Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Edwards: A God-Centered View of Time Management

In this blog post Stephen Witmer drew my attention to a short essay by Jonathan Edwards entitled The Preciousness of Time and the Importance of Redeeming It (December 1734).

Here's an outline of Edwards's main points:
In the first section Edwards explains why time is precious, and he offers four reasons. Time is precious because (1) a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it; (2) time is very short; (3) we are uncertain of its continuance; (4) when it is past, it cannot be recovered.

In the second section Edwards offers some reflections—with a serious of rhetorical questions—regarding time past.

In the third section Edwards asks who chiefly deserves to be reproved on this subject of the preciousness of time, and in particular he identifies those who spend their time in (1) idleness; (2) wickedness; and (3) worldly pursuits while neglecting their soul.

In the fourth section Edwards exhorts us to improve time by considering the following four things: (1) that you are accountable to God for your time; (2) consider how much time you have lost already; (3) consider how time is sometimes valued by those who come near to the end of it; (4) consider what value is set upon time by those who are past the end of it.

In the fifth and final section Edwards gives three pieces of advice to those seeking to improve their use of time: (1) improve the present time without any delay; (2) be especially careful to improve those parts of time which are most precious; (3) improve well your time of leisure from worldly business.
Building off of this teaching as well as C.J. Mahaney's blog series on busyness and productivity, Stephen offers some fruitful reflections on the relationship between priorities and the investment of time:
I don’t think priority levels are a direct function of time spent, because, even though I count my wife as a higher priority than my job, I spend more hours a week working than I do with my wife. So, what does it actually mean to prioritize my role as husband over my role as a Christian minister?

A diagnostic question arose from our discussion that I think can be extremely helpful: ‘Is the investment I am currently making in this particular priority also honoring the priorities that are above it?’

For example, am I pursuing my job today in such a way that it is clear I value my wife above my job? Am I pursuing my marriage in such a way that it is clear I value God above my wife? This question is helpful because it doesn’t imply that the biblically faithful thing to do at any given moment is to leave the lesser priority and go work on the higher priority. It doesn’t, for instance, call for a 24-hour prayer vigil of endless personal devotions or a seven-night-a-week date night. But the diagnostic question does honor the urgent need for priorities. We work, we are parents, we are spouses, we are Christians. We must pursue the lower priorities in ways that honor the higher priorities.

You can read Edwards' whole essay here, C.J.'s series here, and Stephen's post here.