In the investment world, sometime investors get really excited about a certain position they want to take. They have a hunch or the market is tracking a certain way. They decide not only to invest all the money that they have in that position, but they also borrow more money from other places to invest more. Investing on margin and extending yourself as an investor may help you win in a bigger way, but there is a cost when things go south. In the stock market and in life, there will always be unexpected turns for the worst. In investing, that’s when the broker makes a margin call to recoup your losses on the borrowed money.
I took a risk like this in my own life. I became so obsessed with my job. It was my competitive outlet and means for significance. I was working crazy hours and had literally become an insomniac working through the night often. There was one particular business deal that I put all of my waking hours into, and I spent as much time as it took to get the deal. In the 11th hour it was snatched away by something totally out of my control. I was seriously depressed and sat in my office in the dark for weeks, not upset about the deal falling apart, but how I was living my life…wasting valuable time that belonged to my other priorities.
God had made a margin call in my life. I had to recalibrate, and it was a really hard landing. I had to force myself not to work on sleepless nights. I had to force myself to leave my work behind at 5 every day. I wanted to be with my family at this point, but it was almost like a habit that had to be broken. At first, my sweet wife could tell that I was still thinking about work, even though I was present. It took a while for the transition to actually happen.
I remember trying to remove my work from my identity in conversations with people, and it was hard. Guys go quickly into that conversation. I started studying my Bible again and praying again. That too was hard. It almost felt forced, like exercise – at first. After a month or so, scriptures started coming to life in my everyday life and prayer became conversational. I was asked to go on a mission trip a few months later which would change my life forever. All because God made a margin call in my life.
It hasn’t been perfect by any means since then. I still have seasons and situations that flip that switch in my head. It is so easy to switch.
I bet if I asked each guy here what your priorities are, we would come up with a very similar list of things:
The problem is not with identifying your priorities. It’s the execution of them. Priorities are not executed by words alone. Your priorities are reflected by the culminations of your actions and decisions. For example, your wife sees right past your words. She knows your body of work. Think about that for a minute. How would your wife define your priorities? How about God? You probably have a really good idea of how you are performing at work. How would your top priorities grade your performance and execution?
Even if you are pursuing your priorities, the top 4 priorities are where they are because they are relationships. Relationships are messy and require quality time, not just quantity time. The relationships that we have need to have the proper order as well. If you have children, you understand that it is a challenge to prioritize your spouse above your children. If you are married, you understand that sometimes we have a tendency to seek a fulfillment from our spouse that only God can provide. Relationship priorities also require sacrificial love. The other priorities vye for that love, and our lives quickly get overcrowded and overextended. John Ortberg, in the book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, says this, “Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible.” So we start to hurry more for our lower priorities and love less, diminishing our ability to execute these top relationship priorities.
In Ephesians, Paul is talking to the church in Ephesus about who they are in Christ in the first few chapters and pleading with them to actually live their life in parallel with their identities in Christ. That their identity in Christ was not in addition to, but in parallel with their identities. That there is greater purpose in living your life that is integrated with your priorities but it requires wisdom, and for today we are going to focus in on living wisely in Ephesians 5:15-21:
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16
Paul is telling us with the word “careful” we have to closely examine how we live/how we spend our time. The greek there means precision – To be precise in how we use our time. In other words, don’t just coast through each week. If I asked you if you were careful or precise with your money and you said yes, you could probably answer some very detailed questions about your finances because you have studied them intently with a plan of action in tow. And just like with money, if you are unwise with time, you will become overextended and stressed, spending time on the things that aren’t even priorities for you.
Paul is pretty direct addressing the early church in their pursuit of the wrong things. He uses the term unwise, which is also translated as the fool. In I Corinthians 1 and Galatians 3:3, Paul defines foolishness as a pursuit of the flesh, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now perfected by the flesh?” He was attacking the Judaizers of their influence on the early church that man driven works and laws were the only path to righteousness. It is our natural fleshly tendency to try to earn or accomplish things for ourselves. As you will see in remaining verses, wisdom is found in the Holy Spirit, our individual callings, and worship of the right things. Paul’s view of foolishness is when a believer born of the Spirit is drawn back to things of the flesh.
