It is time …

The renowned author of the “7 habits of highly effective people”, Dr. Stephen Covey, dedicates a section of his best seller to time management as he expresses that highly effective people, put first things first. But even with the best of time management, many of us often complain that there is not enough or no time for the things we need to have done. We find ourselves to be incredibly busy. Partly this could be because we don’t put first things first; in other words, we don’t give our time, preeminence and priority to the people and things that matter most. But there is more to this than just time allocation. It is also about time control, and by this, I mean recognizing who is in control of our time. Most of us try to do all the things we need to get done, all on our own strength. We try to control time by our own strength and abilities. Herein lies the problem.

The Bible tells us that there is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1) and that God makes everything beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Notice, it is His time that matters, not ours. It is God who needs to be in control of our time. He has ordained twenty fours hours in a day for us, but that time is really His and when we recognize this and that we are merely stewards of His time, only then can we be highly effective for him. We need to be like the Psalmist who exclaimed “It is time for thee, Lord, to work” and trust that He will carry His work through our lives. Let us not continue to exhaust our time trying to work for our lives but instead let us give to God our time so that He can work in our lives. At this juncture, let us also recognize that when we submit our time to God for Him to work, let it be in totality. Say you ask painter to paint your portrait. Do you think that painter can output a beautiful work of art, if you keep grabbing the brush from the painter’s hand upon each brush stroke?  Likewise, once we give to God our time, let us not meddle in his work.

When we give to God our time, then the added benefit is that we have less time for ourselves and our selfish sinful desires and when He works in our lives, He always makes every thing beautiful (in His time).

Psalm 119:126a (KJV)
It is time for thee, LORD, to work: …

Ecclesiastes 3:11a (KJV)
11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time:

7 Habits of highly effective Christians

We have come to the end of the series on the 7 habits of highly effective Christians and I hope that this has been a blessing to you as it has been to me. In a nutshell, the following graphics summarizes all the habits we have discovered so far.

Highly Effective Christian Habits

Let us remember to be the very best at who we arehighly effective – in our Christian life. Let us live in such a manner that people will see our good works and glorify God the Father, who is in heaven.

One simple formula to be a highly effective Christian would be answer the following question in ALL circumstances and decisions we face and that is “What Would Jesus Do?“.

Matthew 5:13-16 (KJV)
13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Habit #7 – Renew your mind

Covey’s Habit #7 – Sharpen the Saw
Christian Habit #7
– Renew your mind

Dr. Covey enlists the habit ‘Sharpen the Saw’ as the 7th habit in his series. This habit is about balanced self-renewal and continuous improvement. The Bible commands us that we should not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed. How can we be transformed? By the renewing of our minds.

What does it mean to renew our minds? It means that we ought to ‘think differently
This means that we must

  1. not merely focus but fix our thoughts on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.
  2. think in a humble manner, less about ourselves and more about others; Put on the mind of Christ Jesus, who being in the very nature God, did not consider it right to be made equal with God, but humbled himself, even to the point of death, death on the Cross.

Point(s) to ponder:

Have you ever seen a butterfly sit and eat leaves as it did when it was a caterpillar? I have not. The butterfly does not think like a caterpillar. It is a new creation. Likewise, when we accept and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and ought not to think like our former selves.

The Bible counsels us that we ought to graduate from being babies (from milk) to grown ups (to meat).  We need to think and act as adults, not babies. Not just in some things, but in ALL things, we are to grow, just as Jesus did. Jesus grew up in wisdom, in stature and in favor of God and man. To be a highly effective Christian, we need to grow lest we remain spiritual dwarfs, a spectacle for the world to be amused about. Our transformation (metamorphosis) should be accompanied by growth and this begins by the renewal of our mind.

Ephesians 4:11-15,22-24 (KJV)
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

Philippians 4:8 (KJV)
8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Habit #6 – Partner with God and his people

Covey’s Habit #6 – Synergize
Christian Habit #6 – Partner with God and his people

Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word ‘Synergy’ is “a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements (as resources or efforts)”. The etymology of the word ‘Synergy’ is from Greek ‘Sunergos’ or ‘Synergos’ which means “Working together“.

