Don’t Waste Your Year

Ephesians 5:15-17

January 4, 2014 | Brian Bill

In November a man in Janesville, Wisconsin purchased ad space on a highway billboard and put up these words: “Enjoy life now: There is no afterlife.”  In December, after this sign came down, two area churches got together and put up their own message on this same billboard: “Life is short.  Eternity is not.  – God.”  

Life is short, isn’t it?  Or, as Dr. Seuss put it: “How did it get so late so soon?  It’s night before it’s afternoon.  December is here before its June.  My goodness, how the time has flewn.  How did it get so late so soon?”

We can’t really slow life down, but we can slow down so that we live life to its fullest.  

My guess is that you’d like some things to change in 2014.  Much of what will happen will be beyond your control but there are some things you can control.  While we all want a Happy New Year, what God wants is a Holy New You.

I Resolve

How many of you have already broken your New Year’s Resolutions? It’s true that resolutions often go in one year and out the other.  I talked to a friend recently who told me that she doesn’t make any New Year resolutions because she always breaks them anyway.  While I certainly understand this (all too well), the downside of this attitude is that we can end up not making any decisions to move forward spiritually.  As Donald Whitney writes, “No one coasts into Christ-likeness.”   I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: Spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic.

Jonathan Edwards lived in the 1700s and was a preacher, theologian and missionary and has been credited with helping to bring about the first Great Awakening.  Amazingly, he wrote out 70 different resolutions when he was just 20 years old! He determined to read through each of them weekly.  Here are just a few:

  • Resolved, let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.
  • Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell. 
  • Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again. 

I’m going to sprinkle the sermon with some more of his resolutions in the hopes that you’ll be spurred on to make some similar determinations so that in this New Year God will make a holy new you!

We’re going to draw out some life lessons today from Ephesians 5.  In the first three chapters, Paul establishes the importance of doctrine and in the second half of the book the focus is on our duty to do what we know to be true.  Based on our position, we must put into practice. 

With that as a very brief explanation of the context, let’s look at our text.  Please stand as we read together from Ephesians 5:15-17: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Our outline is simple:

  • Live wisely (15)
  • Leverage your time (16)
  • Learn God’s will (17)

Here’s the sermon in a sentence: Since our time on earth is limited, let’s make the most of the time we have left.

1. Live wisely. 

Ephesians 5:15: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.”  I can’t even count how many times my mom told me to “be careful” when I was growing up.  I’m sure our girls would say the same thing about our parenting as Beth and I are always urging them to watch out and to stay safe.

The word “circumspectly” means to be skillful and to be on guard, to look very closely so as not to stumble.  It has the idea of exactness, precision and accuracy.  One Greek scholar renders it this way: “Be constantly taking heed therefore how accurately you are conducting yourselves…”

I got a taste of what this word means a couple years ago at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament when Simeon, who was the number one high school basketball team in the nation, was scheduled to play.  Beth and I arrived early only to find that there was no parking left and a crowd had formed outside the high school.  When we finally got to our seats, the team was warming up and all eyes were on these incredible players.  I asked the person next to me to point out which one was Jabari Parker (who now stars at Duke).  Parker was ranked as the number one junior in the entire country.  Incidentally, Beth and I saw Derrick Rose play at this same tournament several years earlier!  I kept my eyes locked on him the whole game.  By the way, our daughter Lydia’s fiancé played for Pontiac that year and had the task of guarding Jabari.  Jamie told me last week that he was only dunked on once!

I was then told that Bruce Weber, the Illini basketball coach at the time, was in the house so I tried to find him.  I searched the crowd very carefully, motivated to locate him so I could sing “On Wisconsin” for him but I couldn’t find him.  I think he was hiding from me.  I did locate him the next day and told him that Bo Ryan had already wrapped up all the top recruits.  JK.

