Make Wise Choices

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.” – Ephesians 5:15-16

“Keep out. Shut up. I am busy. I am working…” – Jack Phillips

On the evening of April 14th, in the wireless room of the ship’s deck, Jack Phillips was sending messages to Cape Race, Newfoundland, working to clear a backlog of passengers’ personal messages that had accumulated when the wireless system had broken down the day before. Phillips was frustrated because Cyril Evans, the wireless operator on the Californian, was using a spark-gap transmitter, which meant that Evans’ signals were being sent across the entire spectrum and impossible for him to tune out. The Californian’s proximity meant that Evans’ signal was coming through loudly in his ears, while the signals from Cape Race were faint and difficult to pick up.

Evans was trying to warn nearby ships that the Californian had stopped for the night because the waters ahead were extremely dangerous, but Phillips wanted to hear none of it. He was busy clearing his backlog, and had no time for such bothersome interruptions. He quickly shot back to Evans, “Keep out. Shut up. I am busy. I am working Cape Race.”

Less than an hour later, the Titanic hit an iceberg.

Jack Phillips, along with 1,502 other people, died in the aftermath.

Making the Most of Our Time

When we study the Bible, we have a dangerous tendency to treat God’s warnings the same way Jack Phillips treated the warnings from the Californian – like they’re unimportant, inconvenient, and bothersome. But warnings exist for a reason. They protect us and keep us from harm. They call us to adjust our living in order to avoid the dangers that lie ahead. And in Ephesians 5, Paul shares a significant spiritual warning with us:

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise.” – Ephesians 5:15

The Greek phrase translated “be careful how you walk” literally refers to “closely examining the path ahead.” Paul pictures life as a road filled with pitfalls (or an ocean filled with icebergs, for that matter), and he’s warning us to pay attention to how we’re living so that we can avoid the dangers that lie ahead as well as the pain that comes with them. We can either heed his advice and move ahead wisely or dismiss him and proceed foolishly. Both choices will have consequences – we know that. That’s why Paul tells us to “make the most of our time.”

Translated literally, this phrase means “redeeming the time.” It’s a Greek math term that refers to getting your money’s worth out of an investment. Paul’s point is that time is something we invest like money, and just as a wise financial investor seeks a profitable return on his investment, those who walk wisely invest their time in activities and people that will give them a positive return.

It’s crucial that we pay attention to how we’re investing our time because unlike money, time is something we spend continually without interruption. We can choose when we want to spend our money, but our time is always being spent. The only thing we can control is how we spend it.

And that’s the “iceberg” Paul is warning about here. He’s alerting us to the dangers that come with failing to invest our time wisely, because our investments always bring a return. Invest your time wisely and you will reap a positive return; invest your time poorly and your return will bring pain and hardship.

This is where choices come into play. Whether big or small, every choice we make involves an investment of our time. Gossiping is the choice to invest time talking about another person behind their back. Meeting a friend for coffee is making the decision to invest time in a friendship. When we worry, we’re making the choice to invest time dwelling on something that makes us anxious. I could go on and on, but you get the point – every choice we make is ultimately a choice about how we invest our time, and every investment brings a return.

Our time is always being spent. The only thing we can control is how we spend it. Click To Tweet

So the question we’re left asking ourselves is “why don’t we do a better job of investing our time wisely?” Thankfully, Paul answers that question in the very next phrase: “because the days are evil.” 

In other words, the natural trend of our lives is to waste our time in selfish pursuits that do not bring glory to God. Think about it – our tendency to waste countless hours on social media requires absolutely no focus because it happens naturally. Scrolling through Facebook or Twitter for hours doesn’t require intentional planning – it’s just what we do when we’re not paying attention. If we go along with the current of our culture, we will naturally waste our time – which means we can’t just go along. We need to fight the current. Below are three practical ways to do this.

Three Wise Choices to Redeem Your Time

Identify poor time investments and resolve never to repeat them. We’ve all purchased items that weren’t worth the money we spent on them and experienced buyer’s remorse as a result. In the same way, we’ve all done things that weren’t worth the time we spent doing them and experienced what I like to call “doer’s remorse” later on. While we all go through buyer’s remorse and doer’s remorse at times, those who walk wisely refuse to repeat their mistakes. One practical way to do this is to create a “stop doing list.”

We’ve all used to-do lists to keep track of the things we need to do in a given day or week. While keeping track of the things we need to do is important, it’s just as important to keep track of things we should stop doing. To-do lists help us use our time effectively; stop doing lists keep us from investing our time wastefully. You and I don’t need to fill our lives with more things to do – we need to restructure and simplify our lives with the right things because we’ve made ourselves busy doing the wrong things.

