rebelling against low expectations

The Preciousness of Time


Our last post focused on the distinction between busyness and fruitfulness — drawing on the writings of C.J. Mahaney. Today we’d like to expand on the topic of time-management — this time drawing on the writings of Jonathan Edwards. In an essay written in 1734, Edwards lays out four reasons to value our time, identifies three ways we can waste our time, shares four reasons for improving our time, and closes with three practical suggestions for doing so. Our good friend and blogger, Justin Taylor, provides the following helpful summary:

In the first section Edwards explains why time is precious, and he offers four reasons. Time is precious because (1) a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it; (2) time is very short; (3) we are uncertain of its continuance; (4) when it is past, it cannot be recovered.

In the second section Edwards offers some reflections—with a serious of rhetorical question—regarding time past.

In the third section Edwards asks who chiefly deserves to be reproved on this subject of the preciousness of time, and in particular he identifies those who spend their time in (1) idleness; (2) wickedness; and (3) worldly pursuits while neglecting their soul.

In the fourth section Edwards exhorts us to improve time by considering the following four things: (1) that you are accountable to God for your time; (2) consider how much time you have lost already; (3) consider how time is sometimes valued by those who come near to the end of it; (4) consider what value is set upon time by those who are past the end of it.

In the fifth and final section Edwards gives three pieces of advice to those seeking to improve their use of time: (1) improve the present time without any delay; (2) be especially careful to improve those parts of time which are most precious; (3) improve well your time of leisure from worldly business.

Read “The Preciousness of Time” by Jonathan Edwards

NOTE: This essay won’t be the easiest thing you’ve ever read, but push yourself to understand it. Start with a quick read-through. If you get stuck, keep moving. Then, read through again more slowly. Use your dictionary.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Wow! That is a difficult read! I’m going to print it and take it to my room to read it even slower. Thanks for it, though! 🙂

  • Good essay — thanks for posting it! It reminded me of what J.C. Ryle wrote about time in ‘Thoughts for Young Men’: “Hell itself is truth known too late.” I love challenging and thoroughly convicting writings like Edwards’. More! 😀 And I love the language — writings from that era rock. I totally, totally need to use ‘peradventure’ in my writings and when I talk. And next time people act lame and I take offense I shall exclaim, “How sottish are they!” 🙂 Actually, though — one of the things I most struggle with is how to love most with the time I am given. I can get focused on getting things done or being productive or on projects for a cause and can overlook opportunities to serve in little ways, love hurting people, and truly be like Jesus in my daily walk. I’m so busy and am focused because of the cause God has set on my heart and all it involves that that is probably my current hard thing regarding time — putting all the love I can into it. I get a narrow focus on accomplishments and the temporal, rather than keeping my eyes open to people and the eternal. Jesus had such limited time of ministry on this earth, and yet look at all the time He took for individual, broken people. That’s amazing — and inspiring to me. 🙂

    Anyway, these were some of my favorite quotes:

    “Gold and silver are esteemed precious by men; but they are of no worth to any man, only as thereby he has an opportunity of avoiding or removing some evil, or of possessing himself of some good. And the greater the evil is which any man hath advantage to escape, or the good which he hath advantage to obtain, by anything that he possesses, by so much the greater is the value of that thing to him, whatever it be.”

    “If men were as lavish of their money as they are of their time, if it were as common a thing for them to throw away their money, as it is for them to throw away their time, we should think them beside themselves, and not in the possession of their right minds. Yet time is a thousand times more precious than money; and when it is gone, cannot be purchased for money, cannot be redeemed by silver or gold.”

    And from the third point in Section 3:

    “They that improve time only for their benefit in time, lose it; because time was not given for itself, but for that everlasting duration which succeeds it.”

  • This is a great reminder… sometimes it’s hard to remember how precious time is becuase I foolishly think I have plenty of it. But I have begun to realize that becuase I am God’s child, my time is not my own to waste… it belongs to God. And remember, sleeping in is great… but don’t let your summer go by without ever watching the sunrise.