We were focused and took everything in at the tournament.  In a similar way, we’re to lock in and give that kind of careful attention to our own lives.  It’s actually a present imperative, meaning that that we must pay continual attention to how we’re living.  We’re to be “constantly careful.”  The same word is used in Hebrews 3:12 to warn about unbelief: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”

Instead of fighting sin and staying on the right road, we take exit ramps all the time.

Let’s face it.  Too many of us are spiritual sluggards, living sloppy lives.  Instead of fighting sin and staying on the right road, we take exit ramps all the time.  Someone has said that the tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.

This week I read a fascinating blog post called, “The Most Important Skill for 2014…and Beyond.”  When the author returned to the States after living overseas he observed that almost everyone said that they needed more money and more time.  As he reflected on this, he realized that there’s something even more important: “In 2014, in our hyper-overwhelmed, affluent, media-saturated culture, the scarce resource is attention.”  

  • We are overwhelmed with information because of Google.
  • We are overwhelmed with relationships because of Facebook.  I like what John Piper says in this regard: “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not for lack of time.”
  • We are overwhelmed with interruptions because of our phones.  We went to a family film a few days ago and right before it started an announcement came on the screen telling all of us to turn our phones off.  During this entire time a young woman down front was on her phone and seemed oblivious to the announcement.  As the theater went dark, her screen cast a bright light.  A few moments later someone yelled out, “Hey, you down in front.  Turn it off!”  I think I heard a few “Amens” in the crowd.
  • We are overwhelmed with videos because of YouTube.
  • We are overwhelmed with music because of iTunes.
  • We are overwhelmed with TV because of Netflix.

He argues that the most important skill we can learn is deciding what to pay attention to.

Let’s ponder another one of Jonathan Edwards’s resolutions: “Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.”

Will you do the same?  Let’s live wisely.  Secondly…

2. Leverage your time. 

We see this in verse 16: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”  To “redeem” has the idea of buying up a bargain.  I was tempted to do that at Walgreens a couple years ago when they had all their Christmas candy on sale for 50% off.  I decided to wait until the discount was 90% but then I never made it back.  Likewise, we’re to “buy up the bargain of time” before it’s too late.  We’re to purchase opportunities before the evil of our day takes it off the shelf.  

There are three ways the word “time” is used in the New Testament.  One word refers to hour.  Another is “chrono” which speaks of time in general.  The word used here means an “appointed time, a fixed or special occasion.” It refers to a period of opportunity that is open for awhile and then closes.  It’s not clock time, but kingdom time.  We see this in Colossians 4:5: “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.”  

Have you heard of the phrase, “Carpe Diem”?  That means “Seize the Day.”  Instead of using this term, let’s make a change and start saying, “Carpe Momento,” which means, “Seize the Moment.”  Since our time on earth is limited, let’s make the most of the time we have left.

I checked out some countdown clocks on the web this week.  By entering your age and gender and other factors, you can learn how much time you have left to live.  One site I visited has this description: “The Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away…second by second.”  When I first checked this out a couple years ago I was told that I was going to die on October 17th, 2033.  When I filled out the information again this week I found out that my life has been extended to April 19, 2048.  I don’t know how I’ve been given an additional 15 years, but like Hezekiah, I’ll take it!  Actually, if you do the numbers, that means I’ll be your pastor for 44 more years, which means I’d break Pastor Brown’s record.  According to this site I have 12,522 days or 1,079,282,386 seconds left to live.  I hope I do a better job than Hezekiah did with his extra time (see 2 Kings 20).

Another site, which asked for a ton of additional input, including whether I floss my teeth (I do) and how much butter I use (a lot – I’m glad it didn’t ask about my cheese consumption), has me living for 13,098 more days.  

Obviously, only God knows the number of days we have left but we are called to live with a sense of a countdown according to Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  To number means to “weigh” or “measure” our moments so that we live them for God’s glory and for the good of others.  Psalm 39:4-5 is a great reminder for us: Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am.  Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before you; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.”

