“Time is the great leveler. It is one resource that is allocated in absolute egalitarian terms. Every living person has the same number of hours to use in every day. Busy people are not given a special bonus added on to the hours of the day. The clock plays no favorites.” ~R.C. Sproul, “Time Well Spent,” as quoted in C.J. Mahaney, “Biblical Productivity.”
No matter who you are–king or peasant, president or prisoner, billionaire or homeless vagabond, we are all given the same 24 hours a day. We cannot add more to this time.
Or, can we?
One way we add more time, in the most technical sense, is to expand our lifespans. Job (14:5) tells us “a person’s days are determined; [God has] decreed the number of his months and has set limits he cannot exceed.”
Biblically, we have a set amount of time in our life, and no one can change it. Right? God already knows what we will do in our lives, so logically whatever we do in our lives to extend our lifespan is already taken into account. This already happens. Lifespans are markedly different in different places, and most of the causes of death are things external to the person–factors like disease, violence, and so on. So if someone moves out of short-lifespan-areas into long-lifespan-areas, they might indeed live longer. (The Somali who moves to Minnesota or Toronto or London is a prime example.) In this sense, they are ‘adding to’ their time–although, of course, not the 24 hours per day each of us have.
In the most individual of examples, faced with life-threatening situations, some people (the wealthy, or those who otherwise have access to medical care) can, in a sense, ‘add time’ in a way that those in absolute poverty cannot. An obvious case in point was the doctors who became infected with Ebola and were treated in the United States. Another example is early cases of HIV who had access to the drugs. Now, HIV drugs are becoming more generally available worldwide, so more people can ‘add’ years to their lives if infected. The drugs for Ebola are not so widely available, so there is still a significant difference between those in Africa who contract Ebola, and those in America. There are other more frequent cases, too: people who need organ transplants, people who contract infections, people who get easily cured diseases in places where the cures are readily available.
Still, no matter how many days we “add,” each person only has 24 hours in a day. Right? Yes–and no. It is true that, individually, we each have only 24 hours. Some of these are more ‘usable’ than others. For some in Africa, for example, in absolute poverty, a significant amount of time is used in the daily grind of survival: the women of Africa together spend 20 million hours per day fetching water. Development can help free up more hours for other, more productive uses: this is one way of ‘adding hours.’
Given that we are using all the hours we have, here is another complexity: we can “add hours” by freeing them up. Tools and knowledge enable us to multiply the level of energy that we can put in an hour. As an example, it would take me individually a lot longer to, say, repair a car, house plumbing, or even a toaster than someone with the knowledge and tools. A person with a backhoe can dig a hole a lot faster than a person with a shovel. Tools multiply the energy we can use in a given hour, and in a sense ‘add hours’ by reducing the time requirements of individual jobs. By developing a new tool, we can “add hours” to our day.
These methods for “adding hours” are really technicalities. No matter how efficient we are, in the end, we are a king or a commoner, a president or a peasant… we just have 24 hours. Yes, personally, and that’s the point of the quote: that in this respect we are all the same.
But we are not all the same, of course, and the reason has to do with how we use the time we’ve been given. To the one who is faithful in little things, he will given responsibility for great things. This counts for time, too.
Let’s think less about how much time I physically have in a day–and more about how many hours I have access to or influence over. This is the great difference between a leader and a non-leader: a leader, of any kind (king, president, influencer, celebrity, whatever) has access to the time of others. He has access to hours, given to him (or her), not by God, but by others.
Why do we give hours to some people?
Sometimes, because they have command of us (political and military leaders). Governments can require hours for public order, safety, or service.
Sometimes, because they buy them from us (business leaders, consumers). Business is really the accumulation and distribution of ‘hours’ (time spent doing a particular thing). If you live near a large store, you don’t have to bake bread or grow your own vegetables if you can buy them. Stores are basically trading the value of the hours involved in the task (baking bread) and making a profit off this trade.
Sometimes, because they promise to make us more efficient or effective in the use of the future hours we will have. This is the promise of coaching, education, and even books, essays and ‘lifehacks.’
Sometimes, because they promise we will have something at the end of those hours–joyful memories, entertainment, family togetherness, etc. If we’re not careful, we can get sucked in and ‘waste’ a lot of our hours.
What do we mean by ‘wasting’ hours? Consider what happens when the proverbial Rich Fool gets to the end of his life. He looks back over his days, and what does he do? He measures their value. How much time was spent in activity X, Y and Z – and now, looking back, which one was the most valuable? And most of the time, when telling this proverb, the person spent all his time doing X and wishes he had done more of Z. We realize our lives were ‘wasted’ when we get to a measuring point and realize we did this.
In fact, the Parable of the Rich Fool makes this point: he acquires and acquires and acquires until he reaches a point when he needs to do nothing more. He can spend his days–his 24 hours per day–completely and utterly on himself. He is the penultimate self-centered person, and God releases the resources he has imprisoned while demanding an accounting for his life–in person, before the Throne.
What are “well-spent” hours? What is “greatness”? “Greatness” is almost always something that is “bigger” than ourselves – something we cannot do with our own 24 hours, on our own. When our time is submerged into something bigger, it is “great.” The “bigger” the time of the thing being done, the greater it is.
We think of “spending time with family” and especially children as “great”–because it’s about leaving an impact on someone that will last longer than you will.
We think of impacting the lives of millions and “changing their lives for the better” as great, because it’s bigger than us. The salvation of souls is about eternity.
Sometimes we give hours to someone because they make a request of us for something greater. For example, I can occasionally post a request to social media, and people will spend some time responding to that request, because they know the data will help in some meaningful way in the overall task of missions, which we believe in.
Sometimes we give hours to people because they involve us in something great. This can take the form of money (which is really just a storage vehicle for time), or hours donated to do something important (building a house is a very visible example).
Yet some will give even more to those leaders who go further: who provide a platform, training, ability so that we, ourselves, can become leaders, who involve people in things bigger than themselves. Leaders leading leaders empower people to go beyond getting meaning to giving meaning. Communities of leaders of leaders of leaders becomes great time-harvesting swarms: saving hours, redeeming time, finding time wasted on lesser activities and influencing time-owners to become time-investors, dedicating hours to things greater than themselves.
Yes, it’s true each of us only have 24 hours per day. But, as with money, how we use that time can lead us to “more time”. The faithful servant will be entrusted with influence over hours–dozens of hours, hundreds of hours, thousands of hours, millions of hours–and they are given this trust because they have shown ourselves trustworthy. People who do this can indeed change the world, by changing how the people in the world spend their time.