Justification and Busyness

Perhaps the biggest reason why people are too busy is that they are trying to prove themselves. Busyness has become a mark of honour in our culture.

Think about how we use the word ‘busy’. Take an expression like ‘I’m a very busy man.’ what does it mean? It doesn’t mean: ‘My life’s out of control.’ It means ‘I’m a very important person – you should show me some respect.’ And technology is the badge we wear our busyness on. We have our mobiles phones and laptops so that people know we are busy, we are important, we are indispensable, people need us, we matter.

It didn’t used to be like this. The Greeks and Romans despised work. Work was for slaves. The cultured classes were the leisured classes. and in the medieval church the really spiritual people were the contemplatives who didn’t work. Work was for lay monks. Or work humbled you – but it only humbled you because it was undignified.

What changed all this was the Reformation. In the Reformation worldview, you glorified God and served other people through your work. And so people blame our over-work culture on the Protestant work ethic. But in Reformation thought you work for the glory of God. And you also rest for the glory of God. You find your identity in knowing and serving God. The problem is the secularisation of the Protestant work ethic. Secularism takes out the God-bit. Now work has become an end in itself. People find identity and fulfilment through work itself. And so no wonder we work so hard – it is our salvation; it is what will give us meaning and identity. No wonder we are busy, busy, busy.

And into this frenzy Jesus says: ‘Come to me … and find rest.’ We have good news for our busy culture. Proving yourself is just another term for justifying yourself. And we have good news of justification by grace.

Gospel ministers are not immune from this. We too are often busy because we want to prove ourselves – to God, to other people, to ourselves. We are busy because we don’t believe in the grace of God. We can preach justification by grace, for example. But all the time we are practicing justification by preaching, seeking identify in the success of our sermons.

At the first ever management course I went on, they told us: ‘If you tell people you are busy what they will hear is “I don’t have time for you.”’ And it’s true in church life. If you tell people you are busy, they won’t come to you with their problems.

So what do you tell people you’re busy? What are you trying to communicate? ‘I’m doing a good job, I’m worth my pay, I’m important, I matter, you should admire me, you should value me.’

I have a friend who used to be a senior management in a well known Christian organisation. He used to see the time sheets that the workers produced. He told me that they varied hugely. Some people were working twice as much as others. But, he said, the over-workers were the most insecure people in the organisation. They were busy because they were trying to prove themselves.

If you are busy trying to prove yourself then you will always be busy. You will never get the job done – because you can’t prove yourself. You will be like a dog chasing its tail.

Jesus cried on the cross: ‘It is finished’. The job is done. The task is complete. There is full atonement. There is nothing left for you to do. Here’s what you need to do about your busyness: nothing; everything has already been done.

This post is adapted form Tim Chester, The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness, IVP which is available from Amazon.com and ThinkIVP.

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