  • I thought that this would be hard for me to understand (as most things are unfortunately.) but I have to admit, it wasn’t.
    Probably because this topic has been on my mind for a while now.
    When people (including myself) spend too much time idly, like watching TV or playing video games or basically doing anything with a pointless meaning, then they are wasting away time that they will NEVER get back again.
    Then there are the many people (also including myself) who are constantly saying “I’m bored!”
    We have so much to do now, so much to see yet everyone is still always bored, what’s with that?!
    I bet if we spent every minute we spent being bored each day, doing something productive with our time, we’d accomplish a lot!
    For example, if we read just small parts of the Bible each time we got bored, I et you we could have the whole Bible read, from cover to cover, in about a week or two.
    Just imagine how much closer we’d be to God and how much more knowledge we’d have!
    We could have the entire Bible read over a dozen times a year!
    Seriously, that’s how often people are bored today and I think it’s sad.
    God has given us so much in our life, beautiful wildlife, nature, pets, family and much more, yet we find ourselves bored WAY too often!
    I should almost challenge myself an anyone else who wants, each time you get bored, read one part of the Bible, then see how fast you get the whole Bible read.
    You’ll probably be surprised how fast you get through it!


  • What an important point: to consider the preciousness of time. It is so easy for me to look at time and think that I have plenty of it left and forget it’s preciousness and forget that I don’t necessesarily have plenty of it left. I also like his point that youth should not be a cause to waste time because there is so much left but instead to consider it even more precious because the young are the most able to be productive with their time. This really specifically backs up the “myth of adolescence” idea that is so central to the Rebelution.

    That being said I do have one rather large problem with the article. Time and again Edwards states that “eternity depends on it [the improvement of time]” or makes similar statements. The message that comes across to me from these statements is that salvation can be earned by the correct use of time. Granted, good use of time should follow from salvation, but Edwards seems to imply that good use of time leads to salvation and not the other way around. I agree that we will have to give an account and that there are rewards in heaven for a productive life on earth, but the bottom line is that getting to heaven does not DEPEND on the good use of time but rather on the blood of Jesus. I cannot imagine that Edwards would be contradicting such a fundamental and necessary part of Christianity so there must be a way to explain his statements. I would love it if someone would enlighten me because I don’t see how to explain the works-salvation implications of the essay.

    Anyway time IS precious and I will strive to better improve mine.

    In Christ,

  • This essay spoke volumes to me, not just because of it’s general importance, but because I have been neglecting to put my time to good use of late. My current mindset has been something like “Hey, it’s summer. I’m young and have all the time in the world – why not goof off.” Edward’s message of accountability is, now that I think about it, something that God has been whispering to me for the past month or so, but I’ve been carefully ignoring.

    One question I have: Which is worse, to wast time in idleness or to wast time in pursuits that do not further the Kingdom? Personally, I would say idleness; but then again, if what you are doing does not bring glory to God, what’s the point?

    In Christ,


  • Phillip,

    I think what Edward might be saying is that how we will spend eternity, but not where we will spend eternity, depends upon the way we use the time allotted us.

    In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Paul says, “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

    Edwards is saying is that the rewards we receive when we reach heaven are dependent upon how we spend our time on earth.

    At least that’s what I think he meant, and I could be completely off.

    I hope that helps,


  • Thank you for posting this sermon by Jonathan Edwards. It is a very good call for the preciousness of time that has definitely made me consider some things. I have definitely been wasting a lot of time this summer.

  • This makes Packer’s essays look like kindergarten stories! Just kidding, they’re all in Christ and so dope in edifiying the Christian soul. I look forward to listen to what God has to say through Edwards in this message. Thanks fam!

  • That is an amazing essay! It’s really spoken to me, as I am struggling with using my time well, this summer. I hope that I will be able to improve my time and that God will help me to use it well for Him. Thank you so much for posting it.

  • Wow, I believe that Edwards was very passionate about time. And I’m so glad that we still have his essay. The Lord used it to encourage me to make sure that, especially this summer, I’m using my the time the best way (not just a good way).

