Years ago, I discovered a tension in my life and ministry. Not a tension between other people, but a tension inside of me—the tension between being still and being busy. Maybe you have felt it also.
Because of my desire to hear God’s “well done,” I found myself busy doing for God. I desired to see God glorified through me, so I did, and did, and did. I was addicted to busyness.
I would like to say that I was trusting God for the results (because I felt that I was), but my actions told a different story. One indicator of this was that I felt guilty when I would stop working. If I wasn’t doing something, I felt I was being lazy, unproductive and unfruitful. So I would fill up every empty spot with something. You know the drill.
My life showed what I really believed: that doing was the most important thing. I was more dependent on my actions for results than on God. If I was truly dependent on God for the results, then I would have spent more time alone with Jesus, more time in prayer and less time worrying about details while trying to “look busy.”
I also desired a productive ministry. I discovered that I felt productive when I was extremely busy. It felt like I was so important to the ministry that I couldn’t slow down. I reasoned that I was always doing something; surely all that activity was productive!
Unfortunately, busyness and productivity are not the same. I can finish my “to do” list (and even reply to all my emails) and accomplish nothing of spiritual worth. Yes, I am to be diligent in my labor, Paul “worked harder than any of them” (1 Cor. 15:10), but there is a difference between being diligent and being addicted to busyness. I was addicted to busyness.
Another reason for my busyness lay hidden beneath the surface. I was addicted to busyness because I felt the weight of other people’s judgement. Real or perceived, I felt it. I wanted others to see me as busy and was afraid of being judged as being lazy. Maybe it is because I was afraid that if the ministry “failed” (didn’t succeed in man’s eyes), then people would say that I should have done more than pray so much. What would others think of me?
The last reason for my busyness wasn’t simply laying beneath the surface; it was buried deep in me. It took a lot of soul searching to discover it. The motive: pride. I was addicted to busyness because I wanted others to see me as significant. Significant people are busy, right? The work they do is important. I felt that if I wasn’t bouncing from task to task like a six-year-old on Red Bull, I wasn’t significant.
The Façade of Productivity for God
In our culture, “busy” has become synonymous with “significant.” How do people describe an important person? “Oh, you know Bill. He is so busy!” In other words, if you are busy, everyone assumes that your work is productive and that you are significant. If you are busy for Jesus, then you must be super spiritual and doing important work—even if nothing supernatural is happening.
We all have a desire for significance and importance. When people ask us how we are doing, we reply, “Busy,” to which they give a smug, understanding nod and say, “Yeah, me too!” And we both walk away proud that we are doing something for God. Why? Because we are “busy” for God.
From Busyness to Stillness
My life needed a shift in focus from busyness to stillness.
I cannot be lazy and do nothing, but my first priority is to diligently pursue relationship with Jesus and labor in prayer. There is a difference between laziness and being still before God. If laying my burdens before God is the source of my strength, why did it fill the smallest part of my schedule? Probably because the other things felt more productive and significant. I could point to my to-do list and say, “Today, I did this.” If it failed, I could say, “Well, I tried,” and no one batted an eye. But if I took more time to pray, I feared that people would question me and I would look like a fool.
When I had a lot of reports, emails, meetings or unresolved problems I also felt pressured. I didn’t feel peace. I felt like I needed to push harder and harder to get things done. But that was because I was trusting my strength, not God’s.
Oh, to be more like Martin Luther, who said: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” He was too busy not to pray, and so are we.
God used these verses to shift my focus from busyness to stillness:
“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31)
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)
What incredible promises! As I make stillness my priority rather than busyness, God makes two promises: (1) he will give the strength I need, and (2) he will work to glorify and exalt his name. The pressure is not on me.
Stillness is more than saying a quick prayer as we start the day, it is finding time to be still before him in body, mind and spirit.
How many times do we spend our “quiet time” with God and don’t quiet our heart? Everyone and every day is different; there is no magic formula. Some days we may spend 10 minutes and other days over an hour. But if we take time to be still before God the result is the same: a worry-free heart that is peacefully resting in his control.
God doesn’t look for the busiest people; he looks for those whose hearts are close to his and are trusting in him. It is always an act of faith to be still before God and pray when the pressures of life and ministry are calling, but this is where we find our strength.
Our ministry will reflect the power source. It may not always result in amazing growth outwardly, but what is God doing in you? Is he transforming your inner life? God first works in us and secondly works through us. The first place we see God at work is in the deep recesses of our heart. The state of your heart, not the busyness of your schedule, is the truest test of where your ministry is headed.
God does want to work through us, but he first wants us to slow down enough so that he can work in us.