When we make the decision to follow Jesus, God calls ALL of us to do our best to reach people from right where we are in our everyday circumstances. But we can’t do that in the marketplace, in our homes or anywhere else if we’re too busy with other priorities. As Pastor Brian said this past Sunday, we have to be confident in our mission, know our priorities, and allocate our time accordingly.
With that in mind, here are three tools that have helped me take back my time and re-allocate it to invest in my most important priorities. Maybe they can help you, too.
Big Rocks First
The term Big Rocks comes from a Stephen Covey analogy about how to fit the most material of varying sizes into a finite or limited space. Covey says that if you have a large jar and you want to fill it with water, sand, pebbles and larger rocks, you must first put in the big rocks, then the smaller pebbles, then the sand, and then the water.
When it comes to allocating our time, we know that we all have exactly the same amount:
1440 minutes per day
To make the most of that time, we must fill our daily “jar” of 1440 minutes with the big rocks— our highest priorities—first. In my life, the big rocks, in order of priority, are as follows:
- My daily quiet time with God
- My daily, weekly, and monthly time with my family
My relationships with God and my family are the top priorities in my life. Therefore, they should get my best time, not the leftovers at night when I’ve already given all of my energy to other priorities. So I plan to get up early every day to spend alone time with God, and productive time with my family. Sometimes I double-up by doing a shorter amount of quiet time alone with God, then doing Bible study with my family. Church and Small Group are also Big Rocks that go on my calendar first.
The Importance of Margin
I used to be guilty of over-scheduling myself in the name of productivity. I thought that a busy schedule was a better schedule. I would plan my calendar out perfectly so it was jam-packed with no room left for the unexpected. It took me a long time to learn that the only thing I can always expect as I go through my day … is the unexpected!
I used to get really upset with that. I would think, why can’t I just get everything done that I have so perfectly planned? Like packing a car with luggage to go on vacation, my schedule was a perfectly executed Tetris game of planned time. Then I realized that there is no Badge of Honor for being the Busiest Person of the Year.
I also realized that the unexpected is exactly where God tends to show up.
Pastor Brian once reminded me that “work” is my ministry—not a distraction from it. With that in mind, I started praying that God would help me to see people the way He sees them. I prayed that He would use me as His hands and feet throughout my day. In order for that to happen I needed more margin in my schedule; more time to pray over my office and the people in it before I walk in; more time to pray before and after a meeting for the people in that meeting; more margin so that a traffic jam or a “gotta minute?” wouldn’t make me late for my next appointment.
Since I started making myself available to look and listen for God’s promptings, almost daily I run into someone who is struggling in life, and God uses me to help them by giving an encouraging word, a listening ear, a helping hand or a prayer.
On an annual basis, building margin into my calendar includes scheduling two days per year, one day a quarter, and two hours weekly where I can think and pray about my priorities and make sure that I’m on track with what’s most important. This intentional time helps me to focus on becoming the best person I can be.
Bonus Pro Tip on Financial Margin: If you want to see God work BIG miracles in your life, put a little bit of cash in a special place in your wallet that prepares you to give to people who might need a little money. If you’re like me, you have to constantly remind yourself that your money and your stuff is not yours; it’s God’s gift to you to manage well. This practice will help you live the generous life to which God calls you. More on that here.
Urgent vs. Important
Finally, it’s super important to understand that every time we say ‘yes’ to something, we’re actually saying ‘no’ to something else. Because our time is finite, the only way to expand our availability is to say yes to ONLY what’s important and no to what’s not.
The easiest way to get into trouble with this is to confuse what’s urgent with what’s important. Everything that’s urgent is NOT worthy of your time. Delaying the urgent, by scheduling the important into your calendar will change your life for the better.
Every time a new task or issue pops up in front of me, I try to ask myself “Is this important?” In other words, does it line up with my mission and my priorities? Is it important enough to delay the important thing that I had planned for this time?
This is a daily struggle for me. But if we can train ourselves to say ‘no’ more often, we’ll have the margin to say ‘yes’ to the things that are most important.
There’s an old saying that goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” By being clear in our mission and purpose for our lives and setting our priorities in line with our mission, we can be sure that we’re aiming at something. And not just something, but something important, something life-changing, something worthwhile—a life that honors God and the people around us.
In my own life, my wife, Tricia, and I were able to use these tools to make a life-changing decision several years ago.
When I was younger, I felt like my calling was to make a lot of money in my real estate business, so that one day I could retire early and do ministry. On May 18, 2011, as I was doing my morning quiet time in my living room, God showed me that I had that all wrong.
Life was going well at the time—I was happy, and my business was recovering from the Great Recession. I had a vision for the future and wasn’t looking for any kind of new direction. But then it happened. I heard the voice of God as clearly as I had ever heard it before:
“Leave real estate, pursue ministry.”
I don’t often hear the voice of God, and while this wasn’t an audible voice, I’ve never been more sure that it was God speaking to me. I also knew that those words weren’t calling me to become a pastor or join a church staff. God was calling me to the work of sharing our family’s unique story, including the tragic accident that left our son, Eli, with severe disabilities.
I really didn’t want to believe it. I liked my real estate business and it didn’t make sense— financially or otherwise—to leave it. I didn’t write those words in my journal that day because that would have made it real! I truly thought God must have messed this one up. Or, maybe I didn’t hear the voice of God at all. Maybe it was just bad pizza from the night before.
So I walked into our bedroom where my wife, Tricia, was doing her quiet time, convinced that she would talk me out of it. I said to her “You’re not going to believe this. I probably got it all wrong, but … I heard the Lord say ‘leave real estate and pursue ministry’—sharing our family story.”
I just knew that Tricia was going to tell me I was wrong. But that’s not what she did at all. Instead, she said that while I was hearing God’s voice in the living room, she was in the bedroom praying “God, tell John what to stop doing, he’s doing too much.” At that moment, we both knew that God was calling us into this new adventure.
Each of us should have a personal mission that aligns with scripture. I decided on mine years ago after reading what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18:
“…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – (ESV)
I decided ‘Build the Church’ would be my mission, because it was Jesus’ mission. I feel sure that had I NOT decided earlier on my life purpose, Tricia and I would not have been so sure that we were hearing from God. However, it was clear to see that this calling—this priority—lived into our purpose to serve God with our lives and our mission to build the church.
The question was, would we stop being too busy to follow God’s calling?
Twelve days later, I left my real estate business to begin sharing our family’s story full-time.
Over the next 22 months, Eli, Tricia and I traveled the country speaking and singing at over 80 churches, conferences and other events on radio and television. We reached tens of thousands of people with a message of hope and purpose after tragedy.
God provided miraculously for our financial needs every month, never more than 30 days in advance for all 22 months. Then it became clear that it was time for me to go back to “work”— primarily because Eli likes food with his meals.
After going back to “work” I noticed something funny. Every day that we were sharing our story, I missed my real estate work. And every day that I did real estate work, I missed having an opportunity to share our story. I struggled deeply with what I was supposed to do that would align with my mission and purpose in life. After seeing God work through our family’s time on the road, I felt like my real estate work was less important.
During that struggle was when Pastor Brian Hughes gave me some advice that I’ll never forget. He reminded me that my work is NOT a distraction from ministry. My work IS my ministry.
And so is yours.
No matter our job or career, we can all use our time to do the work that God has called us to do when we have our mission and our priorities figured out. I hope that this story and one or two of the ideas above will inspire you and help you to better manage the time that God has given you. Imagine how much more God could do with our lives if we were consistent with being intentional about our mission, our priorities and our time.