The Glory of the Story Sample: Day 107 – Jacob gets Isaac’s blessing

Reading: Genesis 26:34-28:9

Here is another extracts from The Glory of the Story, my father’s devotional introduction to biblical theology in the form of 366 daily readings which show how the Old Testament story is fulfilled in Christ. The Glory of the Story is available as a Kindle book for $2.99 from amazon.com and £1.99 from amazon.co.uk. I’m posting extracts from the chaper on the story of Jacob, usually on the first Monday of the month.

This is a gripping story – high in drama, but low in morality. When the tension subsides it is clear that all four characters are flawed.

Isaac shows favouritism to Esau, but gives him no guidance concerning marriage. In preparing to bless Esau he is openly ignoring God’s birth-oracle (25:23).

Esau shows a total disregard for the covenant promises by marrying outside the covenant community (26:34-35).

Rebekah, like Sarah before her, could not wait for God to fulfil his word and resorts to guile to make sure of her own way.

Jacob eventually goes along with his mother’s deceitful scheme and lies to his father.

As a result of their sin and folly all are adversely affected.

Isaac is left with an embittered son and numerous Canaanite daughters-in-law (28:6-9).

Esau and his descendants Edom are given the freedom of the profane – to live unblessed and untamed (27:39-40).

Rebekah never sees her beloved Jacob again or her grandchildren by him.

Jacob gets a life-long dose of his own medicine. First he is deceived on his wedding night when his uncle Laban substitutes Leah for Rachel (Gen. 29:21-30). Then, like his mother, he spends his later years mourning a favoured child (Joseph) taken from him by the deception of his own sons (Gen. 37:31-35).

But the central figure in the story is God himself, and the greatest drama is the interplay of the divine and human wills. Significantly, no comment is made on the morality of the characters. All are in the wrong, but God’s purpose comes to pass in spite of what everyone does either to sabotage or help it.
Isaac’s word concerning Jacob ‘indeed he will be blessed!’ (27:33), expresses more than a mere belief that God’s word must come to pass. He knows that he has been fighting against God and accepts defeat, a recognition confirmed in his later blessing of Jacob (28:3-4; cf. Num. 23:19-20). Just as the blessing of Abraham came to Isaac, so it must come to Jacob. Such is the mystery of God’s dealings with humanity that, while people freely do their own thing, he sovereignly works out his own purpose.

Closing thought
The interplay of God’s will and human sin is vividly seen in the story of Joseph (Gen. 50:20), but supremely in the cross of Jesus (Acts 2:23). Let us bow in adoring wonder.

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Gospel DNA #3. Proclaim the gospel in everyday life

Christians in the West today increasingly finds ourselves living on the margins. It was the same for the readers of 1 Peter. In a series of posts I’m identifying principles from 1 Peter for developing a gospel and missional DNA in our churches. Here are the four principles:

  1. Proclaim the gospel to one another
  2. Proclaim the gospel to create a missional identity
  3. Proclaim the gospel in everyday life
  4. Proclaim the gospel through community

In this post we are looking at the third principle: Proclaim the gospel in everyday life.

What mission strategy does Peter commend to them? Look at 2:11-12. Good lives and good deeds. They are called to do good. As they live good lives people will glorify God.

Peter doesn’t call them to run this programme or put on this course (though those might be good things to do). He doesn’t call them to make their meetings for accessible (thought that might be a good thing to do). He calls them to good lives and good deeds.

This doesn’t mean that good works are sufficient. Proclamation matters. We are called to ‘declare’ God’s praises (2:15). We are to be ready to give ‘an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that [we] have’ (3:15). The gospel is a word. But the primary context in which that word is proclaimed is everyday life – not in here, but out there.

Look at who does this mission and where they do it. It is ordinary Christians in the context of ordinary life.

Verses 11-12 are just the headline. Peter then goes on to apply this mission strategy to our life in society (2:13-17), in the workplace (2:18-25) and in the home (3:1-7). In each case Peter addresses those who face hostility because they follow Christ. The man who receives ‘unjust suffering because he is conscious of God’ is a reference to someone suffering as a Christian’ (2:19). (Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, Broadman, 2003, 139.) Again, while Peter’s words apply to the witness of all wives, his focus is on those whose husbands ‘do not believe the word’ (3:1). In each case we are called to good works (2:15, 20; 3:1-2), to show submission and have respect for others (2:13, 17, 18; 3:1-2). Centrally, there is a repeated expectation that, echoing 2:12, our good works will have a missional impact. ‘For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.’ (2:15) ‘They may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives.’ (3:1)

Where does this mission takes place. In the neighbourhood. In the workplace. In the home. Not in the meetings of the church. We reach a hostile world by living good lives in the context of ordinary life. Everyday mission.

