Why are we so busy?
“Okay, let’s get started, shall we?” I said, slightly flustered. Having just entered the room for a ministry leaders’ meeting, I was raring to get started with the agenda. It was a busy period, hence I had many things on my mind — a list of tasks, people to follow up with, and issues to handle. I simply wanted to complete the objectives of this meeting, so I could move on to other things.
Someone in the room then said, “Let’s start with a time of prayer for each of our members. I believe God wants to speak to us about them.” Even though I did not physically respond to the suggestion, I did a huge eye-roll in my mind and muttered to myself, “Can’t we just finish this time of prayer and begin the meeting proper?”
Immediately, the Holy Spirit convicted my heart, revealing the self-reliance that was hidden within me. I had been too focused on getting things done and had forgotten that Jesus would have done things very differently. I had not abided in Him; instead I desperately tried to solve problems with my own strength. It was a moment of clarity for me as I saw myself for who I really was on the inside.
Stunned by my own callousness, I paused momentarily to realign my heart to God’s. I knew He wanted to speak into the lives of our members. We went on with praying — listening to God and declaring “words of life” over them.
For most Singaporeans — ministry leader, entrepreneur, or social worker — this sense of busyness may seem eerily familiar. We can focus on the things that need to be done and the problems that need to be urgently remedied. We strive to extract maximum productivity from every working minute. Some of us are gunning for a promotion; some of us do not want to work overtime yet again; some of us have to juggle between work in the marketplace and ministry in the church. “Crazy busy” might be the definitive status quo for many Singaporeans.
Faced with a deluge of responsibilities and issues, it is tempting to rely on past experiences than to discern God’s present method for any problem, whether in the marketplace or in church. I have come to realise how easy it is to get caught up with the execution of tasks, forgetting about the things that really matter. With our understanding of God’s heart, I believe that every Christian can impact his or her spheres of influence for the better, through prioritising rest and prayer; and cultivating relationships.
Importance of Rest and Prayer
The particular incident where the Holy Spirit revealed to me my self-reliance reminded me of Jesus’ interaction with the disciples. In Mark 6:7–13, Jesus sent the twelve disciples out to villages to preach the gospel, cast out demons, and heal the sick. After some time, they came back to Jesus and told him about all the things they had done and taught. They were so busy that they didn’t even have time to eat! At once, Jesus responded to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (See Mark 6:30–31)
Deep inside, we are all aware that rest is essential in extricating ourselves from the frenetic pace of life. God had set the example by resting from His work on the seventh day of Creation (Genesis 2:2); He further commanded the Israelites in Exodus 34:21 (NIVUK), “Six days you shall labour, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the ploughing season and harvest you must rest.” Even during the seasons of ploughing and harvest, which required hasty and expeditious work, the Sabbath rest was still to be observed.
Prayer should be coupled with rest, and they need to be prioritised over getting things done. While this might be an affront to task-oriented people (which includes myself), I believe it is the model Jesus set for us: He would often “withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16 ESV); on another occasion, before making the major decision of choosing his twelve disciples, he prayed through the night (Luke 6:12).
Martin Luther, who played a key role in the Protestant Reformation, said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” To me, this is so counter-intuitive; if it was me, I would simply pray a one-liner and get on with work. Yet, it is in prayer that we seek God’s heart and mind, and receive his revelation. I have found that God gives divine wisdom when I find Him through prayer. He has asked me the right questions to gain headway with a wary church member, and has helped me to reframe my perspective, making me less angry at a situation.
If all Christian leaders, in church and the marketplace, were to emphasise the importance of prayer and rest in their personal lives, I believe that many parts of our society will be transformed for good — less frantic, more powerful. The Israelite practice of observing the Sabbath regardless of the season was probably a huge departure from secular wisdom; it distinguished them from the rest of the nations as they displayed their radical trust in God’s provision. Our lack of trust in God drives us to give in to self-reliance. However, may we take time to pause from our fast-paced life to realign with God’s heart through rest and prayer, that we may be marked by a genuine trust in God.
Importance of Cultivating Relationships
A result of having nurtured the discipline of prayer and rest is the capacity to cultivate relationships. Our God is a relational God and He desires for us to be in community with fellow believers. But these relationships require time, attention, and a huge investment of love.
One particular day, while serving alongside several ministry leaders, I realised that our interactions were mostly virtual, as our main mode of communication was via WhatsApp. “Are you coming for this event or meeting? What’s the latest status on this project? How is this particular cell group doing?” Words were being exchanged online, but no relationship was strengthened offline.
Beyond the context of ministry, we did not know much about each other’s personal life. I did not know about their family situation, how many siblings they had, or how they had personally come to know Christ. For all the care we show our members, it seemed that we were not as concerned about each other. I’ve learnt that our ministry interactions cannot be impersonal and solely focused on the tasks at hand, we have to know each other beyond the surface.
I resolved to get to know these leaders more to some degree. This means that whenever someone raises an issue about their family, I would know the background to his/her story, which enables me to pray alongside them with greater clarity.
The early Church was a great example of breaking down personal barriers. At the congregational level, they “had everything in common [and gave] to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44–45 NIV). Between churches in different cities, they collected and sent relief supplies; “everyone giving as much as they could” (Acts 11:29 NLT). They were authentic with their struggles and the church rallied together in tangible ways of support.
Such networks of support are best formed in community. As a church leader, I have found that the journey can be lonely at times, especially when there isn’t a group of like-minded people running alongside each other. Paul’s exhortation was, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NIV). When ministry partners come together in community to bear each other’s load, we can last the distance in serving God.
Despite the busyness of our work or ministry schedules, may we appreciate and pay attention to the lessons from Scripture. If you, in the pursuit of productivity, have found your heart hardened to the need for God’s grace or have been negligent in cultivating relationships, Jesus’ words beckon us:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30 NIV)