Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
~ Matthew 6:25-33
For most Americans, Jesus’ promise of provision in the Sermon on the Mount may seem like a nice abstraction. It’s lovely to think of God providing for our physical needs, but how many urgent needs do most of us really feel? How many of us have really had to worry about the next meal or whether we’ll have someplace to spend the night? Of course, for some in America and for many of our brothers and sisters around the world, these assurances are a much more urgent and wonderful thing, but for most Americans they are promises to meet a need they have never really felt.
But even if God’s rich provision for our nation means that you never have to worry about food or clothing, studying Jesus’ promises in Matthew 6 offers a helpful, encouraging template for thinking about another resource, one which we always seem to be needing more of: our time.
Just as the request for “daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer is really a petition for more than mere bread, Jesus’ promise of provision should be understood more broadly than just food and clothing. As Christ taught a few sentences earlier, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Your Father knows what you need. It’s true of food and clothing, and it is true of things like the time you need for today’s responsibilities.
Now, we must remember that Jesus is not promising ease and abundance here. Food and clothing are the basic essentials of survival. Christ’s examples of divine provision are carefully chosen to symbolize sufficiency, not luxury. And, similarly, we should not expect God to clear our schedule of extraneous demands in order to accommodate everything we might wish to enjoy or accomplish. But he does promise enough. Enough for the husband or wife; enough for the parent; enough for the employee; enough for the elder or deacon in the church. Whatever the demands upon your schedule, God will provide the time you truly need.
But note Jesus’ next words: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Jesus wants us to live with open hands, freed to pursue Kingdom work because we know our Father will provide the means for daily life. So his promise is for daily provision as we prioritize and pursue “the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” If I squander the money God provides, I shouldn’t expect to be able to shuffle up to the throne and demand an extra allowance this month because I spent my food and clothing budget on a Ferrari.
So it is with time. God gives us enough time—and I don’t mean 24 hours in the day, but free time, usable time—to do what needs doing in our lives. But wasted time is stolen time; stolen from the better uses we might be making of it. The two hours I spend in front of a TV in the evening are two hours that were given to me in trust, to be used in pursuit of “the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” If I subsequently find myself without enough time for the demands of family or church, I can hardly complain. God gave me the time. I just wasted it.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that TV-watching or other leisure activities are necessarily wasted time. We were not made for constant work. If nothing else, the provision of one day in seven to rest teaches us that. But whether we are working or playing or resting, we need to do it with an awareness that we are investing time given to us by God as both a gift and a responsibility.
I think there are two ways in which we modern Americans are particularly inclined to make poor use of the time God gives us in stewardship. First, we often waste it on frivolous, cotton-candy entertainment which doesn’t even rest or satisfy us. Electronics make it so easy to turn genuine tiredness into an excuse to plug into a screen for hours of lazy stimulation which leave us less refreshed than thirty minutes of healthy walking or reading or conversation might. I challenge you, reader, to consider how much time you waste in front of a screen each week (perhaps in large chunks, or perhaps in five-minute doses scattered through the day). What better, richer use might you be making of those hours? If you find yourself dissatisfied with your use of the time God has given you, change. No one else is going to do it for you, and the potential rewards are enormous.
The second way we make poor use of time is through skewed priorities. Few of our cultural idols rank above productivity. We feel we must always do, do, do, whether at the office or at home. We work 70-hour weeks or cart our children to a thousand after-school activities because, well, that’s just how it is nowadays. Our patron saint is Martha, “distracted with much serving” while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. And what did he say? “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
Personally, I find the cult of productivity is my greatest struggle in my use of time. The self-employed, like parents, have no office-hours, and there is always another thing—another valuable thing, another useful thing—which needs doing. I dread looking back in 20 years and seeing a pile of articles and podcasts and books alongside a wife and children who always felt second-best, or a church family I never really met, or a Bible I never had time to read because I was too busy serving God to listen to him. That’s not to say I should never prioritize the next deadline over family time, but I always have to be weighing and asking whether I am pursuing what is truly valuable rather than what our culture tells me is more important. I don’t always answer that question as wisely as I should, but it’s something we all must ask in an increasingly busy, clamorous world.
And as we ask that question, something which I find tremendously encouraging and helpful is one more lesson we can draw out of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount…
If Jesus promises that God will give us whatever is required for the needs of the day, then I can be assured that I am not responsible for any needs beyond the resources I’ve been given. I am not obligated to feed every hungry child out of my own wallet, and I’m not responsible for mentoring every lonely child in my town, either. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, the servant with five talents was responsible for five; the servant with two was responsible for two; and the servant with one was responsible for one (Matt 25:14-30). God gives us each 24 hours in a day, and the parent of three young children has a different set of responsibilities than the single twenty-something with an abundance of free time.
So use your time well, prioritize your commitments thoughtfully and biblically, and then trust God to handle the daily remnant you cannot get to. Remember that whether we need food or clothing or time, he will give enough. And that will be enough.