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ss nucleus - autumn 1995,  Dilemmas


How should we divide our time between work, Christian and non-Christian activities?

As we all know, medical students do not have as much free time as other students. We have most of each day accounted for and work to do outside periods of teaching. Therefore, it is important for us to consider carefully how we spend our free time. If you are anything like me, you've probably not given it a great deal of thought before and just gone with the flow, but is there a better way? Is this the way we should be spending time? I can't promise instant, easy answers, but here are some pointers.

Perhaps the best place to start is with the most important person in our lives, our heavenly father. It may just be me, but I often find that he is not the highest priority time-wise. It's so easy to have good intentions but when it comes to it, reading the Bible and praying always seem to end up squeezed into those last few minutes of the day when your brain is exhausted.

In Mosaic Law, the Lord's first command is to love him with all of our heart, soul and strength.[1] Perhaps, at first glance, this seems easy, but what does it demand of us? If you love someone, what do you do? You talk to them, you listen to them, you spend time with them. Do we actually do this?

What did Jesus say? He claimed that we cannot live on bread alone, we need the Word of God.[2] Would you forget to eat? Yet it's so easy to forget to study the Word. And what about 'seek first his kingdom'?[3] One interpretation of this Scripture is to put the highest priority on the kingship of Jesus in our lives. Another is to put the priority on doing God's work. The verse ends with a promise that if we do this, all the things that we need to sustain us will be provided.

We've established the number one priority - time with the Lord. So how do we ensure that we have this? Planning the same time each day, applying self-control, determination and asking for assistance from our father. Use a time and place where you will not be disturbed, with as little distraction as possible, at a time when you'll be awake. The most essential component of this is the will to do it.

Next, we need to spend time working (ie medicine) if this is what we believe we have been called to do. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul exhorts Christians to work as if they were working for the Lord himself.[4]Of course, the amount of work needed varies between people; the point is to do enough, but not to do too much. It is important to remember the Psalmist's words 'unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain'.[5] This is not to say that we should do nothing, but that we should be working on the right things. Jesus only did what his father told him to. We should always ask for his help to achieve our goals.

I think we should space out our study, not leave work until the last week before the exams. This requires planning and organisation. It is sensible to work at the time of day when we are most awake and have the most energy. By fitting in with our bodies we can be more efficient.

The concept of Sabbath is something I think it is important for us to keep. Not in a legalistic sense, but as time set aside by the Lord for us to rest. I feel strongly that we also need time alone, away from people, without anything in particular to do. Time relaxing in front of the TV or reading a good book is needed to keep sanity. Consider Jesus: he stole away to be alone[6] and he sent his disciples away sometimes.[7] As Adrian Plass says, he probably sent all the disciples shopping, before talking to the woman at the well because he wanted a break from them!

Our church, CMF and other Christian groups play an important role in our lives. The 'Christian walk' is not a solo pilgrimage. The church is a body, and just as the body cannot function properly without a tissue or organ,[8] so the individual cell, tissue or organ cannot survive alone. Therefore it is essential that we spend time with other Christians, socialising as well as in 'meetings'. However, these meetings can be numerous and time-consuming so we need to be selective about which we attend. It is quite easy to fall into the syndrome of 'hypermeetingism', where we can get so caught up in continual Christian pursuits, that we have no other activities and we forget that there is a whole world outside. There is not the time to do everything we are asked to, and we should be careful not to make too many commitments. We must be very careful about what we get talked into, we need to be ruled by our own priorities, not other people's.

We should spend time with non-Christians as well as Christians, or we will lose touch with the world we live in. It is important to build friendships and not merely talk to people when we want to evangelise them. In order to be salt and light,[9] we need to take the time to establish relationships for their own sakes. Another consideration in this context is what activities we should be involved in, for not every non-Christian activity is appropriate.

So, in summary, we need to spend time with the Lord; we need to spend the right amount of time working; we need to spend time relaxing; we need to spend time alone; we need to socialise. Between these we need to find a balance, to look after our health physically, emotionally and spiritually.

  1. Dt 6:5
  2. Mt 4:4; Dt 8:3
  3. Mt 6:33
  4. Col 3:23,24
  5. Ps 127:1
  6. Mk 1:35; Lk 5:16, 6:12
  7. Mt 14:22-23
  8. 1 Cor 12:12, 14-26
  9. Mt 5:13-16
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