September 16, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Psalm 127:2 (NIV)
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Our culture idolizes and rewards busyness. Although work is a good part of God’s plan for humankind, God does not intend us to be constantly busy. Instead, he invites us to daily, weekly, and seasonal times of rest. Choosing to build rest into the rhythms of our lives is one of the most important steps of faith we can take.
“Are you keeping busy?”
This is often the first question my father asks me when I visit him at the residential care facility where he lives. Indeed, since my father has Alzheimer’s dementia and doesn’t remember what he hears for longer than a minute or two, “Are you keeping busy?” or sometimes “How are you keeping busy?” is often also the fourth question he asks me, and the seventh, and the tenth, and so on. It’s obviously important to him since it’s on the short list of questions he asks me, along with inquiring about my health and how my family is doing. Asking that is instinctive for him because it’s the same question he asked throughout his life, long before the onset of his dementia.
For my father, keeping busy was (and still is) a good thing. And the word “keeping” is important. It isn’t just a question of whether I have a job or am sometimes busy; his question is whether I keep busy. His ingrained attitude seems to be that one should always be busy; if more than a few moments pass when we are not busy, then we need to find something else to do in order to be busy again. To not be busy, in his mind, is laziness. So for him to ask “Are you keeping busy” is a bit like asking “Are you being a good and worthwhile human person?” Even his question “How are you keeping busy?” comes from an assumption that of course his son would be keeping busy; it’s only a question of how or with what type of work I am able to keep busy.
Now my father is a person of Christian faith. He has been a disciple of Christ for over sixty years since his early twenties. Most of his adult working life was missions focused. He has served on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, spent several years in two different stints as an interim full-time pastor, helped start several missions ventures, served on boards of missions agencies, and gone on numerous missions trips. The jobs he held in the retail book business were also ministry focused. Even now, living with advanced dementia, one of the times he seems most fully alert is when he is in church singing hymns. I am profoundly thankful for a father who raised me to be a disciple of Christ. My father also understood that labor was a good thing. I don’t know if he thought as deeply about a theology of work as he did about some other questions of faith, but he certainly affirmed the God-honoring goodness of work.
And yet . . . and yet there were still a few ways in which his attitudes reflected aspects of a secular upbringing and culture. That is true of all of us, no matter how long we have followed Christ. As Romans 12:2 reminds us, we all need God’s transforming work in our lives so that our thoughts are renewed and shaped by Him rather than conformed to the world’s pattern; we need continuously to reexamine our thinking to see whether it is being shaped by our culture or by our relationship with God.
Our perspective on busyness is one such area of tension between cultural values and a Biblical perspective. Certainly work is a good thing: a gift and responsibility given to us by God. Part of what God made us for is to do good and worthwhile work. I don’t need to repeat that to regular readers of Life for Leaders. Along with numerous other resources available through the De Pree Center, Life for Leaders does a wonderful job presenting a theology of work.
Unfortunately, one of the ways our culture distorts the goodness of work is by idolizing busyness. When my father asks me how I’m keeping busy, he is asking a question that I hear regularly from a variety of other sources. Being constantly busy is often seen as a badge of glory in our world. It’s a way to earn worth in a society that in so many ways devalues human life and relationships. Even many of our “complaints” about extreme busyness are really hidden boasts; saying, “I’m just so busy” is a way of signaling our virtue and worth. I confess that I often fall into that, not only at my place of employment but even in church.
God the Father, through the teachings of scripture and the example of his son Jesus, offers a different way. While giving us work as a good thing, God also calls us to rest. While it may be appropriate to have times of the day in which we are busy with labor we have been given, we should not be keeping busy. Constant busyness is not spiritually, relationally, or physically healthy. We need rest. God built rest into the very fabric of creation. He gives us the gift of daily periods of rest—sleep, mealtimes, and times of quiet reflection with Him—and He calls us to accept those gifts. Along with daily times of rest, he also calls us to a weekly time of rest: a built-in day of Sabbath that we are instructed to honor and keep holy. And God also grants us much-needed seasons of rest when we lay aside work for longer periods. For the ancient Israelites, these included seasons of celebrations and festivals.
I end today’s devotion encouraging you to meditate on Psalm 127, especially verse 2: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Saying no to the cultural idolatry of busyness, and instead accepting times of rest—daily rest, weekly Sabbath rest, and seasons of rest—is one of the most important steps of faith we can take. It is a way of trusting God as our provider, and saying “yes” to God’s blessings, while allowing God the time and space to do his transformational work in us.
Consider some ways you have seen the world valuing or rewarding busyness. How does that impact those you know personally?
Reflect on your own life. How often do you feel busy? When and how do you build rest into your life?
Be intentional this week about accepting and honoring the Sabbath day as a day of rest. How will you choose to rest? Let that carry into the week. Make daily times for rest, and be mindful during those times to pray and listen to God.
Lord, I confess there are ways I have bought into the idolatry of busyness. Not only have I allowed myself to be overly busy, or constantly busy, but I have even boasted about my busyness or found worth in how busy I am rather than in you and your love.
Even as I recognize the goodness of labor, I recognize also the goodness of rest. I thank you for both work and rest. I thank you for daily rest, and weekly rest, and seasons of rest. Thank you for calling me to times of rest. Help me to accept that call and gift. And Lord, I could really use a season of rest right now. I pray that you would provide that for me, and open my eyes to see that provision.
You are Lord of Creation, and also Lord of the Sabbath. I praise you.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Producing True Value at Work (Psalms 127 and 128)
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear and The Voices of Rivers: Reflections on Places Wild and Almost Wild. He was a 2017 artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park. He lives in Vermont with his wife, dog, and cat, not far from three married sons, and is an active member of Memorial Baptist Church. Matthew is also a professor of computer science at Middlebury College in Vermont.