Several years ago i surprised my family by taking them to "Disney on Ice."

When I bought the tickets, the salesperson warned, "We offer no refunds."

"OK," I replied as I scribbled the time on my calendar.

As the date approached, I watched my daughters' excitement reach a fever pitch. Not even my wife knew what "Daddy's surprise" held. As it turned out, neither did I. As we approached the coliseum on the big day, my eyes widened in horror.

I beheld families exiting the show! I thought the time I'd written reflected when to leave home for the show, but it meant when the show started.

My mind immediately reflected back to the salesperson's ominous words. "No refunds." After I recovered, I thought about how we can miss the very blessings we long to enjoy if we seek them too late. Standing at the end of opportunity breeds a disappointment heightened only by the fact that we cannot return and do it again. When opportunity passes, we receive no refunds.

God's Word helps us anticipate the opportunities He provides instead of recognizing them with regret in hindsight. The apostle Paul wrote: "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is" (Eph. 5:15–17).

Paul commanded us to give careful attention to how we live, particularly in using our time wisely. Living in God's will requires "making the most of every opportunity," or literally, "redeeming the time." In Paul's day the term "redeem" was often used of a purchase made in the market. And Paul's wording reflects a continual effort. In short we should make the most of our time all the time.

As a ten-year-old kid I thought high school held it all. If I could just get there I would find satisfaction. But in high school I discovered yet another hope—college. After college, as a single man, I longed for marriage. This pattern, which I found in myself, I also see in others. Singles long for marriage, couples yearn for kids, parents hanker for the empty nest, and the middle-aged dream of retirement. Finally at retirement we ache for all the opportunities we missed when we longed for tomorrow. In each stage of life we tend to pine for the blessings of other stages, both future and past, and we miss the opportunities of today.

Paul's use of the word "time" refers not to a lifetime but to a "season" of life. The New International Version translates it well as "opportunity." In whatever stage you are now, this principle applies, for the opportunities of each stage also reflect its obligations.

A single person has the unequaled opportunity of giving undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:34–35). He or she can serve God in ways and places no married person can. What possibilities this offers! I know a man who eagerly traveled on many mission trips to serve the Lord as a single. But now as a family man, he must work in a more local capacity.

A husband and wife enjoy the opportunity to follow God as a team, both in ministry and in their home. A father redeems his time by teaching his children God's Word in the daily opportunities God provides (Deut. 6:7; Eph. 6:4). A young mother makes the most of her opportunity both by loving her husband and children and by spending time with an older woman who teaches her how to do so (Titus 2:3–5). True, parents should make disciples in their church, but their opportunity as parents also demands priority in that stage of life. Their children represent their most important disciples.

And when the kids leave home, then begins that critical season when one can invest in the lives of other young men and women, mentoring them from distilled wisdom gleaned from both success and failure. This marvelous obligation never ends; it continues to the grave.

Not only did Paul tell us how to walk wisely (by redeeming the time), but he also told us why we should do so: "because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16). The word for "evil" means an active evil. In the previous context Paul described the evil of those who live for the pleasure of the moment. In contrast to their use of time Paul commanded: "Do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is" (v. 17). God wills that we redeem the time.

When my family and I missed the surprise I intended for them, I felt sick with disappointment. I thought we had plenty of time to make it there before the show; but as it turned out, we left home at show time and arrived as it ended.

Compare my finite regret with that of the infinite. Consider the disappointment of time lost in the stages of life. When time with your children passes, it never returns. Once the chance lapses to serve God as a single, it may not come again. Perhaps you must admit to some wasted years. I know I can. But we can begin to walk wisely. There's no present like the time. God gives time as a gift—a gift we should use to the fullest. He gives no refunds.

Moses prayed, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90:12). Solomon wrote, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven….  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom" (Eccles. 3:1; 9:10).

In what season and activity do you find yourself now? A mother of young children? A single? An empty nester? Redeem the time! Do it with all your might! Number your days, for God prepared in advance good works for you to do today.

Wayne Stiles (ThM, 1997) is senior pastor of Denton Community Church in Denton, Texas.