Busyness Due To Wrong Priorities and A Mind Not Conformed to Christ

One favorite complaint of Christians involved in ministry is that they have become too busy and have too many activities. They say that they have no more time for their family, to focus on and excel at work or to enjoy recreational activities. And because of the busyness of their lives, they have gotten tired.

Let me say one thing right off: Busyness can be a very good thing. Consider Jesus. At times he had no time to eat or to rest. He was too busy preaching and ministering to the needs of people.

One time his disciples were urging him to eat probably because he had been too busy to do so. Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34). Now food is good and necessary. We fast for a day and we feel weakness as we go through our activities. We do not eat for a few days and we can get really sick and eventually die of hunger. So food is good and necessary. But Jesus here says that what is truly Important for him is to obey the Father by finishing his mission. This is his greater priority, even more important than eating.

Jesus is our model in obedience to God. He was consumed with doing the Father's will. So it is good to be very busy for God! Even at the expense though not neglect, of other good and necessary activities. We need to have our priorities in order.

Forced to focus

Perhaps busyness in Christian ministry, community life and/or parish service is also God's way of getting us to focus more fully on our life in the Lord. The reality is that many things and activities take up our time. Some are essential but should not take up all of our time (family, work, exercise). Some are good but not of the highest priority (recreation, going out with friends). Some are neutral and only takes up our time unnecessarily. Some are even bad for us (too much TV).

Unfortunately, when confronted with the reality that we do not have enough time for all the things we need or want to do, the first things we think of letting go of are the elements of our community life and service. What we should do is to assess what we are busy about, and assess these in the light of Jesus' example of doing the will of the Father. Then what we will get rid off will be the non-essentials to living a life fully for God.

What that ought to result in is greater, not less, involvement in community life and service. What that ought to result in is that we see the demands of community life and service no longer as a burden, but as a blessing. Why? Because they purify the elements of our life in Christ. They cause the removal of the non-essentials, and force us to focus us on what really matters to God.

Look at the Christian community's full-time pastoral workers. Look at the All-the-timers as well. All-the-timers are those who hold secular jobs but still are giving much of their time to serve God in and through community. They are the busiest persons around but they do not complain. They enjoy their busyness, because they know they are busy for God and are making a difference for His kingdom, without sacrificing their other important responsibilities in life. They do not complain because what they do has become their very life.

Satan's wiles

Know also that satan can use busyness to keep us from doing the will of the Father. For those of us who are renewed, Satan no longer uses his normal bag of dirty tricks. We are wise to these and would readily reject them. How then does Satan seek to incapacitate us? By getting us to focus on, and be content With, those good things and activities that do not threaten his dominion.

Satan is perfectly happy to have some of us raise a strong family, so long as we do not interfere in the havoc he is creating with so many other families. Satan is happy to allow us to rapidly climb the corporate ladder of success, so that we will be too busy to even think about service in the Church. Satan is happy not to interfere with our social friendships, so that we will be emotionally content and thus not have to enter more deeply into life-giving relationships with Christian brethren.

The right balance

How then do we achieve the right balance? Well, the basic principle is: God first, and then everything else follows. We are to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength (Mark 12:30). This is the first and greatest commandment according to Jesus. Everything else we do ought to revolve around this. Now love means obedience. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). So if we are to love God first and foremost, then we need to obey God's command to go and evangelize. If we love God first and foremost, then His priorities become our priorities. If we love God first and foremost, then like Jesus, we must want only to do His will and to finish His work.

A second principle is: if we take care of the mission of God, then God will help us take care of the responsibilities He Himself has given us. With less time from us but with more help from God, our family is in the best of hands! With less focus on secular work but with God's blessing, our secular career is in the best of hands!

We actually have no choice as to our priorities. We cannot focus on our own abilities or rely on our own resources, for “unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch.” (Psalms 127:1). We are totally dependent upon the grace and blessing of God in doing well with regard to our family and secular work. Without His blessing, we will go nowhere but down. But how can God extend His blessing to us if we ignore His priorities?

