God calls me with shocking regularity to press the snooze button at least once each morning. His Spirit affirms with my spirit that parents of multiple infants need a few more minutes. He seldom speaks to the rest of my day with the same clarity, though. Without such clear next steps, how can we organize our days to fulfill our calling? God invites us to intentionally organize our time around faithfulness to his call, and here are three principles I use to do just that:
1. Own your unique gifts with clarity
First, seek to understand and accept the ways God has gifted you.
- What activities are life giving to you?
- Where do you excel?
- Where are you naturally gifted?
Invite trusted friends, family, and mentors into this as well. It is not selfish, prideful, or sinful to gratefully receive and own the gifts God has given you.
Second, seek to understand your desires with increasing clarity.
- What do you want to do?
- How do you desire to participate in building Christ’s kingdom?
- Where do your passions lead you, regardless of pay or recognition?
Just because you are talented in some area does not mean that God has called you to that work. Likewise, do not let a lack of skill kill a good desire God may have given you.
Write out the two or three areas where your desires and God’s gifts are in line (even if it requires a skill to be developed). This is the process of understanding how God has made us so that we might put our unique gifts to best use in his church.
2. Assess your stage of life
Each stage of life brings with it limitations as well as specific responsibilities. Being a student, a parent of small children, suffering with an illness, and many other realities will shape our capacity as limited human beings. Regardless of the stage we are in, God calls us to be faithful to what he’s given us. We must guard ourselves against frustration and discontentment not by giving up on our calling, but by being faithful to the present responsibilities God has given us. Write down the top 2-3 clearest responsibilities God has presently given you. Consider:
Are you married? If so, do you have children? Do you plan to have more? When?
How much time does work and/or school require of you?
What unique situations (health, aging parents, etc.) are facing your family?
Present faithfulness may mean the seminary student cheerfully embraces his role on the church’s coffee team or that the young mother does not give into guilt because her time with Jesus takes place in the bathroom. All of us have limitations that we must account for as we seek to live into our calling.
Take some time and write out the realities of the stage of life you are in.
3. Schedule your time in light of your gifts, desires, and limitations
With your gifts, desires, and limitations written down, you’re nearly ready to build a calendar. I recommend setting aside time twice a year to plan the following six months. At the end of each month, take a few minutes to review how your calendar is working. Here’s how this would work for a seminary student.
Begin with the total number of hours you will devote to calling and responsibilities outside your family each week (I assumed 60 hours during seminary as I had no children and a working wife). With your total hours ready, begin telling them where to go.The first items that go into your calendar are the unavoidable responsibilities like classes and work. From there, assign a portion of your remaining time to each place where God’s gift and your desires intersect.
Work: 20 hrs
School: 18hrs (12hrs class + 6hrs homework)
Gift 1: 7hrs
Gift 2: 5hrs
Gift 3: 5hrs
The goal behind this exercise is being intentional about your time. You will not magically wake up one day with the skills and disciplines necessary to be faithful to God’s call on your life—they must be cultivated over time. Once your hours are assigned, block out your calendar 6 months in advance. Knowing when you are going to do homework, for instance, allows you to be more present throughout your day because the pressure hanging over your head is off. You don’t have a mysterious “to-do” on your shoulders because it’s nestled in nicely on your calendar.
Knowing your limits as a student (how fast you read, how hard you have to work for certain grades etc) also affords you greater clarity in your schedule. One of the best tips a pastor/professor gave me in seminary was that God was much more pleased with an “A” christian who was a “C” student than a “C” christian who was an “A” student. In other words, it honors God to prioritize your calling over your GPA. If you can get an “A” with 20 hours of homework, but have no time for anything else, it’s OK to accept your limitations as a student, spend 10 hours on homework, and receive your lower grade.
A Final Encouragement
A final encouragement is to be strategic about your blocks of time. Find ways to double loop your responsibilities and desires. If you are gifted to preach but do not yet have opportunities at your church, consider serving in children’s ministry. Learning to be simple and clear with children is a great way to develop as a preacher. It also cultivates humility that most young preachers are lacking. In this way, you are honoring your responsibilities as a faithful member of God’s church by serving your body while still developing your own gifts. Strategically find ways to make the most of your time, and make sure you give your best time—when you think most clearly, are most alert, have the most energy— to God’s call on your life.
God speaks powerfully to us through our gifts and desires. We honor him and find joy by intentionally organizing our time around his calling. Consider your gifts, be honest about your limitations, and intentionally schedule your time.