Billy Graham was once asked what he was most surprised by in life.  He answered, “It’s brevity.”  The missionary Adoniram Judson wrote: “A life once spent is irrevocable.  It will remain to be contemplated through eternity…the same may be said of each day.  When it is once past, it is gone forever.”  It’s too late to redeem the time that is past, but not the time that is passing.  Friends, let’s not just ‘mark time,’ but use the time we have left to make a mark for the kingdom.  

We live in a world filled with evil influences and evil individuals.  We’ll learn more about this next weekend from Psalm 1.  It’s easy to think that Paul is exhorting us to action because the days are short.  Actually, he urges us to take advantage of the opportunities because the days are evil.  Listen.  Even in the midst of great evil, there are always opportunities.  Every day is an opportunity to grab the good and shun the sin.  Here’s a principle.  Every time you can do something good you should.

Time is a very precious possession and it’s very easy to lose it or to allow activities to steal it.  Here are a couple “time-wasters” that come to mind.

  • Rooting for the Chicago Bears.  Since their season is now over you can redeem the time by cheering for the Packers.
  • Video games.  Did you know that over 70% of all households play video games?  While there is nothing inherently wrong with a game if its tame, they can easily become addictive, or worse.

A few weeks ago I had lunch with one of the Millennials who attends Edgewood.  He shared something with me that I can’t stop thinking about.  I want you to hear his story.

Have you ever used the phrase, “I’m just killing time?”  I have.  I wonder if you’d be willing to join me in an effort to not ever say this again.  God doesn’t want us to kill our time; he wants us to fill our time.  Wasting the gift of time insults the giver of time.  Most time is wasted, not in hours, but in minutes and seconds.  Someone has said the only piece of eternity we’ll ever hold in our hand is the opportunity at hand right now.  We have no other time in which to live.  The past is gone; the future has not arrived and we will never have any time but the present.

If you’re looking for something to read in this regard, I highly recommend the book called, “Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper.  Maybe we should do what the 16th Century reformer Philip Melanchthon did.  He kept a record of every wasted moment during his day and took his list to God in confession before he went to bed at night.

William Penn once said: “Time is what we want the most but what we use the worst.”  Here’s a question.  If you had to pay $100 in advance for every hour of your life, do you think you would spend your time differently?  Would you waste your life?  Would you stop ‘killing time’ and start filling it?  Someone has said, “Nothing is as far away as one minute ago.”  

I turn to Jonathan Edwards again: “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I can.  I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.”

God has created opportunities for you in 2014.  But there will also be obstacles and distractions because the days are evil.  Ephesians 2:10 says that God has made you in order for you to do His work: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  That means He has work prepared for you to do this year.  Will you do it?  

Since our time on earth is limited, let’s make the most of the time we have left.  Live wisely.  Leverage your time.  That leads to the third point.  

3. Learn God’s Will. 

Ephesians 5:17 clarifies what is most important: “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  The wise know God’s limits, while fools know no bounds.  A fool is not just someone who is a couple bricks short of a load, or one whose elevator does not go to the top floor.  In Proverbs, the fool is the one who doesn’t follow God’s ways.  He’s the one who knows the right thing to do but instead does the opposite, or simply does nothing.  Proverbs 1:32 says that the “complacency of fools will destroy them.”

The “Lord’s will” is primarily focused on transformation, and less on location.  We tend to lock in on where God wants us while God is all about who we’re becoming.  The word “understand” carries the idea of assembling facts into an organized whole, like putting pieces of a puzzle together.   And it’s in the present imperative, meaning that it’s a command to make this a continual practice.  How does one understand the will of God?  Simply put, by reading, meditating, memorizing, studying and applying the Word of God.  

If you want the Almighty to guide you, then start moving on those things you already know He wants you to do.

