This post is adapted from material in my book, The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness. The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness is available in the US from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.
I want to look at some reasons why we may be too busy. And they all symptoms of a lack of faith in the God. They all turn out to revolve around what we believe about God – not confessional faith (what we say in the creeds), but functional faith (the faith that actually shapes our lives). We are too busy because we do not believe the truth about God – not really, not in a way that shapes our lives.
I am busy because I need to get things right – God alone is my glory
There is a common rule of thumb that we get 80 per cent of our results from 20 per cent of our effort. My advice is: apply this rule rigorously to your life by settling for that 80 per cent you get in the first 20 per cent of your time.
The point is that we are finite. We have limited capacities. We can’t do everything at 100 per cent. We have to say No to perfectionism.
The problem is that we are proud. We want people to be impressed – as impressed as we can possible make them. We don’t settle for 80 per cent because we want to demonstrate how great we are. The truth is this: perfectionism is a sin.
The truth that counters this that God is my glory. What matters is his glory – not mine. ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ (Galatians 6:14)
I am busy because other people need me – God alone is the Lord
We respond to problems by doing more. We think we can solve every problem. We cannot. Nor can we solve every problem that we can solve. We assume any need implies a responsibility on us to meet it. People tell us we have a responsibility to all sorts of causes. Something ought to be done, we say. But we are human. We are not God. We are limited. We are not indispensable. We are often in danger of over-esteeming ourselves. We think we matter more than we really do.
There are more needs in this world than we can meet. That means that needs that we could do something about if we had time will go unmet. But God has not lost control. He is sovereign. If you are over-busy because of other people’s needs then you are saying: ‘God can’t achieve his purposes without me.’
I am busy because of other people’s expectations – God alone is my Master
Another reason we are often busy is that we are worried about what other people will think. We crave their approval or we fear their rejection. What does the Bible call that? ‘The fear of man.’
There are a lot of things that we do, not because we consider them before God to be priorities, but because other people want us to do them. Think about those situations when you want to ‘no’, but you don’t. It’s the fear of man.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should be indifferent to what other people want or that other people don’t matter. We should serve them in love. But we shouldn’t make them our master – God is our master. That means taking other people’s desires seriously, but not being governed by them.
In fact when you crave the approval of other people or fear their rejection, you are not serving them in love. You are serving yourself. What governs the way you behave in that relationship is what that relationship gives you – maybe approval, maybe the absence of disapproval. You are not free to serve them in love.
What is the solution to the fear of man? It’s the fear of God. It is to re-orient our hearts to the majesty, glory, holiness, power, grace, wisdom and splendour of God. So that we reach the point: when people are disappointed in us we can say to God: ‘I’m sorry they are disappointed, but it doesn’t matter because I have done what you expect me to do.’
I am busy because I need to prove myself – God alone is my Saviour
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.
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.
People sometimes 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.
The information revolution offers greater potential for ‘self-actualisation’ through work. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (1998) says: ‘Work that is rich in gratifying experience, work as self-fulfilment, work as the meaning of life, work as the core or the axis of everything that counts, as the source of pride, self-esteem, honour and deference or notoriety, in short as vocation has become the privilege of the few, a distinctive mark of the elite, a way of life the rest may watch in awe, admire and contemplate at a distance.’ In other words, work has become a god. Reread the quote replacing the word ‘work’ with ‘God’: ‘… God is the meaning of life, God is the core or the axis of everything that counts, the source of pride …’ The elite find salvation (meaning, fulfilment and honour) through ‘rewarding’ jobs. The rest work all the harder to achieve this secular salvation.
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.
But we Christians are not immune from this. We too are often busy because we want to prove ourselves. 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.
1. I am busy because I need to earn or save enough money – God alone is my joy
2. I am busy because otherwise things get out of control – God alone is my provider
3. I am busy because I need to get things right – God alone is my glory
4. I am busy because other people need me – God alone is the Lord
5. I am busy because of other people’s expectations – God alone is my Master
6. I am busy because I need to prove myself – God alone is my Saviour
- Which of these causes you to be too busy?
- What is the remedy?
My heart is not proud, O LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quietened my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and for evermore. (Psalm 131)
Is your soul still and quiet? Or is it frenzied and noisy? The answer is to put your hope in the LORD.
I don’t what you expected from me today. Maybe you were hoping for some secret that would unlock an extra hour each day. And all I’ve told you to do is hope in God! Not very useful!
What would be a practical talk on busyness? Some kind of time management advice? Let me tell you time management advice is not practical. It doesn’t really work. It’s not practical because poor time management is not the cause of our busyness. Jesus did not have a smart phone or a clever app or synced calendar. Yet he could say to his Father: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4)
What makes us too busy is our failure to believe the truth about God. How that works out will vary. Some will want to be in control; some will be worried about other people’s opinion; some will try to prove themselves; for other it will be different things altogether. But at the root it will always have to do with our faith in God. And it is faith in God that will set us free to serve other, to glorify God and to enjoy his rest.