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The Idol Called 'Busyness'
Phillip M. Thompson
Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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I remember reading in the late 1980s that because of computers and their productivity we were entering a world of limitless free time, a calm and creative age. Instead, our lives today have been consumed by the assumption that ever more frenetic work is just the way of the world. If you challenge this imperative, you may be labeled idealistic or unrealistic. To be successful, you must be available 24/7 for your employer. Free time on weekends and holidays has too often become optional. Many Americans do not use their yearly vacation allotments.

As people of faith, how should we think about this activity tsunami? Let's start with the notion that our primary duty is to love our God with all our heart, mind, and soul and to love one another (Matt. 22:37). This is always a good starting place. We can know these lines, but not understand their full significance for our lives. First, each of us needs to focus heart, mind, and soul on the source of our being. And when we do, it follows that all human beings are connected to us, for they are also called to God and are made in his image and likeness. And it is in this love of God and humanity that we can explore the meaning of life.

If we make anything our ultimate priority in the place of God, we have adopted a false idol. When we think of an idol, we often have biblical images of a golden calf (Ex. 32), but an idol is any commitment that is in a higher place than the living God (Mark 13:14). In our time, idols take many forms like work, ideology, status, sexual conquest, power, wealth, physical prowess, or personal beauty.

Having recognized the problem, we can recommit to our spiritual lives. Amidst the daily frenzy, we should disconnect at times from our devices of interruption and distraction. Instead, we should devote more time to other activities where we can find God: prayer, music, reading, Scripture, attending church, helping those in need, gardening, or hiking. Or perhaps we should just be still. "'Be still, and know that I am God!'" (Ps. 46:10). To that end, let us also secure a Sabbath each week from production and consumption—from work or shopping or media or dining out (Ex. 20:8-11).

There will be powerful voices arguing against this recommendation. Bill Gates once noted that religion "was not very productive" and there was a lot more he could be doing with his time. Gates assumes output should equal or exceed input, but this kind of efficiency thinking doesn't work with God. Two units of prayer don't produce two units of grace. We cannot force the hand of God; his ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8). So let us honor God by ordering our lives as if we value him more than anything else. And let us be still and listen.

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August 24, 2014  10:59am

Very powerful and thought provoking. The idol of work is one that I struggle with. Along with that the "standard of living" that we have created for ourselves seems to feed the need for the continuous work cycle that we create. I don't have time to enjoy family, friends, and the material possessions that I do have. I would like to hear from others who struggle with this also

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