Here’s a riddle for you.
Can you figure it out? If you love The Lord of the Rings this might be familiar. It’s from The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien during the scene where Bilbo and the creature Gollum are trying to outwit each other. Bilbo makes a deal in the hopes he can find a way out of the cave he’s trapped in. He tells Gollum that if he wins this contest of wits, then Gollum has to show him the way out. But if Bilbo loses, Gollum gets to eat him. Pretty high stakes. So this is one of the riddles Gollum gives to poor old Bilbo.
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
Do you know the answer? The answer is time. Time is the thing that devours everything else. It’s the one thing by itself that can grind stone, slay kings, and beat a mountain down. Because time stops for no one. Time is also the one thing we can never get more of. No matter how much money or power or influence we have, we can never buy more time. It’s also the one thing we never know how much we have. When we’re young we think we have all the time in the world. We rarely think about what happens “after;” what happens when this existence ends. In our middle years, our lives are crammed with things that eat up our time, and again we don’t seem to have too much of it to think about the “future.” Only in our older years does life seem to slow down to at least ponder it. But even then, do we take it seriously?
We don’t have as much of it as we think.
Time is the most precious commodity we have and we can easily waste it. Either intentionally or not, we don’t always make the best use of this incredibly limited resource. We choose to do one thing over another, often knowing which one would be the wiser choice, but instead choosing something more fun or more immediately rewarding. Like going out to dinner when you really should be working on that presentation for work. Or going to Disneyland with your friend Mark when you’ve got a midterm the next day – not that that ever happened. Sometimes it’s not even choosing one thing over another. Sometimes we simply procrastinate our lives away. I remember one time when I was a grad student at CSULB and I asked one of my former professors if he would write a good recommendation letter for me. One of my mentors told me we shouldn’t ask people just if they would write a letter of recommendation, but if they would write a good one because who wants a bad letter of recommendation? And my professor said, “No.” I was shocked because we always had a good relationship and I did exceptionally well in his class, but he told me that he had asked me to follow up with a colleague of his and I never did. For that reason, he didn’t think he could in good conscience write a good letter of recommendation for me. And he was right. He did ask me to follow up, and I just put it to the side thinking I’d get to it one day, but “one day” never came. To be honest, even though I learned a lot in his class, that was probably the most valuable lesson he ever taught me. It often motivates me to do things I would otherwise be tempted to push aside. Most of us can think of at least one moment in our lives where we made the choice to spend our time unwisely.
But God tells us that sometimes those decisions have huge consequences.
In this passage we’re about to read, we find Jesus surrounded by a HUGE crowd of people. There are thousands around him and they are literally “trampling on one another.” Jesus is trying to teach them to focus their life not on the worries of this world, but on the God who loves them. But then out of nowhere, this guy yells out to Jesus. And that’s where we pick up the story.
13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18″Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
20″But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21″This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Do you have your priorities straight?
This guy didn’t. Jesus just gets done telling this whole group of people not to worry about the things of this world. He tells them they should be focusing on God, on what’s really important. And this guy yells out, “…tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” And while it’s tempting to look down on this guy who literally ignored everything Jesus said, isn’t it true that at times we are just like him? Isn’t it true that we know what we are supposed to do, but put off doing it? Or we put off something we know would make things better, but for one reason or another we just don’t do it? Sometimes we just procrastinate. Sometimes we are worried about what people will think of us. And sometimes it’s as small as it makes us “uncomfortable.” And instead of pushing past our discomfort, we choose something else. Or sometimes we’re like this guy in the story. We just want what we want and we ignore what’s really important. Do you know what’s important to you?
Stephen Covey had some great advice about this.
If you didn’t know, he’s the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and in that book he writes, “The key is to keep the main thing the main thing.” You’ve probably heard that before. The key is to keep the main thing the main thing. We know this intellectually, but we don’t always do a great job of executing it. We know we should put God first, but we skip church for more “pressing” matters. We know we should put family first, but we are worried that there are too many things to do at work. Covey addresses that also, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. Unfortunately, that’s also true. We find ourselves in firefighting mode and we end up responding instead of planning. Or we allow the urgent things to move ahead on our priority list, not because they are more important in the long run, but in the short. So how do we get around that? Covey says, “The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. If family time is important, make sure you spend that time with family. If God is important then carve out time for God. It’s as simple as that. But have the courage to do it.
Andy Stanley said something that changed my life.
“Never sacrifice what only you can do for something someone else can do.” Andy is the lead pastor at North Point Community Church based in Atlanta, and I went to a seminar he was teaching. He told us we are always cheating on someone. What he meant by that is we are constantly “choosing to give up one thing in hope of gaining something else of greater value.” Work, spouse, career, kids, dreams, hobbies – there simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything for everybody including ourselves. So we cheat. We take time we could be spending on one thing to devote it to something else. The problem occurs when we neglect one or the other so much we create a void. “Suddenly” our spouse asks us for a divorce, “suddenly” our kids start having problems, “suddenly” we get passed over for a promotion. The truth is none of those things are “sudden.” They are usually the result of not being able to maintain a healthy balance in our lives. It just seems “sudden” to us because we weren’t paying attention. We weren’t scheduling our priorities but instead prioritizing our schedule and often it’s our families that get the short end of the stick. Work is immediate. Work offers tangible benefits. But work can be done by someone else. We are often not as necessary as we like to think we are at work, but we are indispensable in one arena – our family. So Andy reminds us, “Never sacrifice what only you can do for something someone else can do.”
I will only ever be Emma’s dad. I will hopefully only ever be Cassie’s husband. And unless there’s some incredible miracle, I’ll be the only son my parents will ever have. Pastors come and go, but I play a role in my family no one else can fill. That doesn’t mean there won’t be times when the church comes first, because that happens a lot. It just means I can’t afford to neglect my role as son, father, and husband because no one else will ever be those things to the people in my life. I want to challenge you today to think about who you are cheating in your life. Are your priorities where they should be? If they are, great! But if they are not, if you take a deep look inside and find you’ve been cheating the wrong people, consider what you can do to balance the load. Don’t let the world dictate what’s important, find within yourself what’s important, and then do THAT!
 Andy Stanley, When Work and Family Collide: Keeping Your Job From Cheating Your Family, Kindle Version, pg. 1