Allowing God to Shape Our View of Purposeful Living
I sat on my bed in the dusk of evening, snuggling my little son in my arms. The other kiddos were asleep, and it was hushed throughout the house … or, it would’ve been, except for the sound of my bemoaning about the day’s events to my husband as he got ready for bed.
“Nothing on my to-do list got done today! I didn’t get the laundry folded, I never responded to that important email, I didn’t get a chance to work on my article, I didn’t get the bathrooms cleaned or the floor vacuumed … none of it.” Judah quietly listened and then responded, “Yes … but didn’t you spend the afternoon talking with someone who really needed encouragement? You spent hours feeding and changing a baby. You also have three other kids you’re training and caring for. You made sure everyone was fed. Even though your productivity wasn’t measurable by your to-do list, your day wasn’t wasted.”
As his words fell on my ears, I felt a flood of mingled conviction and hope. Conviction, because of the realization that I had been gauging the success of my day on a to-do list. But hope, because I realized that I had actually been taking steps of obedience in what God had placed before me. The “detours” my day had taken were actually not detours at all, but true productivity because I had followed His “to-do list” rather than mine.
We live in a productivity-driven culture, especially in the western world. There is such a frantic push to “get ahead” (or to at least “keep up” with everyone else), and we see the evidence of it everywhere — people constantly on the go, maintaining packed-out schedules, getting little sleep, and consuming gallons of caffeinated beverages to stay fueled — all under the banner of “productivity.” Even as Christians, it’s easy to base our success off of how much we’re accomplishing. We look around and compare what we’re doing to all that everyone else seems to be doing, judging our spiritual success in comparison to others. And then, we wake up one day realizing we’re discouraged, overburdened, and joyless in our pursuit of purposeful living.
I’ve heard others (and have even fallen into the trap myself of) justifying this productivity mindset with a verse like, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15–16 ESV). It’s easy to translate this through our hyper-productivity grid as “I need to do as much as I possibly can in order to live a godly life.” But is that really what the verse is saying? Is that really God’s view of a fruitful life?
What is our Motive?
I believe what will help us to know what true, God-centered productivity really is, is to filter all we do through love. Consider the following two questions:
First: Am I doing this out of love for God?
And Second: Am I doing this out of love for those God has Placed in my life today?
If we can answer yes to these questions when approaching our tasks, then we can rest assured that our time will be used well for God’s glory. This kind of productivity motivated by love is fueled by God’s grace, it produces joy, and is life-giving spiritually even when our plates are full and our bodies are tired. In essence, it’s the summary of the greatest commandments, according to Jesus: Love God and love others. (See Matthew 22:36–39.)
Productivity that is not motivated by love for God and others produces very different results — fear of man, pride, or selfishness, to name a few. Productivity motivated by fear of man will cause us to be constantly seeking the approval of others rather than God. Productivity motivated by pride will cause us to want to stockpile our accomplishments so we can point to them as trophies and elevate ourselves in the eyes of others. Productivity motivated by selfishness will cause us to pursue things or jobs or opportunities that will make our lives easier or more comfortable. These seemingly productive accomplishments will never be enough to bring value and purpose to our lives. Why? Because we were made to find our satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy in God and in doing His will for our lives. The things He calls us to might not be glamorous or gain us any praise. Successful time management may (and probably will) look very different from success by worldly standards … or even our own standards. We might not be able to point to anything as outward evidence of time well spent. But we will rest in knowing that we’ve been obedient to our Savior, and that He was glorified.
Here are a few ways God has helped me begin retraining my mind around His perspective on true productivity.
There will always be endless opportunities put in front of us to do … and so many of these things are really good things. At times, I can find myself feeling overwhelmed by all the ways I could be giving of my time, resources, and energy on any given day: making meals for families with newborns, meeting with young women, hosting events, watching someone’s kiddos, having a couple over for dinner, and so on. But when any new opportunity comes, I’m learning to ask, “Is committing to this going to hinder me from what I know God has called me to right now?” And if the answer is yes, then I know it’s something I need to say no to for now. If it causes unnecessary stress on my husband and four little ones, or if it causes me to neglect the other commitments in my life, I can be fairly certain God isn’t leading me to do it at that time.
Fill Your Mind With Truth
There are certain details of our lives that aren’t clearly defined in Scripture for us to know God’s will. I’ve been encouraged to think of it this way: If I have the choice between going to the grocery store or folding laundry, I don’t have to be afraid that one of those is necessarily wrong. I simply walk in faith and wisdom, seeking to do what is best before God in that moment. All these decisions ought to be made from the foundation of His revealed will for our lives — the “black and white” commands in Scripture for how His children are to live.
Here are a few examples:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4 ESV).
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each of you has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace … in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 4:8–11 ESV).
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:10–13 ESV).
How these things play out in our daily lives will vary from person to person, and even from day to day. But as we are diligent to spend time studying the Word and filling our minds with truth, we will be equipped with what we need to make wise, God-honoring, eternally-productive decisions as we put them into action.
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In this world of frantic, fast-paced living, let’s remember that the most fulfilling, joy-filled way to live is for Jesus and the advancement of His Kingdom. Whether we accomplish every task on our to-do list or our day is full of God’s seeming “interruptions,” we can rest in fully embracing His divine calling upon our daily lives. And that, friend, is truly the best way to live.