  • This is such a good reminder that time is God’s gift to us! Thank you for posting this essay.
    “Let not the precious days and years of youth slip away without improvement…improve your time while you have it!”

  • What a highly convicting message! When Edwards starts out with the preciousness of time, that in and of itself, is thought-provoking, let alone when he links it back to the accountability that we owe to Christ for our time. It’s easy to forget that we are stewards of time. William Wilberforce’s lament for his wasted years of youth seem to be one thing that Edwards was driving at. I also find the comments on changing NOW convicting. Talk about doing a hard thing!
    However, I’m curious: where does leisure time come into play in all of this? Yes, we were created to work; yes, we must redeem the time; yes, God desires our absolute best in our tasks and time; but what about free time? Knowing something of Edwards’ history, it seems like he was, to an extant, opposed to free time. Help?!

  • Joseph, this is a topic that I have thought about a lot recently. I’m assuming its the stuff that isn’t necessarily good or bad but is fun that you’re talking about. I think that time spent doing something relaxing is fine, but it just needs to be limited. It’s important to make sure that something important is not being neglected. Also, during free time you should actually do something that you want to do rather than just randomly searching TV channels or something like that. The important thing is to still be able to glorify God even if the activity isn’t patently “righteous”. I Timothy 6:17-19 can apply here. Paul is essentially saying that God does provide things to enjoy, but that enjoyment is secondary to good works and service. Obviously, I don’t always abide by the above principles or claim to have this topic all figured out, but that’s my view on it. I hope that helps.


  • I have been struggling to use my time wisely lately. With a part time job, and getting ready to leave for two weeks, important things have been neglected. I need to get my priorities straight. Thanks for this eye-opener!

  • Phillip,
    Thanks very much! That was exactly what I was curious about. I (momentarily!) forgot that everything is to be done for God’s glory-including relaxation. Just as added imput, I think Ecclesiastes might work well here, also. Especially Ecc. 12: 13-14.
    Thanks again!

  • If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version is available too.

  • Awesome, it struck a cord. It is true though. I bet I spend a ton of time sitten doin’ nothin’. Found a good resource. “A life God rewards for teens” by Bruce Wilkinson is an incredible book/CD that is not a waste.

  • I saved this last week to read after you first posted it. Forgot about it for a few days. I had even forgotten what it was about. I got around to reading it Thursday morning. I thought, “Oh. Cool.” My boyfriend/best friend and I had just talked about the preciousness of time and that when we’re being lazy or wasting our time doing things that don’t really matter (like me watching sports on tv ALOT) we’re not really glorifying God. Then that afternoon my sister called me and told me that a friend of mine had a gun accident and didn’t make it. He was only 14. He was so full of life – so happy, carefree, and just in the moment (in a good way). One thing everyone has talked about is his smile. He was one of those people who, it didn’t matter what kind of day you were having, he could instantly light up a room and make you smile. Just with a smile.
    My devo that morning had been about sorrow and how God doesn’t take us out of sorrow usually but brings us through it. I would never normally connect sorrow with the preciousness of time, but I have in the last few days.
    As we remembered him and said goodbye to his body yesterday at his funeral, I thought more and more about the preciousness of time. Our time on earth is short. Sometimes shorter than we would ever expect. We should always cherish every moment and glorify God in everything. Once a moment is wasted, that’s it – it’s gone. Wyatt was an example of living every moment to the fullest. I can’t wait to see his infectious smile again. But while I’m still here, I pray I cherish every moment and use every bit of time God gives me to glorify Him that He may use me and touch others through me like He used Wyatt.

  • Hayley, Thank you so much for your post. My best friends Grandpa went without any warning, and after my dad (an emergancy room doc.) and several others couldn’t save him, I regretted that I didn’t get to know him better. Several of my close friends have lost family who were also close to me. It just reminds of how God has gifted us with life, and he can take away that gift whenever he chooses. LIVE LIKE NO TOMORROW!!

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rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →