Everyone knows what it’s like to be late. It can be embarrassing, annoying, and even costly when we are late for appointments, work, meetings, or paying bills. Despite all the negatives associated with tardiness, it’s a constant battle in our time-conscious culture.
(Illustration) There are some nations where being late is the rule of the day. Some years ago, I preached an overseas Convention. The first night, I arrived about fifteen minutes early and virtually no one was in the sanctuary! At fifteen minutes past the scheduled starting time a few worshipers had gathered. But an hour later, the house was packed and people were looking in through the windows.
(Humor) While it’s not that way in all cultures, I’ve heard many Christians incorporate lateness as part of their theology. They believe in justification, regeneration, and procrastination! The reason Scripture says, “no man knows the day or hour of Christ’s return” is because God knew revealing the time of His Return would cause most Christians to be late for His Appearing.
(Example) We learn this Doctrine of Procrastination early in life. We learned to complete our household chores just before dad got home. We learned to quit annoying mamma just before she grabbed the paddle. When I was in college, I didn’t know one colleague that completed a Term Paper until just before the deadline. It was always the last day, last hour, and last minute shuffling of papers that produced the document.
We all know the importance, as well as pressure, of working toward deadlines. Timing can work for us or against us. As the cliché goes, “Timing is everything.” It’s wonderful when circumstances coalesce favorably at just the right time, but it’s disheartening when things seem to happen at the wrong time. What’s really aggravating is when, through our own negligence, we miss an opportune moment or a golden opportunity. That’s why we should live as the Old Testament sons of Issachar. If you’ve been around Bible preaching and teaching for any length of time you’ve heard that expression “the sons of Issachar.” What’s unique about these men is their insightful discernment during Israel’s political transition.
God had rejected Saul’s leadership and had anointed David as king. But not all Israel understood God’s plan to enthrone David. However, there was a group of men 1 Chronicles 12:32 described as “the men of Issachar . . . [that] understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” These men rallied to David and discerned that David was God’s man! How right they were, because God would later describe him as being “after His own heart.” He was the one through whom Christ descended. And the Bible recognizes the sons of Issachar as being the most discerning of Israel to accept God’s master plan.
It’s vital to live with the discernment that understands God’s current dealings with your life! To know whether He’s saying, “Go with the flow,” or, “Cut against the tide.” To know whether He’s saying, “Stop and relax,” or, “Forge ahead with courage.” If there’s one thing that’s certain about each individual here today it’s this. God is working in your life. He’s dealing with you to surrender something that could be a harmful stumbling block. He’s challenging you to stretch your faith. He’s trying to show you something, keep you from doing something, or get you to accept something. Whatever it is, God wants you to surrender to His Lordship! He wants you to say, “Thy will be done”! Paul said: “do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
(Illustration) Years ago a street kid wandered into Church for the first time. He ran with gangs and fought. Before he entered the sanctuary he stopped by the bulletin board to check out the announcements and examine the posters. About that time an usher approached and the kid said: “Who are these guys in uniform?” The usher replied: “These are our boys that died in the service.” With the look of terror the kid said: “Was it the morning service or the evening service?”
He misunderstood the message, didn’t he? And he misunderstood it even though it was obvious to everyone else. Did you know we can misinterpret God’s dealings just as easily? To understand God’s dealings it’s necessary to “walk in the Spirit”—not just attend church, sing the choruses, or listen to sermons—we have to “walk in the Spirit.”
The Bible says,
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1CO 2:14, NIV).
The New American Standard Version puts it this way: “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
If being “religious” could decode the plan and counsel of God, most people would be filled with spiritual knowledge because Buddhists, Muslims, Confucists, Hindus, Catholics, and Christians are “religious.” But religiosity doesn’t decode God’s counsel. A relationship with Christ discloses it! That is why Jesus came! It wasn’t to provide two cold, Stone Tablets as Moses had done—Tablets that nobody could fellowship with. Christ came to open His heart of love and compassion and commune with us. One primary duty God assigned to the Hebrew nation involved assimilating and teaching the Holy Scriptures. But when Jesus appeared, the entire Hebrew religious community missed the time of His coming:
Isaiah 7:14 said He would be born of a virgin.
The OT Scriptures had meticulously traced His lineage through Abraham and David.
It was the “fullness of times,” and all these facts were available to the Hebrew rabbis, but only a handful of Spirit-led Believers discerned His appearing. The rest of Israel missed the time of His coming.