It is not simply that ‘ordinary’ Christians live good lives that enable them to invite friends to ‘evangelistic events’. Our lives are the evangelistic events. Our life together is the apologetic.

So mission involves a multiplicity of activities like sharing meals, helping with chores, hanging out, recreational activities, answering questions, snippets of gospel truth, answering questions, conversations that appear to go nowhere. On their own most of these may not look like mission. But if you persevere with prayer and gospel intentionality then God uses them in his purposes.

Practical action: bring gospel intentionality to the routines of life

Here is an exercise to help identify opportunities for everyday mission. It’s adapted from Michael Foster.

Think of all the activities, however mundane, that make up your normal (1) daily routine (like travelling to work, eating meals, chores, walking the dog, playing with the children); (2) weekly routine (like grocery shopping, watching favourite television programmes, getting exercise); and (3) monthly routine (like gardening, getting a haircut, going to the cinema). You should have a long list of activities. For each one, ask whether you could add: (1) a community component by involving another member of your Christian community; (2) a missional component by involving an unbeliever; and (3) a gospel component by identifying opportunities to talk about Jesus.

Clearly not everything you do can be done with someone else. But this exercise reveals just how many opportunities we do have in everyday life. You might knock on a friend’s door as you walk the dog to see if they want to walk with you. You might offer an elderly neighbour a lift when you drive to the supermarket. You might meet a member of Christian community for breakfast one morning a week or agree to ride the same bus. Instead of reading your Christian book in the work canteen you might take the opportunity to get to know your colleagues. None of this is adding anything to your schedule for these are all activities in which you’re already engaged. One of the things people in our gospel community do, for example, is watch certain television programmes together – programmes like ‘The Apprentice’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ that are in any case best watched with a group commentary. They get together to watch them, inviting Christians and non-Christians to watch them with us. You’re going to be watching it anyway so why not watch it with other people, share the experience, and see what opportunities this presents.

For more on these themes see Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church which is available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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Gospel DNA #2. Proclaim the gospel to create a missional identity

Christians in the West today increasingly finds ourselves living on the margins. It was the same for the readers of 1 Peter. In a series of posts I’m identifying principles from 1 Peter for developing a gospel and missional DNA in our churches. The first principle was to proclaim the gospel to one another within the Christian community.

The second is to proclaim the gospel to create a missional identity.

In the world around us our identity (who we are) is based on our activity (what we do). In other words, who I am is based on what I do. I’m a successful person if I succeed. I’m an attractive person if I’m cool. I’m a good mother if I have lovely children. I’m a professional if I gain the necessary qualifications.

The mercy of God turns the world’s way upside down. In the world our identity must be achieved. In the gospel it is generously given to us in Christ. As a result, in the gospel our activity (what we do) flows from our identity (who we are). God makes me a good person (a person declared righteous in his sight) so I do good works.

You are not a missionary because you do mission. You do mission because you are a missionary.

So the first question we need to address if we want to change is not What must I do? but Who am I?

Look at how Peter does this in 2:9-10: ‘You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ (2:9-10) He describes the church using some key Old Testament allusions, particularly to Exodus 19:4-6 and Isaiah 43:20-21. Old Testament citations in the New Testament are like hypertext links. Click on them and you discover a context that gives meaning to the quote.

Exodus 19:4-6 are the words God spoke to Israel at Sinai to introduce the Mosaic covenant. As he is about to give his people the ten commandments, he tells them how they should see themselves and outlines the purpose of the covenant. He says: ‘Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

Israel is called to be a priestly kingdom. Ordinarily priests made God known to the people and offered sacrifices. Now the whole of Israel as a community is to be priestly: making God known to the nations and calling the nations to find atonement through sacrifice. Peter’s reference to a royal priesthood is more than an affirmation of the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of believers (though in the light of 2:5 it’s not less than this). Peter is talking about our corporate identity as God’s priestly people whose life together commends the goodness of his kingdom. Similarly, God’s people are to be a holy or distinct nation just as God himself is holy. God is carving out one place on earth where the goodness and freedom of kingdom can be seen. In other words, the community of God’s people is to be a missional community. The law is missional in intent, defining the distinctive community life that will draw the nations to God.

