Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness: book review

I've been thinking a lot about busyness (which won't surprise you if you've been reading this blog recently!). The last 2 years have been unusually busy, even for this mother of 4, and I've been feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

As always, I'm convinced that the solution must lie between the pages of a book. So I was excited when I came across The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness by Tim Chester, one of my favourite authors.

Tim Chester says that both work and leisure are worshipped in our society (take your pick depending on whether you tend towards workaholism or laziness!). We're driven people, because we find meaning through work. But our meaning doesn't come from work or rest. God wants us to work hard, but also to take regular days of rest. Neither work nor rest is an end in itself: both are for God's glory.

What I love best about The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness is that, like all Tim Chester's books, it gets below surface issues to what's going on in our hearts. Yes, he does talk about time-management (briefly) and about distinguishing the urgent from the important (although he gives this a gospel spin). But his main point is that over-busyness comes from our hearts: from the lies we believe and the idols we serve.

Here are Tim Chester's "four key steps to addressing busyness", from least to most important.

Step One: Use your time efficiently. There's some good time-management principles in chapter 3.

Step Two: Sort out your priorities. I often feel like I'll never get everything done. So I was encouraged by Chester's reminder in chapter 4 that both Jesus and Paul finished their work, not because they healed or taught everyone, but because they were faithful to the work God gave them to do. The work God gives us to do is to make Jesus known. Instead of giving God our leftover time, Chester shows how to structure our lives around this central priority.

Step Three: Glorify God all the time. Life is often a battle between competing responsibilities: family, friends, church, non-Christian neighbours, work, ministry. That's partly because, Chester says, we see ministry as an added extra we need to fit into our lives. But every aspect of life, including work and raising a family, is about glorifying God by making Christ known. Ordinary life is ministry! (There's an excellent theology of work and motherhood in chapter 5.)

Step Four: Identify the desires of your heart that make you try to do more than God expects of you. Busyness isn't the problem: the problem is my heart. God always gives me enough time to do what he wants me to do. I feel stressed because I try to do more (perhaps just a little more!) than I have time for. And why do I try to do more than God wants, more than I can? Maybe because I'm a slave to one of these idols:

  • I'm busy because I need to prove myself. I often find my identity through what I do and achieve. But when Jesus died for me, he freed me from the need to work to justify myself and give my life meaning. I can rest in his grace.
  • I'm busy because of other people's expectations. I'm guilty of this. I don't want to disappoint people, so I say "yes" when I should say "no". The solution, of course, is to fear God more than I fear people: to do everything for an audience of One.
  • I'm busy because otherwise things get out of control. I'm prone to two versions of this. I feel like life might spiral out of control if I don't work constantly; and I'm driven by the idea that people need me. It's God who controls my life and meets people's needs, not me.
  • I'm busy because I prefer being under pressure. This was something I was blissfully unaware of until I read this book: that work can be an escape from the chaos of life and relationships! When I run to work for comfort, I'm forgetting that God is my refuge.
  • I'm busy because I need the money. I don't make any money from my busyness! But I was still challenged by Chester's helpful discussion of consumerism, and his encouragement to "downsize".
  • I'm busy because I want to make the most of life. I'm haunted by the fear that I'll run out of time to do all I want to do. But I don't need to race around doing everything during this short life: I can put my hope in eternity. My significance comes not from my life's achievements, but from being part of God's saving plan.
Life is busy, and no book will change that - nor should it! God wants me to pour myself out, to work hard for him and his kingdom (Phil 2:17, 2 Thess 3:8-9). But when I've done what I can, God wants me to stop and rest in him. I can be free from the frenetic over-busyness that comes from pursuing idols like control and achievement. For in the end it's not about how busy I am, but about my heart:

Neither doing more nor doing less is really the answer. ... If I'm busy because I feel the pressure to prove myself, neither doing more nor doing less will help. ... Only the truth sets us free. ... Christians should be busy people. ... But we can find rest in our busyness and joy in our labour. We are busy, but we can be free from the drivenness that makes busyness a burden.


images are from drinksmachine and Stephen Poff at flickr

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