Fair Havens Publications
To fail to plan is to plan to fail.
So how can you prevent the cultural influences and stresses of life from forcing you into the frantic busy-ness pattern? First, you must develop a plan. Think of your life as a trip in an airplane. Before the plane ever leaves the ground, a pilot makes decisions about the cruising altitude, route, destination, fuel on board, and alternate airport. The flight plan keeps the plane on course regardless of reduced visibility, mountain terrain, or adverse weather conditions.
To reach the intended destination, he sets a course heading for a certain degree. Flight instructors recommend that pilots locate a checkpoint in the first two minutes of a flight to make sure they are exactly on course. When making his first cross-country flight in a private plane, Dr. Fowler, distracted by nervousness, flew for thirty minutes before checking his course. A two-degree error quickly became a thirty-degree error when he failed to make the necessary correction for wind. When he reached what should have been his destination, he was over 20 miles away from where he was supposed to be, and could not locate the airport. Swallowing what was left of his pride, he had to turn around and fly back to where he started.
If you do not have a plan for your life and check it frequently to see if you are still on course, winds of life-- the expectations of society and the "tyranny of the urgent"-- will cause you to make what seem like small deviations. You do not plan to be trapped in a vortex of frantic busy-ness, but letting your life drift just two degrees off course can take you there.
Half asleep in the cockpit
One way our culture causes us to deviate from a wholesome life plan is sleep deprivation. God designed the human body to operate in cycles of sleep and wakefulness. Originally the pattern of daylight and darkness guided man's sleep habits. Although he had light from the hearth fire and oil lamps, its quality was poor and it was expensive to maintain. Most families did not stay up more than two or three hours past sundown. If they got up with the sun, they would get at least nine or maybe ten hours of sleep.
This ancient pattern changed dramatically when Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb. Cheap, efficient and bright enough to make most activities enjoyable without eyestrain, this revolutionary light source made staying awake at night easy and attractive. Even so, most people continued to get at least eight hours of sleep each night, which is the amount most sleep experts recommend.
Other technological developments shortened sleep time. First radio, and then television offered entertainment to keep people up later at night. However, most stations in the early days of the broadcast industry signed off the air at about ten o'clock because the majority of the audience was going to bed then.
Today, people are awake all hours of the night. Shift workers are on the job at assembly lines that never stop. Truck drivers crisscross the interstate highway system throughout the night. Airlines offer travelers discounts to purchase tickets on "red eye" flights in the middle of the night. Stock traders in America are keeping up with the global markets in Europe and Asia in "real time." Stores and restaurants stay open all night. Of course, the internet is available 24/7 for shopping, communicating and conducting business.
The end result is that Americans are sleeping less than ever. The National Sleep Foundation's annual "2001 Sleep in America Poll" suggests that 63% of American adults get less than eight hours of sleep per night. 31% of the 1,004 adults over 18 years of age surveyed admitted sleeping less than seven hours on weeknights. Over one third of them said they are sleeping less now than they did five years ago. For most of them, the reason is long work hours. 38% of the respondents said they work 50 hours or more a week. Two thirds of those surveyed said they continue their normal activities even when they feel sleepy, disregarding the effects. That means that two out of every three Americans you encounter might not be fully awake.1
People imagine they accomplish more by spending less time sleeping. The fact is they are paying a high price for the time saved. There are many negative consequences of sleep deprivation. One is mental fatigue. Dr. Charles Pollak at Cornell University's New York Hospital in Westchester County warns that lack of sufficient sleep impairs the ability to think clearly and shortens the attention span. Other consequences are chronic tiredness, frequent irritability, poor job performance, and accidents in industry and on the highways. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that up to 200,000 traffic accidents every year could be the result of sleep deprivation.2 Perhaps your lack of sleep results from activities other than work. Do you stay up watching television when you could go to bed? Are you scheduling too many social activities during the week? Do you have a consistent routine to prepare your children for bed, and a time deadline for starting it every night?
