Is Busyness Sinful?

Is busyness a cause for concern? Is it sinful? Let’s start in an unlikely place, the book of Haggai. God says:

“Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified. You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why? Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.” (Haggai 1:7-11).

The Lord is talking about the rebuilding of the Temple, the one that Herod would later add to, the one Jesus would get lost in as he spoke with the rabbis, and the one where the curtain rent in two when Jesus breathed his last. The message got across to the people of Haggai’s day through the help of Cyrus the Great. But the Lord wasn’t done talking. He says in chapter two:

“In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory. The silver is mine and the gold is mine. The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house. And in this place I will give peace.” (Haggai 2:6-9)

If you’ve gotten to this point, perhaps you’ve taken a reprieve from your busyness and multi-tasking. Perhaps you’ve thought about the words in Haggai and how we might relate them to the New Jerusalem that God will build someday. Perhaps you picked up on the rebuke of God to the people of Israel as they went along their way with little regard of what dominated their schedules.

It’s American culture, especially, to have a Puritanical or Protestant work ethic. It’s a documented phenomenon and a main contribution to why, even to this day, Americans work slavishly to fulfill the towers they set out to build. Yes, this work ethic involves ego and envy and greed, but it also has in it a noble goal to achieve and avoid sagging rafters and leaky houses. (Ecclesiastes 10:18 says, “Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks.”) But it’s more than a want to achieve. In its pure sense, the Protestant work ethic is an understanding that God is sovereign over every aspect of our lives, and we will one day be held accountable for what we did or didn’t do. We want to get all our ducks in a row, as the cliche goes, so we’ll be called out as a worker unashamed at the day of judgement. It’s a pressure which, if we’re not careful, can create huge mountains that we carry on our backs – mountains we weren’t meant to carry. Just watch Martha in Luke 10.

Paul tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Peter reminds us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7). Perhaps Peter was reflecting on Jesus’ words and his own poor choices even when he stood so ready to die with him. Jesus says, “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).

If all this is true, how should we then live? Perhaps we should be more carefree about the time we spend in relationships and not worry about all those things pagans worry about, says Jesus in Matthew 6. Maybe we can get to a place where we “dance like flowers and eat like birds,” as Rich Mullins sings. Perhaps we should forget some of our planning and focus on our relationship with God! Perhaps we need to step away and retreat – go somewhere like Billy Graham’s Cove or Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville. Maybe we just need to find a closet and spend an hour in silence. If you have a commute, consider that time to be quiet time. Remember what the Psalmist says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2).

I’ve avoided the question. When is busyness a sin? I think we know in our hearts when our gods take over the true presence of God Himself. If our knees are more worn from working out than kneeling down, then we need to pray more. If our schedule is packed to the gills with our to-dos and not lost in the service of God, then we need to change. If our temperament changes when we get cut off in traffic or our child is late or a host of other life occurrences, then we need repentance. Busyness can quickly become a tool of Satan. It creates pleasure and importance and accomplishment in our life, but it may yield zero fruit in us or in others. Jesus says, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). I know this warning might cycle us back into busyness, but I hope all of us will pause and remember this song by Keith Green. It is still shaping me.

My son, my son, why are you striving?
You can’t add one thing to what’s been done for you.
I did it all while I was dying.
Rest in your faith, my peace will come to you.

For when I hear the praises start,
I want to rain upon you,
Blessings that will fill your heart.
I see no stain upon you,
Because you are my child and you know me,
To Me you’re only holy,
Nothing that you’ve done remains,
Only what you do for Me.

My child, My child, why are you weeping?
You will not have to wait forever.
That day and that hour is in My keeping,
The day I’ll bring you into Heaven.
My precious bride, the day is nearing,
When I’ll take you in My arms and hold you.
I know there are so many things that you’ve been hearing,
But you just hold on to what I have told you.

(“When I Hear the Praises Start” from the album For Him Who Has Ears to Hear, 1977)

Written by a member of our church staff