Text: Psalm 90
Time is precious. We need to prioritize what we do in our life. God, People, Joy, and Calling should be our focus. The other parts are what we do to fill in our time.
This is one of a four sermon series focused on developing a picture of a biblical steward. The series is titled, "Making the Most of All We've Been Given." The stewardship topics are time, money, lives and creation.
Making the Most of Your Days
April 27, 2008 Psalm 90
Pastor Vern Christopherson
Time flies, doesn't it? I didn't know just how fast it flies until Pastor John was getting ready to leave Transfiguration. John was out saying goodbye to a few of our homebound members. He went to visit Gladyce Bergman at the Masonic Home. Gladyce is getting a little mixed up on details, but she still remembers names and keeps track of what's going on at church. Gladyce was congratulating Pastor John on his new call. She said, "Such a good opportunity for such a nice young pastor." Then, for whatever reason, Gladyce felt the need to add, "Say, I haven't seen that Pastor Vern in awhile. He must be slowing up. Just how old is he getting to be now, 60 or 70?" Needless to say, my colleague couldn't wait to get back to church to share that bit of good news with me.
Time flies...especially when you get to be my age. Every year we get new calendars. Each square of the calendar represents a day of our lives. We fill in the squares with the important stuff--birthdays, weddings, volunteer commitments--the stuff we don't' want to forget. But we also fill them with lots of little things too--a cup of coffee with a friend, exercise, a chance to help out a neighbor.
Years ago Dutch author, Lewis Smedes, wrote some wise and challenging words about our calendars. "I live one square at a time," he wrote. "The four lines that make up the box are the walls of time that organize my life. Each box has an invisible door that leads to the next square. As I get older the squares seem to get smaller. One day I will walk into a square that has no door. There will be no mysterious opening into an adjoining square. It will be terminal. I do not know which square it will be."
During a week in which we buried an 18-year-old Jefferson High School student, these words hit you right between the eyes. So does Psalm 90. Psalm 90 is also talking about the squares of our lives. It's trying to get us to see the big picture. It reads like a prayer of lament: "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. You were around before the mountains were formed. You've been our God for as long as we can remember. So in the midst of all this eternity, Lord, why does life seem so short? We're born; we live; we die; they put us in the ground; and then people go back to church and eat potato salad. Life is like a dream, a puff of smoke, and a blade of grass. Oh sure, we might live to be 70 or 80 if we're strong. But soon enough, our days are gone and we fly away. Lord, it just doesn't seem like enough. Are you angry with us?"
If you take Psalm 90 out of context, it can make God seem vengeful and capricious, just waiting to catch us making a mistake so God can squash us like a bug. But that's not the point. God is full of steadfast love and compassion, says the psalmist. God wants to prosper the work of our hands. But here's the problem: too often we fill up our squares with everything but that which matters most. "When you do that," God warns us, "life can feel all out of joint. Trouble can be right around the corner."
So, what do we do? The psalmist prays for a way out: "Lord, teach us to count our days, so that we may gain a wise heart." Help us to fill our squares well.
Imagine this jar that I'm holding represents your life. The rice going into this jar represents the stuff of your life. Each detail, each event, pours a little more rice into the jar. You get up in the morning, shower, eat breakfast, head out the door [add rice to the jar]. Some of you try to save time by multitasking--you eat breakfast in the car, talk on the phone, shave, and apply makeup while driving to work (you know who you are). You work on projects, go to class, run some errands, attend a meeting, raise kids, look after the grandkids [add rice]. Of course, you have to manage the chaos. The average desk has 36 hours of worked piled up on it. We spend an average of 16 minutes a day looking for lost objects [add rice]. Of course, you're going to spend time on the phone, pay a few bills, send off some emails [add rice]. There's dinner to cook, dishes to do, clothes to wash [add rice]. You might have some volunteer work at church, a soccer game, a meeting to attend [add rice]. And hopefully you're able to get some exercise, watch a little TV, and do your best to not fall asleep before the 10 o'clock news [add rice].
Experts in a variety of fields did a study on how much time people need per day just to get by. The minimum requirement? 36 hours. "Lord, teach us to count our days, that we may gain a wise heart. Help us fill our squares well."
With all this busyness, what about the big things in life--where do they fit in? That's what these tennis balls represent.
