Number your days
Rusty Benson
Associate Editor, AFA Journal

June 2018 – We are always complaining that our days are few, and at the same time, acting as if they would never end. – Seneca

What Rome’s leading first-century intellectual observed about his world could aptly describe much of American life some two thousand years later – even in Christian families.

The demands of sports teams, drama clubs, music groups, and even church activities often leave parents and their children anxious, exhausted, and disconnected. And yet, vast swaths of time disappear in the swirling vortex of social media, movie watching, and video games.

undefinedAgainst the confusion of that status quo, John Perritt (photo right), a veteran youth pastor and author, is calling Christian families back to the wisdom of Moses when he prays to God: “So teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90:12).

Perritt is resource coordinator for Reformed Youth Ministries (rymonline.org). He’s also a husband and father of five who freely admits that he too lives in the middle of the time stewardship struggle that he writes about in Your Days Are Numbered: A Closer Look At How We Spend Our Time and the Eternity Before Us.

Perritt brings to the subject over a decade of youth ministry experience, as well as the spiritual gift of teaching. His perspective is one that understands that a believer’s union with Christ is not earned – even through their ability to rightly manage time – but based on the finished saving work of Jesus.

In a recent interview with AFA Journal, Perritt discussed why the wise use of time is a foundational aspect of the Christian life, as well as one that brings blessing to the believer and honor to God.

AFA Journal: With so many issues that could occupy the attention and study of Christians, why do you say that numbering our days should be a priority?
John Perritt: It might not be obvious that time management should be a priority, however, every issue in God’s creation is impacted by our use of time. In fact, in order to engage with these issues, Christians must develop a biblical view of the use of the limited time on earth that God has given us.

AFAJ: But, John, I’m just not a planner. I just take life as it comes, trusting God to care for me. Anyway, wasn’t Jesus a laid-back guy?
JP: There is a seed of truth in that. God is certainly on His throne reigning and ruling. Conversely, we can live as if everything depends on our effort and become greedy with our time and try to control every moment. However, against those extremes, the Scripture clearly exhorts us to redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16). So we look to Christ as our example of the One who certainly trusted His Sovereign Father but never wasted a second.

AFAJ: Assuming that I am making an attempt to steward my time well, how do I guard against growing discouraged when I fail or self-righteous when I succeed?
JP: I just finished reading Union With Christ by Rankin Wilbourne, so my answer is influenced by that book. To both the Christians who are frustrated with their attempts to manage their time, and to the ones who may take pride in their time management, I would remind them that their union in Christ is not based on their own effort, but in His finished work on their behalf.

To the ones who are discouraged, I would remind them that Christ sees them as perfect and righteous. For those who are prideful, I would remind them that they are living in a way as if to think, Jesus I don’t need your finished work; I’ve got my own righteousness.

No one is going to do this perfectly, but thankfully Jesus came to save both those who are discouraged and those who are prideful in their efforts to manage their time.

But let me add something I read in Wilbourne’s book: Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. That’s just another way of saying what the Scripture tells us in Philippians 2:12-23: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

AFAJ: How do you respond to parents who see extra-curricular activities as an opportunity to teach their children good character traits like commitment and hard work, but in the process begin to minimize more important things like corporate worship?
JP: Parents who love their children want to provide fun and constructive opportunities like sports or dance. But I would push back a bit and remind parents not to lose sight of eternal things. There are so many activities our kids can be involved in, but we must remember that our children have souls that will never die.

So, Christian parents must ask if Jesus is primary in the life of their family and children – even over sports or other things they enjoy. As parents, we must be cautious not to give ourselves over to temporal things.

As a parent myself, I want my children to have all these opportunities. But more than anything else, I want to make sure that my kids love Jesus Christ and know their Savior. And that takes time.

All that said, let me clearly say that commitment to the local church is more important than any extra-curricular activity.

AFAJ: Writing about the issue of time stewardship, you often focus on “remembering the Sabbath Day.” If we take the Fourth Commandment seriously, don’t we risk becoming legalistic?
JP: Like the Pharisees who often added to the requirements of the Fourth Commandment, we can become legalistic. But the real issue surrounding the use of the Lord’s Day is a question of trust.

What we are trying to accomplish on that day by stopping all our busyness and our chaotic life is an effort to reflect on God’s goodness and our trust in Him. The essence of the Sabbath is a rest in the adequacy of what Christ has done for us. On that day in particular, we give Him thanks and worship, and He gives us rest.

Remember, the Fourth Commandment – as well as the other nine – were originally given to a people who had been enslaved for some 430 years. God is saying, Stop working. I’m not a slave driver. So, rightly keeping the Fourth Commandment is really the opposite of legalism.  undefined 

Helpful disciplines to develop
Excerpted from Your Days Are Numbered: A Closer Look At How We Spend Our Time and the Eternity Before Us.

Pray – If you have a busy lifestyle right now, and you are discouraged with the process of prioritizing, what makes you think you could be successful apart from the Holy Spirit? If we truly believe the Spirit is our strength, we must bow the knee in humble reliance upon His strength.
Wake up early – It is interesting how often Scripture talks about the morning or solitude. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, often woke up early (Mark 1:35). He sought solitude. Yes, both of these may be obtained at various times throughout the day, but we all know the morning has fewer distractions.
Make family time a priority – One of the simplest, most practical, and easiest ways to have quality time is around the dinner table.
Guard social media –Be intentional about what you’re going to use social media for. From time to time, in order to resist being mastered by social media, take a break from the online world. Deactivate your account.

Books by John Perritt are available at online booksellers:

Your Days Are Numbered: A Closer Look At How We Spend Our Time and the Eternity Before Us
What Would Judas Do? Understanding Faith Through the Most Famous of the Faithless
▶ Perritt’s new book, Time Out! The Gift or the god of Youth Sports, is due to be released in September 2018.