Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness

I felt it would be an appropriate time to review The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness by Tim Chester since December is a busy time for Christians.  As I contemplate how to be a side plate or a saucer for the glory of God, I have found this book to be extremely helpful in how to use my time well.

Do you say 'yes' to requests when you really mean to say 'no'?

If you're busy because of the following:
"I need to prove myself"
"Otherwise things get out of control"
"I like the pressure/money"

At the root of our 'slavery' lie serious misunderstandings, often reinforced by our culture.  If we want to be free, then we need to counteract them with God's Word.  It's important to manage our time, but more important to manage our hearts.

Tim Chester actually lists a number of comments he collected from people in his church in the UK that he thought readers may be able to relate to.  These are the dilemmas I especially wrestle with:
  • How can I balance time between work, friends and church?
  • Why do Christians seem busier than non-Christians?
  • I always seem to take on too much.
This book is not about successful tips for time management.  There is a chapter devoted to using time effectively, but the book is mostly about our hearts.  It will be no use trying to implement time management strategies if we don't recognise why we're so busy in the first place.  The book goes deep into why busyness is such a status in our society and how if you don't answer, "Busy," when someone asks, "How are you?" then you feel like you're a slacker.

Here are a number of things I learnt from the book:
  • The busyness problem is NOT temporary unless we really do something about it.  I'm always tempted to think that the period of busyness will soon be over and then I can relax.  But the diary then fills up like any other time.  To get out of the busyness trap, we need to make deliberate choices.
  • The right attitude to work and leisure is NOT 'work is good and leisure is bad', nor is it 'leisure is good and work is bad.'  We know many people who 'work for the weekend'.  Duncan once bought a shirt and noticed later that it had a tiny label on the pocket that said 'Working for the Weekend'.  He asked me to remove it.  The Bible commends both hard work AND rest.
  • Binge resting is not the pattern which God established.  Our society works 48 weeks per year and takes four weeks off.  But this is not restful as the period leading up to holidays is often the most stressful (oh yes!) and annual leave is not sufficient to recover from months and months of workaholism.  Besides it is only the rich and middle class who can afford luxurious overseas trips.
  • Work, rest...it is all about the glory of God.  We work and rest for God's glory.  The Sabbath was established to remember what God has done.
  • The Bible tells us to number our days, not manage our minutes.  Busyness can destroy relationships.  Some people even use the busyness excuse to avoid relationships.  Don't try and squeeze all you can out of life - just do what is most important.  Jesus did not do everything - He did what God gave Him to do.  Faithfulness - not how much we have done.  Church activities may need to be downsized or pruned to make room for genuine relationships and discipleship.
One thing that really encouraged me was seeing ALL of our work - no matter how menial it looks - as an opportunity to glorify God.  It's not about squeezing more 'ministry' into our everyday lives.  Often we see visiting the sick as a more 'holy' thing than working in an office.  And visiting the sick IS important.  But Jesus conducted His ministry in homes, during meals and on journeys.  Work tasks like photocopying can be an occasion for prayer.  Chester criticises the popularity of Christian retreats in Chapter 5 by arguing that it is 'bourgeois modern spirituality for middle-class people with the time and money to get away from it all' (pages 61-2).  God is not found more in the quiet of the country than in your workplace.  I'm not sure if I agree entirely as occasions of slipping away from the crowds like Jesus did can be very helpful.

There is one very challenging section on children.  Although it is not relevant to myself and Duncan at this time in our lives, we constantly hear about the importance of 'family time' out here which usually means spending time as a family doing cute and fun things like going to the movies or eating dessert.  Chester rebukes couples who use children as an excuse for not putting the kingdom first ("It wouldn't be fair on the children.").   Here's what he says on page 59:
I shocked someone recently by asking them to name one occasion on which Jesus speaks positively about families.  Every time Jesus talks about families He sees them as competing for our loyalty to Him and His community.
....Whatever we say about ourselves, our true values come to the surface in our aspirations for our children.  Do you hope your children will be comfortable and well-paid?  Or do you hope they will be be radical, risk-taking gospel workers?....What does family time actually mean?  Watching the television, eating Big Macs, trips to the shopping centre?  What values do these reinforce?  What about making the service of others what unites us as families?  What about weekly times when the whole family does something together for the good of others?

Challenging words to be keep in mind for the future!

Overall, this is a book I really recommend (other than the Bible) for every Western, busy Christian.  Reading it won't suddenly make you less busy, but it might help you see more clearly why you are so busy (and don't use the excuse that you are too busy to read it...haha).  I saw that I am busy because of my need for approval from others (rather than remembering that God is my master), the need to prove myself (when God is already well pleased with me because of Jesus), and because I like to be in control (rather than trusting God in life's ups and downs).

If you hurt your knee and it gets infected (your busyness gets out of control), you can cover it with a Bandaid (time management skills), but ultimately it won't get rid of the infection (time management won't change our hearts).

Jean from In All Honesty wrote a helpful series on this book and the subject of busyness here.

1 comment:

bettyl said...

Very thought provoking post. Thanks. May your 2012 be filled with wonder and adventure!