By Dave Cunningham
Johnson Oatman Jr. wrote over 5,000 songs. Among his favorites were “No, Not One” and “Higher Ground.” But one song, which he wrote in 1897, seemed to especially resonate with his fellow believers. He titled it “Count Your Blessings.” For more than a century, Oatman’s signature song has served as a clarion call for Christians to have a constant attitude of gratitude no matter the circumstances—even amid a pandemic.
What a blessing it is to know that our God remains in sovereign control (Ps. 103:19; Eph. 1:11). As with every situation, He is working all things together for our good, our growth, and His glory (Rom. 8:28). As God’s people, we can and should continue to count our blessings.
Don’t Waste the Pandemic
As the Lord’s church navigates through these unprecedented times of COVID-19, perhaps Oatman’s Biblically faithful hymn should serve as our theme song.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done
What a stark reminder that we have but one life to live for our Savior. We need to make it count. Shame on us if we waste the many lessons we need to learn from this experience. And shame on us if we fail to take advantage of the spiritual opportunities God is bringing our way.
Manage your stewardship
That God is the rightful owner of all things (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 50:10; Hag. 2:8) and that we are to be good managers, or stewards, of everything He has entrusted to us is a recurring principle in Scripture.
First Corinthians 4:1–2 says, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”
This call to faithful stewardship applies to our finances and possessions, but it also applies to our use of perhaps the most valuable and precious commodity God has entrusted to us: the gift of time.
While talking to God, King David reflected upon the fact that our time on this earth is limited. He said, “The span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath” (Ps. 39:4, NIV). James used a similar analogy when he said, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
Redeem the time
If time is indeed our most valuable commodity, we Christians need to evaluate how we are using our time. The apostle Paul cautioned believers to “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15–16). So every believer is to wisely make “the most of” (Greek exagorazo, which means “to redeem,” “purchase,” or “buy back”) our time. And we are to do so in light of these “evil” days.
The New Testament primarily uses two Greek words for “time”: chronos and kairos. Chronos, from which we derive chonology, is primarily quantitative. Used 54 times in the New Testament, chronos refers to a specific amount of time, such as a day or an hour. In fact, in 30 of its 54 uses in the New American Standard Bible, the word referring to time is translated with specific time in view. Consider these two examples: “But when he was approaching the age [chronos] of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel” (Acts 7:23). “For a period [chronos] of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness” (Acts 13:18).
But the word used for time in Ephesians 5:15–16 is not chronos. It is kairos. While chronos is primarily quantitative, kairos is more qualitative. Kairos, used over 80 times in the New Testament, means “an appointed time” or “an opportune moment.” It carries the idea of taking advantage of an opportunity.
Most of us are very chronos oriented. We view time quantitatively. In one day there are 24 hours, or 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds. We rightly recognize that there is only so much time and that the time we do have is a gift from God for which we are to be thankful and accountable. With that, we understand we are to use our available time wisely and for His glory.
Being conscious of our minutes and hours is a good thing, but having an exclusively chronos mindset can cause us to miss what Paul is saying in Ephesians 5:16—that we are to take advantage of the opportune times that are placed before us. In other words, it is possible to be so scheduled that we fail to seize the opportunities God has presented to us.
Years ago I was awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call from a man and his wife who were fighting. They were screaming and throwing things at each another, acting like pagans. My 30-minute phone call with them took up valuable chronos. But it turned out to be a kairos opportunity, which resulted in repentance, forgiveness, and restoration in their marriage.
I could have chosen not to answer the phone, or I could have blown them off because it was my sleep time. But had I done either, I would have missed an opportunity to minister to them at a crucial time. In Ephesians 5:16, Paul is calling for believers to have a different mindset so we don’t miss such opportunities. He is calling for a mindset in which we recognize that some moments are more valuable than others.
Walk in wisdom
Do we now see what Paul is calling for here? We are to be careful how we walk, not as people who are unwise but wise.
Charles Spurgeon said that Christians are to “‘walk circumspectly,’ watching lest even in seeking one good thing you spoil another.” In colloquial terms, we might say, “If we walk wisely, we will be careful not to let the good steal God’s best.”
Not to be missed is that walking in wisdom ties directly to the command in Ephesians 5:18, where Paul says to “be filled with the Spirit.” It stands to reason that if we are Spirit-filled, we will be careful to walk wisely, seizing the opportunities that come our way.
To further reiterate the meaning of Paul’s admonition, the phrase “be careful” in verse 15 is in the present imperative tense, which means that we are to be continually looking for opportune times.
Commenting on these verses, Charles Hummel wrote in Tyranny of the Urgent that our “greatest danger is letting the urgent things [chronos] crowd out the important [kairos].”
Make your time count
As noted earlier, the New Testament word “redeem” is exagorazo in the Greek. Its primary use in the culture was to “buy something out of the marketplace.” The picture is of a shopper who diligently takes advantage of the best bargains in the marketplace.
My mom was the master garage sale shopper. She would go out almost every Saturday to neighborhood sales, looking for bargains for our family. This is the idea here. As God’s people, we are to diligently seek out the best opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others.
Further, “redeem” is in the present tense, which calls for us to make it our lifestyle, our daily moment-by-moment practice, to buy up for ourselves the strategic opportunities God providentially places in our path—all with His glory and eternity in view. Or, as John Wesley wrote in a touching letter to his wife, we are to “redeem the time. Catch the golden moments as they fly.”
In Ephesians 5, Paul is saying, “Instead of wasting time, redeem it. Instead of counting the days, make your days count.”
