Scheduling for Sanity

Bill Hybels

From: Christians in the Marketplace, Copyright 1982 by Bill Hybels and Victor Books. Used by permission of the author.

You can’t believe it! You’ve never won anything before in your life. You barely remember filling out the registration card as you left the store a few months ago. And now your name has been drawn!

You have been selected to participate in the “Thirty-Minute Madness Special.” That’s right. You have been given 30 minutes to race up and down the aisles of the store and fill your cart with as much food as you can. In fact, you can fill as many carts as you want. And then you get to take it all home – without paying a penny! It’s a once-in-a-life-time opportunity.

You should be thrilled. At this very moment the store manager is informing the mini-cam crew that there are just three minutes left before your shopping spree begins. But you’re not thrilled. You’re actually a little sick to your stomach. Your palms are sweating as you tighten your grip on the grocery cart. You’re just beginning to realize how grossly unprepared you are for this adventure. Your vision is blurred by the thousands of items lining the shelves from floor to ceiling, aisle after aisle.

Where do you begin? You blush inside because you know you had ample time to plan your strategy. Why didn’t you put together a long-term family menu? Or make a list of your favorite large ticket items, like meat and specialty products? Why didn’t you make an aisle chart to help you remember where each department was located?

You could have done so many things to maximize this opportunity. But you didn’t take the time. You didn’t think it through, and now the manager is about to give the signal to begin. The TV lights go on, and the people cheer. But in your heart you feel sick. You’re winging it, and you know it. You’re about to waste a once-in-a-life-time opportunity!


Our Vision is Blurred

How like that frustrated shopper we are as we face the shelves lined from floor to ceiling with a multitude of beautiful opportunities begging for our time. Our vision is blurred by the sheer volume of worthwhile activities available to us, all wrapped in brightly colored packages just waiting to be claimed.

The problem is that we have an infinite number of opportunities, but a finite amount of time. There are 1,440 minutes in a day, 168 hours in a week, and 52 weeks in a year. How do we decide where to invest our time? Where do we begin?

We begin by looking at the biblical view of time and understanding the value that God places on it. “As for the days of our life, they contain 70 years, or if due to strength, 80 years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away”¦So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:10, 12). When we’re young we think that life is short that we have to prepare our hearts to meet our God. Time is valuable, therefore, because it is limited.

Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work” (John 9:4). Here, as in the Psalms, the Word of God emphasizes the limited nature of time. Each of us has a limited amount of time to invest for eternity. There will come a day when our opportunities to work will be gone.

I remember so well working on the farm near our home in Kalamazoo during the summers of my high school years. During the peak season, we would get up at the break of day to begin planting or harvesting. We would continue working the fields until it was so dark we could barely see the rows. We even tried hitching lights to the equipment to extend the hours of our workday. We had to maximize the time. The days seemed so short, and there was so much work to be done.


Our Time is Limited

Mindful that we ought to live each day of our lives with that same urgency, we ought to be constantly aware that we have a limited amount of time to invest in the kingdom of God. Every Christian leader who has had a significant impact on my life has exhibited this sense of urgency. One of these men, the executive director of an international youth organization, used to say to me, “Bill, I just don’t know how much time I have to work with these kids. They grow up so quickly and then they go their won way.” Even now when he talks with me, his parting words always reiterate the same theme: we don’t know how much time we have left. “Teach the Word of God, Bill,” he says. “Don’t neglect your calling. The time is short.”

In a world which places such an existential value on time, it is uncommon to hear someone put such a premium value on it, yet that is what God does. He reminds us that time is limited and He instills within us a godly sense of urgency. He also tells us that we will be held accountable for the way we use the time we have been given. In Colossians 4:5 Paul says, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” Again in Ephesians 5:15-16 he says, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” The time we have is a sacred trust from God. We are called to use it wisely, as good stewards.


Concerning Money

Later in this book we will look more at what the Bible says about our money, but I want to make just a brief comment about it here. We as believers must come to the ultimate understanding that everything we have is the Lord’s, that we are merely managers of the material and monetary resources that we hold in our possession. We are not the owners, but rather the stewards, and someday we will face a “heavenly audit” to determine how well or how poorly we have managed that with which we were entrusted. Did we hoard our money? Did we squander it carelessly? Did we spend it selfishly? Did we invest it wisely? Did we support God’s work generously? Did we tithe faithfully? One day we will be called to give account of the way we used our material resources.


