Archives For Busyness

For the last fifteen years, I’ve pretty much had only one answer to the question, “How are you doing?” It’s always: “Tired.” Or maybe, “Busy, tired. But good!” As far as I can tell, this is the standard answer to the question.

How are Americans doing? They’re tired.

When I started college in 2000, I became acquainted with “busy.” It was a lot of work. And I was always tired. Then I started seminary and realized I previously had no idea what “busy” was. For much of seminary, sleep was like a hometown friend that you gradually lose contact with. And then I graduated and entered the real world and discovered, yet again, that “busy” always has added dimensions and “tired” is essentially a lifelong companion. Then we started having kids, and well, I’m looking forward to sleeping in again when I retire.

Life is good, but it’s hard. Life is rewarding, but I’m exhausted. I know I’m not the only one.

So why are we so tired? Sure, we’re tired because we work too hard, we go to bed too late, we book our schedules too tightly. But those are just the practical reasons. I’m interested in the theology of it. The theology or rest, and also the theology of tiredness. In this short post, I’ll just offer two biblical reasons for our constant tiredness.

Tired 1

The primary reason we get tired is that God designed us that way. He actually built it into the fabric of his world. God created everything in six days, then rested on the seventh. And that becomes the pattern in Scripture. Just as God rested, we human beings are called to rest as well.

This implies that even before sin entered the world, human beings needed rest. We needed sleep. This only makes sense: Could something as obviously divine as sleep be a mere side effect of sin?

So our need for rest is actually good. It was modeled by God himself. We were designed to put in a good day’s work and then to need rest, to finish off a solid work week and then to need to relax. Rest is good, and so is tiredness.

Next time someone answers your “how are you” with “I’m tired,” maybe your response should be: “Good!”

But another major reason for our tiredness is the fall of humanity into sin. This world is broken. Every aspect of this world has been tainted by the reality of sin. This makes the world dysfunctional, disorderly, and actually: tired.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes declares all things “vanity,” which is his way of calling life a huge enigma, a stubborn puzzle that frustrates humanity at every turn. And in that context, he says,

“All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it” (1:8).

It’s a tired world. Worn out. Full of weariness to an unutterable extent. Sin bogs us down, trips us up, and quite literally pulls us toward the grave.

We are tired from living in a sin-stained world. The exhaustion of this world will eventually overcome us all. In the final chapter of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher reminds us to pursue God while we’re young, before this weary world exhausts our bodies so fully that they come to a grinding halt (12:1–8).

Our own sin contributes to this exhaustion as well. As Paul makes clear in Romans 1, human beings are worshipers by nature, and while we are designed to worship God, we often turn our ultimate pursuit to idolatrous ends.

For many Americans, our idols are our careers, our reputation, our financial stability, and our carefully purchased world of comfort. This means that we often work harder and longer hours than God intends because we are pursuing much more than we need. Our greed forces us into cycles of achievement that wear our bodies down. We believe in the myth of the self-made man or woman, so we expend more energy than we have to create our own kingdoms.

But God created us to be dependent. You’re tired because you need rest. That feeling of exhaustion is God’s reminder that you need him, that you can’t do everything yourself, that there are not enough hours in the day to build his kingdom and yours at the same time.

So go ahead and be tired. Don’t be ashamed of it. Enjoy that satisfied exhaustion that comes at the end of (and all throughout) a job well done. But if you find yourself feeling exhausted and realize that you’re wearing out your body in idolatrous pursuits, then take God’s gift of fatigue seriously and rest. He made you human for a reason; he designed human beings to need rest for a reason.

Our goal should not be tired-free living, as though we were professional vacationers. Our goal is to be tired for the right reasons, to enjoy a godly exhaustion our whole lives, and then to finally enter that blessed rest of God for all eternity (see Hebrews 4).

Death by Ministry

Preston Sprinkle —  May 17, 2013 — 1 Comment

The other day, I had lunch with an old college buddy, who was one of the most influential people in my life. This was a highlight of my year, because I haven’t seen my good friend

Bert and I after lunch at the "Bear Pit" (Not Cocos)

Bert and I after lunch at the “Bear Pit” (Not Cocos)

and mentor in nearly 12 years. His name is Bert Suluvale and I wanted to share his story.

