Talk about wasting time. On October 4, 1582, everything seemed so normal. People got up, went to work, had a meal or two and went to bed. It was an ordinary day. The next day also seemed normal, but there was one huge difference. The date was October 15. They had slept through 11 whole days! Okay, that is not completely true. However, it is true that they went to bed on October 4th and woke up on October 15th. Apparently, when Julius Caesar made his famous calendar, a calendar which was based solely on the movements of the sun, he miscalculated the length of the solar year (it was actually slightly shorter than he thought by a few minutes). Now, someone had warned him that making a new calendar would be difficult (I think they had said, “Beware the ides of March), but he didn’t listen. As a result, his calendar and actual solar time grew increasingly divergent. And by 1582, those extra minutes had grown into ten days (“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”). And that’s how Pope Gregory XII got into the calendar business. He mandated that Christians everywhere advance their calendar ten days in the middle of the night so that his new calendar and the sun were properly aligned (“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your schedule!”). As a result, everyone lost ten days. It was truly time wasted.
Here we are in week two of the Coronavirus Captivity of the Church, and my advice is the same as it was last week: don’t waste this time. Instead, invest it in things that will last. For instance, I wonder if in the past, we were all too busy to invest ourselves fully in our spiritual lives (that was a project reserved for retirement). But now, the pace of life is different, and the tyranny of the urgent doesn’t sound so urgent anymore. John Piper, in his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, says it this way: “You get one pass at life. That’s all. Only one. And the lasting measure of that life is Jesus Christ.” If that is true, then (and it is), what should we be doing to invest ourselves in growing in our faith? Here’s a couple of suggestions.
First of all, let’s start with the basics. Now, is a great time to read the story of Jesus from beginning to end in the gospels (maybe that would be the very first time you ever thought about doing that). You could also pick up a letter of Paul and delve into it. Years ago, someone suggested to me to take a shorter book of the Bible and read it from beginning to end for a whole month (that’s right, the same thing for 30 days straight!). You could also try praying along with the Psalms. And now may be a great time finally to read one of those books that is either too long (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and 1 Corinthians all come to mind) or too weird (would anybody really want to question whether Judges, Ezekiel, and Daniel, while all three being great books, are a little out there?) or are simply too confusing (Job, Ecclesiastes, and Revelation). And maybe now is a great time to invest in a regular routine of prayer. After all, there sure seems to be plenty of people and issues and concerns needing prayer. And maybe now is a great time to try on a new spiritual discipline (Fasting, anyone? Or how about journaling or silence or having a night or a day of prayer?).
There are also plenty of other things we can do. There are tons of great authors and great books out there that I would highly recommend to you. For instance, you could read:
- The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight, (in my opinion, one of the best books on Christian living out there; simple, yet deeply profound and life-changing.)
- The Reason for God by Tim Keller (Keller answers many of the toughest questions about Christianity in a way that is at the same time, gracious, relevant, wise and thoughtful.)
- A Call to Spiritual Reformation by DA Carson (An in-depth exploration of Paul’s prayers and how to follow Paul’s example in our own prayers.)
- Leadership and Self-Deception, by the Arbinger Institute (A great book on relationships and how we often deceive ourselves into thinking it’s the other person’s fault. Two notes: this is not a “Christian” book, but its themes – sin, self-deception, idolatry, loving others — are all very Christian; and it is written as a story, not as a text book. It is outstanding.)
- You Are What You Love by James KA Smith (heady and philosophical, but profoundly important. As Tim Keller says, “A user-friendly introduction to the sweeping Augustinian insight that we are shaped most by what we love most.” If you love that description and can understand it, you will glean lots from this book.)
- Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace by Miroslav Volf (This is an outstanding book on grace, powerfully written by this Yale professor who tells a lot of his own incredible story as he unpacks the gospel of grace.)
- The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis (a novel of great wisdom and insight about temptation. If you’ve already read it, read The Great Divorce If you’ve read that, then read Mere Christianity. If you have read that, reread all three. It will be time well spent.)
Now obviously, your choice of books may be different than mine, but you can’t go wrong with any of these authors. If you don’t like McKnight’s The Jesus Creed, read One.Life (written to college students) or A Fellowship of Differents (a popular level book on the church) or A Community Called Atonement (a more academic look at the atonement). And if you’re not into apologetics, read anything else by Keller. Trust me, anything he writes is gold (I especially like The Prodigal God). The point is to invest yourself in reading a book that has the potential to enrich your spiritual life.
One last idea: Get involved with a study group. I love that African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” Online study groups are a great way to connect with others and invest in your own spiritual growth. If you need help finding a group or wondering what to study, just ask. I love being a resource.
A month ago, we were all too busy keeping up with life that we often couldn’t make time for all the things that make life truly rich. I know, for me personally, I often found myself watching reruns of shows I didn’t particularly like the first time around. It was simply easier to not think, but now I see how foolish that was. CS Lewis in Screwtape says:
“The Christians describe the Enemy as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong.’ And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.”
See what I mean, read The Screwtape Letters or read it again. It is great.
All that to say, don’t waste this time. Instead, let’s invest ourselves in practices that will strengthen our faith, encourage our hope and spur us on to love and good deeds. None of us wants to wake up one morning and discover that we lost the last ten days, months or years. Instead, let’s make the most of this opportunity. Brutus said it this way to Cassius (or maybe it was Shakespeare):
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”
All those beautiful words, just to say, “Don’t just waste your life, live it.”
Stay well and stay connected at the River’s Edge.