About Time

What few people seem to understand is that the same is true of our time. We will be called to give account of how we used our time. Why? Because what we call “our time” is not really ours, but God’s. It is a gift which He has given us to manage, to use for His glory. It is vital, therefore, that we learn to make the proper choices, to determine the best ways to use our time.

God calls us to make the most of our time, but He doesn’t call us to over schedule ourselves to the brink of insanity. That is why we must learn to eliminate those activities which do not please Him (or are not priorities with Him), so we will have the time to do the things that do please Him (which are high priority to Him).

What makes it so hard to address this issue is that most of the people I know who live with insane schedules have not filled their time with worthless activities. On the contrary, they are involved in multitudes of worthwhile activities. In my own church, for example, I see hundreds of people who dedicate themselves to godly and justifiable projects that expand the ministry of the body of Christ in numerous ways. The problem is that even though these people are overscheduled with great activities, they are overscheduled nonetheless. They are so overscheduled that husbands and wives wave to one another as they pass each other going different directions on the church entry road. I’ve even heard that there’s a bounty on the heads of available baby-sitters in our church!

As admirable as this problem sounds, in that it indicates hearts that are warm toward God and His people, it is a problem that must be solved. The toll that it takes is awesome. It destroys people physically. It fragments marriages and families. And ultimately it inhibits relationships with God.

Why do I feel so strongly about this subject that I am devoting two chapters of this book to it? Because it has been such a problem for me, personally. In the previous chapter I admitted that I was a workaholic, and believe me, that was no empty admission given for the sake of writing style or to make a surface-level identification with my readers. Today I have a balanced, God-honoring schedule, but in the past my family and I both suffered the very real effects of insane scheduling.

In preparing for this chapter I have tried to determine just what it was that brought me from the point of chronic over scheduling to where I am now. What prompted the gradual transformation? During the past weeks I have reflected at length on the past few years in an attempt to understand exactly what happened and why it happened. The remainder of this chapter is the result of that personal analysis.

Seven years ago I reached the peak of my personal insanity with respect to my schedule. At that time I was a youth minister at a church that had a very successful and active youth program. On Sunday mornings at 8:00 I had a weekly planning session with all the youth coordinators. At 9 I taught a Sunday School class. At 11, I led a portion of the adult church service. In the afternoon I had a music rehearsal and on Sunday evening I had to attend another church service. That was the set schedule for every Sunday.

On Monday evening I taught a Bible study to 450 high school students, the core group of our high school program. On Tuesday evening I directed program for third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade boys, which involved 125 kids and approximately 20 leaders. On Wednesday night I taught a Bible study at Son City, our high school outreach ministry, which involved 600 students. On Thursday night I taught an identical Bible study to another 500-600 high school kids. (The church sanctuary was not large enough to hold the entire Son City group, so we ran two identical programs.) On Friday night I spent time with various leaders in the high school ministry, and on Saturday I prepared for the following week’s messages.

Those were the fixed events that took place every week. All during that time I was a full-time student at Trinity College, taking a minimum of 16 hours each semester, I was married (at least on paper), Lynne was pregnant and sick, and we lived in a tiny two bedroom house with two adult boarders who we were attempting to “establish in the faith” and four dogs.

That describes the peak of my personal insanity. If anyone reading the last few paragraphs thinks that I am speaking out of pride, or boasting of my ability to handle a heavy schedule, please read those paragraphs again. Could anyone be proud of such a ridiculous and selfish schedule? On the contrary, it is with embarrassment that I share those years. Lynne deserves a purple heart for what she endured during that time. I didn’t know then but I know now how severely I wounded her, and not only her, but many other people as well.

During that time I heard many messages on “priorities,” and on “the barrenness of the busy life,” and I felt a certain amount of pressure from Lynne and other people who warned me about the dangers of my chronic over-scheduling. But the messages and the counsel had little effect on me because they both seemed to elevate the easy life, the balanced life, the comfortable life. And that seemed so contrary to what I saw in the lives of David and Paul and Peter and Jesus. These men were zealots. They had an internal intensity that burned. These heroes of the faith didn’t lead the easy life, and I didn’t want to either.

