I heard some time ago about an experiment done in a high school biology class that taught an important lesson about life. The experiment involved a frog and a pan of water. The frog was placed in the pan of cool water and then set on a Bunsen burner. The heat of the burner was then increased very slightly--about 1 degree every two minutes. Eventually, after several hours, the frog was boiled to death, without any effort to escape the pan or even so much as a kick in protest.
This serves to remind us that in life, something or someone can be in the process of deterioration and not realize it. Few marriages suddenly dissolve; few buildings suddenly collapse; churches don't suddenly die; trees don't suddenly rot. All these things take time. Erosion is a slow, subtle process; often the deterioration is imperceptible.
Over the years I've seen spiritual deterioration happen to quite a few people-to the point that they became a "shadow" of their former spiritual selves. What they thought would never happen, DID happen. Their spiritual fire gradually died. And yet, the deterioration was so slow and so subtle, they never noticed the changes that were taking place.
There are a lot of different things that can "sideline" Christians. Today we're going to look at one of the most sinister and subtle threats you face as a believer: BUSYNESS. Because of the nature of our culture and the pace in which we live, busyness may well be the number one hazard for Christians.
Luke 8:11-15 (NKJV) "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 "Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 "But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 "Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 "But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.
In this parable of the sower in verse 14, Jesus warns us about this particular threat when He says, "the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity."
The word "cares" is from the Greek word merimna, which is the idea of distraction. The "distractions" of life keep them from being productive.
This is the person who gets a good start as a Christian, but over time, other pursuits creep in and take over. "Thorns" like self-centeredness, laziness, materialism, or temporal pleasures suffocate their spiritual lives. Of course they still believe in God, and they still call themselves "Christians," they still attend church periodically, but in reality, other interests take precedence over kingdom matters. God gets squeezed out of their busy lives.
Now, I don't have to tell you that busyness has become a way of life in our society. We try to cram more activity into each day by starting earlier and working later, making phone calls in the car, using the notebook computer on the airplane, and so on. But you don't have to be in business to feel the effects of busyness.
Women with small children know the 24-hour-a-day demands of little ones pulling on your pant legs, coloring on the walls, needing a diaper changed, or crying in the middle of the night.
I don't believe that any culture has ever had to negotiate a faster paced lifestyle than our culture today. It used to be that if you missed the stagecoach, it didn't matter, because there would be another one next week. Today, we get upset if someone cuts in front of us in line, or if the car ahead of us is going too slow-delaying us by maybe 20 or 30 seconds! These days we stare through the window of our microwave ovens and impatiently ask, "How long is this going to take?" Times have changed!
In his book "Little House on the Freeway," Tim Kimmel writes, "Walnut Grove has changed a lot since they added the Pizza Hut, the 7-11, and the unisex hair salon. The Ingals quiet and simple way of life has been replaced by traffic jams, automatic teller machines and call waiting."
Today, because of our hectic schedules, demanding jobs, to-do lists for our day off, meetings to attend, family concerns, and 101 other things that need our time and attention, busyness has got many of us by the throat. But what is all this busyness doing to us? I want to mention four potential negative consequences of busyness. First, consider how...
1. BUSYNESS AFFECTS US RELATIONALLY
Perhaps you've seen the poster that pictures a dad and his 7 or 8 year old son in an old rowboat on a little lake. It's early in the morning, there's a faint mist still on the lake, and the father and son are sitting there, quiet and still. They're each holding little bamboo fishing poles, and the two corks attached to their lines are floating motionless on the placid water. Underneath the picture are two words: TAKE TIME.
Busy people don't take time for people, even the people they say they love. When we get too busy, people become inconveniences. You see someone coming and you say, "Oh no, not them!" People who are too busy tend to have shallow relationships, and they often wound people who care about them. Sometimes their preoccupation with other things destroys important relationships. A lot of men have lost their marriage and their children because of busyness.
Second, consider how...
2. BUSYNESS AFFECTS US EMOTIONALLY
Busy people often fall into the trap of trying to "hydro-plane" over the surface of their emotions. Someone has referred to this as "the fine art of Skimming"- just skimming over the top of what's really going on inside you. This may work very well for a long time, but eventually those emotions will surface--and it's a painful experience when all those bottled up emotions finally explode. When it happens, people crash and burn. They have emotional breakdowns; they may even contemplate suicide as a means to escape the tyranny of all these confusing emotions that have come to the surface after having been shoved down for so long.
Third, consider how...
3. BUSYNESS AFFECTS US PHYSICALLY
Busy people usually don't have time for regular exercise, they rarely have healthy eating habits or healthy sleep habits. Burning the candle on both ends will inevitably take its toll on us physically. When we're too busy, we become fatigued. This leads to our being irritable and insensitive to the people around us. We also become negative in our outlook on life; we don't have much emotional resilience; our spiritual energy is zapped. We pay a high price when we allow the pace of our lives to get out of control.
Fourth, consider how...