The first tennis ball has a G on it, which stands for God. Of course, God is not one priority among many. God is the priority. A survey was done in which thousands of people were asked what keeps them from knowing and loving God better. The number one answer? "I'm too busy."
Psalm 1 compares a follower of God to a tree planted by a stream of water. The roots go deep, the branches are strong, and the leaves are colorful and vibrant. I want to be like that. I want to grow. I'd like to make some headway on a few sins and bad habits. I'd like to have a stronger prayer life. I want to dig deeper into the Bible. God is important.
The second tennis ball is marked with a P, and that stands for people. We want to be close to our families, have a few deep friendships, appreciate the people we work with, have some folks who miss us when we're gone. But here's the deal: Relationships can't be microwaved. People take time.
I had lunch with Pastor Mary Pechauer last week. In case you didn't know, Pastor Mary served here a few years back. Her daughter, Siri, is now a junior in high school. Siri recently got dreadlocks. Because of it, Mary has to spend an hour and a half, three or four nights a week, with Siri. She applies wax to the dreadlocks and then hair dries the wax out. Says Mary, "You hope for some time with your kids, and suddenly you get more than you ever imagined." Mary is loving every minute of it. People are important.
My third tennis ball has the letter C for calling. Our calling is our little niche in the world, someplace where our gifts and passions meet up with the world's needs.
Bob is 72-years-old. He volunteers in children's ministries at Willow Creek Church in Chicago. One Sunday morning the parents of a little girl didn't show up after worship. As Bob waited, the girl asked if he would read Winnie the Pooh to her. Bob was glad to do it. When he finished, she asked him to read it again. Bob began wondering where the parents were, but he kept reading. Finally he caught sight of the mother as she entered the room. She stood quietly behind her daughter until he had finished reading it for a third time. Afterward, she apologized for being late and thanked him. Then she added: "I was watching, but I didn't want to interrupt. You're the only man who has read to her since my husband died two years ago."
One older gentleman reading Winnie the Pooh. Providing balm for a little girl's soul. Callings are important.
The fourth tennis ball is marked with the letter J which stands for joy. Jesus once said to his followers, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full." Isn't that what we want out of life--joy? We want to celebrate God's amazing, wonderful, holy gift of life. We want to appreciate sunsets. We want to enjoy a slice of banana cream pie. We want to go one whole week in Minnesota without snow.
Physician Bernie Siegle writes: "I've done the research and I hate to tell you, but everybody dies--lovers, joggers, vegetarians, and non-smokers. I'm telling you this so that some of you who jog at 5 a.m. and eat vegetables will occasionally sleep late and have an ice cream cone." Joy is important.
Well, as you can see, my tennis balls don't fit in the jar. Got any ideas? Should we try to squeeze them in? Sleep less? Get more organized? Get a calendar with larger squares? The problem is that the jar only comes in size 24. It can't be supersized.
I have another idea. Take the jar and empty out all the rice. Start your day with an empty jar. Begin by devoting your time to honoring your deepest commitments: God, people, calling, joy--or whatever your deepest commitments happen to be. Trust God with the rest of your time [pour the rice back in around the tennis balls]. Trust that if God wants you to get the desk cleaned off and the windows washed, God will help you find a way to get it done. Here's a novel idea: maybe some things won't get done and maybe they don't need to.
A few years ago, when Lewis Smedes was eighty-one years old, he was up on a ladder putting Christmas lights around the outside of his house. He slipped and fell and hit his head. He went into a coma and died a few days later. That final box, the one he had written about decades before, came one day for him.
There are, Smedes wrote, only two options about the final square. One is that it turns out to be a coffin. When we die, we go out like so many candles in the wind, and then one day, maybe a million years from now, everything will be dark.
The second possibility is that when we walk into that final square, it isn't a box at all; it turns out to be a door. The four walls that have confined us melt away, and time is no more. And our real life, far from being over, turns out to have just begun. The Christian gospel comes down to a promise from Jesus: "I have gone on ahead to prepare a place for you." The last square is an opening into a new world where God will set everything right. One day you will enter it, and so will I.
In the meantime, fill your squares well. And count your days, so that you gain a wise heart. Amen.
Other sermons in the series:
Making the Most of our Planet
Making the Most of our Self
Making the Most of our Money
Rev. Vern Christopherson is Senior Pastor at Lutheran Church of the Transfiguration in Bloomington, MN and a Doctor of Mininstry student at Luther Seminary.