The phrase “make the most” could be more accurately translated as “buying up the time” or “redeeming”. The word redeem is the same word that is used in the context of justification in that we were slaves to sin and God redeemed us through Christ. We were bought with a price. Your salvation was not cheap, it cost Christ His life. That is a very heavy and meaningful word in the Greek. The Greek word for time here actually means season. So Paul is instructing the early church, to redeem the remaining seasons of their life by pursuing their individual calling in Christ – to treat bad uses of time like we would debt in our finances and to fill that time with new activity that aligns with the priorities that our Redeemer has given us.
So how are Christian men really structuring and executing their time today. Where is time wasted and at the heart of it all, why do we choose to waste this time? We surveyed 200 Protestant Christian men to gain insights. Note: 81% of guys surveyed were between ages 25 – 45. Just how it turned out. Here is the initial series of questions that helped us quantify the issue and how it parallels with Paul’s guidance on living wisely and unwisely:
Q1: Are you too busy?
- Donnie Smith – CEO at Tyson Chicken says, “Avoid the dangers of being busy, if Satan can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.”
- Willow Creek and Barna Group have also done research on discipleship, what they found is that the one of the top 2 significant barriers to discipleship is busyness (Reveal study).
Regardless of whether you like being busy or not, being too busy means that you are most likely not taking care of your priorities. 78% of Christian men are most likely not taking care of their priorities. Scary!
Q2: Which priority needs more time? Less Time?
The green line represents priorities that we desire to spend more time on and the red line represents priorities that we need to spend less time on. It is interesting that Christian men picked these relationships in stair-step order of how they should be, and yet on the priorities that we need to spend less time on, overwhelmingly men said, “I need to work less.” So we will dive into that specifically…
Q3: How many hours do you work each week?
75% of Christian guys are working more than 40 hours a week. Average hours a Christian man works is 53 hours a week. I was reading a story this past week about bees. Everybody is worried because bees are dying in huge numbers, and scientists don’t know why. One thing they do know is that if a worker bee is put in the right environment, it will literally work itself to death within one month. Bees that are forced to rest due to weather or other reasons last 10 times longer than that. How many men do you know that are worker bees? Companies are constantly thinking about how to make their environment better so they work longer. These worker bees are killing the rest of their lives because of their obsession with their work. So the next logical question is why do we do this?
Q4: What causes us to work extra hours?
They could pick more than one reason if multiple applied. 54% of guys said ambition, t thrill of Competition, or trying to gain the approval of others. They can’t get enough. 38% said, “I’m not sure, it just happens.” This is just undisciplined time. This was much higher than I would have expected. 27% said they feared something (their boss, going against company culture, etc.). We are going to dig in on these 3 topics and see what Ephesians 5:15-21 tells us about each. For the sake of being clever, we’ll call them:
- The Alexander Effect (Ambition)
- Regrettable Distractions (It Just Happens)
- The Fear Factor (Fear Factor)
So let’s look at these and see how these individually.
The Alexander Effect
The root cause here is a desire for power, to achieve, to be better than others, or to impress someone in your life (maybe father, wife, siblings, or the people you might see at your 15 or 20 yr HS reunion). You inherently desire someone to be proud of you or look up to you. In Wild at Heart, Etheridge says that we are all trying to answer a key question at some level and at some point in our lives – “Do I have what it takes?”
Alexander the Great set out to conquer the known world, and he did. Historians say he was driven by the ambitions put in his head by his mother to conquer the Persians and an inner drive to impress and out conquer his father, Philip. He conquered the known world to the Greeks, and he still wasn’t satisfied wanting to march across India to find new people to conquer. There was a backlash within his officers and army because they wanted to return home. The historian Plutarch is quoted as saying, “When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” At only 32, Alexander died. His conquered territory was split by his generals who later in turn battled with each other for that same power. Men are naturally warriors seeking to achieve and conquer.
You see this over and over again when a man of success and wealth dies and his heirs fight over the wealth, dividing the family and making them a far cry from being successful or happy. Many of us including myself wanted to be conquerors our known worlds.
“So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:17
Men have this innate stage in life where we develop a warrior mentality. The warrior mentality is not the problem though. God made men that way for a reason. Romans 8:37 says that we saved to “overwhelmingly conquer” the hardships of this life through Christ. He wants us to conquer. The problem is the focus or object of our conquests and trying to do it in our own strength. So the real question is, “Who are you conquering for?” At what point do your conquests go beyond providing for your family and most importantly, when do your conquests pull you outside the will of the Lord?