4. BUSYNESS AFFECTS US SPIRITUALLY
As Jesus warned in Luke 8:14, when the "cares of life" begin to eat up too much of our time and energy, our spiritual life will invariably be neglected. In the midst of our busyness, we unintentionally neglect God and kingdom matters.
Do you remember what the first of the 10 Commandments is? In Exodus 20:3 the Lord says, "You shall have no other gods before me." Webster's Dictionary defines a "god" as: "anything which is made the object of excessive devotion." In other words, whatever is most important to you is, in essence, your "god."
For example, some people have made their career their god - because that is what their life revolves around. For others, it is material possessions, or sports, or success, or money, or looking good, or being happy, or politics, or family, or education, or any number of things that consume too much of our time and devotion. These may all be good things--and some are even very important--but if any of them has become the "object of excessive devotion," something needs to change.
The Lord says, "You shall have no other gods before me." If you are too busy or preoccupied with any of these things, there is a very real possibility that too much of your time and energy are being dissipated into things of lesser importance.
The first of the 10 Commandments is clear - God must have first place in your life. You must be singularly devoted to Him, above all other pursuits, pleasures, or priorities. That's why I mentioned earlier that perhaps the most sinister threat you face as a believer is busyness.
Well, not too surprisingly, Jesus sets that perfect example of how to handle the pressures of an extremely demanding and busy life. In Mark 6, we find Jesus totally surrounded by people - so much so that the Bibles says "He didn't even have time to eat."
Mark 6:30-34 (NKJV) Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. 31 And He said to them, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. 33 But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. 34 And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.
You think you're busy. Jesus couldn't get away from the needy crowds. As you read the gospels, you see this is a recurring situation in the life of Christ. People were always clamoring for his time, saying, "Heal me," "feed us," "teach us," "perform a miracle," "prove yourself." There were the crippled, the blind, the lepers, outcasts, religious leaders - every body wanted a slice of his time.
There were people coming to Jesus with heart-wrenching dilemmas:
Jesus had virtually no time to Himself--when the crowds weren't clamoring, there were always the 12 disciples nearby, asking questions or arguing among themselves. Jesus knew well the feeling of drowning in the demands of others. He knew about living under pressure. But as demanding as His life was, we never see Him hurried, and we never see Him rattled. His secret for facing busyness laid primarily in 2 factors:
1. HE CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD HIS MISSION IN LIFE.
In Luke 19:10, Jesus states his mission: "For the son of man has come to seek and save what was lost."Everything Jesus did was done toward this purpose. In carrying out his mission, Jesus always cared for the individual:
Luke 8:40-48 (NKJV) So it was, when Jesus returned, that the multitude welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him. 41 And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue. And he fell down at Jesus' feet and begged Him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying. But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him. 43 Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, 44 came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped. 45 And Jesus said, "Who touched Me?" When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, "Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'" 46 But Jesus said, "Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me." 47 Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately. 48 And He said to her, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace."
Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue, he was a big shot. While on his way to help this ruler, Jesus took time to care for one woman with a need. His mission was people, not programs. His life was focused toward accomplishing his mission in life.
2. HE SPENT TIME ALONE IN PRAYER EVERYDAY
Luke 5:16 (NKJV) So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.
As we read the gospels, we see that prayer was a major part of Jesus' life. Through prayer He received guidance from the Father, wisdom, and strength to face His challenges. Being busy didn't cause Him to pray less, but more. If Jesus needed to spend time daily in prayer, how much more do we?
I think it would be safe to say that no matter how busy or demanding our schedule might be, none of us face the magnitude of pressures that Jesus did. So what can we learn from Him?
1. CLEARLY DEFINE YOUR MISSION IN LIFE.
Less than 2% of Americans have taken the time to think about and write down a list of their goals in life. How about you? What do you want to do with your life? And remember, the important question is not "are you busy?" The real question is what are you ACCOMPLISHING with your life? There's a huge difference between having your day filled with lots of activity, and doing something worthwhile with your life. Jesus knew His mission. We need to know our mission in life - otherwise we'll likely wind up on the treadmill of busyness.
I said earlier that busy people don't take time for people. When we get too busy, people become inconveniences. You see someone coming and you say, "Oh no, not them!" I have found myself doing this lately with a new neighbor. The man that recently moved in across the street from us is a very friendly fellow. Every time he sees me outside, he comes over to talk. Sometimes he talks for quite a while. I could view this as an inconvenience if I didn't keep our mission statement in mind. Our mission is: To influence friends who are living in spiritual darkness that they also may know the joy of loving the Lord Jesus Christ.
I can't have much influence on him if I'm not his friend. Would you agree? And I can't be his friend if I'm not willing to take time to talk to him. So instead of viewing his coming over to talk as an inconvenience, I view it as an opportunity to make a friend that I'll be able to influence to the glory of God. Paul gives us this admonishment about unbelievers:
Colossians 4:5 (NKJV) Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.
The Greek word for "time" here is not chronos, which means:"time on a clock or calender." It is the word kairos, which means: "time as regarded in its strategic, seasonable, opportune seasons." The idea is not to make the best use of time, using every minute, but of taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. We could translate this "buy up the opportunities." The Greek here is in the present tense which denotes "keep on buying the opportunities."
An ancient Greek statue depicted a man with wings on his feet, a large lock of hair on the front of his head, and no hair at all on the back. Beneath the statue was this inscription: "Who made thee? Lysippus made me. What is thy name? My name is opportunity. Why hast thou wings on thy feet? That I may fly away swiftly. Why hast thou a great forlock? That men may seize me when I am come. Why art thou bald in back? That when I am gone by, none can lay hold of me." The idea here being you either grab the opportunity when it comes or it gone for good.
Our highest goal, our greatest priority is people. We need to see people as opportunities, not inconveniences. But to do this we must know our mission. Our mission, like Christ's, is people.
The second thing we can learn from Christ is...
2. WE NEED TO SPEND TIME IN PRAYER EVERYDAY
In Luke 18:1, Jesus said, "Men ought always to pray."That quiet time alone with God (whether it be 5 minutes or 30 minutes) can help us everyday to gain a better perspective on our lives, to draw strength from God, and to seek His wisdom in the matters that concern us.
Prayer is something that everybody knows about and talks about, but how many Christians actually do it?
Calvin Coolidge said, "People criticize me for harping on the obvious. Yet, if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves." For the Christian who wants to redeem the time, the most basic of all activities is prayer. Although most Christians would agree with this statement, as the frustrated Coolidge pointed out, most of us don't do the things we ought to do.
Prayer is not an option for a Christian, it is a command.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NKJV) pray without ceasing,
That doesn't mean that we are always to be on our knees in prayer, but that we should always be in an attitude of prayer.
Martin Luther said, "As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray." C.H. Spurgeon said, "As artists give themselves to their models, and poets to their classical pursuits, so must we addict ourselves to prayer." Prayer is not something we do now and then, it is to be a continual activity.
We all know that too many of us have a tendency to use prayer only in panic situations. A guy was working on a roof and lost his balance, and started sliding down the roof. He grabbed at a shingle, but it broke off in his hand and he continued sliding. Just as he was about to slide off the edge of the roof, he cried out in desperation, "Lord, help me!" Suddenly, he felt something grab the cuff of his pants. As he dangled over the edge of the roof, he looked to see what had happened. Then, he said, "Never mind, Lord. I got caught on a nail. I don't need your help after all."
That's the problem with a crisis-driven prayer life. When the crisis goes away, so does the motivation to pray. Prayer is to be a way of life. We are to constantly commune with God through prayer.
Not only are there plenty of direct commands in the Word of God to pray, but as Christians, we are to be following the example of Christ, and He prayed.
Mark 1:35 (NKJV) Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.
Jesus, the God-Man, got up early and spent time in prayer. What does that tell you about the importance of prayer? Before Jesus chose His disciples, he spent all night in prayer.
Luke 6:12-13 (NKJV) Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:
Do you spend time in prayer before making major decisions? If Jesus did, shouldn't we? I would think so. James said that if we lacked wisdom that we should ask God.
James 1:5 (NKJV) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
Jesus taught his disciples how to pray because prayer is the most important aspect of our lives. Our relationship with God is more important than any other relationship we have, and that relationship is maintained through prayer. The rest of our relationships, and every other area of our lives revolves around our spiritual health. Prayer teaches us to depend on God. When we fail to pray, we fail--period!
If God commands us to pray, and if we are to be followers of Jesus's example, is it a sin not to pray?
James 4:17 (NKJV) Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Prayer is an essential part of our Christian experience. What if you spent as much time talking to your spouse as you did to God? You probably wouldn't stay married long.
Ordinary passenger car engines turn at about 2000 RPM's. Racing motors, however, can turn up to 10,000 RPM's. Unfortunately, that is about the pace that many of us live our lives. However, if we were ever to slow down long enough to reflect on our busyness, we might be hard-pressed to identify what it is we are really accomplishing in our lives.
So much of what we do doesn't really matter. Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? 20% of the people do 80% of the work. The same is true in your life too. For the average person, 80% of what we do has little long-term significance. John Maxwell says, "You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything." In reality, only about 20% of what you do really matters. Redeeming the time involves prioritizing that 20%!
General Eisenhower is quoted as saying, "The urgent is seldom important, and the important is seldom urgent." Too often life is controlled by the "tyranny of the urgent". We put aside higher and worthier goals to put out fires.
Someone once said, "Beware of the barrenness of a busy life." Busyness is only a virtue when we're accomplishing something worthwhile.
As with the frog in the pan of water with the heat ever so slightly increasing, spiritual erosion, due to busyness, happens very slowly and subtly - so slowly that the deterioration is often imperceptible to the person it's happening to! And the results are tragic. But it is very easy to reverse this process. The first requirement is that you come to a complete stop, and focus your thoughts on God. Maybe you need to say, "Lord, my life has somehow become so cluttered that I've allowed other things to squeeze You out of Your rightful place. Please forgive me and renew my life." This will put you back on track. Staying on track, and avoiding the sin of busyness, involves defining your mission in life, and spending time with God in prayer everyday.