The message of Christmas reminds us of the importance of timing. “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son.” Jesus came at the perfect time. There was one time, and one time only, in human history when things were perfectly aligned for Christ’s birth. That’s important, because just as Christ came at the perfect time, He continues to work for us according to a divinely schedule. The question is, Are you aware of what He’s doing in your life? If you don’t know Christ as your Savior, the Bible says today is your time to repent of your sins and claim forgiveness. It’s time to come clean with God. Maybe God is urging others to make a renewed commitment and pledge yourself to a new level of service for Him. To others He may be saying, “It’s time to cleanse yourself from some things that are dishonoring to your testimony.” There are twenty-two occurrences of the phrase: “the appointed time” in the Bible. That’s how important time is to God:
There was an “appointed time” for Israel to celebrate their festivals.
Daniel 8:19 speaks of the great tribulation occurring at “the appointed time of the end.”
Matthew 8:29 reveals even demons know the fate of their “appointed time.”
Jesus told the apostles His death awaited, “an appointed time.”
I love what Psalm 102:13 says: God will “have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come.”
And in Psalm 75:2 God distinctly says “I choose the appointed time.”
If you live without seeking for wisdom and understanding, you will miss God’s timing! Turn to Proverbs 2 and let’s read: “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, (2) making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; (3) yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, (4) if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, (5) then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (6) For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; (7) he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, (8) guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.”
Those that live by this wisdom of Proverbs will safeguard God’s timing and you will understand His plan for you!
(Transition) I’ve discussed how we should be aware of God’s dealings and timing for us but what about our personal responsibility of managing our schedule? Is that important?
Paul warned in Ephesians 5:14, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (15) Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise. (16) making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” According to this passage we can live without any strategy for life. And that’s why Proverbs warns that irresponsibility brings a snare.
(Example) Let me tell you something about modern enterprise. There’s a primary reason buses, trains, subway trams, and airplanes are efficient and effective. It’s called timing. Each industry adheres to a rigid schedule. When you want to travel across the nation or to a foreign land you can order your tickets months in advance that are fixed transit schedules—schedules calculated to the minute. Enterprises often rise and fall on timing!
Most successful companies have learned how to manage time. But one of the great difficulties of individuals is their inability to manage time. I’ve discovered there are three types of time managers:
Those that squander time by appearing busy but accomplish relatively little.
And those that have learned how to master time rather than having time master them.
Here’s why I’m emphasizing this: Spiritual warfare is waged against a Christian’s time-management. There are disruptive, circumventing spirits that attack people. And their principle activity is to obstruct productivity and repress human potential.
It’s said that Martin Luther of the 1500’s began his daily schedule with two hours of prayer. And when his appointments were unusually heavy he would rise an hour early and add to his prayer time. Prayer not only has a way of seizing God’s promises, strengthening our faith, and sanitizing our life it somehow works to free us from distractions and protect our schedule.
(Illustration) This past Friday I awoke at about 5:00 a.m. and couldn’t fall back asleep. Since I couldn’t sleep I prayed. I had more appointments than normal for Friday because I generally keep that day free to study Scripture. I studied two or three hours that morning, finished my appointments, grabbed a quick bite of lunch, and rushed back into the office ready to study several more hours. But immediately after closing the door to my office someone pulled to the side door and blew the horn. I reopened the door to find three of my male sheep. They said: “Pastor, we’re going to play basketball at your house. Come with us.” Now, honestly, I know how to guard my study schedule and say, “No!” but I couldn’t this time. Like a good shepherd (and a decent athlete), I closed my books and “led my sheep to the slaughter.” Now, here’s what’s interesting about that. When I arrived at my house a worker was hanging blinds. And before I could change clothes to play basketball, he was asking about our church and its doctrine. Incredibly enough, I didn’t have to go to the streets to witness! God had somebody available and waiting in my house! And moments later we were praying for his illness.
Prayer helps manage our schedule! And listen, God gave us a command to guard our schedule. Look again at Ephesians 5:15, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, (16) making the most of every opportunity, [KJV says: “redeeming the time”] because the days are evil.”
The word “redeem” here means to “recover from loss.” We know that as far as time is concerned that a minute passed is a minute eternally lost! Elapsed time can never be recovered. Everyone would like to turn back the clock on parts of their past but we can’t! We have to deal with our choices.
When Ephesians 5 says: “redeem the time,” it isn’t telling us to turn back the clock, it’s commanding us to deal with today and rescue the present. “Redeeming the time” means we do our best to save a world that’s wasting away. And it’s for this reason Romans 13:11 says: “knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” Do you see what God is doing in your life? Do you see that He’s calling you now to a deeper level of commitment and service and worship? “Understand” what the Lord’s will is!
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