Busyness: Knowing God’s Peace in a Chaotic World
I can’t imagine a better picture than that movie clip (from ) of the pace of our culture. Today we are going to talk about how to find God’s peace in the midst of a frenetic life, how to handle the busyness of our culture without losing what is most important to us.
And I don’t know when it happened, but at some point in the last couple of decades somebody pushed the big red button and plunged our culture into hyperdrive. All of us are moving faster and pressured to pick up the pace even more. Over the last two years in business has been brutal. Companies are much leaner but have even greater expectations for productivity. That means longer hours, bigger pressure, and if you don’t want it there are lots of people lined up to take your place. Over the last decade or so, there has also been an opportunity explosion for our families and our children. When I compare the number of very well-organized and beneficial opportunities available to my kids today versus when I was a kid, there just is no comparison. It is amazing how many wonderful opportunities there are out there, and for many of us we just can’t imagine how we could possibly deny little Johnny or Mary that new opportunity to learn or play or enrich their lives or get ahead of the other little kids. We feel we have to say “yes” so much for our kids that they are more rushed and pressured than ever. There has also been an explosion of stuff over the last decade. I thought there was a lot of stuff ten years ago, but the last ten years has tripled our expectations of all the stuff we think we need to have…we have to work harder and harder to just keep up with all the stuff and learn how to use it and take care of it.
At easter I asked people to raise their hands if they could relate to a feeling of being overwhelmed with life, and everybody just laughed as they raised their hands. We take being overwhelmed and overbooked for granted. Our culture rushes at hyperdrive speed, and most of us are along for the ride, just watching the stars go by as we speed through life.
Yet, in the midst of all that we do feel overwhelmed and at times tired and empty and have a strong feeling that with all this speed we are losing something significant. And we would be right. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself the question, “What am I losing by moving so fast?” Because the best things in life don’t happen in hyperdrive. They happen when we are willing to slow down. Relationships with God, with friends, with spouses, with kids don’t develop at 90 miles an hour. Our soul doesn’t grow bigger as we rush through life like we drive on Central Expressway. Most of us know that, but what are we to do about it?
How does God want us to live in a culture gone nuts? How do we be responsible and grab on to opportunity without over-doing it? How do we handle busy lives without being overwhelmed? Today that’s what I want to talk about. Now, please understand, I’m not advocating idleness. We have too big of a mission to fulfill, too many opportunities to seize, too many relationships to deepen than to be idle…but I don’t think idleness is the big sin of our age. I think over-busyness is. And if we don’t watch it we will kill everything good in our life. We will live such shallow, tired, overwhelmed lives that we really don’t build anything rich or deep or substantive. And none of us want that. In fact, most of us know that we could and should do better. But the stakes are high, and we need to quit aspiring to a more healthy life and learn to live better.
So, how do we handle demanding lives without losing what is most important? How can we know God’s peace in the midst of busy lives? Today we want to look to God’s Word to answer the question.
1) Take a vacation every week
Sounds good doesn’t it! And it should, because that is how you were created. And what I am talking about is a day of rest, what the Old Testament calls the “Sabbath.”
Now you’ve probably heard about the Sabbath day. In fact, it is one of the ten commandments, which was the heart of the Old Testament law. Here is the fourth commandment:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither your, nor your son or daughter, not your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8.
Now you and I are not under Old Testament law. We live under a new covenant in relationship with Jesus. So we don’t have to be legalistic about keeping a Sabbath day as they would have in the Old Testament…or some of you may have grown up in religious traditions where the Sabbath would be kept that way. Can’t swim on Sundays and that kind of thing.
We no longer live under the law, yet, I don’t believe we can ignore the principle of the Sabbath either. We may not have to repeat the same form as in the Old Testament, but a principle of Bible study when looking at the Old Testament law is to look for the reasoning, or the principle behind the law, to find out what to apply to today.
When you look back at the fourth commandment, think back to the reason that was given for taking a day out of every week as a change of pace…a day of rest, of recreation. What reason? The verse said, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” God modeled it. At creation, he created for six days and rested on the seventh. Why did he do that? Not because he was tired. He wasn’t saying, “Well, people, one time I worked six days in a row and I was really pooped. So, I think you need to rest.” No, God doesn’t get tired or weary. He did it as a model to you and me. And in that way he blessed that day and set it apart as a special day, a day to change your pace and recharge your batteries.