Bert was born in Samoa but grew up in Carson, CA (south of Los Angeles). He got involved in some pretty rough gangs as an early teen, but God rescued him dramatically around the age of 20. Shortly after getting saved, Bert attended The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA, and this is where I met him. Bert and I were roommates and quickly became close friends. However, being 6 years older than me, I always saw Bert as more of a mentor than a peer, though the line was often blurred by much laughter and mutual edification.

Bert was one of the most gifted Christians I have ever known. A dynamic leader, a powerful preacher, and a talented musician with a voice that rattles the walls with praise. Bert has sung on stage at Grace Community Church (aka “John MacArthur’s church”) and has worked in the music industry off and on for several years. Bert was my mentor, my teacher, my discipler and friend. He taught me how to lead and he trained me how to preach. And Bert taught me how to love Jesus.

This is why I was crushed when I heard that Bert fell out of fellowship with my church. Back in 2001, Bert began to break off contact with all of his close friends and our church, and he ended up moving back home to Carson. I was living in Scotland at the time, so I only heard the details through second and third hand sources, but they were all saying the same thing. “The Bert you once knew is gone.”

Come to find out, Bert returned to his own ways. Sin, sin, and more sin, though he never denied the truth about Jesus (he only denied it with his life). For nine years, Bert spiraled down a dangerous path, which ended up landing him in prison, where he served for one year (2010). “This is what God needed to do to break me,” Bert told me over lunch last Wednesday. “I bowed my knees at the foot of the cross; this was my only remedy.” In prison, God rescued Bert (again) from his sin and returned him to the faith. For the last two years, Bert has been walking with the Lord in repentance and passion. The Bert I once knew is back!

I asked Bert what was the original cause of his downward spiral, and I wanted to share his answer with you all because it’s a trap we all fall into.

“What happened?” I asked. “What triggered your plunge into sin that led you away from the church?”

“Busyness,” Bert said. “I was so busy for Jesus that I forgot to love Jesus. I was doing so much ministry that I left my first love.”

Bert was leading worship, singing at churches, preaching, discipling, serving, leading evangelistic concerts, studying, teaching, training, and walking with people through the Scriptures. He was serving Jesus’ bride but he forgot to love Jesus. And nine years later, Bert was in prison.

Christians today are busy. Christians in Southern California are freakishly busy, and Christian leaders are often the most. The problem with “Christian” busyness—and the reason why church graveyardSatan wields it as a weapon against the church—is that it seduces Christians into thinking that they are serving Jesus by doing, doing, doing, doing. But if your love for ministry has taken over your love for Jesus, you may have taken that first step Bert took as he began his journey to prison.

“Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint,” says veteran pastor Rick Warren. “You have to pace yourself, otherwise you’ll kill your marriage, your relationships, your church—and yourself.” Rick speaks from experience. After two years of ministry, he burnt out and fell into depression. After recovering, he learned to pace himself. He got back on his feet and now he’s been serving Jesus and His bride in a healthy way for more than 35 years. Rick’s main observation about young pastors these days is that they are overly busy. They are sprinting, not jogging, and they’re going to hit the wall.

Let’s learn from Bert. Let’s learn from Rick. Let’s slow down, pace ourselves, so that we finish the race without having knocked over all the hurdles.

In light of my recent posts on busyness, it seems fitting to share a few thoughts on rest. Rest can be awful:

“How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:9-11)

The lazy kind of rest destroys lives, resists God’s kingdom, and gives the finger to God’s plan of redemption. But contrary to the testimony of our calendars, there is actually a healthy place for rest in the life of the Christian.

 

Rest in the Bible

God labored for six days to create the universe—I have to think that took some serious effort—then rested on the seventh day. God created man to be a worker as well. Contrary to popular belief, work itself is not punishment for sin. The frustration and pain that we experience in work is part of the curse (Gen. 3:17-19), but even before the fall “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).

