We love reading the promise of Jesus that says, “Come unto me and I will give you rest” and the words, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. Our ears perk up at such a promise. We are drawn to the image. However, for most of us this picture is not the reality of our lives. We are not people at rest. We are people on the go.
Most of us feel overloaded. There is more to do than there is time in which to do these things. We are constantly “on the go”. When we do dare to sit still we feel guilty that we are wasting time.
Do you know that frozen orange juice is no longer very popular. Do you know why? It’s because people don’t want to wait for the can to thaw. The best selling shampoo rose to the top because it combined shampooing and conditioning all into one step so we didn’t waste time doing all that needless rinsing. We use drive through windows so we can eat as we travel. We have cell phones so we can do business as we drive. We want faster Internet access so we can travel more places on the information super highway.
We might comfort ourselves with the fact that we live in rural America. We don’t have the same kind of overload as people who live in the city. The closest thing we have to a traffic jam is waiting for a freight train. Our overload may be different but it is ever present.
- The great financial risks in farming put extra stress on those who work the land.
- The smaller schools mean our kids can be involved in more activities which has its positive side but also results in families being on the run most nights of the week and keeps some children up to midnight trying to get their homework done.
- The proximity of extended family makes us more acutely aware of the stresses on those we love. That adds stress to our lives.
- Area businesses no longer want people who work 40 hours. Instead they will pay someone a salary and expect them to work 50-60 hours a week. Those who won’t work the hours will be replaced by someone who will.
- Most homes are dual income families. Some home need triple incomes with one of the spouses working two jobs.
- Rampant materialism has caused many to be mired in debt.
Even in rural America we are experiencing overload. One of the greatest problems we face in the church is finding people to help with our programs. We are constantly being told that people are ‘too busy.”
Jesus tells us that he wants to give us rest. He is willing to lighten our load. We don’t have to live this way! The problem is that we feel like we are on a treadmill and we don’t know how to get off of it. We don’t know what else to do!
In the weeks to come we are going to address the issue of our overload. We are going to address the issues of: overload emotionally, occupationally, financially, and materially. Our goal is going to be to discover the rest of Jesus. We want to find the balance between laziness and craziness. We not only want to be active, we want to be wise about our activity. We don’t want to discourage working hard; we want to encourage enjoying life along the way.
THE PROBLEM OF OVERLOAD
John Ortberg writes,
Not long after moving to Chicago I called a friend to ask for some spiritual direction. I described the pace at which things tend to move in my current setting. I told him about the rhythms of our family life and about the present condition of my heart, as best I could discern it. What did I need to do, I asked him, to be spiritually healthy? Long pause. ” You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life” he said at last.
Another long pause.
“Okay, I’ve written that one down,” I told him, a little impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” I had many things to do, and this was a long-distance conversation, so I was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible.
Another long pause.
“There is nothing else,” he said. (ibid p.81)
Pretty wise words. We are often in a hurry. We are enslaved to the clock on the wall. Overloaded people often can’t sleep, they have high blood pressure, they have no energy, their nerves are on edge, and they feel like they are helplessly being carried along by the current of life.
The odd thing is that exalt the overloaded! We have a warped sense of pride when we are able to report, “I am just too busy”. We seem to feel more significant when we report that we have “too much to do”. We measure the significance of our jobs by how much stress we are under. The more stress you have, the more significant you must be! We actually take a measure of pride in announcing to people that we are workaholics! Instead of such sentiments being a confession of our foolishness—we see them as a declaration of our significance. Contrary to the prevailing opinion, the overloaded life is not a good thing.
Overloaded People are prone to drift from basic values. The person who is overloaded is looking for a way to deal with their overload. If this can most quickly be accomplished by cutting ethical corners, the temptation to do so can be overpowering.
- The person rushing to make their fortune may be tempted by illegal or inappropriate means.
- The desire to be happy now may cause a person to give up working at their marriage for the promise of an immediate thrill.
- The desire to see our kids “achieve” may cause us to push our kids to the point of exhaustion and send our kids the message that our love and pride is tied to their activity and achievement.
- The push to keep up with friends and neighbors may lead us to borrow ourselves into a debt we cannot pay.
Overloaded people often don’t make good decisions. Jesus said, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24) Jesus knew what He was talking about.
Overloaded People Struggle with Relationships. This last week I had to have some dental surgery. I could sense immediately that the Doctor was a driven man. He flew into the office, only briefly looked me in the eye, and moved on to the next of an assembly line of patients. He was so focused on the “task” that he didn’t seem to see the people. He is, I am sure, an excellent surgeon, but he has lost any sense of balance in his life. (I actually tried to suggest this to him but he didn’t have time for that conversation).
When we are always hurried we don’t have any time to sit and talk to each other. There is always something that needs to “get done”. We are constantly battling a seemingly all-consuming to-do list. We run all day long, spend a little time plopped in front of the television and then we drop into bed with our spouse. We want to be close, we want to give of ourselves to our mate, but we have nothing left. The tank is empty. Often the same is true of your mate. As a result, we feel distant and isolated from the people around us and we don’t seem to know why. It’s because we are overloaded.
Overloaded People Tend to View Life as a Contest. Overloaded people are competitive. Instead of “weeping with those who weep” we tend to be impatient with those who weep and resentful to those who rejoice. We view every issue as a measure of our significance.
- A compliment about someone else’s child is seen as a slam against my child.