I didn’t realize at that time that there is a law of diminishing returns in relation to personal scheduling. I didn’t know then that there comes a point when our efforts become counterproductive, when our “busyness” actually limits our fruitfulness. Had I known that, perhaps I would have slowed down, but I didn’t, I was still caught up in a thought system that perpetuated my desire to work harder and harder, and longer and longer, in an attempt to live a life that would be pleasing to God.


My “Slow-down”

What was it then that ultimately spurred the gradual transformation in my schedule, if it was not the “slow-down” messages and the external pressure? It was, quite simply, the Word of God. I can honestly say that all during that time of insane scheduling, I loved the Lord with all my heart, and I committed myself to spending time in prayer and in reading the Bible every day, no matter how crazy my schedule was. I was also committed to being a part of a church body where I could hear biblical teaching and be shaped by the fellowship of other Christians. As I just said, I wasn’t yet ready to listen to the “slow-down” messages or heed the counsel of those who condemned my personal schedule; those words I completely ignored. But here were other words of Scripture and words of counsel that I did listen to, and they eventually provided the punch that knocked some sense into the head of this stubborn-willed Dutchman. Gradually, the Holy Spirit of God worked through the Word of God to shape my values, my attitudes, and ultimately, my schedule.

I’ll never forget the morning that I woke up early to spend some time studying Ephesians 5. I started my quiet time that morning with a brief time of praise and thanksgiving. “O Lord, I love You and I thank You for Your death on the cross and the eternal salvation that You have given me. I want my life to give You glory. Right now help me to feed on Your Word and apply it to my life. Amen.”

Then I opened my Bible to Ephesians 5:25 and read, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Those words hit me like a bolt of lightning and I knew I was in trouble! Up to that point I had been content to be a “good husband,” and I had defined a good husband as on who was faithful to his wife and provided well for his family. Well, I had never been unfaithful to Lynne and I was certainly a good provider. We had a house. We had all the food and clothing we needed. The bills were paid on time. We had invested our money wisely. I was stable. I was consistent. Anyway I looked at it, I was a good husband!

But what I learned in that verse was that God wasn’t satisfied with my being a “good husband.” He wanted me to be a godly husband; there is a big difference between the two.

Paul tells us to love our wives as Christ loved the church. Did Christ impatiently tolerate the church and make excuses for His preoccupation with other things? Certainly not! His preoccupation was the church. He was dedicated to its growth and nurture and total well-being. He was willing to give Himself up for it.

God’s Word says that men are to love their wives in that same way. To a man who was accustomed to giving his wife last place on his priority list, these words cut. They called for a relationship characterized by tenderness and communication and service. They called me to be willing to “give myself up” for her in tangible, practical ways that would give evidence to my Christlike love for her.

As I read and reread this verse, I became convinced that God was calling me to make a radical change in my schedule. That was the only way I could honor His command to love Lynne. I had to give her my time. And over the years I have made that radical change. I am now convinced that I have to spend at least three, and preferably four nights a week at home and set aside all day Monday to spend with my family. I’m kidding myself if I think I can build a godly marriage or be a godly father with a lesser time commitment than that.

The interesting thing is that I have lost nothing in making this commitment to my family. In all truth, I have probably received more benefit from it than they have. A woman who is loved, encouraged, and nurtured by her husband is a joy to live with. She is a tender, loving, supportive companion. Likewise, children who are loved and affectionately attended to by their father respond with joyful, giving hearts.

James Dobson, the noted authority on the family, claims that the average middle-class father spends 37 seconds a day with his small children. I doubt if I spent that much time with my kids before the Lord turned my thinking upside down. There were just too many other things to do, too many people to attend to, too many needs to meet.

The only answer was to learn to say no. Now, when people call and request evening counseling sessions, or ask me to attend a meeting or accept an outside speaking engagement, I say, “Let me check my schedule.” If they have requested time on a night that I have already set aside for family-time I say, “No, I’m sorry. I have an appointment that night.” Little do they know that it’s an appointment with Lynne and the kids! That “appointment” may mean nothing more than a quiet evening at home where I lie on the floor to be a “ramp” for Todd’s trucks or I sit in a kitchen chair to be a “pretend student” in Shauna’s “pretend school.” If that’s what it takes for me to honor God in my family life, that’s what I’ll do.

