Jonathan Edwards had an intense fear of wasting time. Like, scary intense. Reading his resolutions always sobers me. I mean, what 19-year-old writes, “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump”?
But Edwards grasped something we too often don’t. He grasped that life is short and only meaningful if lived for God’s glory. He understood that wasting time is a symptom of taking our eyes off the gospel.
The problem is that we do take our eyes off the gospel, and that means we do waste time—especially us teenagers. Every day, in fact, we waste time. There are even certain time traps teens (even and especially Christian teens) fall into again and again. Let me show you five.
1. We waste time when we don’t do the things we should do.
As Christians, we’re called to a life of hard work and good deeds, but we’re tempted to neglect responsibility. Every day there are a thousand things we should do. From the mundane to the momentous, we have chores, homework, and jobs, as well as opportunities to read, play with our siblings, treasure a sunset, wash the dishes, pray, write, exercise, pick up milk at the store, and pursue the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23).
“For we are [God’s] workmanship,” Paul writes, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). As the very creations—the images—of an infinitely good God, we were created to do good. And he’s prepared in advance these good works for us.
So we waste time when we don’t look for those good deeds—or when we find them and choose to avoid them. In a painfully convicting way, James goes so far as to say that if you know what you should do and you don’t do it, that’s sin (Jas. 4:17).
2. We waste time when we abuse media.
Here it is—the obligatory media point, where I list statistics from the million-dollar studies showing how the typical teenager watches 20 hours of television a week and how we’ll have seen more than 350,000 commercials by the time we turn 18. That doesn’t include the dozens of hours we spend online every week or the numberless minutes on our smartphones.
Don’t get me wrong. These statistics can be helpful in certain contexts. But for us? Telling me that a faceless team of experts say I watch too much TV in a week is neither beneficial nor impactful. Chances are I already know that. I know I can use movies or Pinterest or Twitter to put off good works or godly habits.
But do I realize that seemingly innocuous time spent on those things can sometimes be sinful? I don’t think so. I don’t realize that I’m accountable to God for my time. And that’s why I waste it.
3. We waste time when we’re busy with the wrong things or for the wrong reasons.
In and of itself, busyness isn’t sinful. We can be busy with the right things for all the right reasons. But busyness can become wrong.
I’m not talking about a job or school or even time spent with friends or family. I’m not talking about time spent cultivating godly habits. I’m talking about time spent going somewhere you shouldn’t go, spending time with someone you shouldn’t spend time with, investing time pursuits that are sinful, or pouring too much time into pursuts that are trivial in light of eternity.
And I’m too often guilty of the latter category. While there are good, momentary pleasures we should enjoy here, they can’t claim all our time. Because they might make us miss kingdom opportunities. They might waste good works. So what can we change?
4. We waste time when we avoid our problems.
Sometimes we pursue busyness to avoid a hard issue we don’t want to face. We use busyness as an excuse to not have to reckon with reality. When we don’t have time to sit down and eat dinner as a family, we don’t have to deal with underlying resentment. When we don’t have time to fill out college applications, we don’t have to deal with our parents’ expectations. When we don’t have time to study with our friends, we don’t have to deal with their emotional baggage. This kind of busyness gives us an appealing sense of escape.
But that’s the absolute wrong way to handle our problems. Our lives are part of something much bigger and more important than just us. While we’re tempted to escape problems temporarily through busyness, it only delays the inevitable. We’ll still eventually have to deal with life. Sadly, problems don’t get fixed by ignoring them. Indeed, putting them off does more harm than good—not only does it waste time, but also it burdens us with stress.
5. We waste time when we don’t rest.
There’s a big distinction between laziness and rest. Laziness is selfish time spent in violation of God’s command; it’s self-absorption and idleness when we’re called to work. Rest, on the other hand, is a God-given method of worship that allows us to refresh our hearts and minds. Laziness is bad; rest is profoundly good.
So, when busyness keeps you from rest, you’re violating God’s command. Rest is obedience. Jen Wilkin writes, “The God who grants us soul-repose commands our worship in the form of bodily rest. The worshiper is blessed in obedience.” When my family prays together at night, my younger brother frequently asks that God would grant us good sleep so that we can wake up refreshed and ready to serve him anew in the morning. He understands what I often miss—rest makes us better workers and better worshipers.
Life Is Brief
The gospel changes everything—including how we spend our time. Life is brief, after all. Teenagers can so easily waste it in sinful busyness or laziness or distraction or discontentment.
Or they can use it for Jesus. Living for him means we view our life as his. And it means we joyfully declare with teenaged Jonathan Edwards: Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
Editors’ note: This article is adapted from Jaquelle Crowe’s new book, This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (Crossway, 2017).