Big Idea: Busyness endangers our souls. The answer is to make room for the one thing that matters most: to slow down and sit at Jesus’ feet.
I have a problem, and you may too.
Last Fall, a friend of mine — one of the elders who oversees this church — asked me to meet. I told him he’d have to wait because my calendar is so full. I gave him a date, and on the day we finally got together. We ordered food, sat down, he asked me how I’m doing. I responded by saying, “Busy,” and he said, “Yes, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” My lunch was an intervention, an expression of concern that my overpacked schedule was hindering me from focusing on what matters most.
That very same day we met Char’s father out for his birthday. I remember sitting around the table at night eating birthday cake. It’s one of those moments that’s meant to be relaxed. There are few things better than unhurried time around food and people you love to mark an important milestone. But I couldn’t enjoy it. I knew I still hard work to do before the day was over, so I excused myself and went back on my computer for another hour. We got home, and I had to go to the bank to pay a bill I’d forgotten, but I was so overloaded that I ended up paying the wrong amount.
And so by the next morning, I sat down with Char and said, “Something has to change. This isn’t working! I can’t keep going like this.” The next week I talked to a mentor of mine, a spiritual director, and told him about all of this. I told him that I was planning to read a new book coming out by John Mark Comer called The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, and he just started laughing.
I have a problem, and it’s possible that you do too. Just like our homes and closets get overstuffed with too much stuff, our lives and schedules get too full, and it robs us of our ability to focus on what matters most.
John Ortberg writes:
For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.
“There are few things as damaging, and potentially soul-destroying, as busyness. Blaise Pascal, the famous philosopher, said that busyness sends more people to hell than unbelief. And even after you are a Christian, busyness destroys your joy; your capacity to love; and your ability to hear God.” (J.D. Greear)
What’s at stake isn’t just our emotional health, although that’s serious enough. “Our spiritual lives hang in the balance” (Comer). Our hurry threatens what matters most. As John Mark Comer puts it, “Love, joy, and peace are at the heart of all Jesus is trying to grow in the soil of your life. And all three are incompatible with hurry.”
Rule of Life
So today, and through February 9, I want to invite you to work on something called a Liberty Grace Rule of Life. It’s a set of rhythms and practices that will help us follow Jesus in our everyday lives.
In his excellent book The Common Rule — which I recommend to everyone — James Earl Whitney describes what a Rule of Life is and how it can help us:
We are all living according to a specific regimen of habits, and those habits shape most of our life…
A “rule of life” is a term for a pattern of communal habits for formation … Despite our understanding of the word “rule,” a “rule of life” is much less about obeying rules than it is about finding communal purpose … taking the small patterns of life and organizing them towards the big goal of life: to love God and neighbor.
A rule of life is how we get our hands on our habits … All those who want to be attentive to who they are becoming must realize that formation begins with a framework of habits.
And so my question for us is this: what would a Liberty Grace Rule of Life look like? What communal rhythms, practices, and habits would help us love God and love others?
We’re going to look at a number of areas over the next few weeks, but today I want to begin by asking: what communal practices will help us with the spiritual danger of hurry that threatens our souls?
Anxious and Troubled
For a few minutes, I want to look at a passage that will help us think through this.
The event takes place as Jesus visits the home of his close friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Imagine going home tonight and someone buzzes your intercom. You think, “Did we invite anyone over tonight?” You pick up your phone and it’s Jesus. You buzz him up, and you hope the elevator’s really slow. You do what all of us do before someone comes over to your place: you run around cleaning up, hoping that your place looks half presentable before your company arrives. Hospitality is a great way to make sure that your house gets cleaned!
Hospitality was a big deal in that culture. It’s a major theme we’re going to explore this year as well at Liberty Grace. So Martha does what’s expected: she pulls out all the stops and gets a meal ready for Jesus.
The problem with Martha isn’t that she was working to serve Jesus. A lot of people read this story and conclude that it’s about choosing a contemplative life, and that it’s better to sit at Jesus’ feet than to serve him. There are a few problems with that. One of them is that this account follows Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus commands us to serve him by loving our neighbors in practical ways. Jesus isn’t opposed to our service. In fact, he commands it.
What’s the problem with Martha? We get a hint in verse 40: “ But Martha was distracted with much serving.” Later on, Jesus identifies the issue: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” (Luke 10:41).
The problem wasn’t Martha’s service. The problem is that she had allowed her service to distract her from what matters most.
Let those words sit with you for a minute. “Anxious and troubled about many things” is a good description of how many of us live. Jesus points out that even good things like serving him can cause us to be anxious and troubled, and to miss out on the one thing that matters most that can never be taken away from us.
It’s like what Jesus said a little earlier in Luke 8. He speaks of a group of people who receive the Word of God, but its growth in their lives is choked by “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14). What may hinder the growth of God’s Word in your life? Credit card payments. Christmas gifts. Concerts. To-do lists.
These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God. (John Piper)
According to Jesus, your busyness and distraction is a serious spiritual issue. It can rob you of what matters most in your life. The greatest enemy to your spiritual life may be your busyness, distraction, and preoccupation with things that are good but that distract us from what matters most.
The One Thing
So in verse 42, Jesus gives us a better way: “one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
What is the one thing? The one thing is sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning from him. The one thing is to order our lives in such a way that we have room to slow, to stop doing, and to start listening to our Savior’s teaching.
Life is all-consuming. There will always be more to do. You could add ten hours to each day, and in the end, it would only give you more time to be busy. Jesus teaches us that sitting at Jesus’ feet is important no matter how many demands are placed on us.
And I love what Jesus says: the good portion “will not be taken away from her.” Almost everything that keeps us busy leaves us with results that will be taken away from us. Work as hard as you want on your career; one day you won’t have that job anymore. Clean your house; it will be dirty again next week. Organize your finances; they’ll be a fresh stack of bills to deal with again next week. All of them have their place. You’ll have to do all of those and more.
But if you want to spend your time on something that lasts, slow down enough to sit at Jesus’ feet. There is no more important meal. It’s a portion that will never be removed from you.
Learning to Slow
So how do we do this? What does a Rule of Life look like that prevents us from being anxious and troubled by many things, and that allows us time to sit and hear God’s Word?
I want to invite you to spend some time thinking about this in your own life. I would prefer that you think about this in the coming week and that we actually create something together. You can visit libertygrace.ca/ruleoflife to find some ideas, and to submit your own ideas as well. We’ll update that page throughout the series.
But let me suggest three ideas to get us started.
First: align your schedule with your priorities.
We all have things that are important to us. Make sure those things are in your schedule. The basic idea is this: Align your schedule with your priorities. Decide what matters most to you and schedule that. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you must put in spiritual disciplines, like what we’re going to cover the next few weeks, and put them in first. And then you can put in things like sleep, exercise, work, play, reading, margin. Keep working on your schedule until your schedule aligns with your values, and then stick to it.
Second: kill your distractions.
Laura Vanderkam writes a lot about time. I find her very annoying, because she calls us out on our lies. We all think that we’re so busy because we have so much to do. After studying our schedules, Vanderman found that:
We tell researchers we work longer hours and spend more time on chores than we actually do. And then we under-report our sleep and leisure time. It’s not that we mean to fib: It’s human nature to overestimate the hard stuff and underestimate the good stuff. But, Vanderkam argues, these little white lies combine into one big dark secret: “The problem is not that we’re all overworked or under-rested, it’s that most of us have absolutely no idea how we spend our 168 hours.”
It’s like what John Piper once tweeted:
It may be time to kill some things. Notice what I said: I didn’t say to scale back. I said to kill. If being overburdened and overstretched is a danger to your soul, you and I must see overcommitment as the spiritual issue that it is. We must take radical action to neutralize this threat to our souls.
So it may be time to do a time audit. It may be time to examine what takes you time and evaluate which ones need to go. Consider not watching that next Netflix series, deleting some apps from your phone, or dropping out of that weekly obligation. What can you cut out of your life that will give you more time for what matters most?
Finally: take a weekly Sabbath.
This is a lot harder, and it’s a subject that we need to tackle on its own at some point. It’s to take a Sabbath. Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat, which literally means to stop. It’s woven into the very fabric of creation in the first pages of Genesis. It means to take a day of your week and stop, to slow down, to breathe.
Sabbath is the primary discipline, or practice, by which we cultivate the spirit of restfulness in our lives as a whole. The Sabbath is to a spirit of restfulness what a soccer practice is to a match or band practice is to a show. It’s how we practice, how we prepare our minds and bodies for the moments that matter most. Walter Brueggemann has this great line: “People who keep sabbath live all seven days differently.” (Comer)
I’ve been practicing Sabbath for years now. It was hard at the beginning, and it will probably be hard for you at first. But now I can’t imagine living without it. It’s a weekly reminder to accept my limits, to trust God, and to remember that I am not what I do.
That’s only a start. Now it’s over to you. You may have to tweak this list or come up with completely different ideas. Let’s take this seriously. Visit visit libertygrace.ca/ruleoflife to find some ideas and resources. Take this as a starting point, not as the endpoint.
Busyness endangers our souls. The answer is to make room for the one thing that matters most: to slow down and sit at Jesus’ feet.
We won’t always get this right, but let’s work to build a life together that will allow us to do so.
Lord, we are just like Martha. We’re often anxious and troubled by many things.
We ask you today to help us slow, to make room for the one thing that matters, that will never be taken away. Help us to build practices that allow us to slow down and sit at your feet.
Help us to figure out how to do this. We pray this not just so that we can live less stressful lives. We pray this so we can love you and others. We pray this in Jesus’ name.