During my school years, I used to participate in track and field events and was a sprinter, clocking time in the 100 meters or 200 meters dash. I could never run long distant races and even 400 meters was a stretch. However, my friends, Cecil and Vidyuth were excellent long distant runners and they participated in the 400 meters and 800 meters events. What was interesting is that both Cecil and Vidyuth would run in the same race when we competed against other schools. The idea was that Cecil would run as fast as he could, once the gun shot was fired. Looking at Cecil go, the other runners (from other schools) would try to keep up with him and expend their energy fast, while Vidyuth would start slow and when the others started to tire, Vidyuth would overtake all the others (including Cecil) and will win the gold, by running fast toward the end of the race. This is known as the ‘Pacemaker’ tactics in long distant races. Cecil will be the pacemaker for Vidyuth. Although Cecil did not win the race, he worked together (companion in labor) with Vidyuth so that our school would win the gold. The end outcome was that our school won the ‘Gold’ medal.

Jesus sent his twelve disciples two by two (Mark 6:7).  The Apostle Paul commends Ephraphroditus for being a companion in labor. Not much is known of Ephaphroditus in contrast to Paul. Nevertheless he was instrumental in God’s work as a companion of Paul, even unto death (Philippians 2:25-30). The speaker before the assembly (ekklesia) records that “Two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). The speaker also records that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12). It is imperative to recognize that the partnership should not be unequally yoked. The principle of creative cooperation applies aptly to highly effective christians.

Together we can achieve greater things. I am reminded of a story, I once heard, of a horse competition in which the strongest horse that was awarded the winning prize was able to pull 5000 pounds and the horse that came second in that competition could pull 4000 pounds. Out of curiosity, the organizers of the competition yoked the horses together expecting them to be able to pull 9000 pounds. To their surprise, the horses were able to pull nearly a staggering 12000 pounds, exponentially more than they could individually.

Point(s) to ponder:

To be a highly efffective Christian, we must seek to partner with God and his people. Identify who you can partner with! Identify for whom you can be a pacemaker! We must seek companions in labor. We must be willing to work together.  The operative word in the definition is “mutual“. The companionship should be mutually advantageous so that the goal (outcome) can be achieved. We must synergize by partnering with God and his people. You + Your companion + God make the three strands in cord and that is not easily broken, and together as companions in labor, you can achieve exponentially more than what you otherwise would individually.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (KJV)
9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.
10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Mark 6:7 (KJV)
7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;

Habit #5 – Listen First, Speak Next

Covey’s Habit #5 – Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood
Christian Habit #5 – Listen First, Speak Next

Dr. Covey lists “Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood” as the fifth habit of highly effective people. Likewise as we continue the series on the 7 habits of Highly Effective Christians, the fifth habit is to “Listen First, Speak Next”.

Most of us like to be heard and we pay little attention to what others are saying. We always try to have the final word. We like others to see how eloquent and wise we are. We seldom take time to be quite and listen to the other person. Some of us even complete other people’s statements as we suffer from what I call the “Me, Myself and I” syndrome. Before I point fingers at anyone, I must admit that I am personally guilty of all of the above. It is a struggle for me to be quite when someone is talking. I like to talk and rarely listen. But I have been learning some invaluable truths as the Holy Spirit is teaching me through God’s word.

James counsels us that the tongue needs to be tamed (James 3:2-6). The psalmist tells us that we ought to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). We are told to not be rash with our mouth, and let not our heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and we upon earth: therefore let our words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Additionally, those in business settings may already know this – “Silence is a powerful weapon when negotiating”. Next time you are in a meeting negotiating, keep silent and see how much power shifts toward you.

We are also told that there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7) and when we speak, let us ensure that whatever we speak imparts grace and edifies the hearer (Ephesians 4:29). The words we speak must be in an apt manner (at the right time), carefully chosen (with the right words), with a humble and meek heart (right attitude) as apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

Point(s) to ponder:

Ever wonder why we are designed by God to have two ears and one mouth. We must listen twice as much as we speak. But we need not always use words to speak. Remember when Jesus was asked of his opinions to condemn the woman caught in the act of adultery, he spoke volumes without saying a single word.

To be a highly effective Christian, we must seek first to understand and then to be understood. We can do this by listening first and speaking next (with or without words).

Ecclesiastes 5:2 (KJV)
2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.

Ephesians 4:29 (KJV)
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

Habit #4 – Be of one accord

Covey’s Habit #4 – Think Win/Win
Christian Habit #4 – Be of one accord

National Geographic records “Caught on Safari: Battle at Kruger” to be the most amazing nature video ever seen, and I have to agree. When I first saw this video which is about an amazing array of animals fighting for survival in a South African waterhole,  I was struck with bewilderment and almost speechless. I asked my wife, Sangeetha to watch it with me, and we went through a roller coaster of emotions that can only be experienced, not explained. I’d hate to spoil the surprise for you, but for the purposes of this article, I will succinctly relay that the video goes on as follows – water buffaloes are taking a stroll, some lazing lions spot an opportunity, the lions give chase, the lions get a hold of a calf, the calf falls into the nearby waterhole with the lions hanging on, a crocodile tries to seize an opportunity, the lions emerge victorious, but wait, the water buffaloes return, now the battle ensues between the lions and the buffaloes and then … you got to see the video. It is 8 minutes long, but well worth every second.

