I understand there are lazy people out there who need to get radical for Jesus. I understand that many people are stingy with their resources and fritter their time away on inane television shows. I understand there are lots of Christians in our churches sitting around doing nothing who need to be challenged not to waste their life. I am deeply thankful for preachers and writers who challenge us to risk everything and make our lives count. I know a lot of sleepy Christians in need of a wake-up call.
But I also know people like me, people who easily feel a sense of responsibility, people who easily feel bad for not doing more. For all sorts of reasons—pride, diligence, personality—opportunities have often felt like obligations to me.
And surely I’m not the only one. Surely there are many Christians who are terribly busy because they sincerely want to be obedient to God. We hear sermons that convict us for not praying more. We read books that convince us to do more for global hunger. We talk to friends who inspire us to give more and read more and witness more. The needs seem so urgent. The workers seem so few. If we don’t do something, who will? We want to be involved. We want to make a difference. We want to do what’s expected of us. But there just doesn’t seem to be the time.
Thing One and Thing Two (and Thing Three and Thing Four . . .)
The Bible is a big book, and there’s a lot in there. So the Bible says a lot about the poor, about marriage, about prayer, about evangelism, about missions, about justice; it says a lot about a lot. Almost any Christian can make a case that their thing should be the main thing or at least one of the most important things. It’s easy for preachers and leaders, or just plain old Christian friends, to pound away at “more”—we should pray more, give more, show hospitality more, share our faith more, read our Bibles more, volunteer more. Maybe it’s because I’m type A or left-brained or a beaver or an ESTJ or a good pastor or a people-pleasing sinner, but I feel these “more” imperatives poignantly. That’s why the “do not” commands are like a breath of fresh air. “Do not commit murder”—that’s tough if you take the heart level seriously (see Matthew 5:21–26). But I don’t have to put the sixth commandment on my to-do list. It doesn’t require me to start a nonprofit or spend another evening away from my family. I just (just!) need to put to death the deeds of the flesh, die to myself, and live to Christ.
Not killing someone or not committing adultery or not taking the Lord’s name in vain are not easy commands. But they don’t overwhelm me. Doing something about the global AIDS crisis, tackling homelessness, getting water to an impoverished village—these overwhelm me.
Calming the Crazy Man Inside
Before you think I’m a total nut-job and scream, “Physician, heal thyself!” let me hasten to add: I do understand the gospel. I know that all this talk of what I should be doing or could be doing is not healthy. I know that. And I’m really doing fine. I’m not on the verge of burnout or breakdown. I don’t feel pressure to keep the earth spinning on its axis. Most days I don’t feel guilty about all the stuff I’m not doing.
But getting to the place where my conscience can rest has been a process. I think most Christians hear these urgent calls to do more (or feel them internally already) and learn to live with a low-level guilt that comes from not doing enough. We know we can always pray more and give more and evangelize more, so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves. That’s not how the apostle Paul lived (1 Corinthians 4:4), and it’s not how God wants us to live, either (Romans 12:1-2). Either we are guilty of sin—like greed, selfishness, idolatry—and we need to repent, be forgiven, and change. Or something else is going on. It’s taken me several years, a lot of reflection, and a bunch of unnecessary busyness to understand that when it comes to good causes and good deeds, “do more or disobey” is not the best thing we can say.
Here are some thoughts that have helped me get out from under the terror of total obligation:
Care is not the same as do. At the Lausanne missions gathering in 2010, John Piper made the statement that “we should care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.” He chose the word “care” quite carefully. He didn’t want to say we should do something about all suffering, because we can’t do something about everything. But we can care. This means when we hear about grinding poverty or legal abortion or biblical illiteracy, we are not indifferent. We think and feel that these things ought not to be so. We won’t all care about every issue in the same way, but there are some issues we should all care about, some issues that should at least prick our hearts and prompt us to pray. Not giving a rip about sex slaves is not an option for the Christian. Not doing something directly to combat this particular evil is an option.
We have different gifts and different callings. Every Christian must be prepared to give an answer for the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15), but not everyone will do beach evangelism. Every Christian should be involved in the Great Commission, but not everyone will move overseas. Every Christian should oppose abortion, but not everyone will adopt or volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. We need Christians who spend their lives improving inner-city schools and Christians whose dream is to get great theological books translated into Polish. And we need Christians who don’t make others feel guilty (and don’t feel guilty themselves) when one of us follows a different passion than another. You have your own gifts and calling. We have to be okay with other Christians doing certain good things better and more often than we do.
Remember the church. The only work that absolutely must be done in the world is Christ’s work. And Christ’s work is accomplished through Christ’s body. The church—gathered in worship on Sunday and scattered through its members throughout the week—is able to do exponentially more than any of us alone. I can respond to Christ’s call in one or two ways, but I am a part of an organism and organization that can respond and serve in a million ways.
I can always pray right now. Prayer can feel like the biggest burden of all. We can always pray more, and we can’t possibly pray for every need in the world. Even if we are extremely organized and disciplined, we won’t be able to consistently pray for more than a handful of people and problems. But that doesn’t mean our prayers are limited to the items we can write on a 3 x 5 card. If your aunt’s cousin has upcoming heart surgery, pray immediately after you hear about it. When a missionary shares her requests, pray right on the spot for them. Don’t let the moment pass you by. Pray a short prayer. Trust God for the results and, in many cases, move on.
Jesus didn’t do it all. Jesus didn’t meet every need. He left people waiting in line to be healed. He left one town to preach to another. He hid away to pray. He got tired. He never interacted with the vast majority of people on the planet. He spent 30 years in training and only 3 years in ministry. He did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do.
Take Time to Be Holy
I pray that nothing in this article encourages you to embrace cheap grace or easy believism. We all have a cross to carry. But it’s a cross that kills our sins, smashes our idols, and teaches us the folly of self-reliance. It’s a cross that says I’ll do anything to follow Jesus, not a cross that says I have to do everything for Jesus.
Above all, I can lose sight of the good news that the universe is not upheld by the word of my power (see Hebrews 1:3). That’s Christ’s work, and no one else can do it. Hallelujah—he doesn’t even expect me to try.
Content adapted from Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung, © 2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.Crossway.org.
Kevin DeYoung is an award-winning author, popular blogger and conference speaker, and senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He and his wife, Trisha, have five children who keep them very busy.