Because I’m so often leading worship, the opportunities for me to engage with God entirely on my own behalf during the service are rare, but every now and then – by God’s grace – it happens.
This last Sunday as we came up to New Year I wanted to reflect on the passing of time and how we made use of it. I used an illustration Steven Covey provides for time management; I had a container of sand, a container of gravel, a pile of fist-sized stones and a wide-mouthed preserving jar on a table beside the pulpit. Every 24 hr period, I said, was rigid and unyielding, like the walls of this jar. The limits are fixed. And we can fill it with all sorts of things; the thousands of tiny, trivial things (whilst running sand through my fingers) like sorting our appliance warranties alphabetically and choosing between black and red socks; or things that actually need doing but still don’t have ultimate significance, (holding up bits of gravel) like paying the bills and doing the dishes; or the things that really do have eternal significance (holding up larger stones) like my relationship with God, with my family, with my friends. And what happens if we fill up our time (the jar) with the trivial things (the sand)? Obviously, there is no room for anything else – especially for those really big things. What should I do instead, I asked, as I emptied the jar. Lots of people have seen this before, of course, so the answer quickly came back: put the big things in the jar first. Then there will still be room left for the smaller things.
That’s where Covey leaves it, but I thought there was more to say than that, so I had more big stones than could fit in one jar. What do you do if you can’t fit all your stones into the one jar? Yes, the 24 hrs are rigid, but there are seven in one week. With seven jars I could fit all my big rocks in several times over. Also, some big rocks really ought not to be big rocks. We can over-inflate gravel so that it assumes an importance it ought not have; making sport, or shopping, or sex, or work, or food, or books, or TV, or almost anything, to be bigger than it should be. I gave the example of how, for one year, I had cut down my working hours (and extended my mortgage) so as to spend more time with the family. Obviously not everyone can do that – or should do that – but it illustrated the point about cutting some rocks down to size.
Finally, I asked people to consider the fact that God might actually have priorities for them; that he was active in their world, and wanted them to join him in what he was doing. Everyone had been given one of these larger stones, and I asked people to hold them for 60 seconds and ask God, what his priorities were for them in the coming year.
So I had 60 seconds in which I wasn’t doing anything, but standing in front of people holding a stone and waiting for the second hand to complete a circuit. I looked at the stone in my hand and asked God what he wanted me to focus on in 2008. The answer was instant. Him. The most important thing for me to do in 2008, with all my new responsibilities and the diversity of relationships in which I’m involved, is to spend time with God. Everything else follows from that.
I know that of course. But it’s one thing to know it as a general principle and another to have God remind you of it in the middle of a service.
2008 is going to be a good year, full of God’s grace. I’m so glad I’m not doing it alone.