Yet man is more than a workhorse. Therefore God commanded his people to observe a Sabbath, a day on which they would rest from their labor and worship the Lord (Ex. 20:8-11). This command is explicitly tied to the rhythm that God set by working six days and resting on the seventh. The rhythm of labor and rest was to be carried over to the earth as well: God commanded Israel to give their land a Sabbath year every seventh year (Lev. 25:4). Israel was rebellious in many ways, and their land never got the rest it deserved. In fact, when God took his people into exile, he made a point of saying that now that Israel was away from their land, it would finally get the Sabbath rest it required (Lev. 26:43; 2 Chron. 36:21).

In the Old Testament, God’s people are challenged to learn from the mistakes of the generation that died in the wilderness after the exodus (Psalm 95). Why? Because that generation was explicitly told that they would not enter God’s rest. Hebrews 4 picks up on this theme and tells us that the promise of entering God’s rest still stands. In other words, rest is a good thing. We should pursue it. It’s a healthy thing. While we are no longer bound by the strict Sabbath law that Israel had to observe (see Rom. 14:5, Col. 2:16), rest is still important to God. It is still an important human pursuit. Jesus calls the weary to exchange their heavy burdens for his light yoke and thereby to experience his rest (Matt. 11:28-30).

 

Rest in the Christian Life

Our restlessness shows a lack of faith in God. Rest is a sign of trust. It is an acknowledgement of our finiteness. God is infinite. He does not need to rest (which makes his example of resting in Genesis 1 all the more intriguing). But God made us to be finite creatures. We have definite limits—and that’s a good thing. We need rest.

Rest is a healthy reminder that we can’t do it all. Our inherent limitations force us to acknowledge that the world keeps moving without us, that we are not solely responsible for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

Tied in closely with a theology of rest is a theology of enjoyment. Enjoying God’s creation is an important form of rest. Paul gives an important warning about riches that actually gives us some helpful insight into the goodness of rest and enjoyment:

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Tim. 6:17)

Leland Ryken’s comments on this verse are helpful:

“This key verse establishes three important principles: (1) God is the giver of all good things, (2) He gives people these things so they can enjoy them, (3) the misuse of them consists not in enjoyment of them but in trusting in them or making idols of them.” (The Liberated Imagination, 86-87)

In sum, we need to find a way to enjoy God’s creation without worshipping it. We need to learn to rest without becoming sluggards. But based on what I see in the Christian community, most of us need to swing the pendulum farther away from the busy side and much closer to the rest side. Here’s to finding a way to rest to the glory of God!

 

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the seriesFinding God in a Busy Schedule

While we need to give the anxiety we feel over our busy schedules to God, and while we should enjoy a certain fellowship with God in the midst of the activities that keep us busy, very often our schedules are busy because we are idolatrous.

It’s very likely that you are not experiencing God right now because your life is devoted to pursuing an idol.

What is your definition of success? Finish this sentence: I will know that my life has been a success when _________________ . Be honest here. You might be tempted to say “when I have spent lots of time with my family” or “when God has been glorified,” but are those realities reflected in your schedule? I would say that most Western Christians are as driven by material success as the non-Christians around them. You’re busy because you have a corporate ladder to climb, because you have a name to make for yourself, because you find significance in productivity, because you are defined by your accomplishments.

Office Deity by John Feodorov

John Feodorov created a painting entitled Office Deity that exposes this mentality for what it really is. The painting is intentionally modeled after a medieval icon. Seated on the throne, where the Christ figure would typically be seated, is the CEO. His fingers are held in a blessing pose, but instead of offering a blessing the CEO is holding a cigar. Surrounding the throne are the rank and file employees that serve the CEO. They clearly parallel angels, and they hold all of the means and the symbols of the CEO’s success.

Feodorov is not a Christian, but he has cut to the heart of our workaholic idolatry. Amazingly, he made this painting so that it could be hung in an actual corporate office! Can you imagine having to walk past such a reminder as you work on building your corporate empire? This would probably be healthy for all of us.

Whether we are worshipping the material goods that a busy schedule can bring us or the prestige that comes from great accomplishments, the idolatry inherent in our busy schedules is pulling us away from God.

