The Sin of Busyness by David Dunham

BusyI could not have picked a worse week to write on the subject of busyness. Actually, maybe it was the perfect week to write about it, because I was swimming in tasks. Busyness tends to creep up on us often without our realizing it. Before we know what happened were running a dozen different places trying to manage a to-do list that is overwhelming. Busyness, however, can be more than just a phase of life. Busyness can in fact be sin.

The Sin of Busyness?

Most of us don’t think this way. Busyness, after all, represents a kind of productivity that we applaud in our fast-paced, achievement-focused modern lifestyles. A busy person gets the admiration of his peers, the pat on the back. But busyness can easily become a sin as it is, by definition, a state of being overcrowded with activity. To be overcrowded means to take on more than one can reasonably handle. Busyness impacts our effectiveness and our priorities and thus becomes sinful when it marks the pattern of our lives.

The most notable passage in Scripture on the subject is found in Luke 10 and the story of Martha and Mary. Luke writes:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Note that Martha was “distracted with much serving.” Note also that she is serving the Lord; this is a good thing to do. Busyness does not say anything about the importance of the work we are busy doing. One can be busy with good things; serving the Lord certainly seems like a good thing to do. Yet, Jesus responds by telling Martha that she has wrong priorities. She needed, like Mary, to stop and sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him. Busyness becomes a sin when it crowds out what is important, when our priorities become imbalanced. Jesus provides us with a better model.

In Mark 1 we read of Jesus’ own sense of priorities. The disciples come to Jesus and tell him that “everyone is looking for you.” More people want to be healed, but observe Jesus’ response:

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

He says, he needs to move on because he came for one primary purpose: to preach. Healing the many that are looking for him was surely a good thing, but it was not his priority. The crowds would have given him plenty of good to do, but they would also have “distracted” him from what was most important. Jesus maintains his priorities, and we must do the same. Busyness will overshadow what’s important if we don’t keep our schedules in check.

The habit of busyness can stem from a number of different roots, which in and of themselves can be sinful. For example, one common root might be pride. A proud person doesn’t believe anyone else can do a task as well as they can. “If it’s going to be done right, I am going to have to do it.” Or maybe, it manifests as a need to be in control. There are some who want things done there way so badly they simply won’t delegate. Still others believe that their worth and value is bound up in their accomplishments, so the more that they accomplish the more valuable they believe that they are. They fill their schedule full of activities in order to validate themselves.

Others may be prone to busyness because they struggle with a fear of man. Their plates can end up so full because they fear saying “no” to any request. They desperately don’t want to disappoint others, let others down, or tell them “no.” So they keep taking on responsibilities. Some have a sense of guilt associated with saying “no.” They fear any sense of laziness, or selfishness, and so they feel constantly obligated to do, to achieve, to take on tasks. Guilt drives their busyness. In each of these cases, and countless others, the root cause of busyness is associated with either sin or poor theology. To counter busyness, then, we need to consider a few key Biblical principles.

First, we ought all to know what is important. Of course, that’s not always an easy answer to discern, and sometimes busyness can be a result of that difficulty. But we can at least begin with what we know is absolutely important: our own personal growing relationship with the Lord. If my schedule is so full that I have no time to spend in reading the Scriptures, focused prayer, and participation in corporate worship then my priorities are certainly out of order.

Beyond our spiritual growth we need to consider what matters the Lord has specifically entrusted to us. Are you a spouse? A parent? A child? An employee? A church member? If so, then you have a responsibility to these specific areas of your life first and foremost. If I am not working on my marriage then I should not be counseling others on their marriages. If I am writing tons of book reviews, but not engaged in making disciples then I need to read less. If I am so busy helping others that I neglect to spend time with my kids, then my priorities are out of order. Busyness can unbalance our lives and we can spend more time taking responsibility for things that do not belong to us and neglecting what God has expressly entrusted to our care. There will be times when conflicts between priorities arise, or when emergency situations call for our normal responsibilities to be put on hold. But such situations should not be the norm.

Second, we ought to consider two important realities: I have limits and I am part of a community. We can fight busyness with more consistency when we grasp these realities and their implications for our lives. When I recognize that I have limitations I am forcing myself to accept that I cannot do everything. I have to make choices, I have to say no. These limitations remind me that if I take on too much I will either be unable to successfully accomplish everything I commit to, or I will burn myself out in the process. We have limits. We are limited by time – there are only 24 hours in a day. Limited by skill – I am not competent at everything, nor knowledgeable about it all. Limited by space – I cannot be everywhere at once. Limited by energy – I will eventually need to rest. If we say “yes” to everything we will do damage to ourselves and we will eventually let others down, because we won’t have the energy to do what we said we would. Recognize your limits, accept them, but remember also you are part of a community.

As a member of a community, particularly the church, you can depend on others for help. You do not have to do everything because God has given you brothers and sisters in Christ to help you carry the load. There are some things that others will do better, some relationship others have that you don’t, and some tasks that others feel a passion for that you don’t. Let the church do a wide variety of work and free yourself up to do the things that God has called you to. Participate in the community by giving up busyness and allowing others to work alongside you.

Finally, we can fight busyness by resting. The Lord ordained that we rest. He did so because it is a way for us to remember how much we need Him (Exodus 31:12-17). You are not God. Busyness says you can be like him, but that is the oldest lie in Satan’s book and it always results in brokenness (Genesis 3:5). Take a break. Weave rest into your routine and force yourself to do nothing. Force yourself to trust God, trust others, and know your limitations. Embrace the humbling experience of rest.

Busyness can be a sin. We need to know this and be on our guard against it. While the world applauds the overworked, God loves those who rest in Him.

David Dunham is an associate pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. He is a graduate of Ohio University (BA) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv).

One Response to “The Sin of Busyness by David Dunham”
  1. Melissa Jeffress says:

    I found this helpful

    Thank You

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