God created you and me with the need for cycles of work and rest. Just like a car or a sailboat, you and I to function properly must work and we must rest. Both are necessary, otherwise we will fall apart. When driving my little Accord on a long trip, I have to stop every four hundred miles or so and fill up with gas again. As great a car it is, it must stop and get refueled in order to keep going. And every 3000 miles or so I have to stop longer to have an oil change, if I want to keep the car running for years. That’s just the way cars are made. And the Creator of the world made you a similar way.
Now the Old Testament law specified certain ways of keeping the Sabbath that you and I are not obligated to. And by the time Jesus came along, the Pharisees had added all kinds of rules and regulations that were just ridiculous, and Jesus broke most of them right in front of the Pharisees just to drive them nuts. But he did keep the pattern of work and rest, work and rest. You and I were made for such a pattern.
A couple of years ago, a wealthy person with a big heart for the local church, paid for me to go through an executive coaching process that I am sure costs a lot of money. To qualify you have to make a salary of over 120,000 dollars a year, and I don’t qualify. But he got me in and paid for me to go. The whole point was to learn how to manage time in a way where you could be more productive in order to make more money and add greater value to your company. But I was surprised when I found out the key. I thought I was going to get some gimmick or new formula, but it wasn’t. The lynch pen of the whole time management system is free time. They divide your week into focus days, buffer days, and free days. But the whole point is for you to have free days, which they define as 24 hour period of time where you do not work one minute of that time. And they convince you that you need at least one free day a week, and the busier you are the more you need. Now, picture this. All these hard chargers who are competitive and busy and they just paid a bunch of money and invested a good bit of time just to hear that what they need to be doing is taking free days, what the Old Testament would call a Sabbath day.
To convince people, they showed a graph that looked like this. The point is that the more you work without free days the less creative and productive you become. When you work without free days, you are really shooting yourself in the foot, because you don’t work smart, you get irritable, you lose creativity. The best leaders are ones who know the need for free days. They have other graphs to show how people boosted their productivity and corporate earnings and personal income by a significant percentage just by making this one change in their life: adding free days in, at least one a week.
Folks, I could have saved all those people thousands of dollars by just having them read the 10 commandments. God has designed you and me with the need for free days, a vacation every week, to do things that are restorative to us…a change of pace from the rest of the week.
I haven’t always been good about doing this…in fact in the past I’ve been pretty lousy at it, but to my own detriment. Over the last few months though I’ve tried to be ruthless with my Saturdays, since Sundays aren’t the best free days for someone in my profession. I’ve tried to use that 24 hour period of time as much as possible as free time, to be with my family, to do something restorative, to change pace from the rest of the week. I don’t shave, I wear shorts and flip flops, and whenever possible get out with the family on a sailboat or go play with my kids. And I believe that God is well-pleased as often as I do it.
Having free days is as godly as reading your Bible or leading someone to Christ. Guys, you are going to love what I am about to say. Here goes: Sometimes the most godly thing you can do is to go play golf, or go ride a motorcycle, or go sailing. (Aren’t you glad you came to church?). For some of you working out in the yard is restorative, and what I’d like is a list of all the people in the church who are that way so that I can give you lots of opportunity around my house for restoration and relaxation. I don’t understand you people, but if you come over and work on my yard I can certainly learn to appreciate you. And ladies, sometimes the best thing you can do is to do whatever is most restorative to you…I’ll let you fill in the blanks.
God modeled it and created you and me with the need for days that are free. We were created with a need for a little mini-vacation every week. It is a godly thing to do. And if you aren’t doing it, let me encourage you to start. You are only shooting yourself in the foot if you choose not to. But let’s keep going to figure out how in the world to balance all of life’s demands without being overwhelmed, and I believe the next point is the most significant:
2) Put in the big rocks first.
See, I told you that this week I would give those of you who like to anticipate what should go in the blanks more of a challenge. How many of you got this one? Hah!
Put in the big rocks first. What am I talking about? Some of you I am sure are familiar with this old experiment, where you have a pile of rocks of different sizes. Some big, some medium, and many little pieces of gravel. And then the professor says, “Okay, I want you to take all these rocks and put them into the container so that they all fit perfectly into it…nothing spilling over or even sticking out of the top. So, the students get started. They pick up piles of rocks and place them in the container, but they don’t fit. So, they keep trying…but it doesn’t work. Finally, they get frustrated and say, “These rocks don’t fit…there are too many.” And the professor says, “Let me try.” And he starts by putting the big rocks in first, and then pours the pebbles in, allowing them to settle in all the little cracks around the big rocks. Then they all fit, but not if you put the pebbles in first.
You and I will always have more opportunity that we think can fit into the container…often so much that we feel that we are always behind. And we will, unless we decide what our big rocks in life are going to be and schedule them in first. Then, we can add other things, but not at the expense of big things. What I’m really talking about is priorities…making sure that we say yes to the important things first.
If you are like me, your “no” muscles are not very well developed. I love to say “yes.” It is probably my favorite word. But we have to make sure that what we are saying yes to doesn’t make us say no things that are more important…otherwise we will be ineffective and overwhelmed.
The apostle Paul is a great model of this sense of priority. He knew why he was on the planet, and therefore he could make priority decisions as opportunities came up. He was single, so he was very focused on God’s kingdom. Philippians 3 lets us know that he was intent on knowing Christ. His relationship with Christ was paramount. And other passages like Ephesians 3 let us know his calling, to take the gospel to the gentiles, to people that had never heard about Jesus. That was his focus, but that meant he sometimes had to say no to other things, even good things. An example of this is in the book of Romans. Paul had not yet been to Rome, and in the letter to the Romans you learn that he had promised that one day he would get there…but people were getting impatient and hurt because he kept choosing to go other places. Visiting Christians in Rome was not a bad thing, but we see the way Paul made decisions in Romans 15:20-24:
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on somebody else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” This is why I have often been hindered in coming to you. But now there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.
His priorities were clear, and that is why he had said no so often before. But now, he had preached the gospel throughout Asia Minor and was ready to go to Spain, which had not yet been reached. So, he would work out a way to see them on his way to Spain. Saying yes to their request earlier would not have been bad; however, Paul understood that he had some higher things to say “yes” to.
Here is the principle stated another way, and the next time you are confronted with an opportunity, remember this:
Every time you say “yes” to one thing you are saying “no” to something else.
Remember that. Whenever you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else…so make sure that you aren’t say no to the most important things in your life. Yet, that is often what happens. We allow smaller things to squeeze out the big rock commitments of our life.
Here are my big rocks, actually regular sized tennis balls, but you get the idea. If you come into my office, you will see these on my little work table as a reminder. I have six big rocks: 1) Devotional life, which is important because if I’m not in fresh contact with God everything I do in leadership and teaching suffer. 2) Family including Christy and the kids and we all know how important family is though it is easy to squeeze that time out; 3) My ER rock which stand for exercise and recreation, both of which are designed to keep me out of the ER. 4) Planning, because I have to carve out time to pray and plan and dream in order to help lead this church and this staff. 5) Study and reading, which includes sermon preparation but also just time to read which is vital for what I do but so easy to squeeze out. And 6) key relationships, which includes people on my staff team, elders, as well as non-believers in my world with whom God is asking me to build relationships.
Those are my six big rocks as I have defined them just this last month. So, now I am trying to do a much better job of living with these in mind. But it is hard. Often the easiest thing for me to squeeze out of my life is exercise, or recreation, or devotions, or reading…Every one of these have been the things in the past that I have allowed more urgent things to squeeze out…yet these are the most important.
Ones I am doing better on are family, recreation, study, and devotions. The other ones I have a long way to go. But one thing that has helped me tremendously is using my assistant to do my schedule. I know not everyone has an assistant, but I have told her my priorities, and she puts in those big rocks first. I am such a softie when it comes to saying “yes” that she does a great job of staying objective and making sure I am scheduling in the big things first. And it is great to see some of this working.
Now, Christy and I eat a long lunch every Friday. We had tried to take date nights, but that was hard because I am out so many evenings already. Now with both kids in school, the long lunch has worked great to keep us in good communication and at a good place. It is sometimes very hard though to keep that commitment and say yes to lesser things. But I’m trying to be good to schedule in the big rocks first…otherwise they will get squeezed out every time.
So, what are your big rocks? What are the two or four or six things that God has asked you to prioritize? Define those and then be sure to schedule those things in first. Other things can fall in if time allows, but don’t allow lesser things to rob you of the most important things.
3) Recalibrate your speedometer
We’ve got lots of mixed metaphors going on here today, folks: big rocks and now speedometers. We need to make sure that the way we pace our lives is healthy and good…that it leads to a richer soul and better relationships and more productive lives and not killing everything really good and meaningful. Every once in a while we need to recalibrate to make sure we are not running far too fast.
Let’s think about Jesus for just a few minutes. We would all agree that he had the most significant job description in history: teacher, healer, God, savior of the world, Lord of the universe. I don’t care what you aspire to be CEO of, Jesus has you beat in the scope of responsibility department. His life was intense, and everybody around him wanted something from him.
Yet, think about it. As you read through the biblical accounts of Jesus, was he rushing around at Mach 2? Do you realize that as much as the Bible talks about Jesus walking, that it never says he ran? (That’s one of the reasons I don’t run any more). Jesus didn’t go out and buy the latest chariot and fastest horse to get him around quickly to maximize his time. He could have, but he didn’t. He walked. As busy as he was, he always seemed to have time for people and time for great moments. As far as we know, he didn’t even have a palm pilot or a cell phone. Yet, he was incredibly effective.
In fact, when Jesus was most effective was not when he was moving, but when he stopped. Stopped to heal, stopped to teach, stopped to be with God, stopped to be with his friends. He lived a busy pace but with a sense of balance. You see this throughout his ministry, but maybe the most classic passage to see his mentality about pacing is in Mark 6, which Gene alluded to a few weeks ago:
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. (Mark 6:31-32).
They had been in a busy period of time. Jesus had just sent the disciples away on a mission, and they had gotten back. Nothing wrong with hard work and demanding responsibilities…but Jesus knew that they needed rest. They needed to get away, and I’m sure they were happy to get on that boat together. Rather than bragging to each other that they were so busy they couldn’t take time to eat, they got away. Jesus said, “Come on guys. You can’t live like this. You need a break. Let’s hop on a boat.” And they did.
Jesus modeled a way of life that was full but not frenetic, committed but not chaotic…his speedometer was calibrated well, allowing a life pace that enriched his soul, embraced his priorities, and deepened his relationships. That’s what he wants for you and me, too. But, it is easy to get out of whack on this pacing issue.
A couple of summers ago, my then seven year old son Collin and I flew up to Seattle, where we met my sister in law to drive her down to Texas. She was moving from Alaska to Dallas and had taken a ferry to Seattle. That is quite a long drive, but I was looking forward to it, because we were going to be driving through Montana and Wyoming. Now, those two states are some of the most beautiful spots on the planet, but that wasn’t what I was most excited about. I was excited about driving out there, because I had heard that there were long stretches of highway with no speed limits. I had always dreamed of renting a Porsche or a Viper or some similar fast car and just driving like crazy out there on those no speed limit roads. So, this was my big chance, and I was looking forward to it. There were a couple of problems, though. For one, a couple of months before they had established speed limits of 75 miles per hour on those highways because of so many people like me. But I could get over that. The other problem is what really got me. You see, my sister in law doesn’t have a Porsche or a Viper. She has a little Mazda 626, which still has potential, but the car was having some serious problems and losing compression…which meant that going up hills we were often struggling to make 35 miles an hour. I was being passed by Yugos. It was terrible. I had a need for speed, and it just wasn’t going to happen.
All along the road, I guess residue from the good old days in Montana when there were no speed limits, were signs that said, “Speed kills.” You’ve seen them around too, I’m sure.
And that is incredibly true, not just on highways but in the way we live our lives. Speed kills. Think about it. How much that is really rich and good and deep happens at 90 miles an hour? What experiences of enduring value in your life can you remember that occurred in hyperdrive mode? The Bible talks a lot about being with God in the quiet, in stillness, and silence…that’s when the best moments with God happen.