It amazed me to see how the water buffaloes united together and would not let their young behind. The unity in them was unbelievable to say the least and with such an unity, they could take down a natural foe that usually takes them down when they are singled out. You must have heard of the saying, “United we stand, Divided we fall”. This is exactly how it is in our Christian lives as well. When we are alone, we tend to fall prey to the devil (a roaring lion), or sink to the world’s attractions and vices (like the crocodile that tries to drown its prey). But when we are united together as one, in one accord, with God and his people, there is nothing that can really stop us and the impossible becomes a norm, rather than an exception. The POWER OF UNITY is Unstoppable. Notice what God testifies about the power of Unity in Genesis 11 which records the story of the Tower of Babel. God says that because man is united in one language, one mind (one accord), there is nothing that can restrain man and anything imagined by man can be accomplished. What a powerful statement that is about unity.

Apologist Ravi Zacharias once said – When cupidity (selfishness) and self-aggrandizement is the motive, unity can be absolutely devastating. Hell does not know the fury compared to what a group of proud men and women, united in evil can finally accomplish and after all, hell then shows what really is the outworking of people trying to build a name for themselves, united in one communication.

If I may use his statement, but turn that over 180 degrees, it would state that
When selflessness and humility is the motive, unity can be absolutely reassuring. Heaven does not know the serenity compared to what a group of humble men and women, united in good can finally accomplish and after all, Heaven then shows what really is the outworking of people trying to build a name for God, united in one communication.

Point(s) to ponder:

To be a highly effective Christian, we need to be one accord (like the water buffaloes), united in mind and spirit, standing together, hand in hand with one another, and no power (lions or crocodiles) in heaven or earth, can stop us from being the Ambassadors for Jesus Christ that God wants us to be. Being united with God and his people in one accord will always result in a win/win outcome.

Acts 1:14 (KJV)
14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, …

Habit #3 – Have no other god before the LORD

Covey’s Habit #3 – Put First Things First
Christian Habit #3 – Have no other god before the LORD

Isn’t it kind of weird that Dr. Covey would list a habit to “put first things first” as habit #3, instead of habit #1?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to list this as habit #1? When it comes to Christian life, to be a highly effective Christian, there is absolutely no  other way than to put God first. The one and only great God (Psalm 86:10), the great ‘I AM’ who does wondrous things, made it very clear, as he commanded his people, that “we should have no other god before the LORD (YHWH)”.

The first requirement for us is that we must be Holy as God is Holy (Leviticus 19:1-2) and His first commandment to us is that we should have no other god before the LORD. This kind of goes hand in hand. To be Holy is to start by having no other god before the LORD. But you and I know that this is easier said, than done. When it comes to decisions of life, we often place God in the back burner. Our families, our work, our hobbies, take more precedence. We at times even end up idolizing other pursuits over God.

Interestingly, the LORD does not want to be just the FIRST, but the FOREMOST; not just a PRIORITY, but PREEMINENT in our lives. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “PREEMINENT” as having paramount rank, dignity, or importance; outstanding, supreme. This word is rooted in the Latin verb stem “-minēre,” meaning “to stand out.”

Point(s) to ponder:

When you think of your life and the pursuits you are after, what is it that comes to your mind. Position, Power, Pleasure, Family, Business,  Work, Sports, Wealth, … Make a list of that and see where in that list is the LORD placed (that is if He even made it into that list).

Now remind yourself of the first of the 10 commandments, that is, we should have no other god before the LORD and also remind yourself of what Jesus said, “Seek Ye FIRST the kingdom of God” and if I may take the liberty to say, all these things (whatever was in your list) will be added unto you, if it is in the permissive will of the LORD. If you’d like, you can now, scratch out the list you made and replace it with just one word – LORD.

To be a highly effective Christian, we ought to make God not just a priority, but PREEMINENT (having paramount rank, dignity and importance) in our lives. He must “stand out” in our lives, so that the cloud of witnesses, those observing us, will see an “outstanding” God in us. We must put first things first, i.e., have no other god before the LORD and put God First.

For related reading, see “The first requirement is to …” and “The Final Matter …

Matthew 6:31-33 (KJV)
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Exodus 20:1-3 (KJV)
1 And God spake all these words, saying,
I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.