Personal Worksheet and Group Exercise 1
To draw this out, here is an exercise to inspect where we are focusing our conquests. Look at the worksheet below. Have a moment of honesty and picture where the lionshare of your life goals fall in this table of priorities. Even the things you would never say out loud, like making partner in the next 5 years, retiring at 55 w $3M, buying a vacation home, etc. Put an estimated date next to each of them as to when you probably set that goal for yourself. It may have been a childhood goal or one set last week. For me, it was that I determined when I was 23 years old, that I would be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company by the time I was 40. It became a pretty unhealthy goal for me and, it took over 12 years to figure that out. Download the worksheet below, and you can use it for group discussion as well.
- This is not an exercise to shame goals. There is nothing inherently wrong with goals until they steer you away from obeying the will of God for your life. That is a very personal line for all of us. This exercise is intended to help you identify unhealthy goals and if those goals act as stakes in the ground pulling you away from the dynamics of God’s will in your life and your other priorities.
- Let me give you an example with Life of Solomon of how even wise goal can morph over time into a foolish one – Wisest man ever to walk the earth. Given a gift of wisdom that brought immense wealth, power, and most importantly peace to the Israelites. Those things were not Solomon’s goals, they were an overflow of the gift and responsibility God gave him. God also gave him a promise that as long as he was faithful and obedient to him, his family would lead the Israelites in peace. When God made that promise to Solomon, that should have set his priorities in concrete, but it didn’t. Knowing the end of the story, as Solomon’s reign continued, he began to rely solely on his own thinking. In his human wisdom, he rationalized that by marrying foreign wives, he would increase his chances of maintaining his new priority of peace. Peace was the mark of wise King. Now the peace that Solomon had obtained to date was not a result of his human efforts, but an overflow his obedience to God and wisdom from God. When his ambition for peace becomes an idol goal is when he started deprioritizing God’s goal of obedience. It may have seemed like something all the other kings did, but that didn’t make it the right thing for him. These wives drove him away from God, ruined his families’ heritage, and split the Israelites leading to poor leadership and their captivity. Solomon was wise, but his desire for peace over obedience, led to destruction that not only affected him, but his family and the nation he lead. You can see Solomon’s lament over the vanities in his life in Ecclesiastes. I find it interesting that probably the richest and wisest man in history writes a book on how unwisely he lived…It is hard to live wisely.
Malcolm Knowles, an expert in adult learning, says that we all receive teaching and instruction based on our personal goals. We essentially automatically apply teaching into our agendas. I can think of many ways that guys do this with the Bible. The Bible comes to life when it is wisely applied the way the Holy Spirit intended it for your life. Seek what the will of the Lord is, don’t let your goals be a stake in the ground, recalibrate them often.
- As you look at your goals, who or what has too much influence on your priorities?
- What could be an unhealthy goal in your life that you need to re-evaluate?
So let’s switch gears to the second reason that guys work too much. Undisciplined time waste in our life and failure to recognize the value of your time elsewhere. One of the best analogies I can think of is texting and driving. A little admission of guilt, how many of us have ever texted and driven? It is very common for people to do it, but that doesn’t justify it. If I’m standing over the scene of a wreck and the police officer asks what was so important that you needed to look at your phone – I’m simply not going to have a good reason.
It’s the same for those important relationships in our life that can fall apart if we are undisciplined in our time with them. Maybe you have heard the story before, but I’ll tell it anyway because it cut me to the core the first time I heard it. A little boy walks into his dad’s home office and asks him to throw the football with him. The dad say not now, I’m working. The boy comes back the next day and asks the same thing and gets the same response. Both the boy and his dad are a little irritated at how this is playing out. So the boy speaks up and says, “Dad, you must be working on some pretty important stuff. How much do they pay you to do that? The Dad laughs because its really not that important, he is just trying to get some reports done. He says, “They pay me a lot, like $40/hour.” About 10 minutes later, the dad hears a loud crash upstairs and runs up there. He see a shattered piggy bank on the floor, and his son with a big smile on his face as he says, “Dad, I’ve got over $40 in here. I’d like to buy an hour of your important time.”
