Living on Borrowed Time

After buying a company worth twenty-seven billion dollars, Warren Buffet was asked in an interview why he manages his diary so meticulously.

Buffet explained that he manages his time with the utmost care, because;

“I can buy anything I want, but I can’t buy time

There is a great disparity of wealth between the likes of ourselves compared to Buffet. Buffets wealth is something-something billion dollars (and fluctuates like the weather) whereas our wealth is simply incalculable, and is stored up in heaven.

However despite the great disparity between us, there is a good lesson in what Buffet said. Just as his colossal fortune causes him to guard his use of time with obsessive carefulness, so too our rich faith and hope should prompt us to guard our time to ensure it is used wisely.

Christ’s message to us of faith was, “occupy till I come”. This message was incredibly important because he said this in context of the parable of the money that the nobleman gave to his servants before he travelled to a far country. When the nobleman returned, he found that each servant had invested his money in varying ways. Some had simply done nothing while others had invested their money hard. This is a very frank picture of what it will be like when Christ returns; some of us will have invested hard in using our time for God and sadly, others will have done very little with their time to advance Gods work.

And so the question is, how are we occupying our time? How are we spending, investing and managing our time? What do we do in our spare time?

A key area of concern is the amount of time we spend swiping, browsing, sharing and interacting on social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and more. These platforms seem free, but they’re not; we pay for them with our time. Our time and information are then sold by these platforms to third party advertisers.

These platforms are designed so that we develop an addiction to them; there’s a term for it – its called “Persuasive design”. Persuasive design is a design practice that focuses on influencing our behaviour. Persuasive design techniques are ingrained in our social media apps to try and influence our human psyche and habits. From a neurological point of view, we respond to these design techniques in two ways. Firstly, we feel a subconscious stress response, (because we are waiting for something to happen and have no idea where its going to go), and secondly, they stimulate a dopamine release for building anticipation which makes us feel the urge to come back to find out more. This generates which is known as “FOMO” – “Fear of missing out”.

We also get a good dopamine fix when watching TV. Today’s producers know all the neurological design tricks to get viewers addicted and living with an insatiable anticipation for the release of the next episode, or the next live sports coverage. The producers highlight the most intense moments of the season and preview them over and over again; they cut the scenes just at the point when viewers are about to discover a thrilling new element to the story; they deploy and elicit the full spectrum of emotions (disgust being an increasingly popular emotion that viewers like to feel) and are always sure to make viewers question what is right.

Giving in to mindless habits like TV or social media whenever we find free time is like reaching for the bottle that says “dopamine”: we take a sip and fulfil the behaviour of an addict. We surrender our precious time to the advertisers so that they can ask us to surrender our money as well.

Of course, many of these activities are not of themselves evil, but let’s not be naive about this; not only are they proven to have adverse social, psychological and neurological effects, but they can also have an insidious effect on our relationship with God, depending on how much time we invest in them.

When we constantly surrender ourselves to easy, mindless and impulsive habits like these, we demonstrate to God our lack of self-control and we cripple our ability to commit brain power to Gods work. And so the question is, how are we occupying our time? How are we spending, investing and managing our time?

The clock is ticking. Prophecy is unfolding quickly.

The nobleman is about to return from a far country and gather us together to judge how we have occupied our time. Have we been reading his word each day? Have we been preaching the gospel? Have we been contacting and visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction?

Or have we surrendered our spare time to mindless habits that are of no worth to Christ?

Does the Bible compete with anything for time in your life?

Today’s generation is faced with a problem like no other – an unprecedented proliferation of opportunities to be entertained or indulged; each one playing a part in stifling and smothering the desirability and presence of God’s Word.

For thousands of years, the Word of God has been a captivating safe haven for people who have been confronted by war, disease and persecution. Fast forward to today, and we find ourselves in a societal landscape saturated with mind consuming distractions which range – according to whatever view you adopt – from ‘harmless’ to ‘insidious’. The reality is that however you see it, most ‘harmless’ activities can end up becoming ‘insidious’ by virtue of the amount of time we spend consumed in them.

For many of us, social media has successfully dominated our lives and taken large amounts of time away from our family or time away from Gods Word. For others the problem might be gaming, a hobby, holidays, having a TV in the lounge – you name it. Perhaps the problem exists, but is not yet known to you.

