New Years : New Millennium Message: The "Inefficiency" of God—A Perspective on God’s View of Time (Various Scriptures)Related Media
January 16, 2000
The change from 1999 to 2000 has us all thinking about the past century and millennium as well as the next. On the personal level, it has made me think about where I’m at in life and where I’m headed, should the Lord give me more years to serve Him. I trust that as a steward of God’s grace, each of you is thinking about your use of the time God has allotted to you.
I want to offer you a perspective on time that may jar you. It jarred me when I first started thinking along these lines years ago. My Bible reading made me begin thinking about how different God’s view of time is from the American view of time. Peter tells us that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Pet. 3:8). Moses exclaims that a thousand years in God’s sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night (Ps. 90:4). To us, a millennium is a very long time; to God, it’s just another day in paradise!
The radical thought that hit me is that God is terribly inefficient by American standards. I say it reverently, of course. But as I read the Bible, it strikes me how God could have administered His eternal plan much more efficiently than He did. Why take at least four millennia from the fall of man until He sent the Savior? Why bottle up the process with one disobedient nation and then, for the past two millennia with the often disobedient church? The angels could have had the job done in a few weeks or months! Yet here we are, living on a planet where perhaps two billion people have never heard about Jesus Christ!
Our American culture is obsessed with efficiency. If my computer runs at 300 megahertz and a newer one runs at 600, I’ve got to have it! I don’t want to wait! We have instant everything in our society to help us perform tasks more quickly. The contrast between America and the rest of the world hit me when I was in Eastern Europe last fall. I saw men tilling the soil with hand plows behind a horse, and people reaping crops by hand. In America, farming is a computer-driven science. Everything is done by mechanical means. We’re efficient about business, since time means money. Management courses teach us how to squeeze the most from every day and hour. We’re even efficient about our recreation. We listen to books on tape while we jog on a treadmill that tells us our heart rate and how many calories we’re burning. We want efficiency, even from our down time! But,
1. God made people with less efficiency than Americans would have.
Take child development. We push our kids toward achievement. As soon as they’re old enough, we sign them up for classes to nurture their latent talents in sports and music. But have you ever asked, “Why did God design the maturing process to take so long?” Animals mature and reproduce before human beings are out of kindergarten. God could have gotten a lot more use out of people if He had made them like that. Parents could get through the child rearing years in a fraction of the time and get on with other productive things. Kids would be fully functioning adults, making it on their own in five years! As I think about my own life, I can’t remember much from the first ten years. From the next ten, I remember a lot of stupid and sinful things I did that I’d rather forget! During my twenties, I thought that I knew a lot of things that my thirties showed me I really didn’t know! Life is not very efficient!
Consider sleep and rest. I feel like I could go 24-7 and still not get everything done. Life is short enough as it is. But then my body demands that I spend one-third of my life sleeping! I’ve tried to get by on less sleep. I’ve even prayed about it. If I could function on five or six hours a night, I’d gain at least 14 hours per week. But my body won’t cooperate! What a waste of time!
Then, there’s that weekly day of rest that the Lord ordained and our modern evangelical church ignores. Take off one day a week from my normal work to worship and rest? You’ve got to be kidding! I’m behind enough already as it is! How could I get through my week if I didn’t do my normal chores on Sunday?
Just think how we Americans would have designed people if God had given us the opportunity! We’d have them fully mature at younger and younger ages, until it was down around age one. We’d eliminate sickness and sleep. Retirement and old age would get pushed higher and higher. We’d make people so much more productive. Think how the economy would thrive if we could redesign people! God just didn’t make them sufficiently efficient!
2. God uses people with less efficiency than Americans would.
Again in this area, God’s ways are not our ways! Enoch was the most godly man alive in his day, but God took him from the earth after 365 years, less than half the life span of the next shortest life recorded in that time. Why not leave him around for 900 years like everyone else?
Noah was almost 500 years old before God told him to build the ark. He spent 120 years working on that enormous boat. It would have been more efficient for God to judge the earth by sending a plague, rather than waste 120 years of Noah’s life with that ark. Noah lived 950 years, but all that we remember is that he built the ark and later planted a vineyard. Think what we could accomplish if we had 950 healthy years to do it!
Abraham was 75 before God began to work with him. That’s better than 500, but still, not too efficient. The Lord could have started with him at 25. When Abraham was 75 God promised him a son, but he was 100 before the promise was a reality. That was a quarter of a century during which people were dying without the promise of the Savior through Abraham’s descendant. God’s missionary program needed to get going! Why waste 25 years?
What did Abraham achieve during those years? Was he setting goals and planning how to become the father of a great nation? Did he have his Day Timer chock full of key appointments?
Maybe Joseph is our kind of man. He must have been an efficiency expert to administrate Pharaoh’s famine relief program. God must not have wasted any time with him. Sharp, honest, trustworthy, high moral standards—this young man had what it takes for leadership. After a brief apprenticeship with Potiphar, he would be ready for a top management position in some ministry organization.
