What Does the Bible Say About The Use of Time, let’s see what Francois Fenelon has to say in his Christian Perfection work?
I understand that what you wish of me is not merely to establish great principles to prove the need of using your time well; for of this, you were persuaded by grace long ago. It is good to find souls with whom more than half of the way, so to speak, has been traveled. But lest this seems to flatter you, there still remains much to be done, and a persuaded mind and even a well-intentioned heart is a long way from an exact and faithful practice.
Not Talk, But Obedience
Nothing has been more common in every age, and still so today than meeting souls who are perfect and saintly in speculation. “You will know them by their works and by their behavior,” said the Savior of the world, and this is one rule which is never deceiving if it has been well developed. It is by this we should judge ourselves.
Every Moment is Precious
There are many different times in our life, but the principle which should be applied to the whole of it is that none of it should be considered useless. That is to say, it all counts in the order and sequence of our salvation. What is see then is that every hour is loaded with duties which God has allotted to it with his own hand, and for which he will hold us accountable. What I mean is that from the first seconds of our existence until the last moment of our life, God has not left us any empty time. Neither has he given us any which might be said to be left to our discretion, or for us to lose. The important thing is for us to know what He wants us to do with it.
This valuable knowledge does not usually come to us by our own efforts, but rather it comes to through those devout followers that have learned it from their teachers. This is because when we zealously push ourselves towards God, we find that we have missed him. Rather than blindly push forward, we should first seek to know with a pure and honest heart that seeks God in simplicity, a heart that combats all duplicity and false cleverness of self-interest. And second, with a heart that humbly submits to the authority of those that have drawn close to God.
Do What You Should be Doing
A person does not only lose time by doing nothing or doing what is wrong, but he also loses it by doing something other than that which he should be doing, even though what he does is good. We are strangely ingenious in perpetually seeking our own interest. What worldly souls do crudely and openly, people who want to live for God often do more subtly, with the help of some pretext, which, serving them as a screen, stops them from seeing the ugliness of their behavior.
The General Rule
A general rule for the good use of time is to accustom ourselves to live in continual dependence on the Spirit of God, receiving from moment to moment whatever it pleases Him to give us. When we don’t know what we should do, we should immediately turn to him in our weakness, so that the goodness that God has given us does not drift away from us in exhaustion. We should call on him, lifting ourselves up to him as it were when we see our intimacy with God slipping away. If we are allowing material things to lead us imperceptibly off the path so that we find ourselves forgetting our duty and moving towards worldliness, we should immediately return to the bosom of God.
A Timely Prayer
Happy is the soul which, by sincere selflessness, holds itself ceaselessly in the hands of his Creator, always ready to do everything which the Lord wishes. He does this because he never stops saying to himself a hundred times a day…
“Lord, what would you have me do?”
“Teach me to perform your holy will, for you are my God.” “You
will show that you are my God by teaching me, and I will show that I am your
creature by obeying you.” “In whose hands, O great God, should
I be better off than in yours?” “I know that my soul is always
in danger of losing my salvation.” “I am only ignorance and
weakness, and I would consider my ruin certain if you left me to my own
leadership, leaving to my own disposal the precious time which you give me for
my sanctification; and following the ways of my own heart blindly.“
“In such a state, what could I make of time, but a wrong choice? And what should I be able to develop in myself but self-interest, sin, and damnation?” “Send your light then, O Lord, to guide my steps.” “Shed your grace upon me at every moment according to my needs, as one gives nourishment to children according to their age and their weakness.” “Teach me, by a holy use of the present time which you gave to me to repair the past, and never should I count foolishly on the future!”
Time at Work
To use our time at work wisely, we only need to keep simple attention to the rules of good sense. Consider that it is God who brings these encounters to us, so we have only to follow him obediently and to yield entirely to God our presence and our will. Remaining in God, we check our sensitiveness, our anxiety, our self-concern as well as any over-enthusiasm, taking care to keep in God’s presence. Also, we must be on guard against foolish joy and other emotions, which might distract us or overwhelm us and make us lose our focus on God. There are a countless number of issues that have the potential to draw us away from God, but we must not let them. Don’t let your workload, office politics, rumors, or anything else take too much of your time. Whenever you see yourself getting distracted, return to peace in God.
Personal or Social Times
Time for Social Activities
Our time for social contacts and diversion is the most dangerous for us and can be the most useful for others. During that time, we must be especially on guard, that is, more faithful in the presence of God. Christian vigilance, which is so recommended by our Lord, is in the greatest jeopardy during these social gatherings. It is so easy to get caught up with all the drama and stories when we should be firmly attentive to our Lord. When we want to fit in with the work crowd, we can ignore our duties to God. Our attention to God is our only basis of safety and strength, which can combat the subtle poisons of undisciplined social activities. If we can keep our focus on where it should be, we might be able to do great good during these times, and if you are not focused, great harm to yourself and to others.
Our Free Time
Our free time is usually the most pleasant and most useful for ourselves. We can scarcely use it better than by consecrating it to the renewal of our strength (I mean even bodily strength) in more secret and more intimate communion with God. Prayer is so necessary and the source of so much good, that the soul which has found this treasure cannot resist returning to it when left to itself.
There is more to be said about these three kinds of time. Perhaps I shall be able to say something if the ideas which impress me at the moment are not lost. In any case, it is a very small loss. God gives further views when it pleases him. If he does not give them, it is a sign that they are not needed, and if they are needed for our good, we need not mind losing time for ourselves to receive whatever God wants us to learn.
This article was a letter originally written by Francois Fenelon some 300 years ago as part of his collection of letters later published under the name of Christian Perfection and was edited by Mark Heaney. A copy of Christian Perfection that was translated from the French by Mildred Whitney Stillman can be read here and was the translation that I worked from. Christian Perfection was, to me, one of the most practical Christian writings I have ever read, and so I thought that I might edit the phrasing to make it easier for people to understand.