I am afraid that Christmas is likely to pass the blog by- any spare thoughts I have on the subject tend to appear in the various special sermons at this time of year! But I did want to pull some threads together from our recent series on busyness. It is our tradition here to examine a topical issue on Sunday evenings around November and this seemed an appropriate one to tackle. I am sure I am not the only person for whom “Busy” has too often become the default answer to the question, “How are you?”. So it seemed wise to try to put this through a biblical grid and see what emerged. Here are my four conclusions- none of which are particularly novel, but they may provide a useful summary.
1. Busyness is dangerous
I preached the opening sermon in the series noting that busyness can be appropriate for hard work is commended by God. I stand by that but I think the greater danger for us is that the sheer weight of expectations and opportunities drowns out that which is of first importance. Blaise Pascal once commented that busyness sends more people to hell than unbelief. I suspect he was saying that people don’t ignore Christ because they have decided not to believe in him but because the pressure on time means that He is never properly considered. And that can be a danger for professing Christians as well- I have seen more people drift from Christ because of the pressures of life than because of intellectual doubt. Even for those who remain professing Christians, there can be a sense of feeling dead inside because we haven’t taken the time to nurture our souls and have them fed with Christ Himself. Perhaps the most chilling verse for me of all our studies was Luke 8:14 where the seed of God’s Word is choked by “life’s worries, riches and pleasures.” There is something potentially deadly about a life that is busy because of all our responsibilities and opportunities.
2. Busyness is a heart issue
Why are we so busy? Sometimes that is just the way life goes- it seems to me almost impossible for a young parent to escape some sense of being overwhelmed and I am sure the Lord understands that. Other periods of life can impose similar strain, perhaps when parents are in the latter stages of their lives. Outside of those periods, though, I suspect we end up busy, not just because of poor time management but because of tensions in our hearts. The key question it seems to me about what we do in church, workplaces and family life is this: am I working from rest or for rest?
Christ offers us rest. We are accepted by Him despite our flaws, we can trust that His finished work restores us to our Creator and we can sleep peacefully knowing that our lives and the growth of the Kingdom is in His hands. We do work and serve from that position, sometimes indeed ending up hard pressed but not crushed, but always with a fundamental sense of peace and joy.
However, so often we start to think that we need to achieve rest. If we work hard enough to be a good employee, parent or pastor (delete as appropriate) then we will have a sense that we have become the people we should be. We will have achieved rest. That’s why we end up trying to do too much, constantly striving for but never achieving what we are seeking. It is a particular danger for those burdened with a perfectionist temperament. The inevitable consequence is ending up like Martha- worried and upset, difficult to be around and, ironically, achieving even less.
I think for many of us who sat through the whole series the key lesson was not primarily practical about diary planning. The key point was this: press into the rest that Christ offers. Learn to sit at His feet. Be content that He is the loving controller which means that we are not. In other words, the priority is to press those things into our hearts so that the joy of the Lord is our strength and, curiously, we achieve far more from a place of rest.
3. Find out how you experience rest in Christ
One of the practical consequences of the series for me has been carving out time for a weekly walk for an hour or so- it is the way that I find it easiest to reflect, think and pray. Invariably I return with a renewed sense that the Lord is in control and with some of the issues that have been clouding my brain at least part-resolved. For others I know it is exposure to Christian music. One person did comment to me that they genuinely found time at church to be a place where they experienced a deep sense of spiritual rest, which was a great encouragement to me- although I did recently preach Matthew 11:28 at another church where some took the invitation to rest very literally indeed as evidenced by the loud snores that peppered the sermon.
It may be worth saying something about leisure at this point- it is possible that we didn’t deal with it enough in the series. I think I would want to describe godly leisure in these terms- enjoying God’s creation with thanksgiving to Him. As such it is very good. The usefulness of leisure seems to be connected to whether we seek to enjoy it before God or take it behind God’s back. So often I am tempted to watch rugby, cricket, golf, snooker, football etc. etc. as a form of selfishness, some “me” time away from the demands of others. But doing that simply doesn’t refresh the soul. However, where I consciously seek to thank God for the opportunity to relax and enjoy the abilities that He has given to people- that is refreshing and seems to be God-centred. Leisure can be good and refreshing when enjoyed as a good gift from our Creator.
The key point is this- find out what enables you to consciously enjoy the rest that Christ offers and fight for it. So often it will appear self-indulgent- I have to fight against guilt when I take off for my walk because I could have gone to visit somebody instead- but, in the end, it will be what sustains us for the long haul.
4. Only aim to do what the Lord expects
I was talking to a friend a while back on the topic of busyness. I confessed that if I was too busy, it was because I saw it as my role in life to make everybody happy. My friend came back with a compassionate response- “You are warped in so many ways.” He was mostly right. I am sure some of my busyness does emerge from a genuine desire to help people but I know a fair proportion comes from the desire to be liked, to have a reputation as a hard worker and from a pride that sees the world (or maybe just the church in my case) as dependent on me. In the end if we base our use of time on what others expect of us then we will end up Martha like.
The vital question becomes- what does the Lord expect of me? And then we remember His compassion for us when we are tired, His awareness of how many hours there are in the week and that He does not require more of us than is possible. That means that we will focus on the priorities that we should have depending on our gifts and circumstances. It frees us to say no to other things because we know that the Lord does not require them of us and to say yes to those demands would leave us dead on the inside over a prolonged period.
Each of us needs to know ourselves. If we are prone to laziness then perhaps we do need to remember that hard work is good. But many of us need to recall that the Christian works out of rest and so we return to Christ, the one who offers rest for our souls.