The same missional ideas are present in Isaiah 43. God says: ‘I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.’ (43:20-21) Isaiah is looking ahead to the exile of God’s people in Babylon, an exile in which Peter sees his readers (1:1; 5:13). Exile was the curse that Moses warned would fall if Israel failed to be a light to the nations through her faithfulness to the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:49-68). But Isaiah says God is going to lead through a new exodus. The One who brought his people through the Red Seas and led them through the desert and gave them water to drink is ‘doing a new thing’ (Isaiah 43:16-20). Peter has already described the death of Jesus as a new Passover (1:18-19). Now God’s redeemed people are again to declare his praises.

Israel was called to be a light to the nations. And Israel would again be redeemed to declare God’s praises to the nations. God’s people are to draw the world to God through the quality of our life.

Peter is saying this missional identity is fulfilled in the church. This is how he applies these allusions to the Old Testament: ‘Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’ (2:11-12)

Practical action: model a missional identity

If you are a large church then our advice is not to change all your structures, but to create a working model. In other words, say to a handful of people, ‘Go, do it.’ Teach them, train them, lead them, show them and then release them to be a gospel community within your church. Then encourage this group to talk to other people about how it is going – their vision, their joys, their frustrations. In this way the people of your church have the chance to observe a gospel community in action. Then, as you teach about how the gospel gives us a communal and missional identity, you can point to what is happening and say this is what it looks like. As people hear what is happening it may spark their imagination and they too may start to catch the vision.

You may then want to take your home groups or small groups and release them to be gospel communities. Give them a mandate to be church and to do mission and to reproduce. Rather than dismantle church life, you can gradually shift the focus to everyday church. Make the gospel communities the front door and the gathering the support structure rather than the other way round. Or keep a big lighthouse model of church with its beam of light sweeping across the whole city, but at the same time get that light dispersed at street level through the gospel communities.

If you are a small church then be a gospel community. Stop worrying about putting on events and programmes that mirror big churches. Instead, start being the people of God together on mission. Hang out together throughout the week. Get in and out of each other’s homes. Let people know the struggles you are facing and the opportunities you have. Find ways in which your lives can intersect with one another. Invite unbelievers to be part of this community life.

For more on these themes see Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church which is available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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Gospel DNA #1. Proclaim the gospel to one another

Christians in the West today increasingly finds ourselves living on the margins. It was the same for the readers of 1 Peter. In a series of posts I’m identifying principles from 1 Peter for developing a gospel and missional DNA in our churches. The first principle is to proclaim the gospel to one another with the Christian community.

Proclaim the gospel to one another

Make gospel talk normal. Or, practice speaking the word to unbelievers by speaking to believers. If we are not in habit of speaking the word of God to one another in ordinary conversation then we should not be surprised if we find it hard to speak the word to unbelievers. After all believers, in theory at least, should be happy to hear God’s word!

Look at 1:23. It’s the word of God through which we’re born again. The word gives life and the word continues to give life. Peter’s emphasis here is on the enduring nature of the word of God. In contrast to perishable seed, it is imperishable. Human beings are born through the sperm of their father, but this is perishable seed and human beings are perishable. But Christians have been born again through the word of our new Father and this is an imperishable word that endures for eternal life. Look at 1:24-25. Human ideas, trends, fashions, accolades are all fleeting. But the word of the Lord stands forever and this is the word that was preached to us.

What is Peter’s application? It is to ‘love one another deeply’ and ‘to crave pure spiritual milk’. Look at 2:2. We are well placed in our church to understand what this means! How do babies long for milk?

The word that gave us life is the word that continues to give us life. This is the word that will sustain us. This is the word that will bind us as we live at the margins. So we should crave it.

It is not just that the Bible provides us with information. Look at 2:3. In 1:23 the perishable is contrasted with the enduring word of God. In 1:18-19 the perishable is contrasted with the precious blood of Christ. The word of God is where we discover the precious blood of Christ, where we see the goodness of God in the cross of Jesus.

We don’t read the Bible simply to fill our minds, but to change our hearts. We don’t read the Bible simply to be informed, but to be conformed to the image of Jesus. Read your Bible until you are moved. Read it to stir your affections: your fear, your hope, your love, your desire, your confidence. Read it until your heart cries out, ‘The Lord is good’!

‘Those who dream of [an] idealized community,’ warns Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly.’ He continues:

[We] can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ … Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone, the more calmly we will learn to think about our community and pray and hope for it. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible, Fortress, 2005, 36-38.)