Our time waste at work may not seem like a big deal to us, but it’s a huge deal to our wives and children. It’s a huge deal to God. Even if you don’t value the time, other people in your life do.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18
Paul warns us not to get drunk for that is dissipation. I’m not going to focus on the effect of drinking, but you can draw your own conclusions on whether being drunk is a wise use of time. How filled with the Spirit can you be when you are drunk…But Paul calls it out here because it wasted precious time for the early church. In Webster’s the definition for dissipation is literally “irreversible loss or waste.” In 1 Cor, Paul spent some time on how wise and important it is to be filled with the Spirit, but the fact of the matter is that Spirit can be crowded out of your life, if you don’t spend time in the word for the Spirit to speak to you.
Q5: How much time would you need to accomplish all of your priorities?
Essentially 71% of men said, I don’t have enough time already to accomplish my priorities and on average, I need another 6 hours every day. If you don’t have enough time, first thing you do is stop wasting it.
How can you fight against this to redeem this time? If you are at home, work emails can wait until tomorrow. They are a lesser priority. If you are at work and your wife texts you, that is different. Answer her. Heck, proactively send her messages during the day to tell her you are thinking about her. Why? Because she is a greater priority at all times. Reinforce that for her in the simplest of ways. We see this biblically in the spiritual discipline of fasting. You sacrifice time that would have been used to eat and apply it to God. You are communicating the priority of God when you fast. Look for opportunities to redeem your time for your top priorities.
Another factor here is lingering in the background when it comes to undisciplined time…the scary thing is that some of us use our jobs and maybe even some of our hobbies to become a refuge from the rest of our lives. Maybe things at home are challenging. Don’t get as much affirmation there. There’s just more conflict and challenges at home. Many guys use their jobs or hobbies as a refuge from the failings, shame or hardships of their top priorities…those messy relationships. Here’s the problem. Your problems don’t get better by starving them. You don’t overcome challenges by turning your back to them. As leaders in our homes, we have to step into issues, not step away. The Outputs of our life are directly related to Input. If you starve your relationships with your children, you probably won’t like the output. If you starve your relationship with your wife, you might not have one long term.
Group Exercise 2
- What dissipation/regrettable time waste in your life needs to be redeemed?
- What relationships need more input/better input?
- What areas of your life need to be less compartmentalized?
I hate snakes. In college I hunted a lot in an area where the Indian name for it meant, “Rattlesnake Pit.” So every time I went out I wore snake chaps. One morning I was turkey hunting with a friend on some public land, and we were in a hurry to get into the woods while it was still dark to locate a bird, and I remembered I didn’t put on my snake chaps about 50 ft from the truck. My buddy refused to wait and assured me that we probably wouldn’t see any snakes. We went way back in woods and ended up not get the turkey. On our way out we were walking through a marsh about 6 inches deep, my buddy is in front of me by a couple of steps. Suddenly a cottonmouth raised his head out of the water about a foot from where I was stepping, and I locked up. My only reaction was to swing my gun down to my foot and shoot. First of all, I’m glad I didn’t shoot myself in the foot and my buddy almost crapped his britches which is what he deserved after not letting me get my snake chaps. But about a second after I shot, water and snake parts start coming back to earth and we are both trying to get out from under them. I cannot reiterate to you how much I hate and fear snakes.
If Satan can’t get your time with the pride, ambition, competition, comparison, or distraction, that stinking snake knows how to strike at us and create fear in our lives. Fear is not simply being scared. It is being scared to the point that it changes your behavior. Have you lost your job before and now you work extra hours for job security? Are you afraid that others will look down on your work ethic if you leave at 5:oo? Are you afraid that you won’t make as much money and provide as well for your family? There are so many reasons guys work extra hours, and many stem from some sort of insecurity or fear that starts to influence their work behavior over time. Here’s a look at what our survey men said:
Q6: What do you fear or worry about most in your life?
At the top of the list, you see “money issues/worries” and “fear of failure.” There are legitimate fears on this list and funny ones (boogers, Obama, etc.). Think about the fears in your life and dig into the origin or source. Then consider the mindset of Paul and the early church in our Ephesians passage. Think about how challenging it was for the early church. And Paul… He wasn’t just writing it, he was living it. Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians while in prison. When he stated that “the days are evil,” I have to believe He understood that to a deeper level than we do. He wasn’t having a pity party about his lot in life. He was focused on execution of his mission despite his circumstances. He was focused on his priorities regardless of his circumstance. Read the last verses of our text and see where Paul tells them their fear should lie.
“speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” Ephesians 5:19-21
How critical was it that the early church responded to persecution with worship…? It would have been natural for them to respond in fear. But faith and courage in the face of fear sends such a powerful message for the Gospel. “In the fear of Christ…” Wise living, keeps God first, because putting anything else first is a scary place to be. Paul put it this way to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:6-7, “God did not give you a spirit of timidity or fear, but of power and love and discipline.”
DL Moody puts it this way, “Our greatest fear should not be failure, but at succeeding at something in life that doesn’t matter.” Christ matters, and he matters for an eternity. Solomon described it this way, that God has “set eternity in our hearts.” We are seeking something greater because God designed us to. He designed us to conquer this life, but not with our corporate triumphs, paychecks, or achievements, but through his Son, Jesus Christ. There is no failure in Christ. Risk looks completely different once eternity has been set in our hearts. Challenge yourself to have kingdom mindset. Ask yourself, “If eternity is in my heart, what risk exists for me?”
Back to Solomon who we believe penned Ecclesiastes at the end of his life. The whole book he is discovering all of his life’s pursuits and the things that influenced him were all vanity. It gets so challenging to read towards the end of the book, but he ends with this significant piece of wisdom in Ecclessiastes 12:13 – “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Fear God. Honor His view of you and what you are doing above all else. Blaise Pascal put it this way, “True fear comes from faith. False fear comes from doubts.” Keep Him number one and let your fears and doubts about everything else fade into the background. Your other priorities will only benefit as the benefit of this wisdom cascades down to them as well.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ec 12:13–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Group Exercise 3
- What is it so easy to be consumed by the company culture and a fear of human superiors?
- If Christ wants us to live “set apart” and for Him/in Him, how can your use of time demonstrate your priorities (especially in a company culture of intimidation)?
- How can your band of brothers help you with those fears?
Margin Call – Surrender and Pray
Jesus said “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it.” Getting your priorities right may require you to surrender yourself. Something you have carefully built and constructed or protected, but you know in your heart you need to give it to God. We like to play these things safe and give up a little, a compromise, and I like how JD Greaer puts it. When you sit down to a big breakfast, and you are thankful to the chicken and the pig for your breakfast, just remember that the chicken sacrificed, but the pig surrendered. Don’t be a chicken, be the pig.
To help with that process, pray about everything, put it all on the table. My sweet wife one time asked me to pray about something that I thought was insignificant. She carefully responded to my flippant attitude with a calculation of how many hours that commitment was going to cost our family, and that I needed to check my heart and pray about it before we gave that precious time away. She was absolutely right, and that moment set such an important expectation in our home from then on. I loved that challenge from my wife and continue to appreciate her and her wisdom every time I pray a prayer about my time. Pass that gift on to your spouse and family as well.
Philippians 4:6-7 puts it this way, and it is a great way for me to wrap up, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Anxious in nothing, pray for everything, peace that surpasses all comprehension. Many absolutes in that verse that speak to the importance of prayer. Pray about that project at work before you take it. Pray about your day before you start it.
In everything, wisely pray.
- What do you need to surrender to make your priorities a reality?
- How much of your life and priorities are in your prayer life?
- What types of decisions do you need to pray about regularly?
Feedback / Collective Wisdom of the Group
Here are the thoughts, quotes, and verses fed back from the group during our morning session:
- “Work Smarter, Not Harder” – Sometimes we embark on projects or take direction from a superior without questioning if it is a good use of time. We waste a lot of time on form over function. Constantly question if you are working as smartly as you can. “Don’t confuse busyness with productivity.” They are not the same thing.
- Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.” The wise way in God’s will does not have to make perfect logical sense. Proverbs 16:9 also says, “The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” His plan is greater than ours.
- “Don’t major in the minors.” “Keep the main things, the main things.” “Keep first things first.”
- Social media invades households. Keep the smartphones away to keep the family focused on top priorities as well. It is one of the largest sources of regrettable time waste.
- “Pay attention to what you do first and last.” How you start and end your day. How you start and end a meeting. How you start and end conversations. Keep your priorities straight in how you start and finish.
- Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will teach you unsearchable things.” God has surprises in store for us. Things we can’t comprehend if we’ll just call out to him.
- “Trust God more by working yourself less.” Matthew 6 and the birds of the air.