Lately, I’ve been thinking about seasons. It might have something to do with the calendar announcing today is the first day of summer. Reminds me of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

Summer season in south Florida means oppressive heat and afternoon thunderstorms. It means mosquitoes and hurricanes. It also means less crowded roads and a slower pace of life, now that our most of our winter residents have flown back to their northern homes.

But seasons are not limited to weather or the calendar. We have seasons of life, too. Remember the ancient riddle of the Sphinx, recounted in Greek mythology? It hints at these seasons. The Sphinx was said to have asked: “Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?” The answer is man – who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two feet as an adult, and walks with a cane in old age.

Reflect on a young mom, caught in a seemingly never-ending parade of dirty diapers. Or a young man who doesn’t bother investing in an IRA because retirement seems so far away. Consider a single mom, wondering how she will care for her three children as her car pulls away from the cemetery. Think of an elderly woman sitting in a nursing home, listening to a song on the radio that triggers memories of her husband’s marriage proposal sixty years earlier.

Often seasons bring experiences we could never have anticipated. Suffering we would never have contemplated or joys we could never have imagined. But seasons change…and we have a choice.

We can be “all there” in our present season, or we can waste the gift we’ve been given by wishing it away while we dream of the past or the future. We can grumble about dirty diapers now, and an empty nest later. We can resent the injustices done to us by people in our past, and carry those broken relationships into the future. We can complain about lost career opportunities years ago, and use them as an excuse to avoid creating new opportunities for ourselves today. Or…

Or we can enjoy the gift of the present. The moments we have today. The relationships we have that can be strengthened. The words we can speak to encourage someone else. The skills we can learn with the opportunities we have. Most importantly, we can use the opportunities of our present season to grow into the men and women that God intended for us to be.

Ephesians 5:16 tells us how to handle the present. I love how the different translations approach this verse. The NASB tells us to “make the most of the time,” while the KJV exhorts us to “redeem the time.” The NIV encourages us to “make the most of every opportunity,” while the ESV tells us to “make the best use of the time.”

Whatever the translation, the meaning is clear. The present is a present. Don’t waste it, whatever season you’re in.

More Bang for My Buck

The National Bureau of Economic Research has declared the recession to be over. According to their data, it ended in June, 2009. But don’t be surprised if fourteen million unemployed people disagree.

Still, even for those who have found jobs and are part of the economic recovery, life has changed. Surveys indicate that a new austerity governs spending habits as people struggle to decrease debt, increase savings, and protect themselves against the next downturn. Sales in discount stores such as Dollar Stores are growing as people seek greater value for their limited resources. They want more bang for their buck.

Obtaining more value is not limited to finances. As this new year speeds along, I’ve been thinking about other areas where my “spending” could result in a greater yield.  Some of these areas include:

Use of my time
I often complain about not having enough time, but I know time wasters often consume my days. I’m easily distracted, so even though I may have something I should be doing, I’ll look at Facebook, Twitter, or my email. I’ll check the snail-mailbox to see if something other than another bill was delivered. I’ll stop to play with the dog, or check the television listings to ensure I’m not missing something good.

It’s not that these things are bad, it’s just that I need to focus more on the task in front of me instead of flitting all over the place. A little more focus will definitely give me more bang for my buck in my use of time.

Physical health

The older I get, the more I am aware that my body “ain’t what it used to be.” It doesn’t help that I eat more of what I shouldn’t and exercise less than I should. Oh, I have great excuses: I don’t have much time to exercise, I have some lower back issues, and my metabolism has two speeds: slow and reverse. But that’s all they are—excuses.

If I want more bang for my health buck, then I need to make choices, not excuses.

Emotional investments
Cultivating relationships is hard work. Successful relationships require a commitment to invest in others, regardless of convenience. However, I know from past experience that a little investment now will yield high returns in the form of deep, abiding friendships.

While these relationships need investments of my time and behavior, they also require that I avoid investing in other ways. Rather than invest in emotional pity-parties or resentment at perceived slights, I need to redirect myself to extend forgiveness. If I don’t, how can I expect anyone to extend forgiveness to me? By doing so – even before I am asked – I am releasing myself from a prison of my own making. That’s more bang for the emotional buck!

Spiritual development
I’m a Bible teacher and an author for the Christian market. So, of course, I spend a great deal of time in the Bible, in prayer, and in writing that encourages others in their Christian walk. But it’s easy to depersonalize these activities – to go through the motions for the purpose of a lesson plan or research for a book, rather than for application to my own life.

But God is not interested in my ministry if it comes at the expense of my relationship with Him. If successful ministry activities crowd out intimate relationship, then everything I teach and write is a testament to hypocrisy, a stench rather than sweet-smelling incense that reaches God’s throne. More bang for my buck in my spiritual life comes not from more ministry, but from a more intimate walk with my Savior.

The economy has caused many to change their shopping habits. But the way I spend my money is just one of many areas where I would like to see more bang for my buck. How about you?

In what areas of your life do you want more bang for your buck this year?

Time for Happiness

For most children in school the Christmas break seems eons away from September. After Christmas vacation, the Easter break feels like it will never arrive. For me, the worst was always after Easter. Summer vacation was tantalizingly close, yet far enough away that the waiting was almost painful.

So when did things change? When did time begin moving faster than children at the sound of an ice cream truck’s bell? I don’t remember the precise moment, but gradually—almost imperceptibly—the pages of the calendar turned with an increasing frequency that bordered on illegal.

Until I began submitting work for publication. Then it felt like time stood still. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, as I waited for responses to my submissions.

Anticipation makes us eager for the next big thing, whatever it is. Children yearn for Christmas. Pre-adolescents can’t wait to be teens. Teens crave to be adults. Adults in the workforce long for retirement.

The result of all this wishing and wanting is that we end up wishing our lives away. We’re so focused on tomorrow and what tomorrow will bring, that we fail to enjoy the blessings of today. Our happiness is based on happenings that have happened and happenings that haven’t happened yet!

This does not mean that we should not plan ahead. The Bible tells us, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5) and “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).

God wants us to plan ahead, but He wants us to leave room in our plans for Him. Proverbs also says, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” and “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (16:3, 9).

I intend to continue setting goals and planning for tomorrow. I also intend to leave room for God to show up in my todays as well as in my tomorrows. As I do, I have a feeling the passage of time won’t seem quite so fast. My happiness quotient may not increase, but my joy, based on trusting Jesus Christ for the results, will skyrocket.

How quickly is time passing for you?