Think back to a good friendship or to a marriage or to your children. Do a quick time-line in your head of high moments in those relationships. How many of those moments happened at 90 miles an hour? Can you build a solid marriage at that speed? Can you know the heart of a 10 year old kid or grandkid at that speed? Can you build a deep friendship at that speed? Can you build a vibrant relationship with God when you are in hyperdrive? Can you sense God’s presence and know his guidance? I don’t think you can. Speed kills all of that.
Even as I think back on that trip, you know what I remember? Not the times I was able to drive fast going down a steep hill (which was the only driving thrill I could muster). I remember the time we stopped by the side of the road in _____ Park and watched Collin see his first bear and his first buffalo. I remember the time we stopped at the little cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park that was built right over a mountain stream. I remember stopping and eating in all kinds of little restaurants and towns. That was a great trip, but not because of driving fast. It was a great trip because we stopped.
I think most of us know this truth…that speed kills. We know that by moving to fast we build shallow souls and shallow relationships and emptier lives than we would like. We all know that it is those slow moments in life that we treasure later, that make us feel alive and Christian and befriended and married. So, why do we run so fast? I think many of us need to recalibrate our speedometer, our sense of what is normal and healthy.
I know I need to, and I need to do it often. But there have been times I’ve been way out of whack and have paid for that. A number of years ago, I probably knew all these things I have said today, but I was not living a Christ-like pace. More of my life has been that way than healthy, but when I first came back to Fellowship as a full-time pastor about 6 years ago, I made a lot of poor choices. I was here to do adult education, discipleship, and leadership development. We were also starting an organization called the Center for Church-Based Training, to help churches all around the world be more effective. I was excited and believed in the vision of what we were doing. There was so much to be done. We had no intentional disicpleship effort then, and that’s when the idea of Discovery was born. And we got to work, which was followed by new idea after new idea after new idea, all of which felt urgent and necessary. But in the meantime, we had a toddler, Collin, and a new baby, Caleb, who was not the easiest baby in the world. He cried all the time as a baby. I thought he must have had some parts missing or something at times. He was a tough kid those first months. But almost all that was on Christy to deal with. I traveled a good deal with CCBT and when here had training sessions and meetings and Bible studies almost every evening. I would go stretches where I would have evening commitments outside the home 21 days in a row. It wasn’t healthy obviously. And my family paid for it. So did my marriage.
Christy was very gracious, but it took a lot out of her. Now, I am living a more healthy life, but it took seeing her pain to knock me into reality…that I didn’t have to do everything all at once…that God didn’t ask me to do ministry in a way that killed everything good in my life. I was on a course to self-destruction, and fortunately because of some good friends around me and because of her graciously crying “Uncle,” I slowly figured out that speed was killing everything good.
And though it is much better and healthier today, I can still so easily slip into that mode. And my guess is that you can too, whether you are a single worker, a working mom or dad, or stay-at-home mom or dad. Any of us can get way too caught up in a fast pace saying yes far too often to wonderful things. Just remember, speed kills. And take some time this week to assess your own life and get ruthless about it. Take some time to recalibrate your sense of what is good and normal…make sure that you are not out of control.
My guess is that most of the people in this room today can relate to everything I have said. In our culture most will struggle with over-commitment and have tried to adapt to an overwhelming pace of life. But the stakes are high. Speed does kill everything good, and God isn’t asking us to live that way.
So, what I want us to do is think back through this message. Next to the first point, “Take a vacation every week,” write which day is best for you…then begin to take a free day. Next to the second point, “Put in your big rocks first,” write out your two or four or six big rocks, your big priorities. You will probably need some time this week to pray and think about and do it. But do it. Otherwise you will say yes to all sorts of things that aren’t nearly as big of a deal and you will squeeze out what is really important. And third, take some time today to evaluate your current speed. Talk with those closest around you and recalibrate your sense of what is normal and healthy. Decide what speed limit is best for you.
The stakes are big on this one, because we compromise everything good when we move too fast. As Jesus said, “What good is it if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?” The next time you are tempted to say yes to too much, to compete with your neighbors for the best whatever, to automatically say yes to every new responsibility, be sure to weight it against what is most important. Make sure you are living a life where your soul is getting richer, your relationships deeper, and your heart more joyful.