I am guilty of it, too. Fooling myself into thinking that when I am busy I am really getting a lot done. But that’s not always the case. We can fool ourselves into thinking being busy will equal effectiveness. Not so. We may be busy, but are we being productive? I would suggest that we can be busy and not productive, but if we value being productive, we will be effective with what we do rather than just chaotically busy in all we do.
Jesus spoke of effective lives as fruitful lives. Productive. Stuff blossoms out of our lives and into the lives around us. That was coming from the Savior of the world, who told His followers in John 14 that they would do greater things than He. Still grapple with that declaration, but I can only assume that His assertion was based on the fact that there would be more and more fruitful lives to come that lived on Kingdom purpose. More than just His one life. His one life was needed to heal and restore and then catalyze the lives of the many. But the movement of the many together, aka the CHURCH, would foster the greatness of which He spoke.
All this to say, here are some basic questions that have helped me and I hope will help you be productive rather than just busy.
1 – do you focus your daily based on tasks or priorities?
And I am not talking about just prioritizing your task list. You need to assess your task list. You may need to eliminate some tasks or add some even. But you need to filter your task list based on a determined set of priorities that you view as paramount to your purpose in the everyday.
Think about it. How meaningful will everything you do become if you filter your activity through the filter of following Jesus, loving God and loving people, learning and living Jesus’ ways with others, and working to serve others and give into others and help them succeed rather than advance me and get for me and base your identity on career success. Beyond self life is an abundant life, and living out of a set of Jesus-given priorities is paramount.
A good question to ask at least once a year, if not several times a year, is “Am I living in my musts?’ Your “musts” are the things you MUST do. You don’t just determine your musts based on what you like, but rather based on what you are productive in. Notice, I didn’t say “what you are good at.” You may be really good at some things that only bring personal happiness but no beyond-self productivity. And productiveness is not about me, but about what is produced that goes beyond me into the lives of others.
Imagine if we each lived according to priorities, and our priorities were focused on giving ourselves away into our family, our neighbor, our co-workers, and so on. If we were each concerned about holding each other up, pouring into each others lives, the efforts of our lives seen as crucial to the success of others lives (a true team with true unity), can you imagine what the outcome could be?
So, what are your musts? Determine your priorities. Pray and ask for wisdom to determine them. Maybe reading the Bible isn’t as much about personal development as it is for knowing God and what He values and discerning His priorities and then surrendering to allow them to shape the fruitfulness of your everyday tasks.
2 – do you flesh out your priorities based on steps or cultivation?
The answer to this question will determine whether your priorities are focused on personal advancement or on cultivating into the lives of others. Jesus cultivated. It took time. Patience. Intentionality. And everything He did was “productive” as a result of it. Steady plodding. It’s not the easy choice. Five steps to accomplishing personal goals is much easier than setting out to cultivate God’s values and priorities into your life and the lives of those you encounter everyday. But think about it. Do you want what’s in your head to become reality. Or what’s in God’s? Jesus prayed, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” What He prayed, “on earth as it is in heaven,” will only come when we flesh out God’s priorities into our lives by cultivating His life and love and purposes into the lives of others while we carry out our everyday tasks.
3 – do you strategize for cultivation based on goals or outcomes?
Another way to ask this: are you looking for desired results in the forms of trophies to put up in your house or in the forms of lives that begin to be shaped by God-given priorities? I hear people say things like, “Our goal is to see 100 churches planted in 10 years.” Or, “We want a 20% increase this year in the business.” But do we really have that much control over what happens as a result of what we cultivate through our tasks in the everyday? We don’t. Also, do we really want to limit our outcomes to what comes out of our heads and hearts? We shouldn’t.
What if we centered our “goals” on priorities lived out rather than on specific accomplishments? I imagine that then and only then might we see “more than we ever asked or imagined” (Ephesians 3:19–21). Then and only then would we see “on earth as it is in heaven.”
For example, did Paul set out in the New Testament book of Acts to plant churches all over Asia Minor, or did he simply set out to cultivate the Gospel of Jesus? He did the latter. The unimaginable outcome was that the church blossomed all over the world in varying forms. His strategy was based on his must of preaching the Gospel, rather than a goal of planting 10 churches. His God-given priorities were lived out in the daily, and a God-given outcome came with it.
We need to cultivate into lives and trust the Creator and the Grower to continue to blossom His Kingdom around us at home, in our communities, in the marketplace, and around the world.
4 – have you made sabbath a central commitment in achieving your desired outcomes?
Rest. It makes sense. If you don’t stop striving on a consistent basis, how will you keep striving? If you don’t lay down the tools that you use to cultivate, your hands and heart will one day become so calloused and overworked that you will not want to cultivate anymore. Sabbath is, like all of God’s commandments, so very practical and sensible. And yet, we do not keep sabbath as a central commitment in achieving our desired outcomes. I am guilty of it, too. And we need to hold each other accountable to this commandment. Or else we will burn out at worst, and at best just be busy doing things that don’t line up with God-given priorities.
Why do I say that with such confidence? Because we need sabbath to stay energized for cultivation. And we need to be fresh and energetic, not just for tasks. But mainly to stay tuned in to the one who sets our priorities. Who makes us productive. Who bears His fruit in and through us. Check this out (Galatians 5:22-25):
22 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, 23 not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. 24 Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. 25 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.
What do you think? May we be productive, not just busy. Please hold me accountable, too.