Even if we are convinced that our pursuit, habit or hobby is harmless, Christ’s words to the ecclesia of Laodicea should prompt us to constantly reassess our conviction. When Christ said to the Laodicean’s that he would “spue you out of my mouth”, he didn’t issue this stark warning because Laodicea had become subjected to some dark and insidious form of Baal worship, No! Their problem was not immorality, wrong doctrine, child sacrifice, or some other form of blatantly perverted evil.

The influence that repulsed Christ so much, was materialism; the Laodiceans lived amongst general prosperity and comfort, and they weren’t in any hurry to oppose it. Where the Smyrnan’s were incredibly thankful to have a loaf of bread on the table, the Laodiceans were complaining about the brand of the coffee they were just served. Where the Smyrnans suffered shocking persecution at the hands of the Roman authorities, the Laodiceans used wax to caress their shiny sports edition cars.

Transplant the Laodiceans to our age, and they would’ve had a rort! The deafening roar of the crowd as they cheer on the chariots at the Colosseum would be old-school entertainment when compared to the pounding roar of today’s V8 supercar. Better still, the vision of the elite cars projected onto the living room wall, complete with some ground shaking surround-sound would make for an adrenaline-on-tap experience which would leave the chariots in the dust.

The age in which we live today has had the benefit of thousands of years to master the art of stimulating every sensory, making todays offerings far more sophisticated than the classic Laodicean experience. Today’s selection of indulgence is highly customised to our unique taste, easily justifiable and always ‘in your face’; every minute of the day comes with an incessant and unrelenting invitation to lapse into an indulgent habit – the only remedy being a constant and determined effort, to make righteous decisions.

Sometimes (more than we like to admit?) we give in to mindless habits, and steal and plunder the time that belongs to God – and sometimes, we don’t even realise we are doing it. How do we know when we are plundering time that is due only to God? Perhaps one litmus test is to reflect on our growth in Christ. Paul talks about constantly growing in the word as a lifelong endeavour and you would recall he admonished the Hebrews for not progressing beyond a very basic understanding of scripture. The problem of not progressing beyond the milk of the word is a serious challenge for our ecclesia while faced by the constant allurement of materialism.

It’s a challenge that has seen brethren and sisters who, while hesitant to open their Bible and study the word, are studiously committed to their personal interests – be it sports, politics, gaming, hobbies or entertainment. In those fields of interest, study is not a problem, time is not an issue. For example, it might be a fanatical knowledge of the cricketing world has consumed time over many years, leaving scriptural knowledge to pay the price.

Perhaps Revelation has been consigned to the ‘too hard basket’ and instead we have reclined and enjoyed an entrancing TV series. A decision like this requires self-discipline no doubt, but as a brother recently pointed out, consider the implications of this; that Revelation is the bridegroom’s last impassioned letter to us, his bride – whom he loves. It would be difficult when our bridegroom comes to have to explain to him why we have not read his letter to us – what legitimate excuse could we possibly have? Consider how our Lord would feel if we allow our focus to become consumed on temporary things, while ecclesial resourcefulness is in deficit, with attendance dropping, welfare becoming consigned to the work of a few and gospel proclamation under pressure.

It’s not hard to flick on the TV, sit back and revel in the drama of sport. It’s not hard to become experts in retail products that we covet. It’s not hard to follow a TV season, or spend each evening flicking through social media. It takes effort and time to open to the word of God and develop a deep personal conviction of God, his expectations and his love. But despite the effort, this should be our ultimate aspiration in life, beyond anything else!

Christ has called followers who are prepared to dedicate themselves to him in every way possible and therefore reassessing how we spend our time in this age, needs to be a conscious, repeated effort. If a habit or hobby has consistently taken our interest, or time, or enthusiasm away from God’s word or ecclesia, than we must remove the roadblock and clear the way for time in service to God.

If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Mat 5:30

The most important commandment in the Bible calls for dedication from every fibre of our being – not just our spare time.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Duet 6:5-9

Let’s take every opportunity we can to indulge Gods Word – to meditate upon it day and night, encourage others to talk about it at the meeting, consider its principles together with our closest friends and family, and expound them to those who are yet to learn the truth.

Our sacrifice is not one made on the cross, the stake, or in persecution; the challenge which materialism presents to faith today is far more alluring than times past, but no less fateful as our Lord has made abundantly clear.

As each day brings us closer to his return, let’s determine to give Gods Word the premium time in our daily schedule that it deserves, for truly there is little in this life that should compete for time with the Word of God.