God has given each of us the ability to do many things. Yet we have to make choices, to say no to some activities in order to do well the things God has called us to. Using our time wisely requires focus and discipline. Stewardship is the theological principle that underpins making such choices. God blesses us with material resources, but God also blesses us with time. We must steward our time wisely; recognizing that our time is a gift from God helps us think seriously about how we use it.
Do we believe our lives belong to God? If so, how does that affect the choices we make about our time? Are we willing to give God control of our time and our lives? Are we able to let some things go and not try to cram every activity into one day? Our actions declare who it is that we believe is in control of our lives — God or us.
Life can present too much pressure and too many opportunities for us to do everything. When we allow our lives to be overloaded by options, we can get pulled in too many directions and can lack the energy and focus to enjoy our main activities and give them our best. We can’t do everything well at once. The question arises then: how can we learn to set priorities and say no? I have found four ideas can help in this process.
Experience helps. We have to practice saying no. As we mature, we will naturally get better at discerning which activities will yield fruit and which distractions can be cut out, and we will gain confidence in making hard choices.
Do we believe our lives belong to God? Our actions declare who it is that we believe is in control of our lives — God or us.
No is not a bad word. For pastors and other congregational leaders, the reluctance to say no can be a problem. We don’t like to disappoint others. Early in my career it would pain me to turn down a request for a meeting or an invitation to speak somewhere. Then a wise nurse from our parish convinced me that people respect us more when we know and explain our limits. Besides, God has given gifts to many people throughout the church, so we can share in the work. I soon realized that I hadn’t been given every gift in the world because I wasn’t meant to do all the work. By saying no more frequently, I could share both the burden and the joy of being in ministry with others.
Focus where God has given you gifts and callings. God gives us clues about what activities we should focus on. Everyone has different gifts. The abilities with which God has entrusted us offer signs about which activities we should pursue. Following a calling means pursuing some activities to the exclusion of others. Realizing that God means for us to do some things and not others makes it easier to say no to some opportunities, because we are being true to God when we do so.
Pray and reflect. Taking stock of our gifts through prayer and reflection can help. I have in my journal this list: 1) pray; 2) listen to your heart and what gives you satisfaction; 3) write down where your strengths lie; and 4) think about how you make a difference for others. These four guideposts help me think about how to use my time so that my lifestyle is consistent with God’s will. When I am thinking about the variety of activities and options before me, I can examine them in light of my list and callings. I find it easier to say no to things that don’t line up with my list or God’s callings for my life.
This article is adapted from David’s book Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Support Harmony in Work and Life copyright © 2012, The Alban Institute, Inc. Herndon, VA. All rights reserved. For more information, visit http://www.alban.org/practicingbalance.aspx. This book is also available from Amazon and Cokesbury.