“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1. Cor. 10:31)
Whatsoever we do? Really? Including eating and drinking? What about after a hard day's work helping my parents, surely a few hours in the evening I can just please myself?
The inspired Apostle teaches us, that in everything we are to have the glory of God as our first and primary aim. This includes eating, sleeping, laughing, playing, doing homework and cleaning our rooms. As a preacher once said in all seriousness, it even includes “drinking a glass of orange juice”.
Or, to put it another way, it is sin to live even one second in a day not for the glory of God.
What is the foundation of this command? Ultimately, it is this: “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pe. 1:16). The triune God is devoted in all His being and doing, every part of it, to His own glory, and we ought to be likewise.
This has very serious implications for us. It means it is not acceptable for our mindset to be, “as long as this isn't outright sin...”; or, “I read the Scriptures this morning, prayed, did my homework, and now I can just do what I want”.
Rather, the decisive question for everything we do, from brushing our teeth to going to church, ought to be, “how may I please my Lord in this situation?” Thus, what God says to us about our time is, “use all the time that I have given to thee in order to honour me in thy heart and actions”.
Using all our time for the glory of God does not mean that we ought never to enjoy the good things of this world. We are not Anabaptists. The idea that everything that a Christian does must be explicitly “spiritual” and that a Christian cannot enjoy the good things of this world is nothing but asceticism. These rules of “touch not; taste not; handle not” have indeed a show of wisdom and humility, but are in fact nothing but will worship and despising the good things God has made (Col. 2:20-23). There is nothing wrong with playing games or going out for a fancy dinner occasionally. Rather, in doing these things, we ought to ensure that we are serving our heavenly Father. For example, when we play games with our younger siblings, we ought to put the desire to help them above the desire to win. Or when we invest in some nice food, we ought to receive it from God with gratitude in our hearts (1 Tim. 4:4-5), and to have conversation pleasing to Him while eating. Thus, not only is it not sin to enjoy the things of this world, but God is actually honoured as the Giver of these good things through our faithful enjoyment of them. As Solomon says, “it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion... this is the gift of God“ (Ecc. 5:18,19) – and to despise God's gifts and not rejoice in them is sin. However, this liberty ought never to be taken as an excuse to indulge the flesh (Gal. 5:13) and of course it is only liberty to enjoy the good things of this world, since we ought to hate all else (1. Jn. 2:15).
As we hear this high standard of God, the new man in us will cry, “I can never do this! I cannot in this life do everything without fail in obedience to God's revealed will!”
And so the first response of faith, that precious union with our Saviour Jesus Christ, is to flee to Him for refuge from the fiery wrath of the holy Triune God. Though I am writing this article, I am not writing from the viewpoint of one who has fully achieved what he sets forth, but one who struggles daily to forsake himself and cleave to God. And so we must always keep this in mind as we pursue a life of complete devotion to Him: If the Apostle Paul could not perfectly serve God with all His time (Rom. 7:14ff), neither can we. Therefore we must continually cry in our hearts:
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (vv. 24-25).
This also is the foundation upon which we must build a good stewardship of our time: Not a desire to earn God's favour, nor the lustful yearning of our sinful hearts to prove ourselves better than our friends, but rather the truth that, as our beloved Heidelberg Catechism formulates it, “I with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ...” (Q&A 1; cf. 1. Cor. 6:19). Being assured of this by Spirit-worked faith, our Father calls upon us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1) out of thankfulness for what He has done for us in Christ (Eph. 5:8).
It is worthwhile at this point to quote John Calvin:
“We are not our own: Let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.
“Conversely, we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal...
The very first thing we must do to dedicate all our time to serving the living God is to believe in the forgiveness of our sins for the sake of Christ. Otherwise, it will be cold legalism. Assurance (an integral part of faith) will free us to love God from the heart, so that we are in sweet fellowship with Him and so that we can obey Him out of thankfulness. Assurance, and joy (which is a result of assurance), we attain not by trying to work up in ourselves fake emotions, or looking for some sort of mystical, Puritan experience, but primarily by faithful attendance to the means of grace, namely, the preaching of God's Word and the administration of the sacraments in a true church, which must be mixed by sincere faith from the heart (Heb. 4:2). In this way, we will be readied for offering our time as a sweet-smelling sacrifice to Him.
Having this foundation before us is the great battle in our struggle to offer all our time to God. The main reason we fail (and we will often fail) in using our time wisely is not that we are lacking the practical advice we need, but that our hearts are far from God and we love the things of this world more than He who loved us and gave His Son for us.
Loving God is where our main struggle will be.
However, practical advice is not useless (see for example the book of Proverbs). I will now seek to share some practical pointers from my own experience, based upon biblical principles, to how we might better use our time.
First, think of the example of Christ in the Gospels. He was very aware of the divine schedule to which He must keep (John 2:4, 7:30), always conscious of the will of His Father (John 5:30b). This good order in His life is of course a reflection of the perfect order of God in all His dealings within the Trinity and with His creatures. From this, we can gather that it would be a good idea to more consciously plan out how we will use and order our time, rather than doing everything spontaneously. God is a God of order.
Second, following on from the previous point, well thought-out daily routines play a big part in an effective use of time. Imagine if the church council had to think up service times and orders of worship every Lord's Day anew, so that they changed every week – there would be a lot of confusion! In the same way, if for example our private study of scripture or prayer times change every day and are left to whenever they can be squeezed in, they probably will not be of good quality or will even be skipped more and more. Though it is certainly not sin to skip a day's private scripture reading for good reason, this can easily become a habit in itself if we are not careful to maintain that routine. This need for a routine is rooted in the fact that God created us this way, which He strongly signified by the cycles of night and day, the seven-day week with a day of rest and the four seasons of the year. We are indeed “creatures of habit”.
Third, as we try to become more disciplined in our use of our time, we should be careful not to become overzealous by setting too high targets for ourselves or by consciously planning out every single thing we can possibly think of. I remember in my first year in college I decided that getting up 20 minutes prior to leaving for lectures (that is, 8.30) was far too late, so I resolved to get up at 7am – and completely failed for the first week. Eventually, I realised I should gradually work my way toward an early start, which then worked quite well (by the grace of God). The example of wicked King Saul's overzealous command that his army not eat any food until the evening is a good example of setting too high a target (1. Sam. 14:24ff).
Which brings me to the fourth point. Something many of us young people struggle with is too much sleep; we all like to lie in in the mornings. However, the Proverb comes to us, “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travaileth, and thy want as an armed man” (6:10-11). Though there are times when it is fine to sleep in, this should probably be the exception rather than the rule. It is a good idea to get up early in time to begin the day with devotional reading and prayer (though some of my friends find they can do devotions better in the evenings). Getting up early in the morning and being well rested (after the initial 5 minutes of drowsiness, of course) is a great way to start the day! Especially as part of a daily routine, regular bed and waking times are very important, not least because irregular sleeping patterns are not good for our bodies physically.
Fifth, a good principle to use is, “first work, then play”. My mum drilled this into me and I am very thankful to her for it. If we “play” first, it is all too easy to “play” too long so we do not leave ourselves sufficient time to do our house chores or homework. Also, “play” is much more enjoyable if it follows “work” (and conversely, “play” isn't as enjoyable when we are skipping or procrastinating “work”). This principle will also help us as we become adults, when we will have to work for everything (before) we eat, drink and enjoy. And, of course, it is a principle found in God Himself, who created the world in six days, and then rested in and enjoyed His finished creation on the seventh, just as Christ worked to accomplish our salvation and then entered into His heavenly rest.
And until we enter into that same rest when our earthly labours have come to an end, let us grow in grace through the means appointed thereunto by the Almighty, so that we might more and more offer up our bodies as living sacrifices, that the Church might be built up, the elect saved, the reprobate wicked justly condemned, and God receive the glory that is due to His Name.
John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.1. As quoted in David J Engelsma's The Reformed Faith of John Calvin, p. 215.
 Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 21
Canons of Dordt, Head V, Article 14.