps.119:105)
3—knows that the value of an action (or even apparent inactivity!) is not in its tangible product. Virtue does not derive from check-off lists of accomplishments but from the motive and dependence with which they are done. No good thing will be accomplished apart from the empowering of the Spirit. Apart from abiding in Christ and learning to live with my ear to His directives, whatever I fill my days with is nothing! By the same token, my day may appear a ‘wasted’ bunch of time but if the Spirit has directed it that’s enough.
4—discovers that faith working itself out in love is all that matters, not how much I got done but how. Have I done it all to the glory of God, in conscious dependence on Him and in gratitude for His enabling. Are my actions driven by love? (Gal.5:6)
5—learns to just do the ‘next thing’ when there are too many choices to prioritize. My worth in God’s eyes is not based on my time management skills. Wasting time is not the unpardonable sin. I can relax and enjoy this stage of life as I learn to walk by the Spirit. It’s a process He is glad to accompany me on, without condemnation! (Rom.8:1)
6—pauses often, not just to smell the roses (or to look up and notice that the first snow of the season has begun to fall just now!) but to thank her constant Companion for this daily bit of life, as is. (I Thess. 5:17)
Thirty-two years ago this song was sung at our wedding. It is still the song of my heart::
Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise….
Take my hands, my feet, my voice…
Take my lips, my silver and my gold, my will, my heart…
Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! Ps.32:8-11
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