“To everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”
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I was overjoyed when my last church gave me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer as a retirement gift. I planned to start cooking once I had the time, and so after my last Sunday, the mixer was christened with flour. Cookies and cakes began to appear on the kitchen counter. And best of all was the homemade bread.
The first day I made bread, the taste was okay but the loaves didn’t look quite right. They did’t seem to rise enough. As I thought about it, I realized I may have been a little over anxious to get them made. The directions called for me to let the dough rise for an hour, punch it down, divide it in half and put it in loaf pans. Then I was to let it rise again until it was higher than the edge of the pan, about another hour, before baking. I think I was so excited about making bread that as soon as the dough got anywhere near the top of the loaf pan, I shoved it in the oven, not giving it the time it needed to rise the full amount. What came out tasted good, but wasn’t really as high or light as it could have been if I had waited the full time. I was too impatient.
Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has a sense of time as well. Sometimes we want to rush things along. We don’t allow God to accomplish things in God’s time; we want it done now. I remember a woman at one of the churches I served who told me how alone she felt after her husband died. Her friends were great for the first two months, but then they started to tell her to get on with life and stop moping over her husband’s death. They wanted her grieving to be over in their time. The reality is that it takes years to fully grieve the loss of a spouse.
Too often we want to leave behind the old and dive right in to the new without taking time for reflection and evaluation. We want to shed the old with its challenges and hurts, disappointments and concerns, leaving it behind like a hermit crab moving to a new shell. But our life experiences are not something we can shed like an old shell. What happens to us in our lives becomes a part of who we are. We need to acknowledge what we’ve experienced, process it, learn from it and discern how God is inviting us to move forward, incorporating our past experience into our approach to life in the future. Where there has been success, what can we do to build on it? Where there has been hurt, how can we become wounded healers? Where we have failed, what might we do differently in the future?
In the New International Version, Ecclesiastes 3:11a reads “God has made everything beautiful in its time.” If we are sensitive to God’s time, if we refrain from rushing things and give God the time to work as God desires, then we, too, will find that God can accomplish wonders that make life beautiful.
Prayer: Loving God, help me to live this day in your time, not mine. Let me wait patiently for your way to be made clear; let me live hopefully, knowing that in your time all things work together for the good of your people. Show me how to learn from every experience in my life, and to find your presence in the middle of every situation. For I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Thursday morning before I turned to my sermon, Gordy and I made a trip to the grocery store to stock up for the coming storm. We went at the start of the day hoping to avoid the crowds. Imagine our surprise to find the store almost deserted. There was hardly anyone else shopping. Now I know that many people were at work and others were still getting elementary aged children off to the school bus, but the store was practically empty! I could’t understand it.
Later that morning, Gordy went out to pick up a few more things. He mentioned to the owner at one store how few people seemed to be out stocking up, and the owner provided what he thought was the reason – procrastination. He said, “Wait until the end of the workday. This store will be mobbed tonight. People just wait till the last minute!”
There was a whole day before the snow was forecast, so I guess people had other things that seemed more important – Thursday’s work or kids’ schedules. But woe to the person who waited too long and discovered empty shelves without bread or milk on Friday afternoon. They’d be hard pressed to provide for themselves or their family if the storm turns out to be as severe as forecast.
Too often, we allow our priorities to be set by what’s next on the calendar instead of asking ourselves what’s most important. In the words of Steven Covey, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) We allow ourselves to be dominated by things that are in truth less important but appear to be urgent because they are due sooner rather than later. But sometimes, the things we are caught up doing prove to be relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, focusing on the near at hand deadlines can lead us to overlook what is truly important.
Our faith life is like that. For most of us, life seems to stretch out before us for years to come. End of life concerns are things we think we can put off for some other day. “There’s time to nurture my relationship with God later,” we think, turning instead to address the “urgent” things in our life, things that are happening now. But isn’t our eternal salvation one of the most important things in our life? Isn’t our relationship with God the most important relationship we have? Which will be more important in eternity – that we squeezed in one more phone call for work, or that we set aside five minutes to spend with God. Don’t put off doing the things that will draw you nearer to God; don’t delay! This is the day to ask God to be a regular part of your life, and commit to growing in your faith.
Prayer: Patient and forbearing God, you want me to be in a close relationship with you, but too often I put you off, letting other needs eat up my time, consume my focus and move me away from you. Open my eyes to your presence in my life. Open my heart to seek you every day in prayer, in Scripture and in my actions. Help me to put your kingdom first, and to let your will be the guide to ordering all the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…God has made everything suitable for its time” Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 11a
When I was a kid, I loved to watch Peter Pan. The version with Mary Martin, that is. Every year in the spring, our local New York station would broadcast Peter Pan and Mary Martin would fly from side to side of the screen, the Lost Boys would refuse to grow up, and Cyril Richard as Captain Hook would flee the crocodile that had taken his hand. Periodically through the show, you would hear the “tick-tock” of the crocodile, and that inexorable time sound would strike fear into the heart of the pirate crew.
There are occasions today when it seems that time is moving as inexorably as the “tick-tock” of the crocodile, moving forward in ways that strikes fear into the bravest of hearts. Just a few weeks ago many clergy were scrambling to put together bulletins and sermons for at least four or five services over the 8 days of Holy Week, and the “tick-tock” sounded loud in our ears.
There are other times when the deadline we face is of our own making. We may want a church committee to complete an action by a certain time or vote to move forward right now! And sometimes, it feels like the crocodile is running toward us. It is important for us to remember that not everything needs to be done on our time. Sometimes, we need to wait on God’s time when things seem to come slowly, or recognize that God is moving forward with or without us when time races by. Some things we can control, for other things we need to listen for God’s time and respect that God’s time may not be ours. Another translation of Ecclesiastes 3:11a says “God has made everything beautiful in its time.” So whether we wait upon the Lord, or move forward convinced of the urgency of the time, let us do so only after we have stopped, prayed and listened for God’s will.
Prayer: Gracious God, in the fullness of time you sent your son, not when we wanted it, not when people were convinced that they had to have a Saviour, but when you judged the time to be right. Help us to wait patiently for your will, to act quickly when you call us, and to depend on you to set the agenda for each day. Amen.