It was late afternoon. I was still at my computer, supposedly editing an article our website needed soon. My son was noisily racing his toy cars across the living room floor—an audible reminder that I hadn’t had time to play with him that afternoon. I also still needed to plan and cook dinner at some point before my husband and sister came home from work.
But instead of carefully weighing words and punctuation, or attending to any of the other items on my growing “to-do” list, I was checking out what my friends had recently read on a book-centered social media platform.
That’s when a notification lit up, informing me that I had read a total of 19 books in the last year.
As a self-identified major bookworm, I stared at the number in disbelief. Even during slow years, I could easily read twice that number of books. Why so few books in 2019?
For the next week or two, I turned this question over in my mind. I also started paying attention to how I was spending my time. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my work was taking far longer than it should, mostly because I was constantly taking “breaks” to scroll social media or news sites instead of focusing on the work at hand. These breaks often took much longer than planned, and tended to zap my motivation rather than build it up.
In response to this newfound realization, I decided to free up a morning, splurge on some overpriced coffee at a local shop, and brainstorm how best to salvage my time in the future. I felt pretty pleased with the actionable steps I came up with. To remind myself of these actionable steps, I summarized them onto a post-it note that I stuck on my computer.
Though it worked well for the first day, within a week I found myself battling old habits again. I would forget to set timers for myself or spend my breaks away from the computer. I got distracted and followed Internet rabbit trails when I was supposed to be doing research for work. A few days went better than the rest, but even on the better days, I could not say that my time had been well accounted for.
No matter how hard I tried, it seemed like I was still a slave to distractions. And all my reflection and practical steps made only the slightest difference.
This continued until I came across Psalm 51 one day while reading the Bible. This was David’s psalm of repentance after committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11-12). One line particularly stood out to me:
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)
What struck me was that David didn’t focus on fixing the problem of his sin himself. He didn’t make promises to do better in the future. He turned to God and God’s mercy, and asked God to change his heart.
In battling my lack of time management, I had written out realistic goals and actions—trusting my own willpower to make the change and get things done. But none of it worked! I had forgotten what David knew so well—not only is God able to forgive, but He is able to create in us a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within us.
That afternoon, I placed a new post-it on my computer. Instead of practical steps I thought up myself, I simply copied out Psalm 51:10, and made it my own personal prayer. When I sat down to work, when I took breaks, and even when I caught myself following rabbit trails on the Internet, I found myself looking down at the post-it and praying, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
You know what? That afternoon of work was phenomenal. I was able to focus like I had rarely done in the past year. And not only did I do my work quickly, but I did it well. I even had time to do an extra load of laundry, tidy-up better than usual, and bring my son to the playground downstairs—all before cooking a lovely dinner for my family.
It has been two weeks since then. There are occasional days where I focus less than I should, and work takes longer than ideal. Sometimes dinner is a little later than planned. But overall, I have more time and the work that I do is of better quality.
The thing is, I had tried to manage my time better by my own strength, and I failed. When I realized I could not do this on my own, I asked God to intervene. I prayed that He would change my heart so that I would not be so easily distracted, and could focus well on my work. I asked God to enable me to do what had been impossible for me to achieve by myself.
And God graciously answered my prayer. By His grace alone, I have been enabled to work well and give a good account for my time.
This experience was a fresh reminder that God is able to change hearts. He created a pure heart for David. He has renewed my heart in the past, and did so again in a miraculous way these past two weeks. And I know God will continuing renewing my heart in the future, helping me overcome my sins and my faults when I cannot, so that one day, I will be presented before Him without fault and with great joy (Jude 24).
Is there anything you struggle with in your life? Anything that even the best intentions have not been able to overcome? Ask God to give you a new heart.
Change might not come overnight. Some of my own prayers have taken years for God to begin answering. But even in the waiting, we can ask God to help us trust Him and lean on His strength. Even when we stumble and fall again, we know that God is continually molding and sanctifying us. And we continue praying, continue trusting that He will renew us day by day. God is in the business of changing hearts. He desires to give us a new heart and renew our spirit; all we have to do is ask.