Not Enough Time.
Christ wants his people to tell others about him (see post), but there are many barriers to our doing so. Previously we’ve discussed the problem of bad experiences and off-putting methods (see post) and the notion that we might be judging others (see post). Another thing that may hinder us is our perception that we are so busy we don’t have time to speak to others about Christ.
I understand busyness. I sometimes feel anxious when someone suggests I need to add something else to my schedule. I feel pressure to stay on top of my responsibilities as it is and have a hard time considering adding more. Let’s continue to face our barriers gently but head on by commenting on three aspects of busyness.
First, it’s helpful to realize that speaking to others about Christ doesn’t necessarily mean adding something to your schedule, at least not initially. My approach is not to encourage people to schedule time each week to “go do evangelism.” Something similar to that may well be needed at some point, but initially, I think the best thing to do is more organic. Consider this important passage:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.Colossians 4:5-6
The word “opportunity” designates a significant time. The context suggests that, as we live wisely around outsiders (v. 5a) and make sure our conversations are full of grace (v. 6), God may well give us a significant opportunity to talk people about Christ. If he does, we are to “make the most” of it. The concept of talking to others about Christ in this passage is not that we should set aside time to go out and “do outreach,” but that we are to live and speak well and then be alert to any opportunities God may give us in the course of our week. If we see one, we make the most of it. This kind of outreach may delay us a little from whatever we were planning to do next in our day, but it does not entail adding something to our schedule. (For more on this great passage in Colossians 4, see post.)
This approach to reaching out to others, however, does not mean we are off the hook unless God grabs us by the collar and commands us to “go talk to that person.” That has not been my experience. Instead, we see ourselves as his servants, ready to do his bidding 24/7. We believe his will and agenda for us is more important than any agenda we have prearranged for ourselves. So we pray that he will actually give us opportunities and that we will recognize them. Then we stay alert, watching for opportunities. When we see them, we make the most of them. If we think we may see one but aren’t sure, we probe a little bit to see what happens. We say hello. We give a greeting. We ask a question. We show interest. Then we respond accordingly.
It is true that this approach may also entail scheduling time to get together with others, as mentioned. It may be that God will give us an opportunity not in the course of our day but in our minds as we realize there is someone we know that we should get together with. Or a spontaneous conversation in the course of our day may create the need to get together with that person again. That’s why I said we may indeed need to set aside a couple hours in our schedule at some point. But I have feeling it will be easier for us to do this if we have a sense that God has given us an opportunity to talk to someone and wants us to continue to talk to them. Frankly, it is a lot easier for me to believe God is calling me to get together with someone he gave me the opportunity with in the first place than it is to think he is calling me to go out an hour each week and try to force something to happen on my own. If we see ourselves as God’s partners and believe he is opening a door for us, we find a way to walk through it because we believe God really is at work and also that he is with us.
This leads to the second area of busyness I want to discuss. At some point we are indeed going to need to dedicate some of the time God has entrusted to us to get with people and help them find Christ, no matter how busy we are. I think we would all agree with the general principle that if we are too busy to serve and obey Christ, then we have to change something to make some time. That does not mean, of course, that we have to make time to participate in any and every ministry or event that comes along. There are way too many ministries and events for us to be involved in them all. But if there are some actions that Christ really does want us all to be doing, as we mentioned in the first post, then we have to make whatever changes are necessary in order to do them.
God didn’t give us 24 hours each day to use up on exclusively on ourselves. He wants us to be good stewards of our time. That includes spending time with our families, jobs, and other responsibilities, but it also means we set aside time for God and his concerns. If we are too busy to do that, then we are too busy period. Something must change.
Sometimes we act like we are victims in regard to our schedules. We rattle off all the things we have to do in an attempt to justify why we are too busy to add something else (in this case, getting with someone who is interested in Christ). But we rarely take responsibility for getting ourselves into the frantic schedule we have. When is the last time you heard someone say, I’ve chosen to pack my schedule to the gills in a misguided attempt to squeeze meaning out of life by experiencing everything I can possibly think of? I understand that sometimes things are indeed forced upon us, but often they only seem to be forced on us and are actually the result of choices we have made. Regardless, there are always there are things we do have choices about.
Perhaps the first change that is needed in order to have more time to reach out is a change of thinking. What is the thinking that lies behind my tendency to fill my schedule so full? When we say we “have to” do so and so, are we thinking it is something God requires us to do or simply that we or other humans feel like we ought to do? Am I staying busier than I should in an attempt to increase my sense of importance? Is there any other unhealthy thinking that lies behind my incessant busyness? Although it is changing some, much of our society still encourages us to stay really busy, and there is an assumption that busy people are especially important. But, as Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants.”
Uncovering what lies beneath our busyness may help us cut back on some things to create more room. But one way or another, we do have to make time to serve God. As we pray and ponder this, we would do well to remember God’s promise that if we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, he will give us everything we need (Matthew 6:33). Do you believe this? If so, it will help you make time to get with someone who wants to talk more about Christ.
The third aspect of busyness I want to discuss is a bit of a twist, namely, we must guard against becoming so busy with Christian activities that we have no time to spend with non-Christians. Most churches devote the vast majority of their money, ministries, and time to Christians. Most church leaders are so overrun by the needs, problems, and demands of members that they have almost nothing left for outsiders. Many Christians are constantly busy with church meetings and activities. We do certainly need to spend time in fellowship and ministry to other Christians. But if we become so engulfed in doing so that we have nothing left for non-Christians, it has become a subtle form of self-centeredness. Balance is needed.
Jesus’ example is instructive. One day he rose early in the morning to go off by himself and pray. When Peter and the others found him, they said “Everyone is looking for you!” Surprisingly, Jesus responded, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” And that is exactly what he did (Mark 1:35-39). When is the last time a Christian leader was told that people needed him and he responded, “Sorry, I must go spend time with people who don’t yet know Christ.”
Sometimes we may feel like everyone at church is looking for us or wanting some of our time. But if we pray and remember our mission, we will make deliberate choices that lead to a more balanced schedule. I might add, from my own experience, that if reaching out to others seems difficult or uncomfortable to us, we will have a strong tendency to stay busy with other good people and activities to the point that outreach gets crowded out. Jesus shows us that this is something to resist.
Most of us are busy, to be sure. But God’s mission still stands. I encourage you to pray for opportunities and make the most of them. I encourage you to seek the kingdom first and pray that God will give you all you need. And I encourage you to pray that his mission will remain clear and that he will give us the strength to make it a priority in spite of our busyness.