Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 10/18/21

Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive by [Jordan Raynor]

It’s about time. If you’re like me you may have more of what you believe are terrific ideas floating around in that head of yours than there are hours in the day to realize them. If that’s the case, Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive (WaterBrook) on sale tomorrow (10/19) is for you. The book is essentially a time-management manual written from the Christian perspective of its author, serial entrepreneur and Call to Mastery podcaster Jordan Raynor.

JWK: I just listened to your podcast interview Jordan Raynor sits down with a Dr. Benjamin Long about the value of sleep. It was really interesting. You’re a good interviewer.

Jordan Raynor: Thank you. You’re kind.

JWK: It didn’t put me to sleep which, ironically, means it was a success.

JR: (laughs) The podcast space is so cluttered, especially guest-driven shows. It’s gotta be exceptional in order for it to work. We’re pretty proud of the job my team does on the show.

JWK: In your book you liken the Apostles being swamped by the storm and the waves in the Sea of Galilee to the things that are distracting people today from their passions and their missions. What do you mean by that? What are some of the waves that are distracting us today?

JR: I think, at some point or another, we all (have) just felt totally overwhelmed with our to-do lists (and) hurried schedules and just sat back in exasperation and said “I’m swamped!” I love that Luke in his Gospel uses that word to describe the disciples. They’re out there on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is asleep and Luke 8:23 says “A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.” We know the rest of the story. Jesus gets up rebukes the wind and the waves and everything subsides and all is calm. I think that passage really perfectly illustrates the core premise of this book – of Redeeming Your Time. Namely, that the solution to the disciples being swamped by the wind and waves is the exact same solution as our being swamped by our to-do lists and hurried schedules. The solution is Jesus Christ – in two ways.

First, Jesus offers us peace before we do anything. John, I’ve read – I don’t know – 45 books in the time-management category over the course of my career. They all say essentially the same thing. They say “Hey, if you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, follow my system, do exercises X, Y and Z and then you will find peace – but, as Christ taught us, we can start with the opposite premise…Through Jesus Christ we have peace. We have peace with God as Paul says in Romans 5:1…You see it right there with the disciples in the swamped boat. The disciples didn’t do a single thing to calm their chaos. They trusted Jesus to still the storm. You and I can do the same as we seek to steward our time.

And, real quickly, the second way Jesus solves this time-management problem is – and this is kind of a wild idea if you think about – He showed them how God (manages) time. The Gospel biographies don’t show Jesus with a to-do list or a smartwatch but they do show him prioritizing – dealing with distractions, fighting for solitude. They basically show him Him facing a lot of the same challenges we face as we’re swamped today but because He was Infallible God we can assume that He manages time perfectly giving us the ideal model to follow. That’s really what the book is all about. How do we look to Jesus – at the Author of Time – as the model for redeeming our time today in the 21st century?

JWK: The title of your book, I understand, comes from Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:16 which call for “making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” I wonder what is meant by that – because the days are also blessings, right?

JR: Yeah, absolutely! For sure! So, you know, it’s interesting Paul…reminds his readers of their status as dearly loved children of God. You can hear Paul anticipating his readers’ questions like “What is our response to the Gospel?” He answers that explicitly in Ephesians 5:15 through :16. I love the New King James version that says “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.”

To your point, John, there’s a lot of good in this life. That’s not what Paul is referring to by “the days are evil.” What he’s saying is we are running out of time to do the work that God has given us to do in this life and, thus, because the Gospel needs to be advanced in the world – because the Kingdom needs to be advanced in the world – we have to redeem our time. We have to…ransom as much time as humanly possible.

Tim Keller, the great New York pastor, was commenting on this verse once and he said “Time stewardship is a command.” I think a lot of Christians think that time management is quote/unquote secular – that it has nothing to do with the Christian walk. That’s not what Ephesians 5 says. Paul says that part of our response to the Gospel is knowing we have work to do in this world that is in line with Jesus’ agenda. We are to manage our time wisely (and) carefully – redeeming the time because “the days of evil” or (in other words) we’re running out of time to do that.

JWK: If it’s okay with you, I’d like to go through the seven principles in your book and ask you to briefly expound on them. The first is “Start with the Word: Find meaningful connection with the Author of Time daily.” By that do you mean find time for prayer?

JR: Again, the seven principles are things I think we can see in the Gospel biographies of Jesus. We’re gonna practice them differently in the 21st century but I do believe these seven principles are timeless.

Principle Number One – Start with the Word is, basically, this idea that Jesus prioritized time with His Father – above sleep, above food, above time with His disciples. We’ve got to do the same. If we want to redeem our time for eternal purposes instead of temporal purposes we gotta know what God’s Word says. We gotta know what’s on God’s to-do list if we’re going to prioritize our to-do list. So, yeah, it looks like spending time reading the Word. It looks like spending time in prayer. This is the keystone habit that is essential to put into place in order for all the other principles to make sense.

JWK: So, a good way to start the day, basically.

JR: Exactly, yeah.

JWK: The second principle is “Let Your Yes Be Yes: Accept only the commitments you can fulfill.” Some people say the way to get ahead is to say yes to everything. You don’t go for that.

JR: Jesus commanded crystal clearly (to) let our yes be yes. The problem is in our modern world we’re saying yes to things in a million different places. Our voicemail greetings promise that we’re gonna call people back shortly. We’re saying yes in email inboxes. We’re saying yes commitments to our spouses in conversations over dinner. That’s not bad. It’s not bad to make commitments like this. The problem is (that), when all these commitments are fragmented and in different places instead of one central location, it causes a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress.

