Time For God, part 1

Is there anyone reading this blog who has struggled with having a regular, consistent time for “devotions,” that is, consistent prayer and Bible reading? Anyone besides me?

We are not alone. Research shows that only 37% of Christians read the Bible at any time other than church. In other words, the Bibles of MOST CHRISTIANS are sitting untouched Monday through Saturday.

Why is this? The number one reason people give is: “I don’t have time.”

When did “time” become a spiritual commodity, a spiritual decision? I don’t think it always was. I’m sure, for example, my grandparents read the Bible every single day of their lives. They wouldn’t think of skipping a day — it just wouldn’t occur to them! My parents, too, both read the Bible every day. Throughout my childhood, as a family we read the Bible together every night at dinner. But even though I grew up with this as part of my background, I still struggle to maintain my own personal devotional habit as an adult. Why?

Less time? People will quickly agree if you say we have less time today than our parents and grandparents did. But of course that’s not true. We still have 24 hours every day, just as every generation before us has.

Too busy? Some people think we are busier today than people were a couple generations ago. But a 2005 episode of ABC’s 20/20 researched this myth and found we actually have more free time (or non-working time) now than people did 50 years ago.

Less disciplined? Are we less disciplined today than our parents and grandparents were? Maybe. But I think the issue is not so much that we are less disciplined, but that more discipline is required today than ever before. That is going to be the subject of this blog series, which I’m calling Time For God. (Credit for the ideas this writing is based on goes to Steve Elzinga, who discipled me during the few years I had the chance to work with him.)

A breakdown of systems, a breakout of choices

It is clear that two things today are different from when our grandparents were growing up: There has been a breakdown of systems, and a breakout of choices. These two truths are intertwined.

To illustrate, let’s look at the tradition of mealtime. When I was growing up, I would come home after school and play outside with my neighborhood friends for an hour or so. But each evening around 5:00 or 5:30, something would happen: My dad would get home from work, and my mom would come out on the front porch and yell for me to come in for supper. Pretty soon Joey’s mom would do the same thing, and Mike’s mom, and Jill’s mom, and David’s mom. The whole neighborhood had supper at the same time. That was the “system.”

It wasn’t a law. No one had to have supper at 5:30. You could stay outside and play if you wanted. But, of course, there wouldn’t be anyone else to play with—because they were all inside having supper! The “system” was a common supper time, and that system helped all families to have meals together.

Today, it’s harder for families to have supper together because that system has collapsed, partly because of the breakout of choices. Nowadays kids have soccer and dance and jobs and little league—all these wonderful choices competing with supper and family time. The more choices you have, and the fewer systems you have, the more difficult it is to “manage” your time.

More choices require more time

Compounding the problem, additional choices require additional time. In 1945, my grandmother could ask my grandfather to pick up a loaf of bread at the store, and it wasn’t a big deal. He would stop at the one store in town, pick up a loaf of the one kind of bread they had, pay for it, and bring it home. Today, when I want to pick up a loaf of bread, I have a hundred different options to sift through! Do I want to buy it at a store close to home or close to work? Do I have a coupon? Should I wait because it’s going on sale next week? Do I want low-carb, low-fat, low-calorie, or low-price? Do I want whole-grain, 7-grain, 12-grain, or multi-grain? Do I want it with crust or without crust? Even if I know I want exactly the same kind of bread I got last time, I’m still faced with the daunting task of sifting through all the other options, finding MY bread, and choosing it.

And that’s just bread! If I multiply the time I have to spend choosing bread by all the other choices I have to make—jeans, laundry detergent, toothpaste, what classes I want to take, what sports I want to be involved in, what church committees I want to be on, what to blog/Tweet/Facebook about—it’s easy to see why time management has become a major industry today.

Choices attack systems. And choices require time. So we need help managing our choices and our time.

Have you found this to be true in your own life? I’d love to hear your examples before we move on to Part 2 of this Time For God series. What works for you? What frustrates you? What trends have you noticed?

Then tune in to next week’s blog, which will examine the question, Who’s really in charge of your time?

 

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