The cost of busyness

Growing up, both of my parents had full-time jobs. But I distinctly remember having breakfast and dinner as a family most days. Yet, this is an experience foreign to my kids and many of my contemporaries. We live in the fast lane, rushing from one activity to the next. We barely stop to rest, reflect or even retreat for a few days to pray and seek direction from God. As a result, many of us are mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. Yet, we keep going with our endless to-do lists, often afraid to ask what we’re chasing, why we’re chasing it, and at what cost to us and others. 

I was out running a few days ago when a hearse drove past. Two thoughts immediately struck me. The first: one day, that will be me. The second: how much of what I am doing now will matter when that day comes? The second was an arresting thought because I live a busy life. Not having enough time comes up in nearly all my conversations. However, now I’m trying to be more intentional about incorporating that second question into my daily decisions. Since I now accept that there isn’t enough time to accomplish everything I desire, I have to be selective and intentional about what I do with my time. The length of my days is finite, and what I desperately want to avoid is dying with regrets. I don’t have statistics to back it, but  I believe that most people who die without regrets do so because they spent their time wisely.

A few verses in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel give us a glimpse into what a day of ministry was like for Jesus. He went into the synagogue, and while teaching, He exorcised a demon from a congregant, which drew more attention to Him. Afterwards, He heads to Peter’s house, possibly for some respite, meets Peter’s ill mother-in-law and heals her. And by evening, the whole city is at Peter’s door with sick and oppressed people in need of healing, and He duly ministers to them [Mark 1:21-34]. As a travelling preacher with great fame [Mark 1:28], I doubt this was an atypical day. When questioned about His ministry, Jesus told the Jewish leaders that His Father is busy at work, and so is He, because He only does what He sees His Father doing [John 5:16-20].

So, we can infer from the life of Jesus that there’s nothing wrong with being busy. Moreover, Scripture discourages idleness [Proverbs 24:30-34]. But, what are you busy doing, and whose purposes are you serving? I’m convinced that one of the easiest ways the devil gains and keeps an advantage over us is by keeping us busy chasing anything but God’s will. As long as the devil keeps us distracted from pursuing God and His agenda, he maintains his advantage over us, and we’ll never experience true freedom. Therefore, it’s paramount we regularly reflect on what keeps us busy. Is your busyness a consequence of doing the Father’s will like Jesus, or is it a result of pursuing the desires of your corrupt nature [Ephesians 4:22-24]? There’s no middle ground.

Sadly, many of us inadvertently relinquish control of our lives and schedules to our fears. For instance, our fear of lack or insignificance drives us to spend inordinately long hours at work. Or, our fear of ridicule and our desire to fit in with cultural norms and expectations drives us to be involved in associations and activities outside God’s will. Some honest reflection may reveal we don’t take God at His word. We may be unwilling to admit it, but how we spend our time often reveals what we truly believe. There’s a timeless warning from Solomon we’d do well to heed: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain…It is vain to rise early and stay up late, to eat the bread of painful labours; for God gives to His beloved, even in his sleep” [Psalm 127:1-2].

Jesus taught that if we seek God and a life acceptable to Him first, all our needs will be met [Matthew 6:25-33]. Elsewhere, we read that God is willing and able to meet those needs and more [Ephesians 3:20, Philippians 4:6-7]. These promises are there to reassure us so that we don’t spend our days chasing what God has already promised us if we remain in His will. Instead, like Jesus, with the help of the Spirit sent at Pentecost and our spiritual gifts, we can focus on seeking and serving the Father’s will [Ephesians 2:10], becoming Jesus’s witnesses to the world [Acts 1:8] and enjoying the benefits of being God’s children [Psalm 103:1-5].

If there are blessings associated with walking in God’s will [Psalm 128], the opposite is true for those outside God’s will – the essence of Solomon’s warning. Even if our painful labours aren’t fruitless, we could become like the rich fool who gained the world and lost his soul [Luke 12:16-21]. Therein lays the litmus test for what type of busy occupies your time. In God’s economy, living in His will prospers your body, mind, and soul [3 John 1:2]. No one other than Him can give us all three.

It’s likely that whoever determines your priorities and how you spend your time is the master you serve. There are overt masters like money, power, fame and security, and subtle ones like spouses, children, ministry, and even our egos. So, I advocate auditing your priorities, the reason for those priorities and how you spend your days to determine your own master because Scripture warns that any master other than Jesus will, at the very least, demand our soul in exchange for our desires.

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