Is a busy Christian an oxymoron?

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Busy is an adjective that most of us love to use. Our American culture idolizes productivity and efficiency. Most of us show how productive we are by talking about how much we have done, or how full our calendars were, how many meetings we had, or how much work we have stacked up on our desk. If we’re honest, most of the time we are merely talking about activity, not productivity.

I’m the first person to respond to a casual “how you doing?” with the easy response “I’m busy, but good.” 

Anytime that I catch myself responding with the phrase “I’m busy”, God, in grace, walks me through the following questions.

Where is your identity?

As Christians, our value and our worth are secured in the person of Jesus Christ. We are not more valuable or more important if we do more than others. As a matter of fact, to attach our value and our worth to what we do is toeing the line of legalism. Our value is in our identity as people who have been rescued, redeemed, and adopted into God’s family. My heavenly Father approves of me and is proud of me because I’m wearing Christ’s perfection, not because I’m flying around my office answering phone calls and responding to e-mails.

Allowing our identity to be formed by what we do is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is vanity. And, it is like dish washing – you always have to do it again. You may fall asleep feeling important after a “productive” day, but tomorrow is another dirty dish. The slippery slope of building our identity on what we do is that what we built today will be torn down tomorrow.

As God’s children, we don’t have to do a bunch of things to win God’s approval. God paid the higest price to secure out identity in Him – his own shed blood. Knowing that you have been purchased by Christ’s blood is of far greater value than whatever deals you can close, or whatever sales you can make. 

Where are your priorities?

Busyness isn’t often a matter of busyness, but a matter of prioritization. The trouble is that many of us have gotten ourselves buried into patterns that are nearly impossible to escape. Our schedule has become our figurative boss, rather than us being the boss of our own schedule.

Busyness, for a period, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as we are doing the right things. The Bible is clear that work is not a bad thing, and that hard work is encouraged. The challenge is that modern culture has limited hard work to employment.

God’s Word demands that we be hard workers in all areas of our life, not just our employment. We should work hard at caring for our bodies, we should work hard at growing in our knowledge of God, and we should work hard at being good husbands and fathers and mothers and sisters etc. And we can do so joyfully, when we are confident in who we are in Christ.

The deeper issue is the tyranny of the urgent. The Bible’s authors didn’t have smart phones constantly beeping, chirping, and ringing. They didn’t have cars that got them to places more quickly. They didn’t have email, or airplanes, or televisions, and so forth. The task of prioritizing in 2015 is extremely complex. However, excessive busyness will follow those who don’t prioritize.

I think that Francis Chan best describes the tension of prioritization in his book Crazy Love when he says, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” The matter of prioritizing, for me, comes down to asking myself big questions of purpose. What legacy do I want to leave behind? What do I want to be known for? As we prayerfully ask those questions, we are enabled to prioritize our lives around those things which matter, rather than busying ourselves with and failing at things that don’t.

Where is your faith?

When we really start to peel back the layers, most of our busyness is a matter of faith. Many of us can’t stop being busy because we are convinced that we are essential for the world’s progress and sustenance. We are firmly convinced that if we were to stop being busy, the world would rip apart at the seams. Being brutally honest, many of us trust God only while we are paying attention. Busyness is often an idol of control, and an idol of control is a lack of faith.

Our rhythmic need for stopping and resting was not an accident on God’s part. As a matter of fact, God designed us to sleep for nearly a third of our life. Every single day, most of us stop being busy for a recommended 6-8 hours. God designed our bodies to have to shut down for a time every single day. Sleep is a parable reminding us that God wasn’t concerned with designing us for maximum impact and efficiency. God designed us to be intimately connected to Him, dependent upon Him, and trusting in Him. Busyness is often the result of an inability to trust God.

A biblical response to busyness: Sabbath

Even though the authors of the Bible didn’t have the technological advances that we have, God, the supreme author, sovereingly ordered His revelation with every era in mind. God built into the fiber of His creation a natural rhythm to ward off pesky, meaningless busyness – Sabbath.

God wants us to rest. God designed us to stop and rest. We must, proactively, stop what we do to recognize and worship God, enjoy His creation, and be renewed. Learning to stop and rest is one of the most difficult lessons to learn. For many of us, it is hard enough to leave the office on time, let alone take a whole day off. However, God’s Word is hardly irrelevant. As we root our identity in who we are in Christ, as we learn to prioritize and work on those weightier matters, as we learn to trust that God is in control, Sabbath becomes easier.

I’m still bad at it. It’s hard for me to leave my phone on my dresser for a few hours on my day off. It’s hard for me to not write a couple of quick emails, or make a couple of quick phone calls. However, it is a matter of recognizing that my identity isn’t secured by what I do. It is a matter of priority, investing in rest and investing in my family. It is a matter of faith, trusting that God is God and I’m not.

When we take time to answer these questions, and take Sabbath seriously, I’m convinced that, in most of our lives, ‘busy Christian’ is an oxymoron.