God doesn’t always tell us everything about the future, does He?  Here’s a principle that is helpful.  If you want to know God’s will then do the will of God that you already know.  Many times we ask God to tell us what to do and I imagine Him saying, “I’ve already told you in my Word but you’re not doing what you already know.”  The old adage is true: “God doesn’t steer parked cars.”  If you want the Almighty to guide you, then start moving on those things you already know He wants you to do.  

Allow me to quickly list seven things we absolutely already know about God’s will.  

  • God wants you to be saved (2 Peter 3:9).
  • God wants you to surrender (Romans 12:2).
  • God wants you to give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
  • God wants you to be sanctified and to avoid immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
  • God wants you to live a good life (1 Peter 2:15).
  • God wants you to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8).
  • God wants you to delight in doing His will (Psalm 40:8).

It was Will Rogers who said that half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.  Someone else said it like this: “Life is too short to do everything we want to do; but it is long enough for us to do everything God wants us to do.”

Redeeming the Time

It’s important when we hear preaching that we put it into practice.  Otherwise, it just becomes information that doesn’t lead to transformation.  Here’s one of my prayers for Edgewood this year: For Jesus to be seen in 2014!  Here are some ways we can do that.

1. Follow a Bible reading plan. 

Can I challenge you to develop a disciplined intake and application of God’s Word?  Let’s reflect on another of Edwards’ resolutions: “Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.”

We’ve included a plan in your bulletin that I’m using this year.  If you’d rather use something else, simply give this one to someone you know.  We have a bunch more posted on our website at  If you have a smart phone or tablet, I highly recommend the YouVersion Bible.  This app comes with a number of reading plans.  Related to this, can I encourage you to bring your Bible to church every week?  As you follow along in your own copy of the Scriptures, you will get more out of the sermons and you’ll be more motivated to do your own study.

2. Plug into a Sunday morning Adult Bible Fellowship class or a Life Group.

3. Tithe your time by serving in a ministry.

Many of you know the joy of tithing your income.  Let’s make sure that we’re also giving at least 10% of our time to Christ-centered, others-focused service.  God’s eternal plans are being worked out in us, around us, and through us.  

4. Sign up for Financial Peace University. 

If you need help managing the resources God has entrusted to you, I encourage you to attend this class by Dave Ramsey beginning Wednesday, January 22nd.  Beth and I and our daughter Becca are going to take it.

5. Discover the power of a half-hour. 

I saw this book title recently.  Take back your life 30 minutes at a time.  Your downtime can have a major upside.  Be fully engaged.  Follow the prompts of the Holy Spirit.  Make that phone call.  Write that note.  Have that person over for dinner.  Get up 30 minutes earlier to read your Bible.  Paul Tripp put it like this: “The character of a life is not set in 2 or 3 dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments.”

6. Find a mentor and be a mentor. 

Give the gift of time to someone.

7. Serve your neighbors in specific ways.  

Someone has said that there are two great enemies of time.

  • Anxiety about the future.
  • Regrets about the past.

I wonder if you’ve been gutted by guilt and you’re on the sidelines because of shame about your past.  Christ came to give you a fresh start through the forgiveness of your sins.  

Friends, regret for wasted time is more wasted time.  The way to overcome anxiety about the future and regrets about the past is to focus on your forgiveness today.  Since our time on earth is limited, let’s make the most of the time we have left.  

It’s fine to wish each other a Happy New Year but let’s allow God to make a Holy New You.  That can happen as we…

  • Live wisely
  • Leverage our time
  • Learn God’s will

A farmer’s grandfather clock ran amuck early one morning when it struck seventeen times.  He jumped up and ran all over the house, saying: “Get up!  Get up!  It’s later than it’s ever been before!”

Friend, if you don’t know Jesus Christ it’s later than it’s ever been before!  If you do know Him but have been wasting your time, it’s later than it’s ever been before!

If God were to take out a billboard, I think there might be just one word on it: NOW!  Or, to add to the one up in Wisconsin it might read this way: “Time is short.  Eternity is forever.  Decide today.”


Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?