I’m busy. I wake up with a to-do list in my head. I rarely ease into the day. I jump out of bed with things to do, and at the end of the day I’m usually disappointed with how much I accomplished. I can’t remember the last time my inbox and task list were empty.
I’m driven. I find myself checking my phone throughout the day, and I’m tempted to measure my worth by how much I do. When I go on vacation, it takes some time for me to slow down.
I’m probably a bit like you. We wear busy as a badge of honor. It’s become the new normal.
The New Default
Things weren’t always so busy. Not long ago, the separation between work and life was more defined. We didn’t carry computers in our pockets. We weren’t connected to workers in different time zones. Even the stores closed for a day each week.
According to Make Time, a new book by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, we’re busy by default. “Default means the way something works when you first start using it. It’s a preselected option, and if you don’t do something to change it, that default is what you get.” The new default is busy. Unless we take deliberate action, we’ll join what the authors call the Busy Bandwagon. Our cell phones will always be on. Work will encroach on our rest. “React to what’s in front of you. Be responsive. Fill your time, be efficient, and get more done. These are the default rules of the Busy Bandwagon.”
Unless you take action, we’ll default to busy every single time.
The Cost of Busy
It’s not like we’re not aware of the costs of being so busy. We sense that we’re racing through life. We feel like we’re on edge. Our relationships don’t get the attention that they need. We lack time for what matters most.
In the 1960s, well before smartphones and the Internet, Thomas Merton wrote:
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence. The rush and pressures of modern life are a form of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, to succumb to violence … The frenzy of the activist … destroys our own inner capacity for peace.
It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
The cost of our busyness is high. Busyness robs us of the peace we were meant to enjoy.
Resetting the Default
I wish I could give a list of simple tips to eliminate busyness from your life. The truth is that I’d be lying. I still fight busyness every single day of my life.
We can take one intentional step, though, to reset our default. It’s an ancient practice that couldn’t be more timely. Given the pace of our lives, this suggestion will sound crazy. When I talk about it people look at me like I’ve lost my mind.
Take a day off from work each week.
No work. No laundry. No email. No obligations. Nothing but activities that renew and restore your soul, and that bring you closer to God and to others.
The ancient Biblical word for this practice is Sabbath. The Bible teaches that God made us for a rhythm of work and rest. One day in seven we’re supposed to cease work, engage in activities that refresh us, and find our identity not in what we do but who God is and how he sees us.
Taking this day each week is an act of rebellion against a culture that expects you to keep going. It’s one of the hardest and most rewarding things that I do. I can’t imagine life without it.
When I talk to people about Sabbath, they can’t imagine how it could be possible. They think that it could never work for them. This is an indication that busyness has become their default. The only solution is to take the radical step of breaking that default, and creating a new one. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it.
Take a Sabbath. Start this week. Fight to make it possible. The work will wait. You probably won’t enjoy this practice at first. But stay at it. Experiment with the practices that bring you the most joy. I don’t know of a better way to reset the default of busyness in our lives than to recover this ancient practice that’s essential for our souls.
For more information on Sabbath, consider enrolling in an upcoming session of G4L Coaching, or check out Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God.
I meant well. At the start of 2016, I challenged our church to commit to a one-year Bible reading plan using The Bible Project. The plan features readings and videos with overview of every book of the Bible, along with videos that explain some of the major themes. I wanted people to develop a new Bible reading habit.
Things seemed to go well. Not everyone participated, but many did.
Later on, my wife told me that I had ruined her Bible reading.
Disrupting a Good Thing
My wife, Charlene, had a good thing going. She would read a passage of Scripture, mark up her Bible, chew on it, and journal on it. She didn’t move quickly through the Bible, but she went deep, and it worked.
I’m different. While I enjoy going deep, I also love covering larger chunks of Scripture to get an overview of the Bible.
Neither is wrong. Both approaches have strengths and drawbacks.
When Char dropped her approach and started following the plan I’d suggested, it disrupted her pattern. My plan didn’t work quite as well for her, and it took her months to find her way back to something that did.
Not an Isolated Issue
This isn’t an isolated issue. In a recent post, Michael Patton writes:
Can we learn from each other? Of course. Can we inspire each other to better habits? Most definitely. But I can’t judge your relationship with Him based upon my own patterns. The Bible gives us a lot of freedom to be ourselves. Sure, there are the principles of knowledge, fellowship, and obedience. But the expressions these, I find, are as numerous as there are people to express them. God loves variety…
So quit trying to make me like you. More importantly, quit judging others so quickly. You never really know how special the way they approach God is to God.
If we were all the same, the same approach would work for all of us. Because we’re different, we must approach our relationship with God in ways that work for us.
The solution? Hack yourself. Look for what’s worked in the past. Experiment with different approaches and see what works for you.
If you’re a disciplined person who likes structure, find one. If you like to go deep, pick a three-year reading plan, or just go at your own pace. If you like to get an overview of Scripture then pick a one-year plan, or even a 90-day plan.
