The Gift of Time
by Paul DeVries
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1
I really wanted to be in three places at one time. I wanted to be were I was-at the wedding reception of a church member and the daughter of a long time friend. But I also wanted to be at the wedding reception of another member of my congregation, the daughter of a leading family in our church. That reception was taking place on the same day and at the same time as the reception I was at, and it was all the way across town. I wanted to be at that reception too. But I couldn’t be in both places at the same time. Then I received a call on my cell phone from my daughter informing me that a young 10 year old member of the congregation, who had been struggling in the hospital for some time, appeared to be dying and the family was gathering at the hospital. Now I wanted to be in a third place at the same time. It was important to give time to each, and I yet I could not. Have you ever been in a situation like that?
Time is important, but there never seems to be enough of it in the right place at the right time. Celebrating a wedding is important. We want to give such a celebration all of our time. At the same time, being with those who are grieving is also important and we want to give due time to that as well. Time: It is a gift, but also a struggle.
All of you I think have experienced this struggle. Sometimes it is a minor problem like, should you spend your time at your daughter’s soccer game, or your son’s spelling bee competition which is happening at the same time. Should you go to your nephew’s graduation party or to the company picnic to please your boss? These decisions are made difficult by the simple fact that we can’t be in two or more places at the same time. But these relatively minor difficulties pale in comparison to those situations when time becomes a real, agonizing problem. Why does God give one person so much time on earth-even when they are in pain, even when they are ready to “go home” to their Lord, even more time than the person perhaps wants–and yet another dies after ten brief years of life? Is anyone in control of time? The problem with the gift of time is that it is limited and so often out of our control. How do we recognize God in the midst of time?
Well, I want to point you to a couple of key phrases in our text which help us recognize and receive time as a true gift of God. First, let’s go to the very first words of Holy Scripture from Genesis chapter 1 verse 1. These very first words are about time. In English grammar we would call them a temporal clause, specifically a prepositional phrase which is about time. In the beginning … In the beginning. This clause about time leads directly to the very first subject in the Bible: God. The text reads, In the beginning God … Listen to it again because it is important and profound: In the beginning God. This was a powerful statement when it was first made so long ago and it remains a powerful statement today. It was a powerful statement long ago because the great, ancient civilizations of the Sumerians, Egyptians, and would never have said, “In the beginning God.” Instead, they would have said something like, “In the beginning chaos.” Each of these ancient civilizations had slightly different creation myths which they taught and believed. But they all began their stories without God. Instead, they began with ancient, primeval waters over which the gods eventually gained control. In contrast, the Bible declares, right from the beginning, a different kind of story, a true story which begins with God: in the beginning God!
Now these are words that we still need to hear today-aren’t they? Because, just like in the ancient world, we don’t commonly hear, nor are we commonly taught, that in the beginning God. Instead, we hear and are taught that in the beginning perhaps a big bang. Or, in the beginning nebulous gasses floated around and come together by chance at just the right time in just the right way so that the universe could come forth. But even this is uncertain. And most of you, like me, are not scientists or cosmologists who study origins and can articulate these things real well. But even the best cosmologists end up, with a shrug of the shoulders saying, “In the beginning…we don’t exactly know.” We are not sure. In the beginning, a shrug. But not so says Genesis chapter one verse one. In the beginning GOD!
This truth of our God who exists at the beginning of time changes everything and makes all the difference in the world. This assures us of a sovereign God who exists above and beyond all time. So, even though we are constrained by time, and even though we often feel that our world will devolve into chaos if we are not in control, we know that God is not constrained by time-he has been in control from the beginning.
Why is this so important? Well, as Ecclesiastes chapter 3 tells us-right at the end of its beautiful poetic words about time-in verse 14:
“I know that everything that God does will endure forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”
In the beginning God. So in the midst of our time we know that God is Sovereign. This sovereignty of God over everything including time is foundational and we are witnesses to it. We see it and we hear it and we need to speak about it. We are witnesses to our God’s sovereign reign over this thing called “time.”
The witnessing needs to begin with ourselves, as we consistently remind ourselves that time is not in our hands but God’s. Remember that 10-year-old boy who I mentioned earlier in my message-the one dying in the hospital-well, he has a little 4-year-old sister. This little girl knows what it is to be a witness to our God who is sovereign over time. All the adults around her-her parents, her grandparents, uncles and aunts-were all wondering when God would call their little boy home and end the suffering and struggle. Many were confused and made uncertain by what appeared to be an extended dying process. But the little girl heard and saw and witnessed to God’s sovereignty in the midst of it all. When her grandpa was trying to explain the mystery of God’s timing to her, she simply exclaimed with child-like trust, “Grandpa, we don’t decide, God does. Don’t you get it?!” Now that’s the truth–from the mouth of babes!
This truth needs to come out of our mouths as well. It begins with parents who lead their children, by their example, to know God from the very beginning. It continues as brothers and sisters comfort one another with the truth that God holds our time in his hands. In the beginning God-a truth that moves with us from generation to generation, throughout all time.
Knowing that we serve a Sovereign God who holds our time in his hands helps us when time is beyond our control. When we have great grief because we have missed the death of a loved one because we didn’t have time to get to the hospital; when we miss a wedding celebration because we are at a mandatory work conference; when we regret words of love and care that were not spoken when they should have been spoken; when vacations end too soon and root canals take too long; when we regret the sins of the past or worry about the sins of the future or live in the pain-filled grief of the present day-in the midst of all this we hear the fundamental and foundational words of all scripture, IN THE BEGINNIG GOD!