There’s actually a ton of really good neuroscience that shows that when you have commitments in multiple places…that anxiety and stress can be debilitating. It can ensure that you drop the ball on projects. It can make it very, very hard for you to focus on the task at hand. The solution is to externalize all of those commitments (and) put them in a single location to ensure that you’re, Number One, doing what you’re saying you’re going to do – that your yes is yes – so that we are operating and living our lives (in) a state of much less anxiety.

JWK: I’ll jump to Number Four since it seems to flow from that. You say “Prioritize Your Yeses: Confidently maintain your commitments.”

JR: Yeah, totally, but the reason why I put the third principle in between these two…”Dissent from the Kingdom of Noise”…is (because), before we can prioritize our to-do lists, we’ve got to have time for silence and solitude to be able to discern the essential from all of the noise around us. When you look at the Gospel biographies this principle is probably the easiest one to see modeled in Jesus’ habits. The Gospels talk incessantly about Jesus’ love of lonely places – sometimes referred to as “solitary places” – three times in the Gospel of Luke alone…I would argue that just stands in stark contrast to the way that most of us live our lives. We are consumed by nonstop news, by nonstop social media, by the pings of our digital devices (and) nonstop podcasts in our ears. We, like Jesus, have to dissent from the Kingdom of Noise if we’re going to be purposeful, present, productive and able to prioritize our yeses.

JWK: I was actually going to go back to that one because it’s right on target with what this blog is about – faith, media and culture – and it seems this particular principle is harder than ever to live up to.

JR: Yeah, for sure. I’ve read your blog. In fact, I just added that Netflix movie The Starling to my queue because I really enjoyed your review of it. I’m not saying no noise. I enjoy Netflix and the like as much as the next guy. I just think we gotta admit that there’s a serious problem when the shower is the only place where we are bored and truly quiet – like it’s the last place on Earth where there’s no noise in our lives – and, again, it just stands in stark contrast to the Way of Jesus who, Christian or not, I think we can agree is the most productive person who ever lived.

Boredom is necessary for doing great work and doing great thinking. I’m not saying no media and no entertainment but I do think we all can benefit greatly from less of it in our lives and having periods of time in which we step outside of what (C.S.) Lewis called the Kingdom of Noise to think, to be creative and, most importantly, to listen to the Voice of God.

JWK: Between traditional media and social media, media as a whole is pretty pervasive.

JR: Oh, yeah – and the problem with social media, in particular, is the opinion overload. You’re constantly getting opinion, explicitly and implicitly, about what you should be focused on and how you should spend your time. It’s not just information overload that’s provided by nonstop news – CNN, etcetera – it’s the opinion overload of social media which can be really disastrous to our ability to prioritize our yeses (and) to decide what on our to-do list matters most.

JWK: So, how do you determine who to say no to – and how to say no? You also say there’s a Christian way to saying no.

JR: I do think we need a different approach to this than modern conventional wisdom (offers). There was a really popular TED Talk a few years ago that I think pretty well summarizes modern thinking on this two-letter word. The guy said unless you can say “Hell, yeah!” to something say “No.” Listen, I get it…It’s obvious we all need tools be more selective about what we’re saying “Yes” to but rules such as “Hell, yeah!” or “No” are entirely self-serving and, thus, out of step with the example of our Savior.

There’s a great example that’s in Matthew 14. Jesus had just heard the news that His cousin John the Baptist has been beheaded. When He heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place…Understandably, all He wants to do is be alone but the crowd wouldn’t let him. The crowd literally followed him around the shore and were wading into shore because they wanted to spend time with Him…The last thing Jesus wants to do at that moment is spend time with a crowd of people but, you know what?, he does. Remarkably, he doesn’t say no. He sees the crowd and has compassion on them and healed their sick.

Jesus didn’t always say yes…There’s a few places in the Gospel where He says no to requests for His time but He also doesn’t always say no either. That leaves us in a spot where we gotta embrace the tension of between yes and no and find better questions to approach no in a way that’s set apart from the rest of the world. In the book I offer eight of those questions…that I personally find incredibly helpful to discern when to say yes and when to say no to requests for my time.

JWK: Can you run through a few quickly?

JR: One of my favorites is “Will I do good or make myself look good with this request for my time?” A lot of times I think we say yes not because we’re the most qualified person to help out (or) not because we think we can really serve the person well but (because) we like the ego boost that comes with other people needing our expertise…I just think that’s a lame way to say yes to things.

Another one I love is “This is a great opportunity for what?” There are a lot of times we get, quote, Once in a Lifetime opportunities that come across our plate. You know, to speak at a conference or to whatever…but we gotta connect opportunities to outcomes. We gotta be able to say this is a great opportunity for what? To what end? Otherwise, it’s not really an opportunity. It’s just some event that’s storied up into some sort of frenetic excitement.

The last one I’ll share is…”Would I say yes to 100 similar requests for my time?” I use the proverbial coffee meeting as an example. If somebody comes to me and says “Hey, I want to grab an hour-long coffee to talk to you about X, Y and Z.” My saying yes or no to that one coffee meeting is building a habit of whether or not I will say yes or no (to) meetings with the exact same profile in the future. So, we just gotta be cognizant of that – that every yes (and) every no we give is contributing to the building of a habit.

Part 2 of my conversation with Jordan Raynor will run on Wednesday (10/20). As noted above, Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive (WaterBrook) is on sale tomorrow (10/19)

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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