But what about those who are busy in ministry? Surely this is not an idolatrous pursuit. Is it? Every contemplative minister will tell you that ministry can easily become an idol. For a few (think health/wealth gospel preachers), ministry is about striking it rich. For many, ministry is about the prestige of speaking for God or fixing broken people or the illusion of hyper-spirituality. For all of us, if we don’t already have a messiah complex, such a delusion could develop at any moment.

The messiah complex comes when you believe that you must save the people around you through your own efforts. No doubt there are huge needs all around you, and God does want to use you to spread His kingdom. But believe it or not, you are not the only person that God is using to reach the world. He hasn’t placed the weight of the world on your shoulders alone. He has a role for you to play, but yours is not the only role.

Maybe your busyness comes from a fear of being a nominal Christian—if you aren’t working like crazy for the kingdom, can you really consider yourself a genuine follower of Jesus? Laziness is bad, but so is an anxious, insecure, wrongly motivated flurry of activity.

Don’t get me wrong, following Jesus isn’t about living a leisurely life. We need to make sacrifices for the kingdom, and this will include our schedules. But we also need to realize that God’s plans for us are bigger than our to-do lists.

Before I end this series of posts, I want to reiterate that we shouldn’t necessarily run from our busy schedules—we can and should find ways to draw closer to God in the midst of every circumstance. But if an honest look at our schedules reveals even a hint of idolatry or self-messianism, then we have some significant changes to make. At the end of the day, anything—whether on our calendars or not—that we are not willing to give up for the sake of God’s kingdom is an idol.

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the seriesFinding God in a Busy Schedule

When life gets so busy that my relationship with God begins to suffer, my first impulse is to become less busy. But I’m not sure that that’s always the right answer.

Every semester, I talk with students who find their schoolwork getting in the way of their spiritual life. “I’m forced to read the Bible as a textbook,” they explain, “and I have so much reading to do that I don’t have time to spend with God. Bible College is killing my soul.” I’m not sure if that sounds overly dramatic or not, but let me assure you that this is a real problem that students face when studying the Bible becomes a requirement.

My answer is that Bible College is doing no such thing. That deadness was in their soul from the beginning, and the hectic pace of schoolwork simply brought it to their attention.

My advice to these students is to find a way to fellowship with God in the midst of their schoolwork. You’re required to read the book of Isaiah in a week’s time? Well, you can choose to do that separate from your relationship with God, or you can choose to proceed prayerfully, asking God to be with you as you read a little faster than you’d like.

True spirituality is not about your ability to control your schedule and circumstances, it’s about fellowship with God in the midst of everything that confronts you day in and day out.

Even if you’re not being forced to read the Bible (as if that’s a bad thing!), I believe that you can use your busy schedule as a means of fellowshipping with God. During the middle ages, there was an emphasis on humble tasks being done skillfully to the glory of God. A blacksmith, for example, would have seen his trade as a God-given responsibility, and he would have pounded away on his anvil as a means of doing all things to God’s glory (see 1 Cor. 10:31). It wasn’t about finding some sort of spiritual significance behind forging metal, it was about taking an ordinary task and doing it skillfully before the Lord.

As all homeowners know, home improvement projects never end. I initially saw these tasks as a burden that I had to push through so I could spend time with God. But during a recent drywall and stucco project, I consciously decided to fellowship with God through the craftsmanship that the project called for. It was great.

Shouldn’t every aspect of our lives be consciously lived in God’s presence? If that’s the case, then we will always be “spending time with God”—regardless of how busy our schedule is. I’m not saying it’s easy, but there’s got to be a way to approach your meetings prayerfully. Your commute could easily be transformed into a time of worship. Your emailing and report writing could be reframed as acts of faithfulness to the responsibilities that God has given you.

John 15 is the classic call to “abide” in Christ. I recommend reading through it with your schedule in mind. Notice that Jesus never mentions the hectic pace of our modern lifestyles. Instead, He simply calls us to abide in Him—this means in the midst of whatever we encounter. It’s possible, and it’s important.

Having said all of that, however, I do think that there is a time to let go of those things that make us unnecessarily busy. That will be the subject of my next post.

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