How many hours do you have left on earth?
If you were born yesterday, you might have 750,000 hours (and I have some beachfront property in Arizona to sell you).
If you’re in your 40’s, cut that number in half (and never mind about the property).
The old adage “time is money” is a farce. As someone who essentially sells their time for a day job, I understand the sentiment, but it’s patently false.
Is the purpose of time to get more money? Can I exchange money for more time on earth? Aren’t there things I get from my time that can’t be bought?
The Bible has a lot to say about this.
Time is Not a Currency
I’m using the Read Scripture app to read through the Bible in a year. While I’m two weeks behind, I’m getting caught up. I recently read through Ecclesiastes. While many see Ecclesiastes as a depressing existential crisis, this time through, I felt the freedom in the writer’s words.
“What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the sons of man to occupy them. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom the work God has done from beginning to end.”
What does the worker gain from his toil? Does he prolong his life? Make it richer, more meaningful, more beautiful? Or does God make all things, work, play, grief and joy all beautiful in its own time? Is the quality of my life or the value of it dependent on how productive I am? Or on something else?
Maybe, just maybe, I can cut myself some slack, and enjoy a moment.
Many in the productivity/efficiency space champion how much you can get done if you just work smarter. Be more efficient with your time. Choose the most important things and ignore or delegate everything else. There’s lots we can learn from these experts and I employ some of these techniques myself, but sometimes I get thwarted.
Sometimes my wife breaks down in the family van at inopportune times and needs a hero.
Sometimes a co-worker needs to talk through a crisis while I have a pile of work on my desk and I become a friend.
Sometimes a neighbor needs a hand, a friend needs a ride or a kid needs a cuddle, when I “should” be getting stuff done.
I can get caught up in the idea that these interruptions steal my time. Honestly, my knee-jerk response is rage. Productive time that I can’t get back, wasted! Sometimes I can almost hear the ticking clock of life, “517,631 hours left. What have you done? What will you get done? Is there enough time?”
My anxiety spikes. I make desperate decisions to try and “catch up”. I compare myself to people my age who have more money, better businesses, bigger ministries. If I could just keep people from stealing my time…
Thinking of time as a currency creates a zero-sum mentality. I’m either gaining from my time by way of “productive” ministry, money accumulation or desired experiences or I’m losing via distraction, interruption or crisis. My days can become battles to maintain a positive balance. If I do what I set out to do, it was a good day, if I don’t, not so much.
The Wisdom literature of the Bible, and the Biblical narrative in general show us another way. Time isn’t money, and it’s not a currency. Time is more like a thread weaving through humanity. We are one square of cloth in the patchworked tapestry. The thread pierces us each day knitting us to humanity. The thread causes us pain, grief, joy and boredom. Our experiences become a part of the story God is writing in the world.
Even unbelievers know this at some level. Something in our hearts tells us there’s more, something beyond us, something eternal. We’ll never understand how our short time on earth impacts that eternal story. But somehow, we know it exists.
Working Hard to Enjoy it Later
Finance gurus are always talking about “passive income.”
“Buy some rental properties, start an internet business, use other people’s time, money and expertise to benefit yourself!”
Again, guilty as charged here. But frankly, it’s a ruse. It’s a con. It’s a lie from the enemy.
Here’s the trade: “give up all kinds of time now, make sacrifices. Spend less time with your family, volunteering, traveling or developing hobbies. Work the side hustles, set up the passive income. Then you’ll be free to use your time, however you want. Oh, and by the way, by the time you get there your relationships will be weaker, your kids grown, and I have no idea how long you’ll live.”
I had a friend who said “We spend all of our time trying to earn enough money to buy it back.”
Insane. We spend our time making money, so that we have time. Why not just keep the time and forget the money?
Look, I’m all about working hard, but we have to work hard as a way to experience life, not as a way to fund it. Sacrificing things that matter now; raising your kids, sitting with the sick and elderly, reveling in nature, art and music, so we can enjoy them in a future we may not have is ludicrous. James says this very plainly
“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.”
