Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Giving God Your "Time"?

Why do people say that following Jesus, or being a "good Christian" means giving God of your time and money?  It is beyond axiomatic in evangelical circles that being a serious Christian means giving God your "time."  But what does this mean, and should Christians speak this way?

It seems to me that when folks talk like this, they mean "doing things for God" specifically apart from their daily tasks of work, family and ordinary, church attendance (they unfortunately leave God outside of the realm of recreation and play time as well).  What lies behind the idea that one must "give his time" to God?  Giving money, is perhaps an easier task to imagine as money is in some sense a tangible: write a check, proffer a Federal Reserve Note, or even charge your credit card or deduct electronically from your account.  Something "happens" when you give your money.  Giving it to "God" is a way of saying that we give to things God is interested in: the local church and things like charities come to mind.  But what about paying your taxes?  Is that "giving to God"?  Or what about paying your bills?  Is that also "giving to God?"  And how are the aforementioned duties of life related to "giving your time" to God?

Perhaps it's helpful to ask ourselves a few questions about giving time.  Does a man who works as a doctor all day have the permission to say he's given his time to God that day--if all he does is go to work and come home, eat dinner, watch the news and go to bed?  What about the man who works for the city and trims the trees, or counts the meters or fixes the drains?  Does that also count as "giving your time" to God? Shouldn't it?  I think it should, don't you? 

On a theoretical level, is it even possible to give one's time to God?  Do we own time, or are we stewards of time that we can say, "Here, God.  Here is the time you gave me today"?  Philosophers and physicists struggle in defining what time really is, much less God's relationship to it.  Should we therefore speak as if we can give God something that is so difficult to conceptualize and define?  So, what do people mean by giving God of one's time, anyway?

On a practical level, evangelical Christians--who are as fond of cliches as anyone--use the phrase "give God your time" by speaking of engaging in activities considered "secular," giving credence to the unfortunate sacred/secular split taught by the Roman Catholic Church.  That is, while nuns and priests engage in sacred duties, the rest of mankind is involved in secular duties.  Evangelicals do this all the time when talking about "working in the ministry" as opposed to a "secular job" like carpentry, electrical work, or business.  Carpentry--hey wait a minute.  I think I know someone who was a carpenter.  Nah.

But does Scripture speak of either work or time in the sacred/secular split?   We'll focus just on work, because of common misunderstandings of what constitutes "giving God one's time," and is therefore more pertinent to our discussion.  

What the Bible says about Work.

Work was given to Adam in the Garden, and Bezahel and Oholiab were given special skills in "artistic crafts" and a whole host of other technical know-how in engraving and setting stones, working with gold, silver and bronze, in addition to the ability of teaching others how to do the same things (Exodus 35:30-35).  Also, God ordains Israel as an agricultural community, as well as a scribal and teaching center.  So that means that in ancient Israel, farming was ordained by God as good, and that farming meant something in terms of relationship with God.

Work is good, and even though we live in a fallen world, work is the idea of God, is ordained by God, and can be a blessing to God from us (in addition to the more-than-obvious other way around).  If this was the case in the Old Covenant, how much more present is God with us in the New Covenant in our work, play and familial activities through the Holy Spirit?  Is "Church work" the only "sacred" "time" in which we can "give" something to God?  Hardly.

So, if using the phrase "giving God your time" is theologically flawed in terms of its sacred/secular dichotomy, how should Christians speak in terms of which they mean to describe living a life of devotion to Christ?  A woman at a Bible study I go to mentioned Brother Lawrence's book Practicing the Presence of God.   In this book, he describes peeling potatoes while glorying in the presence of the smiling, loving Father who is the Almighty.  Now, peeling potatoes is a non-mentionable, mundane task not related to the mission of God in the world if ever there was one--so people think.  They ask, aren't there things to do which really capture God's attention, like visiting widows and orphans, or preaching the gospel or going on a mission trip, and so on?  Well, yes and no.  "True religion," says the Apostle James, "is to visit widows and orphans in their distress," (1;27).  So James affirms doing duties we easily consider "sacred."  But he also adds this, "and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."  But James isn't espousing that "those in ministry" have "sacred jobs" while those doing everything else (whatever that is), have "secular jobs."

There are secular people.  But are there secular jobs?  There are jobs that are sinful i.e. prostitution.  But is prostitution a secular job?  No.  So, if you are rescuing prostitutes from the sexual slave trade, are you "giving God your time," whereas the person who works as an accountant is not?  Again, no.  God calls this person to this thing, and He calls that person to that thing.  Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5). 

What does James tell us about this?  James gives us a healthy queue then, on spiritual life: whether you are doing something you think is sacred, as opposed to something secular, remember that the state of "unspottedness" is the rubric by which to judge yourself.  Are you a doctor?  Do it well, in an "unspotted" i.e. faithful, obedient and "unsinful" way.  That's sacred work, sir.  This is why Paul says, "So, whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).  Of course, we risk oversimplification here on what spiritual formation is like or what true spirituality is.  So, let's keep on track: "giving our time" to God is something we do throughout the day.  It is not as if you go to work in the morning and then do "sacred" duties at Church or Bible study that night.  No no.  Changing diapers?  Check uber high on the spirituality scale.  "Oh Lord! That smell!"  That's spiritual, baby.  And God is in that.  He's all in!  He's in your time, and you are in His.  It's a matter of heart, mind and soul.  It's most certainly not in the least about punching out of the secular duty time clock of your day and "getting spiritual" when you go to a church meeting (may it never be!), or preach the gospel on the street corner.  No sir.  All of those things are good, and God is in all of them.   

Rather than saying Christians should "give their time to God," they should speak like Brother Lawrence.  Practice His Presence throughout the day through prayer, meditation, and thinking of Him while you're doing whatever you are doing.  You can talk to Him.  A heart of thankfulness is a good place to start.  Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you may offer a lament, or your anxiety, or whatever ails you.  It is best if Christians stop using the language of "giving your time to God," and start saying things like, "practice His Presence."

Can I get a witness?

1 comment:

Tad said...

Let us practice his presence. Amen.