Key West: July 4th week, 1990: fireworks over the water, deep sea fishing for Mahi-Mahi (tourist note: it was not an exactly inspired idea to boat out over choppy pre-dawn open ocean the day-after-the-night-before which may have included one or two extra shots of a smooth libation from what was then a relatively new player in the tequila market called Patron Spirits Company), touring through the charms of Hemingway’s adopted home town.
What I remember most about that Summer week (well, apart from spending time with an incredible woman who would become my wife) was … how time sort of stood still. I later learned there was a popular technique in bars and restaurants of Key West during those days to intentionally slow down service, purportedly enhancing the experience of “laid back cool” made famous by another Key West transplant, Jimmy Buffet.
Apparently the notion here was to encourage visitors to throw away their Daytimers (for the nostalgic folks, this was obviously during a day and age before the rise of the ubiquitous mobile device that these days so often substitutes for a social life), pack their watches in a suitcase (again, these were the days of long ago when watches simply told us what time of day and what day of the month we happened to be stumbling through) adopt an island state of mind and r-e-l-a-x. Oh, and whilst relaxing spend a lot of money. Such is the nature of commerce in the Conch Republic.
Witticisms aside, there was something incredibly freeing about the experience. After the first 24 hours of withdrawal it became serene, almost meditative to sit down in a restaurant or bar, wait at least 20 minutes for the server (casually standing in the corner with two other servers, biding their time and letting you settle in), and learn the art of unhurried conversation all over again.
Learn the art of unhurried conversation all over again.
I remembered this recently when considering how busy our lives have become. Calendars, schedules, meetings, “quick” coffees, calls, to-do lists, kids’ activities, date nights with partners or spouses, drinks with friends … so much to do, so little time.
I get it.
My own online calendar looks like a patchwork quilt on any given day. I even know folks who write their time with God in on their agendas: Wake up 5 am, Catch up on News 5:15 am, Workout 5:30 – 6:15 am, Bible Reading and God 6:30 – 6:45 am, Breakfast 6:45 am. Pencil God right in there between Pilates and Scrambled Eggs.
Personally, I blame Robert Hooke and Christiaan Huygens. Who? It turns out in 1657 these two guys argued over which one invented a little device called a balance spring which, when attached to the balance wheel in mechanical timepieces, caused the balance wheel to oscillate with a predictable frequency when the timepiece was running, thus allowing for a consistent “tick” in the spring. Voilà, the accurate pocket watch was born.
From there it’s a straight shot to 21st Century time management gurus who have us managing our days down to the 5 minute increments so popular with über-efficient productivity experts.
What does all of this have to do with God? More than you might imagine. As time awareness became more culturally ingrained, it found its way into organized church service structure and eventually into our time spent with private study of the Word.
We make time for God, but it has to be convenient: for most Protestant denominations, that means just about an hour, usually scheduled between 9:00 am and 11:00 am. Not too long to interfere with Sunday brunch (or, God
forbid, game time – especially if you’re a Cowboys fan in Texas) but long enough to get in a few favorite hymns, a sermon that doesn’t put us to sleep, and some social time. Or if you’re more concerned with having serious Sunday morning pillow time, there’s always the Saturday evening service, just before heading to dinner. In and out, like the California burger chain.
In some cases, we take things even further to accommodate busy, scheduled, clock-driven lives. Our fellow worshipers in Catholicism have refined service scheduling to a high art. For instance, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of my favorite churches in the country, has (count ‘em) eight services each and every Sunday! Surely busy New Yorkers can squeeze in God time during one for those!
Yes, I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek. But here’s the point. How many times did Jesus advertise his sermon times, making them convenient for the time conscious? I don’t recall seeing anything like this in scripture “This Sunday: The Beatitudes at 9, 11, 1 and a special evening service at 5:30. We’ll have plenty fish and bread, so BYOB.”
Rather, scripture tells us Jesus simply created gatherings with no regard to time: “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.” (Matthew 5:1) Or he would spontaneously teach a lifetime’s worth of sermons in a single lesson on prayer: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” (Luke 11:1) Or, he would simply climb into a boat on the water and begin preaching: “Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables.” (Mark 4:1-2)
God isn’t impressed with our productivity, nor our busy lives.
Jesus didn’t carve out time for God. There was no “sandwiching” in his ministry; God simply was – 24/7/365.
God isn’t impressed with our productivity, nor our busy lives. He doesn’t care how many meetings we cram into a day, how many people pass through our sanctuary doors on any given Sunday, how many books we sell as well-known authors, or how large our bank accounts grow. Instead, His only interest is our willing hearts offered to Him in authentic worship, and to each other in love and friendship. There is nothing more important than this.
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church puts it this way: “If you’re too busy for God, you’re too busy … because you’re putting everything else in front of the number one commandment — love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.”
I began this post with a twist on the well-known Latin phrase “Tempus Fugit,” which loosely translated means “time flies.” I chose to rename it “Tempus Sugit,” or “Time Sucks.” Because time, and our preoccupation with it, doesn’t just fly, it can suck the life out of us, and our worship of God. It takes precedence over keeping our eyes on Jesus and instead keeps them on our calendars and to-do lists.
“Penciling God in” when it’s convenient, when our minds wander in His direction, when our calendars are open, when we’re concerned or out of control, when there are no looming deadlines, in those moments when life brings us crashing to our knees or we’ve just we score a huge success – none of these approaches help us cross the gulf to Grace.
I’m certainly not saying we don’t live in a different age that those who first heeded God’s call, nor that organizing our lives to ensure we attend church or spend time in the Word. But no amount of scheduling or calendar management or momentary life intercession can ever truly bring us closer to God – in worship or at home. Only a willing heart and a broken watch.