The good news is that as we turn to God, then he blesses us apart from our own efforts. We of course still need to take responsibility for our lives and act accordingly. But we no longer rely on our own efforts. In the secular world, we can hardly rest because of the demands of family and work. But in the Lord, “it is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night,….for God gives to his beloved in sleep.” (Psalms 127:2). In the Lord, we will have the rest that we need. Even while we sleep, God is at work to bless us.

A Mind Not Conformed to Christ

As Christians, we ought to “have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul urges us, “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2).

However, more often than not, the minds of Christians are not conformed to the mind of Christ.

A "spiritual" mind

One such mind is the so-called “spiritual” mind (notice the quotations). This is a mind that considers spiritual things but misses out on certain spiritual realities. For example, there are those Christians that separate the spiritual from the social dimension of the gospel. The spiritual has to do with evangelization, formation, mission, growing in holiness, becoming a disciple. The social has to do with work with the poor. The two are considered different.

How many good Christians and good renewal communities and good parish groups today only get involved in the first and not in the second? How many are deep into the “spiritual” but think nothing of real involvement in the social?

But there ought to be no dichotomy. There is only one authentic gospel of Jesus Christ, and it involves both the so-called spiritual and also the social dimensions. There is only one meaning of evangelization, and that is proclaiming the good news of Jesus to the world. Such good news is not only about a renewed and transformed life in Christ but also about doing ministry among the poor.

Spiritual and social

Consider how the two are intimately entwined. The two greatest commandments are love of God and love of neighbor. Laying neighbor is helping those in need. That means first of all the poor. In fact John says something very thought-provoking: “If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20). And James says that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17). True spirituality must be manifested in action on behalf of others, especially the poor.

Some say work with the poor is not evangelization. On the contrary, it is creative evangelization at its best. It is the way to reach the poor since it is difficult to preach the gospel to a hungry and hopeless person. And it is the way to reach the rich and powerful, who may not be interested in spiritual matters but who can be generous for a good cause. Once they become involved however the Spirit will have the opportunity to really touch their heart, as they unwittingly are already participating in Jesus' mission of bringing good news to the poor.

Some say work with the poor is not formation. On the contrary, it is formation at its best. In the difficult work of serving the poor, many values will be brought to the surface - patience, tolerance, selflessness, perseverance, forbearance, sacrifice, trust in God.

A corporate mind

Christians form the body of Christ, and as such, have a corporate personality, that is, they are a grouping of people living out its charism within the institution that is the Church. A corporate life suggests norms of conduct, structures for governance, methods of handling day-to-day activities and problems, and the like. As such, corporate is good. Corporate is simply being community.

However, our corporate character ought to be also according to the mind of Christ. If it is according to the mind and ways of the world, then we get into trouble. At times, we encounter Christians who have a good corporate mind honed in the good corporate practices of the secular world, but who lack pastoral sensitivity.

As such, in the corporate world, planning and budgeting and preparing resources before acting are good practices. The successful business corporations are the ones who excel in such preparation. While we can utilize such practices in Christian work, we need to be pastorally sensitive, especially to the workings of the Holy Spirit who cannot be put in a box.

World versus Spirit

For example, we must do planning and budgeting. Based on what we believe God wants us to do, we project our goals and activities for the year, put together a corporate plan, and assign numerical figures to these in the form of a budget. For the corporate mind, a corporate plan and its accompanying budget, though they may be altered here and there now and then, are to be strictly adhered to, because they form the blueprint to achieve the corporation's goals for the year. If a major activity is not in the corporate plan, or if a major expense item is not in the budget, these normally would not be considered. Or if at all, these would be considered only after extensive consultations and planning and reconvening of top executives.

But in Christian ministry, the Spirit blows as He wills. The Spirit cannot be constrained by human plans. The Spirit is ever fresh, ever exciting, ever creative. As such, the Spirit might direct an abrupt change of plans, or the insertion of a major pastoral activity, or entrance into uncharted waters. At times like these, what is called for is for community elders to pray, discuss and discern the will of God. And once they have discerned the will of God, they ought to follow through, even if that means discarding or radically changing the previously decided corporate plan and budget.

The corporate mind, being very rational and regimented, is very concerned about having the money for the community's work and activities. Well and good. Everyone should desire to have the money for the work. But there are times when the income does not cover the outgo. At times like these, the corporate mind will insist on not proceeding with the activity, or insist that expenses be cut, to a level that can be sustained by the income. Seems reasonable, especially to the world.

