Dr Peter Saunders

Managing time – lessons from the grand master

Dr Peter Saunders was, until December 2018, the Chief Executive of CMF. Prior to that he was a general surgeon in New Zealand, Kenya and the UK. He is now the CEO of the International Christian Medical and Dental Association (ICMDA), a global movement uniting national Christian medical and dental organisations in over 60 countries,
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

Do you wake up in the morning and ask the Lord: ‘What is it that you have prepared in advance for me to do today?’Or, like me, do you often wonder how you will complete all the tasks that lie before you?

Competing time demands are an inevitable part of life, and to some extent, the more seriously we take our Christian responsibilities, the more we will face them. Jesus grappled with competing time demands but was the master in time management. He uniquely maintained a balance between worship, prayer, family, friends, work and rest. To do this he maintained an intimate relationship with God and had a clear view of his life task. Here are just four key pointers from the Great Physician.

Jesus guarded his devotional life

Jesus spent time in prayer, especially during periods of intense activity. He prayed regularly and especially before each important decision. And he withdrew from his ministry to pray after periods of exhausting ministry. In Luke 5:15-16, a good prescription for busy doctors, we read that ‘…crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed’. The more he worked the more he prayed. He was ‘too busy not to pray’. I wonder if God often creates the delays and stoppages in our busy lives; the red lights, and traffic jams, the queues and holdups so that we might have the opportunity to pray more.

Similarly he was immersed in the Word of God – so much so that when the devil challenged him in the wilderness he could answer with three quotes from the book of Deuteronomy; a book that many of us could not easily find, let alone are familiar with. Do we regularly feed on God’s Word? Do we make it one of our first priorities? Jesus did.

Jesus made time for people

In the midst of Jesus’ busy ministry he did not let the urgent crowd out the important. As a surgeon I find the story of the woman with the haemorrhage very challenging. Jesus is on the way to see someone who is critically ill with an acute infection, and is stopped by a woman with chronic long-standing menorrhagia (Luke 8:40-56). She gets his full attention, and then as if to vindicate his decision God enables him to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead! In our lives as doctors we need to be ready to pause with certain individuals that God brings across our path. The gospel encounters are made up of a string of accounts of individuals who Jesus paused with. He did not pause with everyone; he healed only one man at the pool of Siloam, he spoke only to one Samaritan at the well, only one rich young ruler, only one tax collector – but he did make time for individuals.

Jesus equipped others

Jesus did not feel that he had to meet all the need himself. His strategy was rather to devote time to equipping others. This way the work carried on after he had returned to the Father. The effectiveness of a ministry is not measured by what is achieved but by what carries on after the key person leaves. Jesus spent a hugely disproportionate amount of time with those who would carry on his work.We too should always be asking how we can multiply the work God has given us by involving others. If we are given a choice between doing something ourselves or teaching someone else to do it, we should go for the latter. Jesus’ response to seeing the harvest fields ripe for harvest was not to encourage the disciples to work all the more hard to bring it in. Rather he encouraged them to pray that God would raise up more workers (Matthew 9:37-38).

Jesus recognised the need for rest

Jesus was not legalistic about the Sabbath but rather recognised its true purpose. He realised that it was important to withdraw and rest, even in the face of pressing need. Burnout is a major problem for Christian doctors because we are motivated by a strong sense of responsibility and are aware of the vast amount of unmet need. But we need to timetable time for relaxation and recuperation. How we spend it will depend on our own personality and makeup.We may be alone or with others, doing a vigorous activity or a sedentary one – the important thing is that we take time out altogether from work and ministry at regular intervals.

The story is told of two men who chopped wood. One stopped for regular rests every hour while the other just kept chopping all day long. At the end of the day the one who rested had a far larger pile of chopped wood. The other was surprised until he learned that while resting, the other had been also sharpening his axe. Recognizing the need for rest is like sharpening the axe.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)

Posted by Dr Peter Saunders
CMF Chief Executive



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