But God put him in an Egyptian dungeon on a false charge for the better part of his twenties. At one point he had a good chance to get out. He interpreted the dream of his fellow prisoner, the cupbearer. This man was reinstated to his position, just as Joseph had predicted. Joseph’s parting words as the cupbearer walked out of the dungeon were, “Remember me.” But, the cupbearer forgot! Couldn’t the Lord remind him?
In Genesis 41 we read of Pharaoh’s dream, which led to Joseph’s release from prison and sudden rise to power. We read in verse 1, “Now it happened at the end of two full years…” It was two full years from the time of the cupbearer’s release until Pharaoh had his dream. You can read that verse in a fraction of a second, but it was two choice years of Joseph’s life, two more years in this stinking Egyptian dungeon! Why didn’t God give Pharaoh his dream after two weeks?
We can multiply example after example. God left His chosen nation in bondage in Egypt for 400 long years! God called Moses when he was 40 (why not 20?), but Moses blew it and had to spend 40 more years in the Back Side of the Desert Seminary before he led the people out of Egypt. Then he had to spend 40 years wandering around in the wilderness with a bunch of grumbling people, even though it was only an eleven-day walk from Mount Horeb into the Promised Land (Deut. 1:2). Not too efficient!
David, the young man after God’s own heart, was anointed king as a teenager, but then spent his twenties fleeing from the mad king Saul. After David, God allowed some of the worst kings to reign for decades, but He took out some of the godly kings in their primes. At the end of the Old Testament, God waited another 400 years after the last prophet before He sent the forerunner and then the Savior. Think of how long 400 years is—it would take us back to the Renaissance! People were dying without the Savior! From our perspective, 400 years is not an efficient use of time. Yet from God’s perspective, “when the fulness of time came” He sent forth His Son (Gal. 4:4). God’s program was right on schedule!
Think about God’s inefficient use of the messenger who opened the way for Messiah. Jesus referred to John the Baptist as the greatest man born of women (Matt. 11:11). Think of what such a great man could have done with 30 or 40 years of ministry! But God used John only about six months before the wicked King Herod put him in prison. Then one night Herod got drunk, lusted after a dancing girl, and promised her almost anything she wanted. She asked for John’s head on a platter. Couldn’t God have used the life of this great man much more efficiently than this?
Once the church program got going, God chose Paul to launch the whole thing in the Gentile world. If there was ever a key man in God’s program, it was Paul. Surely God would get Paul out there into service right away.
After a somewhat late conversion (probably in his early 30’s), Paul spent several years alone with God in Arabia. He went back home to Tarsus for a few more years before his ministry began to be noticed. Remember, as a trained rabbi, Paul knew the Hebrew Scriptures well from the start of his conversion. Surely he was qualified to teach. But God waited years before sending him out.
Then Paul encountered numerous problems and frequent opposition. Couldn’t the Lord provide enough support so that His apostle to the Gentiles didn’t have to waste time making tents? Couldn’t He take away that thorn in the flesh so that Paul could serve in full bodily strength? Couldn’t God get rid of those pesky Judaizers, who kept dogging Paul’s steps and undoing everything that Paul had established? Add to this the beatings, jail time, shipwrecks, and other wastes of precious time.
As Paul dreamed of taking the gospel to Rome, Spain, and points beyond, God saw fit to put him in custody in Caesarea. Yes, it was God’s way of getting His man to Rome, all expenses paid. But in Acts 24:27, we read something that shouldn’t surprise us by now: “But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.” Two inefficient years sitting in jail in Caesarea! Here was God’s main apostle in custody for two years while the Gentile world was dying without the gospel! Wasn’t the church praying for his release? Couldn’t God overcome the political maneuvers of a petty governor in Judea to free His man? And Paul wasn’t getting any younger! We Americans could teach the Lord a few things about managing His servants more efficiently!
Think about the only perfect man who has ever lived, and marvel at the inefficiency of God! If I had been Jesus’ parent, I would have had the boy out preaching by the time He was twelve! He could refute the scholars by that age. By the time He was 20, at the latest, He could have drawn crowds of thousands. Why have the Son of God waste 30 years in Nazareth as a carpenter when He could be out reaching the masses? Why give Him only three years to minister before His death? And yet, although we would have had a much different (and more efficient!) use of Jesus’ time, He accomplished everything that the Father had given Him to do (John 17:4).
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not suggesting that we waste time! Wasting time is a sin, just like wasting money is a sin. It’s poor stewardship before the Lord. I still set goals and try to use my time efficiently. But I am suggesting that …
God’s concept of time and our American concept are not identical, and we need to get God’s view.
His ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9). Some of the things that we think are a waste of time may not be, and some of the things that we think are efficient are really a waste of time from God’s perspective. Maybe you’re not as efficiency conscious as I am. I go off the charts on tests that measure self-discipline and time use. I go nuts if I’m stuck somewhere that I have to wait and I don’t have a book with me. I hate it when I spend my time on unproductive things. I like getting things done. I like efficiency. So it jarred me when I realized how seemingly inefficient God is.
I’m too efficient to say “amen” at this point and let you go home and wrestle with the implications of this sermon. So please allow me to leave you with four action points:
(1) Take time to walk with God.
It is instructive that the Bible often refers to the Christian life as a walk, seldom as a run, and never as a mad dash! Walking isn’t the quickest way to get from one point to another, but we are instructed to walk with God. Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:22, 24). That implies spending time alone with Him. If you always do your quiet time on the run, or not at all, you are not walking with God. You need to take time to read and meditate on His Word, to assimilate it into your life. You need to set aside time to pray and to worship God. Worship, by the way, is a terribly inefficient activity. When Mary broke the alabaster bottle of perfume and poured out the contents on Jesus’ feet, the disciples all remarked, “Why this waste?” (Matt. 26:8). They were concerned with efficiency. But Jesus was concerned with devotion. He commended Mary. We need to take the time to join her at Jesus’ feet.
As you read God’s Word, use it to evaluate your own life and our culture from His perspective. That’s how I got the ideas behind this message. Years ago I was reading in Genesis and it hit me that the patriarchs didn’t accomplish much for living so long. And yet they are held up to us as models because they walked with God and were obedient to His Word. As you read the Word, constantly pray that God would enable you to live in a manner pleasing to Him. That should be our main goal.
If you’ve never done it, why not read through the Bible this year? Or, if you have an overall grasp of Scripture, commit yourself to study one book in more depth. Devote more time to reading some good Christian books that will help you grow in the Lord.
(2) Take time to be with your family.
Not many guys live to be 65 and say, “I wish I had spent more time on my business.” But many say, “I wish I’d spent more time with my wife and kids.” I first preached this message 13 years ago. I said then, “In about 12 or 13 more years, I’ll have more time to devote to the ministry, because my kids will be out of the nest. But in the meanwhile, I believe God would have me curtail my hours in ‘official’ ministry and spend time with my family.” Looking back from this side, I don’t regret at all that I spent that time playing with and reading to my kids when they were younger. All the efficiency-minded folks say that you must spend quality time with your kids. I never bought into that. Your kids don’t say, “Thanks for those quality ten minutes, Dad!” They only appreciate quantity time.
Take time to have a family vacation, especially when your children are young. You don’t have to spend a pile of money. Buy some camping gear and go have fun! Gary Smalley (If Only He Knew [Zondervan], pp. 135-137) interviewed more than 30 couples whom he picked because they seemed to have close relationships and their children, many of them teenagers, seemed to be happy and close to their parents. He asked them, “What is the main reason you’re all so close and happy as a family?” Without exception, he always got the same answer, “We do a lot of things together.”
It is interesting that all the families had one activity in particular that they all did: Camping! Smalley tried it and said that he discovered the reason why camping draws families together: Any family that faces sure death together and survives will be closer! I always told my kids, “The only thing more fun than camping is camping in the rain!” Also, before you go, remember this simple family vacation rule: No family should leave on a long trip if the number of children is greater than the number of car windows!
(3) Take time to be with God’s family.
The same principles apply to the church as to the family. We will have the greatest impact for Christ on those we spend the most time with. Those who are older in the faith need to take under wing those who are younger (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:3, 4). Get involved with fellow believers in a closer way than just seeing them occasionally on Sunday. We’re family, and when God’s family gets together, we should want to be there.
(4) Take time to reach out to lost people.
I confess that this is difficult for me. I spend almost all of my time around Christians. But I want to have an outward focus. I have on my prayer list that God would give me a heart for the lost. Our Lord spent some of His short time on this earth in social situations with lost people. I believe that He wants us to do the same. Ask God to use you to reach out to those without Christ.
These four action points are just God’s two Great Commandments and the Great Commission, broken down into sub-categories. First, love the Lord your God with your total being. Be devoted to Him. Second, love others as much as you already love yourself: love your family, love other believers, and love those without Christ enough to reach out to them with the good news.
Probably many of you are thinking, “When could I ever find time to do what you’re saying? Spend time with God, with my family, with other believers, and with those outside the church! I’m already too busy! What should I do?”
One suggestion is to limit the number of hours per week that you spend watching TV or playing with your computer. We all need some down time, but you’ve got to put a limit on it. Build your life around loving God and loving people. Cut out of your life things that don’t contribute to those priorities.
Another suggestion is for those of you who, like me, tend to be efficiency-minded: Relax, let God run the universe, and take the time to enjoy Him, His creation, and the people He has put around you. You can rack up a list of accomplishments that are humanly impressive, but they will be wood, hay, and stubble at the judgment. Or, you can know God and walk with Him so that the things that He accomplishes through you are gold, silver, and precious stones on that day. A relatively short life where you walk with God and have His blessing is far more effective in God’s economy than a long life full of human accomplishments that lack His blessing.
However many more years God gives us in this new millennium, let’s pray what Moses prayed. As he considered the eternal God and the shortness of our lives, he prayed, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” And, he added, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and do confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:12, 17).
- Some are efficiency-driven; others are need more efficiency. Which are you? How then can you apply this message?
- How should Christians measure a “successful” life? What criteria should we use?
- What biblical passages encourage us to set spiritual goals? How should setting spiritual goals differ from the way that worldly people set and pursue goals?
- Does God’s “inefficiency” change your concept of Him? How? What practical ramifications does this have?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2000, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation