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The Overloaded Christian Life


It’s probably more than a little cliché to point out that we are a busy people who live in a busy time. And while we tend to think there is something unique to the modern context that pushes us especially hard toward overwork, as I have read the books of previous eras I have come to see that the issue transcends the trappings of the world as it is today. There may be some unique components to today’s context, but the issue is much deeper and much older. I dare say it is universal.

It is little wonder that we have a host of books meant to relieve our busyness, or at least to focus it. Many of these books are tremendously helpful and many of them offer useful guidance. The best of them go beyond technique to diagnose and correct the issue from a spiritual perspective. New to the field is a unique and uniquely challenging book from Ian Carmichael titled Busy: Tackling the Problem of an Overloaded Christian Life.

It bears mentioning from the outset that this is not a book that teaches processes or techniques. It is not meant to introduce a new system of productivity. Rather, it is meant to “avoid magic bullets and instead look with you at what God has to say in the Bible about busyness. By which I don’t mean looking for a verse in the book of Proverbs that says something vaguely connected with productivity and using it as a pretext to say what I wanted to say about productivity anyway. No, I mean going to the Bible in search of answers to some of the most fundamental questions about our life’s meaning and purpose—what God created us to do—and seeing what implications that has for our lives.”

In Carmichael’s framing of the issue, busyness is not necessarily bad and may actually be very good, just depending on how it is defined and understood. He begins with ensuring we understand a central truth of the Christian faith—that we are made in the image of God. An implication is that just as God works, so we were made to work. Hence “the bottom line is this: well-directed busyness is actually a good thing. It reflects the nature of God as a worker, and the truth that ‘whatever you do’ can be done ‘as for the Lord’ (Col 3:23). In other words, busyness is not necessarily the enemy. Busyness is definitely not a dirty word.” But then it’s equally true that we were made to rest—“to draw aside from our work and busyness to rest and remember God, and engage with him as our Creator and rescuer,” something he refers to as “God rest.”

At this point the book takes an unexpected turn as Carmichael introduces the Bible’s great metanarrative which he summarizes as going from Point A (creation) to Point B (new creation). Knowing that we are saved by grace frees us from the need to try to earn our salvation and frees us to obey God in leading others from Point A to Point B—to essentially be busy in this crucial work that God has assigned to us through both evangelism and discipleship. This is work we engage in through the local church and through our private lives—work which needs to play a key role in the decisions we make in life.

The mistake we are tempted to make is in thinking about it as my agenda for my life. That is a wrong way to think about it as Christians, because “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”. The life agenda we adopt has to now be thought of as Jesus’ agenda for his life in me. As Christians, we must relinquish any sense of entitlement to the control of our lives or the setting of our own priorities, whilst at the same time thoughtfully setting priorities and making choices about what we do.

What we Need to do is find the right balance of work and rest as we pursue the priorities God has assigned to us.

At the end there are several appendices dealing with matters such as paid employment, the local church, and family life. But there is no app to download, no journal to buy, no technique to master. There is instead much to ponder, much to pray about, and perhaps much to course-correct.

Busy offers a unique take on busyness and one that strikes to the very heart of our God-given purpose. It is a book that blessed and challenged me and, I trust, one that will bless and challenge you as well. I am glad to recommend it.

Note: Amazon has sold out for now but you can buy it here.

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