I wish I had learned how to properly balance my time earlier in my life. I was sitting in a class on the Pentateuch in college and I distinctly remember our professor telling us the best way to write papers. “Finish your papers a week or two in advance. That way you can put it to the side and read it with fresh eyes later and make adjustments.” I was twenty-one at the time and I chuckled. Who had time to write a paper that early? I had other class work to do, I had sermons to prepare, I had golf practice, and I had social functions to attend. Who in the world has that much time to finish a paper that early?
So what happened? I spent the weekend before the paper was due cramming. I went to our library only to find that the books I needed were already taken because, like myself, all of my classmates had waited until the last possible minute. I was so frustrated, but there was nothing I could do but turn in a paper that was only passable and later forced to re-write.
Did I change after this? To some degree, yes, but not really. I remember writing another paper and finishing it roughly a week before it was due. When my friends were cramming to finish their paper, I had the security of knowing that my work had been done and I did not need to stay up half the night finishing. The reason I finished it early was because I was scheduled to work a youth event on the weekend, so I had an earlier deadline forced upon me. But when those kinds of deadlines disappeared, then reappeared my procrastination.
When I entered my graduate studies I did this once more. And when my papers were returned, they looked like red-lettered Gospels. There was so much ink that I was incredibly frustrated and doubted my calling. The main critique was that I did not conduct enough research, and the professor was right. Why? I basically put it off until the last minute, research included.
Balancing my time has become more important than ever now that I am a husband, father, pastor, and a Ph.D. student. Through trial and errors, and the Lord’s graciousness and my wife’s kindness, I have learned what sort of person I am. Here I would like to encourage you with some things I've learned on managing your time for God’s glory. The lessons are simple but hard-learned.
This almost seems redundant, but it’s true. I have learned that when I have a schedule set (either in my mind or on paper) my personality will force me to work. It is almost like a challenge that I must finish. Since I am competitive by nature, doing this helps me make it a competition and, since I hate losing, I usually work hard.
Compare this to those who wait for free time. My own experience is that it won’t happen and, if it does, I will typically fill it with something else that is less important. For example, here is how I conduct my sermon research each week.
Monday: Translation and syntactical exegesis of my biblical text (Sunday morning and night)
Tuesday: Form an outline (based upon Monday’s research) on paper and computer
Wednesday: Read commentaries/books/journal articles/sermons on my texts
Thursday: Write Sunday morning’s sermon
Friday: Write Sunday night’s sermon
Saturday: Read Sunday morning's sermon that night
Sunday: Rise early for prayer and sermon review. Sunday afternoon (2pm) read Sunday night’s manuscript.
What I have discovered is that when I do my first diagram session and translation my mind is already thinking about how the outline will be formed, how this text is related to others, and how it can be preached. So that when I get to the outline, I already have a good concept of where I am going and, if time permits, I can jump ahead and begin reading on the text. From there, my mind is already churning on how I will preach the text and what I will say, so Thursday normally does not take me too long because I have been going over the sermon in my mind.
This is my ideal schedule, but life often happens. People come to visit, you will be away from your computer on a certain day, etc. When that happens what I normally do is combine one day into two, which is why I try to keep the task relatively small. That way when it something happens (as it often does) I am not overwhelmed.
Make Every Moment Count
When I began my doctoral studies I scoured the Internet for advice on how to balance both my family and my studies. I contacted Patrick Schreiner (New Testament professor at Western Seminary) to see how he balanced everything. His advice was simple, “Make every moment count.”
This sounds easy, but something clicked in my mind. How can I make every single moment count? Whenever I have any down time how am I making it count in my studies so that I am able to spend more time with my family later?
Paul exhorts his readers in Ephesians 5:15–16 to "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil."
This is set in the context of walking in love and living according to righteousness, but I think the same principle can be applied to balancing time and life. We have been given a set, predetermined number of days to walk this earth. We should, by God’s grace, make every one of them count.