What is the most valuable resource in the universe? Jonathan Edwards would answer that question with, “time.” Time is precious.
Dated December of 1734, Puritan pastor Jonathan Edwards published a short piece titled The Preciousness of Time and The Importance of Redeeming It. The essay or sermon is based on Ephesians 5:16 and divides into five sections. This short work has personal significance for me as it was very formative in the development of my own convictions regarding my use of my time. It is not my time at all in fact. Time doesn’t belong to us. We are merely stewards of the Lord’s time, and there is much to do in a short amount we’ve been given.
I believe The Preciousness of Time should be standard reading for every Christian, especially those with a penchant for productivity. Do yourself an eternal favor, take the time to read the whole thing (link at the end of this article). But let me give you a preview of the first section to whet your appetite and demonstrate how applicable Edward’s words are to a Christian understanding of productivity.
In the first section, Edwards offers four reasons for why time is precious.
1. Time is Precious Because Eternity Depends on It
Edward’s first reason that time is precious is “because a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it.” He argues that people put the highest value on the things which are most concerning to their interests. He illustrates using money to prove the point. “Gold and silver are esteemed precious by men; but they are of no worth to any man, only as thereby he has an opportunity of avoiding or removing some evil, or of possessing himself of some good.” Thus, how much more precious is time than money. “Hence it is that time is so exceedingly precious, because by it we have opportunity of escaping everlasting misery, and of obtaining everlasting blessedness and glory.”
Productivity, of course, has a lot to do with time—saving time, using time wisely, and not wasting time—but secular productivity gurus cannot answer the ultimate question of what you should give time to and why. They tend to be purposefully agnostic. They don’t care if your interest in productivity is to make more money or be a better student. But Christian productivity concerns itself not just with the how of productivity but the what and the why.
So here we have Jonathan Edwards offering us some truly Christian productivity advice. Time isn’t just precious because “time is money,” time is precious because eternity hangs on how we spend time. If we do not cling to Christ in faith for the forgiveness of our sins and imputation of His righteousness before the final sand falls from our hourglass, we are lost forever. And if, as Christians, we do not maximize the hours we are given for God’s glory, we forfeit opportunities to honor our savior and obtain heavenly reward in accordance with our labors.
2. Time is Precious Because it is Very Short
In macroeconomics what is it that drives prices in the market? Supply and demand. Those resources which are plentiful drop in price, while those which are scarce are deemed more valuable. So, it is with the scarcest commodity of all, time. James writes of life’s brevity, calling the whole sum of our time on this planet “a vapor” (James 4:14). Similarly, Edwards writes, “Time is so short, and the work which we have to do in it is so great, that we have none of it to spare. The work which we have to do to prepare for eternity, must be done in time, or it never can be done.”
Herein is another principle that guides how the productive Christian lives his life. The scarcest resource, time, requires the most considered care in how we invest it. Again, Christian productivity is not merely about tips and tricks to do things faster or more efficiently. Our concern must be greater than that. The productive Christian takes great pains to ensure that he is investing his brief life in matters of eternal import.
3. Time is Precious Because We Do Not Know How Much We Have
This point is slightly different from the previous one. “We know that [time] is very short, but we know not how short.” Edwards explains of time, “We know not how little of it remains, whether a year, or several years, or only a month, a week, or a day. We are every day uncertain whether that day will not be the last, or whether we are to have the whole day.”
Edward’s point is that the clock is ticking but we do not know when the alarm will sound. Today could be our last day, this second could be our last second. This is why the advice to live every day as if it were your last has stood the test of time. It is profoundly true. We just don’t know how long we have. For the Christian, this doesn’t mean living in fear, but it means that there is no time to waste. We must live and serve our Lord and our fellow man with energy and eagerness. We must be productive with the time we know we have, and the only time we know for certain that we have is right now. Procrastination has no place in the life of a person who knows his time may be almost up. How will you invest the next hour?
4. Time is Precious Because Once It’s Gone It’s Gone
Or as Edwards put it, “time is very precious, because when it is past, it cannot be recovered.” Edwards explains that money and possessions can be lost, yet be recovered again. A man can lose his entire fortune, yet in the course of only a few years climb back up. But not so with time. When time is gone, it is truly gone. Yet, how often do we in laziness watch our days and hours circle the drain of worthless pursuits?
The expression, “our days are numbered” is biblical. We have an allotted number of moments, and once a moment is spent, it is gone forever (Job 14:5). Edwards emphasizes this sobering reality by calling us to look back on the years wasted. “If we have lived fifty, or sixty, or seventy years, and have not improved our time, now it cannot be helped. It is eternally gone from us. All that we can do, is to improve the little that remains.”
There is no time to waste. Let us rise to the occasion and determine today that from this moment forward we will employ our time, rather God’s time, productively for His glory. May we never look back on our lives and see that we have wasted the most precious commodity we have been given, time.
This article has only presented the tip of the iceberg of this great work. I encourage you to read the whole thing, it’s not long. Here’s a free PDF version of Jonathan Edward’s The Preciousness of Time and the Importance of Redeeming ItThe Preciousness of Time by Jonathan Edwards (145 downloads)