So take a few minutes to make a “stop doing” list – and don’t be afraid to be ruthless. There’s no way you would invest your hard-earned money in something you knew wouldn’t work, so why invest your time in things that aren’t working? Do your best to list five things that you should stop doing with your time. Maybe it’s binge-watching Netflix, a toxic relationship you need to cut out of your life, or the time you spend playing video games. The goal is to figure out where you’re not getting a good return on your time investment.

There’s no way you would invest your hard-earned money in something you knew wouldn’t work, so why invest your time in things that aren’t working? Click To Tweet

At the heart of this exercise is the importance of saying “no.” Many of us (myself included) have a hard time saying no to things that we know aren’t worth our time, but we need to learn this skill because the alternative is that we busy ourselves doing the wrong things. It’s one thing to be exhausted from a day well spent; it’s another thing to be exhausted from a day poorly spent, and I fear that some of us are wasting our lives doing the latter. It’s time to fight the current by saying no.

One additional benefit of doing this is that you’ll free up time that you can reinvest in more beneficial ways. If you can identify 5 things to stop doing and free up 3 hours a week, that’s 3 hours every week that you have to invest in something that will give you a greater return than you were getting before.

Schedule the most important things first. If you were to completely clear your calendar for the rest of this year and start over, what would you add to it first? Would you start with your career, your family, your time with God, your friends, your vacation time, your hobbies, your church, or perhaps something else? Of course, all of these things are deserving of a spot on your calendar, but which ones would be non-negotiables? Which ones would you give the greatest priority to – and in the event of a conflict, which ones would occasionally get pushed to the side?

Remember, redeeming the time isn’t natural, and it won’t happen by accident. So put the most important things on your calendar first, then build your schedule around them, rather than trying to squeeze them into a schedule that’s already full. Going through an exercise like this will take some time, but it’s worth every second you put into it. Let me encourage you to do this with your spouse or your kids, and have a conversation about which priorities should take precedence in your home. You may be surprised by what you learn.

If we go along with the current of our culture, we will naturally waste our time – which means we can’t just go along. We need to fight the current. Click To Tweet

Third, compound your investment by making the right choices every day. Why do financial experts suggest saving for retirement as early as possible? Because they realize that small increments of money compounding over time can lead to amazing results. And in the same way, making small investments of time into the right things every day will pay huge dividends over time.

This is why many of the most successful business leaders like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Oprah Winfrey use the 5 hour rule and devote at five hours each week to learning. They understand that 5 hours of learning every week compounded over several years adds up to A LOT of personal growth.

This is also why fitness experts like Gretchen Reynolds suggest working out for at least 20 minutes every day. In an interview with TIME magazine, Reynolds said,

“At least 20 minutes a day makes a truly profound difference in your health and dramatically reduces the risk of a whole host of diseases, particularly diabetes, heart disease and dementia, as well as cancer.”

She went on to say,

“Many of us were taught that we were born with a certain number of brain cells and will never have any more. That is absolutely untrue. We all will continue to create brain cells throughout our lifespan. But if you exercise, you’ll create twice as many. Even really quite mild exercise— like going for a walk for 30 to 40 minutes four times a week— means that you will have a larger hippocampus, which is related to memory and learning. You will have more volume there because you are creating more brain cells, and people who exercise do perform better at every age.”

Stop for a moment and think about how you could apply this principle to your Bible study. If you intentionally study the Bible for three hours a week over the next ten years, you will have studied Scripture for over 1,500 hours. Just think of how different your understanding of Scripture, your relationship with Christ, and your devotion to the faith would be – and the remarkable thing is that we’re talking about less than 30 minutes a day. Again, making small investments of time into the right things every day will pay huge dividends over time.

But the harsh reality is that the opposite is also true. No one plans to live a life of poor health, but the choice to consistently smoke or eat fast food will compound over time. No one plans to get a divorce or live in a dysfunctional family environment, but choosing to neglect our marriages and children will compound over time. And like Paul said, that’s the natural trend in our culture. Every day you and I see the tragic consequences of poorly invested time playing out in our society and on the news.

Paul warned us for a reason, and I urge you not to dismiss his warning like Jack Phillips dismissed his. Pay attention to how you’re living. Don’t go along with the current, fight it. Redeem the time. Invest it wisely. Make wise choices.


Recommended Resources:

Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success by John Maxwell

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca


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