When it comes to money, most of us understand the Lord's work can require sacrifice. If a thing urgently needs doing and we lack the surplus cash to make it possible, many good brethren will dig down deeper and do without things for themselves in order to get the Lord's work done, perhaps selling off possessions to raise the necessary funds, as the early disciples did (Ac. 2:45; 4:34-37). When the collection plate is passed, we know the Lord deserves more than a simple look in our wallets to see if there is anything we can do without. Parents and preachers have taught us to adjust our living standard to the needs of the Lord's work, rather than vice versa. We don't always do as we should, obviously. But most of us know what the word sacrifice should mean, and we feel guilty when we ignore our conscience concerning financial sacrifice.
OUR MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSION. But there is something else that must often be sacrificed in doing the Lord's work -- time -- and I suspect that our frequent unwillingness to make this sacrifice may be a worse problem, if only because we are not as honest about how sinful it is. Money is valuable, of course, and we would like to have as much as possible. But time is in some ways an even more precious commodity to us. Philanthropic organizations all say that the typical American would much rather write a check to support a worthy cause (and be "done with it") than donate even a little time. In the Lord's body, for every one person who has a problem about giving his money, there are at least three or four of us who have a problem about giving the thing we are most covetous and selfish about: our time.
Who can deny that we hang on to our time and activities with a tighter stinginess than we do our money and possessions? It has gotten to the point where, if the Lord's work conflicts with any of our precious activities (or even sometimes with rest and relaxation from our precious activities), we will hardly even consider giving up the activity as a sacrifice. It would be simply out of the question. The thing is "ours" and we are not going to part with it willingly. Our rule of thumb seems to be that if anything has to "give," it should be the services and work of the congregation. Scheduling conflicts are virtually always resolved at the expense of the Lord. We may still now and then sacrifice the having of certain things for the Lord -- but very few of us will let the Lord stand in the way of doing something we want to do. One would think that spiritual matters are the only "optional" things we are involved in.
A CRITICAL PROBLEM. It is a plain fact that we do with our calendars and datebooks precisely what we have always said was sinful to do with our checkbooks: give the Lord nothing but what is left over. Like the Jews of old who brought the "lame or sick" (Mal. 1:8,13) for their animal offerings (their "spare" livestock), we insult the Lord by giving Him our "spare" time. If the Lord needs an hour or two, that's fine -- unless we have anything else we could possibly be doing. It begins to look as if the Lord gets our time only when there is absolutely zero else going on.
Am I exaggerating? Ask your elders. Ask them how hard it is any more to do even a little thing like setting the times for services of the church. Ask them if they have been able to please the folks who think an "expedient" time is one that involves the least possible interference of church services with anything else. Ask them how often they hear complaints about services running overtime. Ask them about the unrelenting pressure they are under to cut gospel meetings shorter and shorter and shorter. Ask them about the nearly impossible demand to find dates for gospel meetings when nothing else is going on that would conflict. Ask them how often they hear about the importance of getting children to bed early on schoolnights -- often from parents who will take their children completely out of school for other "important" activities.
Ask your elders how many who are asked to take care of some job or responsibility in the congregation seem to be mainly concerned about how little time they can spend doing it. Honestly, ask your elders if they do not get the distinct impression that many members of the body nowadays are not motivated by these overriding concerns: How can we constantly whittle away at the Lord's work and keep it from intruding on our schedules? How can we keep it from conflicting with anything else we want to do? Above all, how can we keep the church "convenient"?
The truth is, the real work of the Lord in all ages has tended to encroach on busy schedules, just as it has tended to eat away at large bank accounts. Those who consider time and money as resources to be spent on self have never been more than a hindrance to heaven's cause. But we live in a busy age when time seems especially short -- the variety of things to be involved in is mind-boggling. If we don't get a fresh grip on the concept of true sacrifice in the matter of our time, we are going to lose our souls and, with them, everything that ever mattered. Jesus said, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt. 16:25). Can there be any doubt that, by withholding our schedules from the Lord, we are refusing to give up our lives for Him, one day at a time? He never let Himself get involved in anything that was so important that He could not lay it aside at any moment to serve our needs. If, in return, we give Him only the leftovers of our time, is hell not too good for us? Think about it the next time the Lord needs you for anything . . . and you "can't make it."