But if an activity or direction has been discerned as the will of God, and there has been no word from the Spirit that He has changed anything, then the activity must go on. Rather than cutting expenses, the community must work to increase income. Often there is much room to increase income because members are not tithing adequately, or not tithing at all. The easy way out is to simply cut expenses, but the right way, the way of God, is to proceed and trust in Him to meet our needs. It is recognizing that the problem is not excessive expenses (nothing is excessive if according to the will of God) but rather inadequate generosity in giving by the members.

The loaves and fish

Take a look at the incidence of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Jesus was ministering to a large crowd and evening caught up with them. The disciples asked him to dismiss the crowds so that they could go to the villages and buy food. Jesus told them to give them some food themselves. But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” (Matthew 14:17). The disciples saw the objective reality of there not being enough food, and reacted accordingly.

Accurate in their human assessment, their corporate mind was at work. And this certainly can and does happen to us in Christian ministry, when we assess what resources we have and what our strengths and weaknesses are. When we do so, we begin to dread the difficulties or challenges before us doubting our ability to overcome. We become discouraged, and we decide to back off. When we act as such, we fail as Christian disciples of Christ. Why? Because by assessing the situation purely with our corporate mind, we fall to input the most important element, and that is the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were very precise m their assessment, counting the exact number of loaves and fish, but they neglected to realize that it was Jesus himself telling them to provide the crowds with food. Having seen the miracles he performed, having themselves experienced power to expel unclean spirits and cure every disease when sent out on mission, they still failed to notice the reality of the One whom they were serving.

To disciples today, Jesus continues to say, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus is with us! And when he directs us to a certain seemingly impossible task, we need to realize that Jesus is the one who will act in and through us. And with him, nothing will be impossible for us.

And so indeed, Jesus said to them, “Bring (the five loaves and two fish) here to me,” and proceeded to multiply them (Matthew 14:18-20).

Money and mission

Now here is another important point. If we act on what money we have on hand, then our work becomes hostage to this, and Satan can easily manipulate us. Satan can easily cause our members to give less money for our mission, telling them that they need the money themselves for their family and other needs. Satan can easily stoke selfishness in people, which many are already prone to. When these happen, then the mission suffers. That is, if we surrender and cut back. Rather than surrender, we should insist on moving ahead with what God has directed us to do, and work instead on a more adequate response of our members to financially supporting the mission.

There is an important side effect to our going to our members and reminding them of their financial responsibility. It helps them to move ahead in living out proper financial stewardship. This is extremely important. Not only to meet the needs for mission, but more so for their own spiritual well-being. Why? Because if they do not tithe, then they rob God (Malachi 3:8) and robbers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10)! If they do not give for God's mission and so have much more for themselves, then God will consider them fools who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God (Luke 12:20-21).

So we see that even the unwanted difficulty of not having enough money becomes a way for all to grow into becoming what God wants us to become.

A worldly mind

There is still much of the world in every Christian's mind. This is part of the flesh in us that constantly opposes the Spirit. Even as some are transformed by the renewal of their minds, they may still bring some of the world with them as they do Christian ministry.

There are those Christians who look on the poor as the world does. Even as they strive to help the poor, they look down on them, failing to accept the poor's dignity as their co-equals as children of God. There are those Christians who help the poor by doling out charity, rather than getting deeply involved in the lives of the poor and building community among them. There are those who have a hidden agenda dictated by worldly goals when helping the poor. The world looks to money, power and position. Such Christians are tempted to make money on the poor. For example, making a profit on materials or labor in building homes for the poor. Or charging high interest in micro loans to the poor, rationalizing the necessity of profits for sustainability.

There indeed is great temptation in this work. There is a tremendous opportunity for those involved to make money and to accumulate power. And so the principle should be no profit for self. In fact, we are often out-of-pocket!

And we seek no secular power. And we seek no recognition by society, except for what exposure is needed in order to further the work.

We need to always look to the poor and to what Will be of benefit to them. We always need to keep the larger vision of total human liberation and nation building, in Iine with the will of God. There is no room for any selfish agenda.

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