Christians and the cult of busyness: Why we need to learn to do less

Emma was introduced to the thousands of people in the New Wine tent. She was the leader of a church plant, the church youth worker AND a mother to two young children. Instead of murmurs of consolation and offers to pray for a clear focus in life, there were cheers and applause. She was clearly an excellent Christian because she was exceedingly busy doing God's work.

The busier a Christian is, the closer to God they are. But is this true?

When the church looks too similar to society, we have a problem. One of the plagues of our time is being too busy. That's a problem because we don't have time for the most important things in our lives – God, family, friendships and rest.

So much to do, so little time.Pixabay

Christians certainly have good reason to be busy. We need to run churches, attend home groups, participate in prayer meetings, take meals to the sick, fundraise for the church roof, evangelise in the community, and all this on top of everything that our too busy non-Christian friends are doing. How do we stand aside from the idea that being busy shows we are important, we are needed, or that, in Christian terms, God is using us in wonderful ways which don't leave time for early nights or watching TV with the family?

As always, Jesus is the one to watch. Jesus was certainly busy. He had whole towns to heal and preach to. He had only three years in which to save the world and model a new Spirit-filled relationship with God. All this made him so tired that he fell asleep in a boat in a storm. He stayed up late at night healing and got up very early to pray by himself. Jesus was a busy man.

However, he had very clear priorities. Everything he did boiled down to restoring our relationship with God and he was ruthless in his focus.

In order to achieve his priorities, Jesus left things undone. When he looked around the Temple, he left the turning over of tables to the next day: he went to bed, even though he only had a week left to live. By the time he died not everyone was saved and there were still demon-possessed and sick people in Israel. Jesus left these things undone so that he could spend time with his friends and his inner circle. Instead of healing or preaching, he would be having dinner – though still taking advantage of any opportunities to demonstrate God's concern for each individual.

Ironically, Jesus didn't have a Messiah-complex. He knew he didn't have to, and couldn't, do everything himself. He left the spreading of the Gospel world-wide to his disciples.

There are, no doubt, some Christians who need to be busier, who need to take up the urgent call to work for God's kingdom, to take on more so that others can do less. However, many of us are just too busy. How do we get our lives back in balance?

Christians are as good as the rest of society at getting distracted by social and endless app notifications. We suffer from general inefficiency and fragmented attention spans. We could be less busy just by being more focused.

However, when it comes to deciding what to do with our focused attention, how do we choose? I have found that the best question to ask when I looked at my too-busy life was not whether I should do something, but which things I should do.

There's an experiment in which people were asked whether they should spend $9.99 on a DVD. Three-quarters of them decided they liked the DVD and it was worth the money. But when asked whether they should spend $9.99 on the DVD or save the money for something else, only half of them bought the DVD.

Busy people are in a world of opportunity cost. If we do one thing, we can't do another. A helpful question to ask, when deciding whether to do something, is 'What am I not doing in order to do this?' Quite often the answer is 'sleep' or 'time with family or friends', or even 'that other important job which I have also taken on'. As the Chinese proverb says, 'If you do this, you can't do that.'

As Christians we shouldn't applaud those who have taken on so much that they are busier than Jesus. Christians should step aside from the cult of busyness that values us simply by how little rest we get.

Jesus is our paramount example. He worked hard, he wore himself out, but he made time to rest and relax with friends, companions and even enemies. Jesus could say 'It is finished' because he had achieved what God had sent him to do. And that included leaving people unsaved and unhealed. My challenge to those of you who are too busy is, what are you going to stop doing in order to do what you have been called to do better?

Claire Paye is a director of The Mwezi Foundation, a solar light charity working in Kenya, a Mergers and Acquisitions research director and, primarily, a mother of two. She has some other roles but won't mention them because she doesn't want to appear too busy.