Unfortunately, even if we get the big picture idea that God is sovereign from the beginning, we may still fail to see and hear God’s sovereignty day by day. It can be mighty frustrating to live life day after day doing the laundry, putting in time at work, cleaning the house, and paying the bills. Sometimes it seems that even if God is in charge of all time, our time crawls or flies by in a series of meaningless daily activities. Can we find God in the day to day grind of life?
Well again, let’s go to the text. Notice how Genesis One shows us a pattern of a good God creating a good world day by day. In fact, the most noticeable pattern about time in our passage today is the repeated refrain, “There was evening, and there was morning.” Over and over again we hear it-six times we hear it-each day of creation we hear it. There was evening and there was morning, the first day. There was evening and there was morning, the second day. There was evening and there was morning, the third day. So too with the fourth day, fifth day and sixth day-there was evening and there was morning. Yes, the ancient Hebrews traced their days differently, each day beginning in the evening and flowing through into the morning, but the pattern is clear. Sunrise, sunset, day after day, God creates his goodness.
Each and every day, with a couple of exceptions right at the beginning of creation, God punctuates his creation by saying, “This has been a good day!” Daily, God looks at his creation and declares, “It is good,” and then there is evening and morning of another day. There is always something good each day for us to celebrate in God’s good creation. Some days of our lives it will certainly be easier to see and celebrate this goodness than others. We see the daily goodness of God more easily at a wedding or baptism, for example, than at a funeral or in the hospice care facility. But in each day God gives goodness for us to celebrate.
Notice also that God neither hurries nor procrastinates on any of these days. I sometimes wonder why God didn’t just create it all in one day or even one instant. He simply speaks and it is, so why not speak all of creation into being at once! Why not simply say, “Start” and have everything spring into creation at once. Well, I am not sure-it certainly isn’t my place to second guess God’s creation timing. He neither hurries nor procrastinates. He just methodically moves from day to day doing his creative work of daily goodness. And once again we as God’s people are witnesses to his daily goodness.
But it is easy to miss this daily goodness of God in the midst of our harried society. It is hard to celebrate the goodness of evening when you are late for your meeting which goes too long and are then kept awake at night worrying about how the meeting went. It is hard to know the daily goodness of God when your child is teething. And surely it is easy to miss God’s goodness when you are worried that this day might be the last day you are employed. In the midst of such times, is it possible to witness God’s daily goodness?
One thing that helps me witness God’s daily goodness is my time of devotions. A discipline of daily coming before the Lord to read his Word, to reflect on the blessings and difficulties of the past day and the day to come, and to pray to my heavenly Father, keeps me centered on God’s daily blessings. Sometimes I pray a line from the, a prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples and is recorded in the Bible. The line from that prayer that I like to repeat a couple of times is, “Give us this day our daily bread.” While I would like much more than just bread, and while my prayers include much more than just this one simple line, this phrase helps me remember the simple daily blessings that God provides even in the midst of many needs and concerns.
It is also a reminder that I must put myalone who daily provides for me. Many of us flow through our days putting our trust in ourselves and others rather than God. Many of us live our days as if everything depends on us and our plans and our provision. Yes, God has given us the gift of time so that we can use it care for our families, friends, and selves; but, he has not put us in control of that time. We must know that we are not ultimately in control. We simply can’t take care of everything, all the time; and sometimes we can’t take care of anything, at any time.
So, with the gift of time God says, day by day by day, I am God. Trust in me, and in the evening and in the morning of your days you will see my goodness. Know that I am God. Know that I am God in the time when your child is baptized. Know that I am God in the time your when your child is dying. Know that I am God when healing comes into your life. Know that I am God when the cancer returns. There is evening and there is morning, another day in your life, and the Lord your God remains God.
There is at least one more way that the text shows God in control of his gift of time. We notice it on the fourth day of creation. On that day God creates the sun, moon and stars. He places them in the sky to “mark” the days, seasons and years. The great heavenly bodies of the sun, moon and stars, that the ancients so often worshiped, are demoted, so to speak, to the fourth day of creation. Moreover, they do not control time they merely mark it. It is God who is in control. God is in charge of the seasons and the years. What we find then is that in the seasons and years of our lives, the Lord our God is sovereign. It is not the sun God of the setting of the sun that opens and closes our days. Instead, it is the Lord our God. What we find then is that in the past, in the present, and in the future our God is sovereign. With the gift of time, God allows us to participate in his sovereignty as we use our time to trust him from the beginning of our lives, each day of our lives, and in the future of our lives., nor the astrologists of today who dictate the times. Nor is it the rising and
Let me bring you back once more to the little ten year old boy and his family as he lay dying in the hospital. I received this update from the boy’s mom via the internet: She wrote, “Morning, what a night. We thought surely that our son would be in heaven by this morning. But he is a champ and he is doing okay at this time. He has struggled off and on during the night. We were able to get some rest. We are still waiting for the doctors to come through and check on him. Please continue to pray that the Lord’s will be done.”
Did you notice all the time references in the mother’s words, and how that time is out of her control, and out of my control and out of your control? But it is all in God’s hands. In fact, even as I speak to you now, months after the boy was apparently dying in the hospital, he remains alive. For the control of time is not in the doctors’ hands, nor the disease’s hands. The control is in God’s hands.
So what is the conclusion of the matter? Well, I confess that I would still like to be in three places at one time. I struggle with time-my time and God’s timing-but I know and must confess that He is God and I am not. He gives us time so that we can use it to trust in him. Let me leave you with a question: Do you with your time?
Let us pray together.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Time-it is a struggle for us. But we know that you are Sovereign God over all time. Lord, enable us to use our good gift of time daily to serve those around us and ultimately to serve you alone. We pray this in Jesus name, Amen.