Not long ago our church showed the James Dobson film series “Focus on the Family” (from which I got the “37 second” information). Those of us on the church staff strongly recommended the films to all the parents in our church and many responded by committing themselves to seeing all of the films. However, I was appalled at the number of people, particularly men, who said to me, “Well, Bill, I know I need this series – my family life sure isn’t what it should be – but I have a really busy week coming up. This is our peak season at work.” Others said, “Oh, I’m sure they would be helpful, but I have a big hunting trip to get ready for. I just can’t spare the time right now.” Still others said, “I’d come, Bill, but I have tickets to the Bears’ game. You know what a fan I am!”

There were so many “good” excuses, and in the past I would have been sympathetic. I would have said, “Oh, sure, I know you have to keep things under control at work.” Or, “Sure, I understand. It takes a lot of time to plan a good trip. Have a great time!” Or, “I know how much you enjoy those pro games. Don’t miss your chance.”


Choose the “Best”

But my thinking has changed. I don’t “understand” anymore. Sure, there are plenty of exciting, worthwhile opportunities “out there” calling for our attention, but are they the best things that we can do with our time? I would be a fool to say that we shouldn’t devote a certain amount of our time to our work, our friends, and our recreation. But when an extraordinary opportunity to build the quality of our family life comes along, we should make that a priority. I found it hard to believe that these men could not offer even a few hours of their time to an activity that was sure to have a long-lasting, positive effect on their entire families and provide a stimulating challenge to their roles as fathers. We need to think less about filling our schedules with insignificant activities, and think more about what it means to honor God in our marriages and families.

The church is my career and for many years I laid myself down on the altar of my work, sacrificing my health, my wife, and my kids. It was not, however, a sacrifice that pleases the Lord. Again, the Holy Spirit had to speak to me through the Word of God. “For the body [the church] is not one member, but many” (1 Cor. 12:14). The Holy Spirit convicted me that I had been placing too much emphasis on myself, nurturing the egocentric view that if I didn’t “get the job done,” no one would.

I had to realize that I was responsible to God to use my spiritual gifts willingly and effectively, but that was as far as I was called to go. I was not called to take on responsibility that was not suited to my gifts and abilities, nor was I called to be chronically overloaded with commitments and responsibilities that jeopardized my health, my family, and my commitment to the Lord.

What about you? Have you laid your life down on the corporate altar? Do you say, “Well, yes, I know I’m ruining my family life, but what can I do? It’s my job. I can’t afford to lose my job.” But can you afford to lose your family? Do you say, “Yes, I know it’s tough on my marriage. But I make good money.” You will have to do some pretty fancy footwork through Scripture to find any biblical justification for allowing your job to cause the disintegration of your marriage and family relationships. It just isn’t there. Your profession may be, and should be a very worthwhile and gratifying endeavor, but your walk with the Lord, your marriage, and your family are of far greater significance.

I know what it means to be overscheduled to the point of absurdity. I also know, however, that the pattern of over scheduling can be broken. The first step in breaking the pattern is to sincerely commit your life to the Lord. Submit to Him daily. Thank Him for forgiving you and cleansing you. Acknowledge His authority in your life, and commit your time to Him.

The second step is to commit yourself to the public study of the Word of God. Commit yourself to being in Bible class and church services as often as you can. Then be willing to apply the truths of Scripture that you have learned.

The third step is to commit yourself to the private reading of the Word of God. Each day select a portion of Scripture and study it, internalize it, and obey it. Modern language Bibles and commentaries are readily available to aid you in your understanding of Scripture. This commitment of time and effort is guaranteed to pen the floodgates of eternal rewards.

From: Christians in the Marketplace, Copyright 1982 by Bill Hybels and Victor Books. Used by permission of the author.

Bill Hybels serves as senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Willow Creek’s outreach to spiritual seekers in the Chicago area has made it one of the most attended churches in North America. Bill has authored numerous award-winning books.