Putting Time in an Envelope

Putting Time in an Envelope

I lived most of my adult life without worrying about a budget. Money always seemed like a guaranteed resource that would always be around, I just had to avoid spending the ambiguous amount of “too much.” When my family finally got on a budget, I realized just how finite money really is.

We began using a digital version of the envelope system, which is the idea that you take any income you receive and piece it out between different envelopes that need to have money in them (groceries, gas, insurance, etc). When you buy groceries, you use money from the grocery envelope to pay for them, and if there isn’t enough in it then you have to take money from another envelope.  Some envelopes, like rent and utilities, demand that we have a certain amount in it by the end of the month or else! Others, like money for eating out and buying clothes,  aren’t as demanding.

If an unexpected expense comes up, the envelopes with some “wiggle room” are the ones we can safely dip in to. A co-pay at the doctor’s office may mean we don’t buy Kraft-brand string cheese. A coffee from the gas station means I won’t be buying a song on iTunes. Every dollar spent is a dollar I can’t spend elsewhere, and it has taught me the value of the limited resources that God gives us.

But this isn’t a commentary on how to manage our money.

This actually has to do with a conversation I recently had with my sister. I shared with her that my free time used to be an idol that I coveted it to the extreme. As we talked, we discussed the time that we waste pursuing a thousand small things and giving God whatever time is leftover (if any). She then shared something one of her college friends had written, which could be summed up as “time is the only thing we can give God.” I appreciated the idea, but somewhat scoffed at how much emphasis he’d placed on time.

As I shared the idea with my wife and really started thinking about it throughout the day, the Holy Spirit kept unwrapping more and more of that truth to me. Like money, our time is finite. We don’t know how much we have, but history has proven that our time on earth is limited. While we often throw out phrases like “I’ve got plenty of time to _______,” or “I’ll get around to it one of these days,” James reminds us otherwise:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. ()

While 70 or 80 years seems to afford us plenty of time to accomplish everything we want, in reality it’s just an exhaled breath on a cold winter morning. To the world, that means we ought to live life in excess. We should enjoy all the activities we can, relax whenever we’re able, and surround ourselves with pleasure because there is no hope outside of today. But as believers, does it honor God to mirror ourselves after the world?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. ()

Time is a precious resource. Everything is governed by time, and every activity demands it as a payment. Watching TV costs time, checking Facebook costs time, and even spending money costs the time spent earning it. A minute used on one activity is a minute that can’t be spent elsewhere; it is gone as soon as it’s spent.

Like any blessing, God expects us to be good stewards of this resource. We are expected to not only use it well, but use it well to His glory. But if we have a hard time making the best use of something as straightforward as money, how can we possibly be expected to use something as abstract as time properly?

In short, I think God wants us to stick time in a few envelopes.

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom. ()

Our days need to be counted. Like money in a checking account, we need to understand how much we have, make sure we aren’t overspending, and must always keep things balanced. So what does it look like to put time in an envelope?

Imagine that daily life is a series of envelopes that we must fill with our time. I said there are a few things in my budget with no wiggle room. Rent and insurance are set in stone, so I have no choice but to put money in those envelopes. Things like sleep and work must have time given to them, leaving somewhere around 5-7 hours for us to fill the more flexible envelopes like family, TV, cleaning, and God (amongst hundreds of other potential envelopes).

Along with work and sleep, God and family are the only envelopes that should never be empty. If we give 3 of our 7 hours to family, we are able to give 4 hours a day to God. That’s 4 hours for prayer, Bible reading, listening to sermons, fellowshipping with believers, memorizing scripture, etc. That adds up to 20 hours, just during the work week, that we can devote to growing closer to our savior!

Of course there are other envelopes we want to budget for as well, but to fill those we are forced to take time from God or family. Who will we take time from when we want to watch a show on Netflix? Which envelope will get reduced when we want to get together with some friends, or spend an hour playing a game on our phones?

While I’m mostly dealing with 24 pieces of time in a day, consider that every hour spent at work, with family, or otherwise is made up of 60 smaller envelopes. How many minutes go in to Christ’s envelope at the breakfast table? On the commute to work? During breaks throughout the day? How much time is God allotted during family time? God has an envelope in every area of our life, and it’s from that envelope that we must pull seconds and minutes in the pursuit of temporary pleasures.

That’s the reality of the brief amount of time we are allocated. Once we literally “number our days,” we realize that our funds are limited. When we stand in front of Christ and open up our ledger, will He be proud of our accounting, or will we look on with horror as He studies our transactions and asks why His envelope was bled dry so often?

As we reflect on this we must remind ourselves that it isn’t even our time we’re giving to Christ. The very heart of stewardship is to manage the property of another, and to do it well. Everything in this world, including time itself, is Christ’s. He’s given us our days on earth to glorify Him, and it’s up to us to make our master proud!

I would like to end this thought with a poem whose two repeating lines have been running through my head as I write this. Prayerfully reflect on these lines and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the overwhelming desire to use every moment of our day to God’s glory. It is my earnest prayer that I, and every believer, could one day see Christ smile as he reads our ledgers and sees what good stewards we’ve been with His gift of time.

Only One Life, Twill Soon Be Past

“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. ”

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”

C.T. Studd

 

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (ESV)

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (ESV)

12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom. (ESV)

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