Shortly after I started at a new church, one of the deacons took me to visit a parishioner in the hospital. We could have put money in a street meter, but the deacon thought the meter was too expensive and we drove around to find a better spot. After about 15 minutes, I said to the deacon, “While the parking meter is expensive, so is our time.” He had the time to drive around, but I had too many things on my schedule to circle the block until a free parking space became available.
The price that we place on our time varies from culture to culture and person to person. In biblical times, someone would come to visit and the first day was just for introductions. No matter what kind of business was at hand, it could wait for a couple of days. The joking story goes that the car was named Datsun due to a conversation between the Japanese and the Germans. The German were ready to leave without partying, only to be told by their Japanese hosts, “Dat sun!”
The well-known British linguist Samuel Johnson writes that a British aristocrat took his son fishing. In the father’s diary, he wrote two crisp sentences—I went fishing with my son! I wasted the whole day. When they checked the diary of the son, they found that he wrote a whole page detailing how important it was to be fishing with his father. The same day with the same number of hours was interpreted differently by two people.
I once invited a member of our church to come to a morning Bible study. He remarked that he is not a morning person. But when one of the Bible study regulars asked him why he was not a morning person, the reply was that he has been watching the Star Trek movies for the ninetieth time. The brother suggested that it might be possible to skip the movies that he has seen 100 times and come to Bible study. It was a convincing conversation and for the rest of his life, that church member became a great contributor to our Bible study and molded the lives of the people he studied with each week.
When I translated for the court system in New Jersey, I often went to Newton. It was about two-hour drive, but one day my translation took less than 15 minutes. According to my contract, they had to pay my mileage and pay me for two hours of work. When I signed the papers for that day, I remarked that I felt bad taking pay for two hours of work, when I only worked about 15 minutes. The secretary said, “Honey, you are the lowest on the scale. You should see the charge that the two lawyers have given me for their two hours.” We had the same years of education, but society valued our time differently.
Society puts value and a price tag on our time, depending on our profession. At the top are the neurosurgeons, followed by lawyers, even though the people on Wall Street make more money than any other profession per year. At the bottom are people who make minimum wage and struggle to make a living, especially if they have a large family. The government also looks at us based on our income. This year, due to the two jobs that I have in the church and the seminary, the work that my wife does as a musician, and the benefits that we receive from Social Security, the government tossed me into a higher tax bracket. As a naturalized citizen, I do not mind paying taxes to this great country as long as my taxes are used well and not wasted on meaningless enterprises.
I recently read the autobiography of a Scottish Bible commentator. He wrote about looking out the window of his church office one early morning and seeing hundreds of people hurrying to their jobs. That morning, he thanked the Lord that those people worked hard in many different jobs and because of them, he was able to do his academic work for the church. That line made me highly appreciative of the people who work so that I can be a pastor and a scholar.
We all have the same amount of time: 24 hours in each day. The Scripture tells us to redeem the days, for the days are evil. How do we do that? We redeem each day by doing the best work that we can, in whatever profession we have.