- An advancement for you somehow makes me seem less significant
- On the flip side, if I make more money than you somehow I am more important than you are . . . or at least smarter.
- If I have an illness it has to be more significant than yours
- If I have a busy schedule it needs to be busier than yours or I “lose”
- If we disagree on something one of us has to be “right” and the other, “wrong”
When we view life as a contest or a race we view everyone else as the competition. It is no wonder that so many people are angry.
Overloaded People Tend to be Spiritually Shallow. I don’t say this to be judgmental, just honest. We know from experience that when we are stressed we find it hard to pray. We try to pray but we are unable to concentrate. We find ourselves moving our relationship with God down the priority list so we can attend to the more demanding voices in our heads. Rather than seeing our walk with Christ as the heart and center of our lives, we tend to see it as one more obligation we have to meet.
THE NEED FOR MARGIN
What is the solution to this problem of Overload?
Suppose you were reading a book and that book had the words starting and the very top left corner of the page to the far right corner of the page and continuing on to the bottom of the page. Would that be a difficult page to read? It would indeed. Publishers understand that there is a need for white space or margin. The Margin gives our eyes a chance to rest and focus. It helps us to make distinctions between the words.
We need margin in our lives. Jesus understood this. He frequently stopped to rest. Several times He took a boat across the Sea of Galilee so the group could have some quiet time. Jesus often found time to be alone with God. Even God took the seventh day (the Sabbath) to rest and enjoy His creation.
Margin is the space between our load and our limit. The goal is to build some margin into our lives so we will have time and energy for the things that really matter. Margin is not laziness; it’s wisdom. It is planning for the unexpected and guarding what truly matters.
Margin Gives us Time to Enjoy Life Margin gives us time to enjoy life more fully. It gives you time to stop and smell a flower, pause and enjoy a sunset, visit with a friend, take a relaxed walk with your mate, read a book, or take a nap. Margin removes the clutter from our lives so we can start see more clearly.
Margin helps us Remain Physically Charged Margin recognizes that our bodies need a chance to right themselves. The psalmist is right; we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our bodies have astounding recuperative properties. However, the body must be given a chance to restore itself. Even the best NASCAR crew can’t fix a race car when it is going 200 miles an hour. The car has to stop before it can be repaired. The same is true of our lives. We must slow down. Margin gives us time to rest and recharge.
Margin Gives us Time to Respond to the Needs of Others. We see needy people all around us. Most of us want to help but we don’t help because we have other things we have to do. We would like to help people who are in financial need, but we have already spent more than we have. We would like to participate in a ministry but we are too busy to do so. Margin gives us time to respond to God’s promptings.
Margin Gives us Time to Hear from God. David wrote
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. (Psalm 37:7-9)
In Psalm 46 we are told, “Be still and know that I am God”.
Ortberg insightfully writes,
“For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.” [Life You’ve Always Wanted p. 82]
Like any relationship, a solid and good relationship with God takes time. We must spend time with Him in prayer, Bible Study, worship, service. We can’t do any of these things if we are too busy.
Here’s a familiar scenario. You walk down the street and you are “on a mission”. Someone you know approaches you and you know if you stop to talk you are going to be delayed in your mission. You don’t want to be impolite so you say, “Hi, how are you doing?” but you never stop walking. The other person instinctively knows that you are simply being polite (a good thing) and responds, “I’m doing good, how about you?” We feel that we have connected but in truth, we have only been socially acceptable.
It is easy to be this way with God. We mutter a quick prayer, we read a devotional thought, we acknowledge God but we KEEP MOVING. You can’t develop of a relationship with God this way! There is no such thing as drive-thru spirituality. There is no such thing as “Christianity Lite”.
In the weeks ahead we will be on a mission. We are looking for the peace of God in the midst of a world of hectic madness. Let me give you some practical principles that we will expand in the weeks ahead.
First, work to simplify your life. Paul wrote,
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. [1 Timothy 6:8,9)
Contentment seems to be a dirty word today. Someone says they are content and we hear them saying they are “lazy”, “lacking ambition”, or simple-minded. Everything in our society is designed to breed discontent. The discontent person is the best consumer. Discontent leads us to always look for something more that will “make us happy”. Paul encouraged us to learn how to be satisfied with what God has provided. Contentment means we focus on and enjoy the blessings we DO have rather than the blessings we wish we had.
Second, look critically at the mentality around us that says, “Newer is better”. Every advance in technology is not always a good thing. Cell phones have their uses but is it a good thing that we are now allowing people to interrupt us at any time and in any place? Is it a good thing that now people are talking on their cell phones, listening to their iPods, and searching the Internet on their phone all while they are driving?
The Internet is a great tool but is it really a good thing to spend hours a day aimlessly roaming the pathways of cyberspace or carrying on inane and foolish conversations with other people who have nothing better to do? The Internet has opened doors but some of those doors are to Internet gambling, pornography, and religious nonsense. Just because we can have 500 channels on our television, is it really worth it to have them? Are the gadgets of technology freeing our lives or enslaving our lives?
Finally, keep focused on the goal. If we really want to know rest, peace, and joy in our living we need to remind ourselves that these things do not come from accumulating things, having money in the bank, getting a title, a degree or an award. These things advertise what they cannot deliver. True peace and rest come from only one source: the heart of God. Jesus has promised us His peace. He wants us to enjoy the journey. But in order to do that, we must learn to look at life differently. We must learn to find our joy and delight in Him rather than in the stuff of the world. We must slow down before we miss out on life.