30 September 2008

Too much time on my hands?

by Dan Phillips

As PyroManiacs is about to "go dark" for nearly a month, some of our gracious readers find themselves looking at a gap in their routine.

Of course, Frank and yr obdt svt are not vanishing off the face of the earth, we'll both keep the coffee on at our places, and you'll be welcome. But many daily routines will change, if only a bit.

Minor as it is, changes do bring to mind the daily menu of our lives: the agenda of distractions, imposed from without and from within, that pushes minutes to hours, hours to days, days to weeks, months, and years — and, ultimately, impels newborn on towards the grave.


Unless you're God, you've only got so much time. What's the plan? What's the theme? What's the metanarrative of our lives?

Younger readers will nod less enthusiastically than fellow-codgers if I talk about the phenomenon of vanishing years. When you're young, you measure years in halves: "I'm six-and-a-half." But then, you come to the time when it literally seems as if you've scarcely put away the Christmas decorations — and it's time to take them back out again. The year just went by that fast.

Nonetheless we know that a lot of moments went into that passed year. But what went into the moments?

Proverbs raises this issue more than once. Consider this pair:
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. (Proverbs 12:11)

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty (Proverbs 28:19)
In Hebrew, the wording of line A is identical in each; that of line B nearly so — more closely than the ESV shows.

Line A considers a landowner. It is his land, land he owns himself, ultimately entrusted by God into his care. For since all the earth is Yahweh's (cf. Exodus 9:29; Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalm 24:1; 50:12, etc.), every part of the earth is also his. That part you own, therefore, is put in your stewardship by God. It was and remains His; He has loaned it to you. It is to God you and I must answer for what we do with it.

The man in question "works" his land. Solomon uses the verb `bd, which we first encounter in Genesis 2:5 and 15. There the picture is Adam, taking the garden as his first assignment in subduing the earth (cf. 1:26-28). Moses couples `bd ("work") and 'dmh ("ground," "land") in Genesis 2:5, and Solomon echoes that exact same pairing.

So when a farmer works his land, he is participating in God's created design for mankind. Not only does he serve God, he serves himself. "He will be full of bread," Solomon says literally. Not that the land grows loaves of bread, but that it produces that with which the man further labors, and from which he produces bread and all sorts of food. God has graciously ordered creation so that man is the beneficiary of his own labors, in God's service, over God's land.

Line B in each sets up a contrast. Unfortunately, the ESV simply replays the tepid rendering of the RSV, "he who follows worthless pursuits." The Hebrew text is more vivid: identically worded in each, it is "But he who pursues empty things." Solomon envisions a pursuit. It is focused, deliberate, and strenuous. It isn't that the man is aimless. He aims! The problem is his target: it is hollow, empty, insubstantial, unproductive.

The earth is potentially productive and pregnant and, if worked, will produce food. What this man chases after may be pretty, but it is hollow, and produces nothing — or, rather, nothing he wants.

In 12:11 the foolish man himself is characterized; in 28:19 it is his harvest. The man (we are told) is "short on brains." In fact, Solomon takes us on a tour of this man's field in 24:30-34 —
I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense ["short on brains"],
31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32 Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
This vignette actually combines the thoughts of both 12:11 and 28:19. The man actually owns a field. However, sadly, he is "short on brains," so instead of working his land and being filled with bread, he lets it go (while he pursues empty things) — and is full... of poverty.

Now as we prepare to turn out the lights for a few weeks, I leave you with a few provocative questions.

What "land" has God entrusted to you? Are you working it? Are you working it wisely, and towards a definite end? Or are you pursuing empty things?

Pastor, are you plowing up the rocks, and plucking the weeds in your fellowship? That is, do you reprove, rebuke and exhort with all patience and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2b)? Do you show false teachers the door after a first and second warning (Titus 3:10-11)? Above all, do you richly sow the Word (2 Timothy 4:2a), so that the word of Christ richly indwells your fellowship (Colossians 3:16)?

Or have you listed to the siren call of the marketers, and started "beefing up" you worship with crunchy, insubstantial vanities, "pursuing" horizontal popularity at the cost of vertical infamy?

Hard work

Christian, do you do this for your own soul? Do you test yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5), accept reproof (Proverbs 12:1), fill your heart with the Word of God (Psalm 1)? Do you do something with the Word? Or are you a well-known expert at fluffy nothings?

Parents, do you do this for your children, finding creative ways to saturate their home life with God's self-revelation out of full-out love for Him (Deuteronomy 6:5ff.)? Or is "peace and quiet," and "happy" kids, your sole aim?