If you’re a morning person, schedule some time with God in the morning. If you’re not, don’t sweat it. If you’re an extrovert, read the Bible and pray with others. If you are unstructured, choose an unstructured approach that includes the basics.
We all need to cover the basics — reading or listening to the Bible, praying, and pursuing worship and fellowship within a church — but there are many ways to pursue the basics well. We need to find what works for us.
A Different Bible Reading Habit
Charlene and I now read the Bible differently. I don’t know if we’ll ever be on the same Bible reading plan again. And that’s okay, because we’ve both found approaches that work for us.
People are different, so it’s okay to practice the basics differently.
Our daughter is taking an Early Childhood Education program. She’s studying child development, including what’s appropriate at every stage. It’s important to know what to expect from children so that we can plan accordingly and understand how to encourage growth at every stage.
The same is true with us. We’re at different stages in our walk with God. We need to understand where we are so that we can plan accordingly and know what steps to take that are appropriate at our stage.
What’s Your Stage?
In How to Grow, I describe six stages in our walk with God:
The Pre-Questioning may not believe in God; they may believe in a different god. They aren’t really interested in Jesus and His message.
The Questioning don’t know much about Jesus, but are open.
The Believing identify as Christian.
The Growing show evidence of a relationship with Jesus Christ, have joined a church community, and are learning the basics of the faith.
The Mentoring are growing in faith and obedience, and helping others to grow.
The Maturing don’t often think much of themselves. They walk with a limp. But they have grown in godliness and influence others to godliness.
It’s important to realize that these categories are neater than reality. We’re not widgets; we can’t be sorted into neat categories. They’re still a helpful tool, though, for understanding where we are in our own growth.
If you’d like to find out your own stage, you can take a quick survey here.
Know How to Grow at Your Stage
When you understand your stage, you can know what actions are most helpful to take right now.
The Pre-Questioning need stimulating conversations, genuine friendships with Christians, and the opportunity to see the Christian faith lived out.
The Questioning can grow by learning the story of Christianity, exploring the Bible, and seeing the Christian faith lived out in community.
The Believing can grow by learning the basics of Christianity, reading the Bible, praying, and learning from other Christians.
The Growing can grow by learning and applying the gospel, developing habits of grace, and helping others progress through the stages.
The Mentoring can grow by looking for faithful people, entrusting the gospel to them, and helping them become disciple-makers.
The Maturing can continue to grow by sharing their lives with others, and by drawing close to Christ.
For more information on the steps you can take at each stage, see chapter 4 of How to Grow.
Every Stage Is Beautiful
Every stage is beautiful. Each stage has strengths, and we can enjoy it. Just as children are beautiful at every stage, so is every stage of our growth in Christ.
The challenge: to keep growing. Understand your current stage, and take the next step to grow. Not only will you benefit, but you will bring glory to God, and your life will influence others.
I sometimes ask kids how they grow. They just look at me, shrug, and tell me they don’t know. It’s just what kids do. They eat. They play. They sleep. They do normal things, and day by day they grow and mature.
As adults, we’re sometimes confused about how we grow. There’s a multi-million dollar business out there focused on personal growth. But kids never need to learn how to grow. They grow by doing the things that children are supposed to do.
The same is true of us: we grow not by doing extraordinary things, but merely by living the normal Christian life.
Things That Normal Christians Do
In Acts 2, we read some of the things that new Christians did soon after they believed the gospel:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
When we read this passage, we’re tempted to focus on the extraordinary elements of their life — that they sold their possessions and shared the proceeds, for instance. But I’m struck by the ordinary, not extraordinary, things they did:
they devoted themselves to teaching
they lived in relationship with each other: eating, sharing, and living ordinary life together
they celebrated the Lord’s Supper
They didn’t live the extraordinary Christian life. They did ordinary things on a regular basis.
Embrace the Church
If you want to grow, embrace doing the ordinary things that Christians do within the church. We’re tempted to look for extraordinary things: a new conference, book, or radical new insight. But growth comes from pursuing the ordinary Christian life together.
Never underestimate the power of doing the ordinary things that we’re supposed to do together. Instead, build a pattern in your life. Make a point of committing to do these ordinary things on a regular basis. It’s countercultural, ordinary, and absolutely necessary.
…the local church is the natural environment for discipling. In fact, it teaches that the local church is itself the basic discipler of Christians. It does this through its weekly gatherings and its accountability structures, as well as its elders and its members. These in turn provide the context for the one-on-one discipling we have been considering so far…
In the New Testament, the local church is at the very center of the disciples’ obedience and discipling work. It’s not optional; it’s basic.
Embrace the Ordinary to Grow
Want to grow? Embrace the ordinary. Find a local church. Devote yourself to the teaching of God’s Word. Celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Pray. Live in relationship with other Christians.
There’s nothing extraordinary about it, but it’s exactly what we need to grow.