Christians have been born again into a new inheritance that makes us strangers and aliens within the wider culture (1:1-4). We are called to live on the margins. But that act of rebirth also births us into a new family (1:22-23), an alternative community of belonging. This new family is God’s demonstration of the gospel. It is the beginning of, and pointer to, the new world which will be our inheritance.

So the gospel community matters. But this does not mean the gospel word is less important. Quite the opposite. In 1:22-23, where Peter explicitly links our new birth and our new family, his emphasis is on the means by which we are born anew: the enduring word. ‘For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.’ (1:23) The word gives life and the word continues to give life.

What forms and sustains Christian community is, perhaps paradoxically, not a commitment to community per se, but a commitment to the gospel word. Sometimes people place a big emphasis on the importance of community and neglect of the gospel word. Community then becomes a goal to which we work. But Peter says human activity cannot create life that endures. An exclusive focus on community will kill community. It is only the word of God that creates an enduring community life and love.

Yet we all know people who attend church every Sunday, but are not involved in the life of the Christian community or its mission. We have people who are hearers of the word, but not doers of the words (James 1:22). Hebrews 3:12-13 says: ‘See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ These are sobering words because it suggests we are all just a few steps from being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. What is the remedy? Encourage one another daily. Not weekly! Daily.

Practical action: Make the sermon the agenda for everyday discipleship

People often ask me about the discipleship programme in our churches. I think they’re asking what courses we run. I wonder how Jesus or Paul might have answered that question. For them discipleship involved living and working together. The gospel was applied to people’s lives in the course of everyday life.

So encourage people to see the weekly sermon as our discipleship programme. This is what then sets the agenda for one-to-one discipleship through the week. The Sunday sermon gives a natural platform to apply God’s word to specific issues in people’s lives.

For more on these themes see Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church which is available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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Review: Invest your Suffering

Here’s a review from my favourite guest blogger, my wife, Helen …

Invest your Suffering by Paul Mallard is excellent. It reflects on the experience of Paul and his wife, Edrie, as they continue to live through her chronic illness. Telling their story in a warm but unaffected way, Paul is clear about the awful times they have had. But he also tells of how God spoke into their lives. Truths about God and passages from the Bible come alive as he explains how they cried out to God and God answered them. I was in tears every few pages – partly out of sympathy for their situation, partly touched by the love and tenderness of their marriage. But most of all I was moved by the beautiful, mysterious love of the God who suffers with us and for us. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone who lives in a fallen world – so that’s all of us then.

Invest Your Suffering is vailable here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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Developing a Gospel DNA on the margins

This post and four related up-coming posts are adapted from a talk I gave at the Crieff Fellowship in Scotland and European Leadership Forum in Poland.

The church is increasingly finding itself on the margins of our society. The issue of gay marriage has highlighted this for us again. We are out of step with our culture. Increasingly people are hostile to Christians. Our view of truth, of sexuality and marriage, of hell and judgment are not just rejected, but are considered deviant.

Don’t be surprised by this. Don’t think something strange is happening. This is normal Christian living. That’s what Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12-13:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.’

Peter is writing to Christians on the margins of society who face the same kind of indifference and hostility.

In 2:11 Peter says we are like foreigners in our own culture. Peter’s readers are not being imprisoned or thrown to the lions (that would come later). Instead they face the hostility and slander of their neighbours. Look at 2:12. They accuse you for doing wrong. Look at 3:16. They speak maliciously against us and slander us. Look, for example, at 1 Peter 4:4: people ‘are surprised that you do not join them in their wild, reckless living, and they heap abuse on you.’

This describes our experience in the West today.

So I want to highlight some principles from 1 Peter and then suggest some practical applications. The main thrust of 1 Peter is that we can thrive on the margins because of the hope we have in Christ. But in four future posts I’ll identify principles for developing a gospel and missional DNA in our churches.

For more on these themes see Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church which is available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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The Glory of the Story Sample: Day 106 – The last will be first

Here is another extracts from The Glory of the Story, my father’s devotional introduction to biblical theology in the form of 366 daily readings which show how the Old Testament story is fulfilled in Christ. The Glory of the Story is available as a Kindle book for $2.99 from amazon.com and £1.99 from amazon.co.uk. I’m posting extracts from the chaper on the story of Jacob, usually on the first Monday of the month.

The law of primogeniture establishes the right of succession to the first-born child. It is a very ancient and fundamental conviction in the world of Isaac and Rebekah (Deut. 21:15-17; cf. Gen. 25:5). It is something you don’t tamper with! So ‘the older will serve the younger’ (see yesterday) is a revolutionary announcement. It not only challenges the conventions of the day but sets a pattern for the rest of the story. It is essentially a disclosure about God himself and his dealings with us.