Carpe diem is Latin for “seize the day.” This is what Paul is referring to when he says that we are to “redeem” the time. Consider these passages:
“So then, while we have opportunity [kairos], let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10, italics added).
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of [exagorazo, “redeeming,” “buying up”] the opportunity [kairos]. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:5–6, italics added).
“For He says, ‘At the acceptable time [kairos, “the opportune time”] I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time [kairos],’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Cor. 6:2–3, italics added).
Let’s consider how we can work to redeem the time by taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves during this pandemic.
Big Picture Principles
No matter the circumstance, we need to always cling to these three abiding principles:
Live each day with an eternal perspective
Perhaps you have heard the adage “Be careful not to be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” Not surprisingly, I have never met anyone who would fit into that category. Instead, Scripture argues that having an eternal perspective will naturally translate to practical day-to-day Christian living. Consider the consistent flow of God’s Word:
As aliens and strangers (1 Pet. 2:11), “set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19–21).
“So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Live each day with intention
As the saying goes, it is wise and prudent to “plan your work and work your plan.” But a big part of our daily plan as Christians should be to always look out for those kairos opportunities (Eph. 5:15–16).
“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Prov. 16:9).
“Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand” (Prov. 19:21).
Live each day with joy, contentment, and trust
John MacArthur reminds us that “joy is not a feeling; it is the deep-down confidence that God is in control of everything for the believer’s good and His own glory, and thus all is well no matter what the circumstances.”
Joy, contentment, and trust are all interconnected. Consider the following:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:4–7).
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).
“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11–13).
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5–6).
“Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Maintaining Discipline Is Key
Using a baseball analogy, when life gets tough and throws us a curveball on the outside corner of the plate, we can either swing and miss or we can adjust our swing and drive the ball the opposite way.
As followers of God, we can’t afford to swing and miss the opportunities that will present themselves to us during this pandemic. As my old basketball coach would often say, all we can do is “control the controllable and adapt to everything else.” We recognize that God is in sovereign control over this (and every) situation, which comforts us that we need not fear or despair (2 Tim. 1:7). Instead, we are to lovingly stand firm and trust (1 Cor. 16:13–14), being careful to maintain these godly disciplines:
- Stay grounded in God’s Word (Ps. 119:111; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Pet. 1:3).
- Remain fervent in prayer (1 Thess. 5:17; 1 John 5:14; James 5:13, 16).
- Stay close to the church (1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 10:24–25).
- Continue to exercise our gifts (Eph. 4; Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12).
- Continue to keep our eyes on Jesus (1 Cor. 1:23; Heb. 12:1–2).
- Continue to proclaim the gospel (Rom. 1:16–17; 10:9–17; 1 Pet. 3:15).
My Hope and Prayer
As I have watched the events of these past months unfold, my concerns have grown exponentially. While I am obviously concerned for the physical health of our families, friends, and neighbors, I am especially concerned for their spiritual condition. My prayer from the moment this health crisis began to unfold has been that God would use His people to share the love of Christ with others and that many would repent of their sin and turn to faith in Jesus.
While I am still praying for those things, much of the focus of my prayers has turned to include the decision making and spiritual condition of those of us who are already followers of God. Those of us who by God’s grace are already children of the King. Those of us who have been born again, possess the Spirit of God, and have the assurance of our salvation.
Among my mounting concerns is a perceived frog-in-the-kettle kind of attitude toward the church. It appears that the waters of apathy and complacency have gotten warmer and warmer and that many folks haven’t even noticed.
Slowly the church has become an event rather than the living organism God intended. Instead of being the church, folks talk about going to church. This is no harmless shift in perspective. And without the proper intervention, this new way of viewing the church can develop into a spiritual virus that will infect others.
The church was never intended to be an event or one of many spokes in the wheel of our lives, but the very hub. It is from the hub that the spokes go out. The New Testament epistles were written with this in mind. But sadly it seems, rather than the church positively influencing the culture, the culture has negatively influenced the church.
While most churches are following the recommendations of our governing authorities (Rom. 13) and for health and safety reasons are not corporately meeting in the same building, church has not been “canceled.” No, church is never canceled. No matter the circumstance, the church is called to continue to function as the church, which means we just need to find more creative ways to love our neighbors at this time. We just need to be more resourceful in practicing the “one anothers” of the New Testament and being “salt and light” in our communities. Rest assured, God is on the front end of this trial, not the back end. Among other things, He is most assuredly testing His church.
And so, as God’s people, we can’t afford to fail the test and waste this pandemic. Instead, we must redeem the time. Our God is trying to get our attention as to what is truly important in life. Perhaps He is using this time to prune His church, or maybe He is delivering a much-needed wake-up call to those who have minimized the importance of the church gathered. Whatever it is that the Lord is doing, may we be humble enough to use this time to take inventory of our lives. To ask ourselves some hard questions. To examine our priorities against Scripture. To renew our love and devotion to our Savior and Lord and to His church. Lest we forget, we are to love like Christ loved (1 John 3:16), and we are to love what Christ loved (Eph. 5:25), and we are to pray to that end.
Are you counting your blessings?
Are you redeeming the time?
Are you seizing each day for Christ?
Are you living each day with an eternal perspective?
Are you living each day with intention?
Are you living each day with joy, contentment, and trust?
Are you staying grounded in God’s Word?
Are you remaining fervent in prayer?
Are you staying close to the church?
Are you exercising your gifts?
Are you keeping your eyes on Jesus?
Are you sharing the gospel with others?
Are you wasting this pandemic?
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 5:10–11).
Dave Cunningham is lead pastor of GraceLife Church, Annville, Pa. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise marked, are from the New American Standard Bible.