These are just the lightest touch of implications we can draw on this subject. Plus, we can gain yet more wisdom and perspective on this by marrying Solomon's wisdom, as expressed both here and in another of his writings, with the Christ-centered perspective of Paul:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)
This is an approach to life that sees it not as a mere rehearsal, but as a passing and pivotal arena. As far as we know, we shall never again have the opportunity to serve God on the battlefield. This world is not our home. We must work our fields with an eye to Christ, His judgment seat, and His kingdom.


Let's work the land God gave us.

See you at my blog, then back here on October 31, Lord willing.

Dan Phillips's signature


James Scott Bell said...

Thanks, Dan! Great admonitions to leave us with. I have a preaching stint coming up and will be doing verse by verse exposition. I'm pumped.

I was tempted to try that Dr. Seuess theme, and maybe preach in a big striped hat, and in rhyme. Or put sand and palm trees on the stage, and use a Gilligan's Island style.

I guess we'll just see what happens.

Anonymous said...

Proverbs again? Is that the only tune you know Dan? Nithin' but wisdom? :-)

Thanks for the words and thoughts. As with a total solar eclipse, so also darkness will envelop the blogosphere as Team Pyro goes dark for a season.

DJP said...

Do preach the Word, Johnny. There really is no better use of the pulpit.

To all: giving credit where it's due — when Phil said I was working on a Proverbs post, it was news to me. So I just took it as a sign from God (because you all know how onerous it is for me to have to get into Proverbs!), and I went to the oracle. Yes, I asked my dear wife.

Valerie said to this effect: "Well, now that they'll have this time on their hands, do something on what Proverbs says about using your time."

And here we are.

Now you know where most of my best ideas come from.

Ben N said...

Behind every great leader there's a great wife.
Good advice, Valerie!

donsands said...

Yep, when you pursue empty things you're Fooling Yourself.

Excellent post Dan. Thanks. I really need this kind of exhortation. I pray that I would become better at "redeeming the time" the Lord has given me here. Amen.

trogdor said...

Yes, empty things truly are a grand illusion, it's much better to work the land like a blue collar man. Not bad for a grand finale. Good thoughts to meditate on as we come sail away for a month. Domo origato.

DJP said...

Wrong song, right band. Either way, I love it. Classic Trogdor!

Stefan Ewing said...

Hmmm, where have I read something like this in Scripture? Ah, the words of Moses:

Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

(Psalm 90:8-12. KJV used, for the word "threescore.")

Zachary Bartels said...

Why don't you all fill that gap in your routine by checking twelve60.blogspot.com a couple times a week?

Harvey Schmidlapp said...

I assume you'll see this before you shut the door on your way out. Thank you for all your tireless (or I suppose it's tiring and that's the problem) writing. Enjoy your furlough and God bless you.

Solameanie said...

Trogdor stole my thunder with the Styx allusions. Drat, drat, and double drat. Serves me right for remaining silent until the end of the day. So, I'll just have to say, "good post, Dan."

The whole time question has been bugging me a lot lately, because I see the sand in the hourglass running out each day (especially when I look in the mirror) and know that I've wasted a lot of time in life, and not just when I was young and foolish. I would really like to have some gemstones take the place of wood, hay and stubble.

donsands said...

"Trogdor stole my thunder with the Styx allusions."

Yeah, but i got in the first lick, but unnoticed I guess.

DJP said...

Ohh, Don, that was slick. I missed it.

Nicely done! (Sorry)

Stefan Ewing said...

Not to take away at all from Dan's convicting post (which ties in so well with the general sub-theme of self-examination over the last few days), but speaking of time passing by ever so quickly, wasn't Frank supposed to post something before the lights go out?

Stefan Ewing said...

That said, Frank must be busy with his move to the big city.

TruthStands said...

TeamPyro... I would love to see you guys use Reftagger which create an on-hover pop-up of verse references. It's used on Grace to You, Desiring God, and a couple thousand other sites...

Check it out

Carl said...

Enjoy your time away from the blog. I look forward to when it resumes. May God bless!

Alexander said...

You guys, STILL rock...even though its been awhile since I visited!

CR said...

Will Pryo be closed 12 midnight, PDT, EDT or GST?

DJP said...

LOL — are there going to be Watch Services?

Stefan Ewing said...

Who's going to be the one to leave the last comment?

(That no one else will read until October 31st or thereabouts.)

Stefan Ewing said...

To every blog there is a season.

Now is the time for TP's Jubilee month. All comments will be returned to the original commentators. The blog shall lie fallow, and we shall live on our memories of threads past.

Just don't do this every seven months!

Stefan Ewing said...

Correction: every 49 months. You get the idea.

I am really not trying to be the last commenter here....

God's grace and peace be with you all through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

Solameanie said...


If we ever hear Dan quoting Shamballa by Three Dog Night, we'll know he's in a mid-life crisis.

CR said...

Stefan: I am really not trying to be the last commenter here....

I'd thought I respond to this so that you would not be the last commenter.