I believe that busyness is a plague in 2016 – most of us are really quite busy, overly busy, but we are not accomplishing very much. Note here the challenge of Jesus to not strive after that which the world strives after:
“Consider how the wildflowers grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! 28 If that’s how God clothes the grass, which is in the field today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will He do for you—you of little faith? 29 Don’t keep striving for what you should eat and what you should drink, and don’t be anxious. 30 For the Gentile world eagerly seeks all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.31 “But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you.32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.“ Luke 12:27-34
I want to assure you that it is quite possible to move from a place of fatigue, over-commitment and fruitlessness to a place of focus, rest, productivity, intimacy with God, abiding in Him, and bearing much more fruit in your life. It is indeed quite possible, but it won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. You and I will need to make some very hard decisions – decisions that might be painful and questioned in the short-term, but will pay off huge dividends in the long run. You see, and please take this seriously: THERE IS NO MIRACLE CURE FOR BUSYNESS.
Repeat that sentence in your mind, because it is important, and you will need to understand that in the endeavor to become less encumbered by busyness (and ultimately, more fruitful), You don’t need to think that this is going to happen overnight, anymore than you can grow watermelons overnight. There is no three step process that will get your life unbusy in forty-eight hours. There is no Hollywood miracle overnight cure for fruitless busyness. Three weeks ago, I had a sinus infection, and my sinuses went completely concrete on me – not even a molecule of air could move in or out. In desperation, I furiously Googled various websites and searched YouTube for tips and tricks to unclog my sinuses. I first tried one of those neti-pot things where you irrigate your sinuses. I think I nearly killed myself, as my face, sinuses and even my ears filled up with water, which seemed to get stuck in there. Then I tried boiling vinegar on the stove and breathing it. It burned my eyes, my face, and my throat, but literally did nothing for my sinuses. After that, I tried various face massages and pressure points on my face. I pushed as hard as I could in various spots, and succeeded in bruising my face, but not in unclogging my sinuses. Then I tried horseradish, but it had gone rotten, and it took me about five deep sniffs to realize it. Unrotten horseradish already smells atrocious. Take it from me – you don’t want to smell rotten horseradish. That smell was so powerful that it somehow traveled through the back of my throat, and up to my olfactory receptors, where it killed all of my remaining sense of smell, but it was not nearly powerful enough to open my sinuses.
Finally…I tried fresh onions. I cut them up and pressed them beside my nose, just like the nice Asian lady in the YouTube video said to do. She also said to take a q-tip and rub it against a fresh cut onion, and then put it in your nose. I didn’t want to wake my wife up by going and getting q-tips out of our bathroom, so i just shoved a few cut onions up my nose. That didn’t work at all AND I lost an onion or two for a few moments, which caused a bit of a panic. You know what ultimately worked to unclog my nose? NOTHING. Well, that is not exactly true – after about two weeks, and a shot at the doctor, and a ten day course of antibiotics, my sinuses are finally clear. But there was no quick and easy cure for concrete sinuses, and there will likely be no quick and easy cure for your busy and complicated schedule. Don’t let that make you lose heart, however. In Christ, YOU CAN ESCAPE!
Have you ever heard the parable of the young man and the ax? It is not a Jesus parable, but it does have a good lesson to teach. In the Pacific Northwest, one year an eager and athletic young man joined on with a team of grizzled veteran lumberjacks. He had all of the energy, strength and zeal of youth, and a brand new and shiny ax. The first couple of days, the veteran lumberjacks were put off by the young man’s eagerness, and thus they were not overly welcoming to him. The young man decided to solve this problem by proving to those older and experienced wood-cutters how good he could be at chopping wood, and thus he attacked his job, and the trees, with a fierceness and energy that hadn’t been seen in those woods in a long time. The first four days, the young lumberjack was able to cut down and chop up more lumber than any of the other men. On the fifth day, however, he began to slow down. By week number two, despite the fact that he worked at least two hours a day more than anybody else, his lumber output was far lower than ANY of the other lumberjacks, and he was greatly discouraged. He went to one of the kinder, slightly less grizzled lumberjacks, and asked him for advice. That lumberjack took a long look at the young man and noticed dozens of blisters on his hands as well as several knots in his shoulder muscles. He then examined the young lumberjack’s ax, and found that, even though it was new and probably more technologically advanced than anybody else’s ax, it was quite dull, and in desperate need of sharpening. The young man, in his zeal and haste, was not taking enough time to rest his body and recover, nor was he taking the time to tend to his instrument of work and keep it sharp. Over time, by observing the wisdom of the elder lumberjacks, the young man became a skilled and proficient wood-cutter, and didn’t exhaust himself, or his ax in the process. Sometimes doing too much is actually counter-productive.
Let’s take a more contemporary example. J.J. Watt is a freak of nature – an NFL defensive end for the Houston Texans who is 6’6, and about 300 pounds. If you don’t know Watt, you’re probably picturing a big and chubby guy, but you’d wrong. J.J. Watt is that size and cut – he is approximately 8 percent body fat. He is an incredible athlete that is fast, explosive, strong, and works incredibly hard. He is one of the best players, if not the best, in the entire National Football League. Unfortunately, Watt is out for the rest of the season due to a back injury. How did he injure his back? Well, he had surgery during the off-season, and apparently did not REST nearly enough. He ignored the orders of his doctor and team trainer, and busied himself with working out and running and lifting several weeks earlier than he should have. Unsurprisingly, he re-injured himself in the same area, and, even though he is one of the strongest and toughest men in the world, he is out of football for the year…maybe longer than that. All because he refused to rest.
It is ironic, but spiritually true, that one way to become more fruitful and productive is to actually CUT BACK on activities. This is key #1 to overcoming, or curing fruitless busyness: Prune the vine. It is very counter-intuitive, but in farming and gardening, one way to increase the yield of a particular plant is to prune it, or actually cut off pieces. A good definition of pruning is, “To trim (a tree, shrub, or bush) by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth.” I suggest that the schedules of most everybody reading this, myself included, need a good (and radical) pruning. It won’t be easy! I know, from experience, that even when you are busy, and worn out from being busy, it is often complicated and painful to trim the fat in your schedule, but it has to be done. If you are carrying more than you should be, then the only solution for you and your family is to prune your schedule. It won’t completely fix every over-busy problem, but it is the best and first place to start.
One last illustration: Imagine that you are a hiker with a backpack, and you have a ten mile hike ahead of you that goes over uneven terrain. That hike becomes more and more difficult – and even impossible – based on how much weight is in your backpack. Ten pounds is probably manageable for most people. Sixty pounds, not so much. Think about the ten miles over uneven terrain as your life – that which you must do. Your schedule is your backpack. Filling your schedule up with too much is like filling your backpack up with too much weight. It is demoralizing, it slows you down, and turns what might be a beautiful hike into painful drudgery. Sometimes you just have to lighten your load. Sometimes, you just have to cut your schedule.
Ponder and meditate on this teaching of Jesus – particularly vs 2. Note that God Himself prunes His people (we are the vines…) so that we will produce more fruit.
John 15: 15 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.
In our next post, we will talk about key #2 to overcoming fruitless busyness: Embracing the right priorities.
Thanks for reading!