Busyness is Not Next to Godliness
(A sample chapter from Waking Up Slowly. Hope you enjoy!)
Jesus is coming soon. Look Busy.
~ Bumper Sticker
I was thinking about the sad humor in that bumper sticker when I heard a thump. Then another thump.
It was silent for a few moments so I went back to my writing.
Okay, now I had to investigate. What I found was a beautiful male cardinal flying around one of our windows. He would hover near the window and then peck aggressively at the pane.
He fluttered around some more and then thumped the glass!
The very focused bird stayed busy for several minutes repeating this odd behavior.
Joni and I had admired a pair of cardinals nesting in a tree just over our back fence for several weeks, but this was new. I did some research and found that cardinals are very territorial. This beautiful bird apparently was seeing his own reflection in the window, and he was letting that intruder know he was not welcome!
We are investigating some ways to reduce the reflection so he can go about the business of raising little cardinals and allowing us to enjoy his gorgeous plumage. I worried that he was going to hurt himself defending his family against a nonexistent threat.
How often do we wear ourselves out and even beat our- selves up trying to defend our “territory”? Invariably, our busyness is generated to counter imagined threats or a need to prove our worth.
We are often button-bustin’ proud of how busy we are! Somehow being busy has become an indication of significance and value. If you are not busy, you are not worthy.
A New York Times op-ed by Tim Kreider offered this thought-provoking analysis: “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”1 Busyness as a hedge against emptiness. That is a brilliant synopsis of our need to appear busy and feel needed. Kreider concluded that “it’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we collectively force one another to do.”
All of us are adding to that pressure every day. Christians are just as caught up in busyness.
The Christian Post reports that in data collected from more than 20,000 Christians in 139 countries (though mostly in America) and between the ages of 15 and 88, “more than 4 in 10 Christians around the world say they ‘often’ or ‘always’ rush from task to task. About 6 in 10 Christians say that it’s ‘often’ or ‘always’ true that ‘the busyness of life gets in the way of developing my relationship with God.’”
The survey also found that “by profession, pastors were most likely to say they rush from task to task (54 percent), which adversely affects their relationship with God (65 percent).”
What a tragedy that the pastoral shepherds we hope will show us the way are also caught in scheduling pressure. I don’t mean to throw pastors under the bus. The church community puts such unrealistic expectations on pastors to be available 24-7, visit every sick person, spend forty hours on a kick-donkey sermon, and have a perfectly adjusted family. Just typing those expectations made me tired.
Letting my busyness get in the way of my relationship with God shows how out of balance I have let my schedule become. Nowhere in Scripture will I find this command.
Be busy, and know that I am God.
My busyness does not please God. My faith pleases Him. And I can’t have faith and trust in someone I am too busy to know. Day in and day out, I need to heed this truth:
Be still, and know that I am God.
Solomon wrote about the wisdom of knowing when to let up.
Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit.
I have a remarkable role model for how to balance busyness and priorities. Jesus never allowed the tyranny of the urgent to supersede the ultimately more important reward of relationships. He didn’t feel the need to drive Himself to exhaustion to teach and preach.
Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house.
It is instructive that Jesus withdrew from the crowd (and the obligation I likely would have felt) to spend time with His disciples. The most important thing for Jesus was to pre- pare His disciples and not to “friend” several hundred people on an ancient FaceScroll. Clearly, it was valuable for Jesus to be teaching the crowds. But His relationship to His ministry “family” trumped the public gathering priority.
Jesus gave another example of schedule priorities:
Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and head across the lake to Bethsaida, while he sent the people home. After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.
Jesus understood that He must say no to people who really wanted His attention in order to spend time doing what mattered most. This passage follows Jesus’ miraculous feeding of five thousand people. If I had performed such a feat, I would have hung around for hours to soak up the praise and accolades, sign a few autographs, and take some selfies. But Jesus knew what He needed in that moment— time with His Father.
I need to know when to say no. Busyness does not define my worth. Being a schedule martyr does not make me more righteous. Overscheduling keeps me from spending time with the One who gives His righteousness to me.
Why does that happen time and time again to followers of Jesus? My personal belief is that one of the biggest and most damaging mistakes that the church makes with new believers is not teaching clearly and continually what happens when you put your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It seems that we too often get young Christians immediately into studies and activities, suggesting that change can hap- pen only when you are trying hard and concentrating on the spiritual disciplines.
That was my struggle for forty years before I realized a simple truth. Dramatic change took place the moment I made that faith commitment to follow Jesus. Scripture tells me that when I decided to become a follower of Christ, the following things happened immediately:
I was given a new identity.
I became a new creation.
I received the gift of the righteousness of Christ.
I struggle with that concept because I am not always righteous in my behavior. That may well be the biggest under- statement in this volume. Here is the amazing theology of the gospel: God sees me as righteous and worthy because of my relationship with Jesus. Nothing I have done or ever will do could earn that righteousness. It is a gift of grace because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross.
I was changed completely when I put my trust in Christ as my only hope for salvation. I did not have to struggle with futile performance to change. I was changed that day. But it has taken me forty years to know Him better, never realizing I had been carrying around the key to that kind of relation- ship since day one.
Now I see a different picture. I see Jesus standing at my side and explaining that I am completely changed. I see Him telling me that my sins are forgiven and I can quit relitigating past mistakes. I see Him explaining to me that all of those things that used to be true about me are no longer true. I see Him repeating that, because I tend to nod my head without really believing it. Jesus explains to me that no matter what the accuser might say, those things that used to define me are dead and buried at the Cross. I see Jesus telling me that I have the Holy Spirit to comfort me and provide an unshakable source of strength.
He reminds me gently that I don’t have to grit my teeth and try harder to win favor and please Him. He tells me for the ten thousandth time that sin does not have power over me anymore. And I see His demeanor being just as patient and kind as the first time He told me that truth. I hear Him remind me that power over sin is looking to Him for my strength and not trying to fight it with my busyness and resolve.
I see Jesus looking deeply into my eyes and tenderly expressing (again) that it is my trust in God that pleases Him. No other works are required. My faith is what pleases Him according to God’s Word. Nothing else. I picture Jesus embracing me and saying, “Relax. Rest. Let Me love you and then, out of that rest and love, you can love others. Quit making it so complicated, Dave.”
I have a hard time putting my full weight on those truths.
But I have learned that we can disabuse ourselves today of the notion that busyness is somehow related to godliness. I suggest a spring (or summer/fall/winter) cleaning of the calendar. Allow yourself time to spend with the most important people in your life. Schedule time with Jesus. Don’t allow guilt to monopolize every waking moment. Carve out time for friends, family, and yourself.
If Jesus could leave disappointed throngs behind for what was important, we should withdraw for recharging and time with God too. Write down where, when, and how you are going to find some time to relax with friends, family, and God. Be still, and know that God loves you and desires you. Your actions will naturally emerge from that loving relationship with Him. You don’t have to earn that love. It is yours.
Be still, and know that I am God.
A DOSE OF GRACE
Clean up your calendar by paring down your busyness. Limit or even eliminate activities, and create more time to be still with God and present with yourself and loved ones. What do you think can be readjusted to free up time for what’s most important?
Taken from Waking Up Slowly by Dave Burchett copyright © 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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