1. He is a sovereign God
God gives no explanation for his choice of Jacob over Esau (cf. Gen. 48:14; 1 Sam. 16:11-12). He declares the freedom of his will over every human convention and definition of propriety. Paul refers to Jacob’s election to argue that God, though faithful to Israel, never promises to save every single Jew. He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy (Rom. 9:6-16).

2. He is a subversive God
God’s overturning of conventional power arrangements anticipates:
• God’s frequent alignment with the ‘younger ones’ in Israel – the widows, orphans and aliens (Deut. 10:18; 14:28-29; 26:12).
• The gospel declaration that the first will be last and the last first (Matt. 19:30; 20:16; Mark 9:35; Luke 13:30).
• Jesus’ identification with tax-collectors and sinners (Matt. 9:10-13; 11:19; 21:32).
• Jesus’ description of those belongings to God’s kingdom. Read Matthew 5:3-5.
• Jesus’ call to servanthood (Matt. 20:20-28; 23:8-11)
• Paul’s critique of this world’s wisdom. The God who chose ‘the younger’ is the same God who makes foolish the wisdom of this world through the cross ( 1 Cor. 1:18-31).

3. He is a gracious God
Those who find the truth of God’s election difficult, even scandalous, might reflect on the fact that God almost invariably chooses ‘younger sons’- the outcasts, the helpless and hopeless, the unworthy and unvalued (1 Cor. 1:26). He violates the world’s notions of wisdom and power and is gracious to those who have no merit of their own. In the Parable of the Lost Sons (Luke 15:11-32), the older son rests on his rights and virtues. The younger son, from the point of weakness, trusts himself fully to the mercy of a gracious father. The story finishes with the younger, not the older, brother inside the family home. Such inversions remind us that salvation is all of grace.

Closing thought
Is the western Church today guilty of assuming it has culturally bestowed rights and privileges?

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Why am I so busy?

This post is adapted from material in my book, The Busy Christians Guide to BusynessThe 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.

Reflection
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?

Conclusion

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.

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How can we achieve a balance between work and rest?

This post is adapted from material in my book, The Busy Christians Guide to BusynessThe Busy Christians Guide to Busyness is available in the US from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

How much extra time each day do you need to complete all you need or want to do? Thirty minutes? An hour? Two hours?

It seems as if God made a mistake when he first spun the world into space. That initial twist with his fingers that set the earth spinning was just a bit too energetic. If only God has spun it a little slower we would have had 25 or 26 hours in the day. Then everything would have been all right. Then we would have time enough for everything. If only.

But of course God doesn’t make mistakes. Twenty-four-hour-days were part of the world God declared very good. So the problem is not that there is not enough time for what we want to do. The problem is we are trying to do too much. We haven’t come to terms with the fact that we are finite.

God does not expect you to do more than you can do.

The question to ask yourself as the end of your day or week is not ‘What have I left to do?’ Instead we should ask ourselves: ‘Have I used my time well?’ We still need to ask the hard questions. But we should ask possible questions. If you ask ‘What have I left to do?’ you are bound to fail. So look back on your day by asking: ‘Have I done the sort of things I ought to be doing?’

Three key questions:

  1. How can I use my time more efficiently?

This is the issue with which time management books and courses deal. There’s a lot of wisdom in them. But at best they will only take you so far. I suspect of lot of us have read the books and still feel overworked!

  1. What are my priorities?

Managing time is not so much about reducing waste time – that just leaves you a relentless whirl of activity. It is about ensuring you spent your time doing what is important. And that means deciding your priorities and it means deciding what you can leave undone – planned neglect.

Reflection

  •       When do you use time inefficiently?
  •       What are your core priorities?
  •       What should be core priorities?
  •       What are you spending too much time doing?
  •       What are you spending too little time doing?
  •       What could you leave undone?

But the key question is this:

  1. What creates the pressure I feel to do more than God expects?

The person responsible for your busyness is you. It is your heart. Jesus says that our behaviour comes from within, out of the heart. ‘For from within,’ says Jesus, ‘out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.’ (Mark 7:21-22; Luke 6:43-45) And to that list we might add busyness. External factors can trigger our behaviour, but we can’t blame the providence of God, says James in James 1. It’s our own evil desire that drags us into sin.

So in a future post 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.

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