Ecclesiastes uses similar imagery when it says “meaningless” or “futile” depending on your Bible translation. The Hebrew word is “Hevel” meaning a vapor or cloud. It looks substantial, but is impossible to grasp, it’s not quantifiable like a currency, or observable like a job well done. It’s a vapor, there and then gone. Obscure, yet obvious.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. The market could crash, our business could fail, we could get a terminal diagnosis or get hit by a bus. Our security hangs by a thread every day. Yet we throw away the gift of each day for a tomorrow we can’t guarantee. This isn’t about YOLO or instant gratification. It’s about presence. It’s about contentment. It’s about deciding that “sufficient is the trouble of today” (Matthew 6:34) and not burning the day longing for an imaginary future.
Chasing money so we can get time is crazy. Money is literally infinite (just ask the Fed), but our lives are finite. We already have time and no amount of effort or scheming is getting us more.
Picking a Pace of Life
The solution, as far as I can tell, is to find a pace and rhythm of life that you are called to and is sustainable for your whole life.
No- “If I can just get through this busy season”.
No- “Once I get to this revenue, I’ll take it easy.”
When you slow life down to a pace you can experience, you realize “I don’t really want anything else. I’m living a good life”. Paradoxically, the desire to experience life is what drives us to spend more time chasing dollars. While the means to experience life is sucked away by the commitment to that chase.
I want to stretch my working years out as long as I can. Instead of hating my work like the writer of Ecclesiastes, I want to embrace it, not as a silo that keeps me from life, but as an integrated part of my life and calling. It doesn’t mean there aren’t results I’d like to see. It doesn’t mean I don’t plan for eventualities, but I trust that what I’m called to today is sufficient for those things, because God is writing the story through me. I’m not the author of life.
Time is the living of life, not a currency we exchange. My time isn’t really mine anyways, but a gift from God and part of a shared human experience since the beginning of time. I’m sharing these minutes with 8 billion of my closest friends here on planet earth right now. To use time as a bartering tool to get what we want is to sell our birthright out of desperation, just like Esau. Actually experiencing this life, in all its frustration, surprise, joy and difficulty is the gift that we want, yet we squander it for mere survival.
Here’s some questions to help you rethink your pace of life:
- What is my minimally viable budget? To pay the bills and live at an acceptable standard, what’s the least you can make? Would you be able to forego anything or create a cheaper way of attaining it if you worked less?
- Does your job bring you life? Not, “do you like your job fine?” or “are you appropriately compensated for the stresses of your job?” Do you wake up ready to show up? Do you feel God’s presence while you work. Does it feel like you were made for it?
- What good works am I called to that I’m not doing? What do you say “I would but I have to work” to. Maybe it’s volunteering, vacationing with your family or coaching a kid’s little league. What good work is your work keeping you from?
- When is my sabbath? If you aren’t taking one day a week completely off work, you are trading your time for the future and it’s a bad trade. God wants us to stop working long enough to experience Him, not just serve Him. Find a way to get a sabbath.
- What’s the least I can save? I know. Money guy here, telling you to save less. I’ve found in some Christian circles the spread between income and expenses can be staggering. What if you simply lowered your income to reflect minimum required savings plus your minimally viable budget? How much time could you get back?
We live in a technologically advanced world. We can go grocery shopping with a click, machines wash our clothes, dishes, carpets and cars. Many of us work from home and no longer commute, yet no one has time. In fact, you could argue that people had more time before all the technological advances. Why?
I think we’re chasing castles in the sky. We’ve automated so much, we want to automate our income and even our relationships. It’s a fool’s errand. The clock is ticking and no amount of income, business savvy or work will make it stop.
Stop exchanging time like a currency. Live the time God has given you today, before it slips through your fingers like a mist.