A few simple changes in lifestyle also can help. Since exercise is stimulating and invigorating, plan to finish any activity involving strenuous exercise, such as working out, at least two to three hours before bedtime. Avoiding caffeine after four in the afternoon is helpful if you have difficulty falling asleep. Finishing dinner at least two hours before bedtime and limiting the amount of food consumed facilitates going to sleep on time. If you feel hungry at bedtime, a glass of warm milk sweetened with a half teaspoon of honey will satisfy your hunger and help you relax. If you have difficulty digesting milk, try boiling it gently for ten seconds then drink it after it cools down. Milk is a natural source of nutrients that have a calming effect, such as calcium, magnesium and tryptophan. The slow-burning honey helps to keep your blood sugar level from dropping. Some people resort to using alcohol at bedtime as a sedative to help them calm down and go to sleep. Although it can make you drowsy at first, its high caloric content acts like fuel in your body's system and literally "fires you up" after the initial effects wear off, causing you wake up later in the night. You will be better off if you give up the "night cap." The same principle applies to bedtime snacks that are high in refined sugar or simple carbohydrates, such as donuts, cake and most cookies.
Rather than trying to cheat your body out of the rest the Creator designed it to need, consider limiting or eliminating some of the activities that deprive you of sufficient sleep. The late Vince Lombardi once said, "I think good physical conditioning is essential…A man who is physically fit performs better at any job. Fatigue makes cowards of us all." The Bible condones industry, discipline and hard work, but it also cautions that even these good habits can be taken too far. Evaluate your work habits and goals to determine if they are consistent with biblical principles. "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain…In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat - for he grants sleep to those he loves."(Psalm 127:1-2) An alternate reading for the last phrase is "for while they sleep he provides for those he loves."
If your work prevents you from getting at least the minimum eight hours of sleep you need every night for good mental and physical health, then your life is out of balance. When you balance work with adequate rest, you will find it much easier to keep your life on course. Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, has designed an acrostic arrangement of Bible verses that can help you achieve balance in your work. The comments and explanations are ours.
WHAT IS B. A. L. A. N. C. E. ?
Building your life around Christ.
"So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well…" (Matthew 6:31-33)
Ask yourself, "Are the long hours I work the result of building my life around my job, profession or business instead of Christ?" What do you consider to be the source of your income and security: your work or God's provision? Of course, you are paid for your work, but who gave you the natural talents and abilities to do it? Who providentially opens the door of opportunity to be at the right place at the right time to find or make a place to work, get a promotion or close a big sale? When the Israelites were about to begin a prosperous life in the "Promised Land" that God had given them, Moses cautioned them, "You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…" (Deuteronomy 17-18a)
When you commit yourself to serving God first and submit your will to His, then you can be confident that He will enable you to work in a way that will meet your basic needs without throwing your life out of balance.
One way is to live within your means. If your work pays you an average income or better, a few important adjustments in your lifestyle could enable you live comfortably on your basic income without putting in extra hours of overtime or taking on a second job. For example, you could sell your house and buy a smaller one with lower monthly payments; buy a late-model used car instead of a new one; eat more meals at home instead of in restaurants; car-pool to work instead of commuting alone or buying a second car.
Paying off credit card debt and then avoiding it is a significant way to increase your spendable income. Every dollar you save on interest is another dollar in your pocket. To add another dollar to your pocket by working for it, you have to earn as much as $1.50 or more to have a dollar left after paying taxes and work related expenses.
Going to a cash basis, or paying off your credit card balances every month, can increase your spendable income by as much as 50% or more if you are making most of your purchases on credit and paying interest. Truly, that is not an easy thing to do, but neither is it complicated. You simply cut up your credit cards (except for one that you resolve to use only for such things as rental deposits or emergencies) and pay as much as you can spare over the minimum payment every month. Shop for the lowest rates available while you pay down the debt. Take advantage of introductory offers to transfer balances. If possible, consolidate the accounts into one with the lowest rate you can get. Otherwise, increase the amount of monthly payment on the account with the highest rate first, while making minimum payments on the others. When it is paid off, add its monthly payment to the minimum payment of the account with the next highest rate. Be sure to close the accounts as you pay them off and keep only one or two if you want to use revolving charges after you get out of debt. (Credit reporting agencies consider available credit as debt, whether you are using it or not.)
Another option is a consolidation loan from your bank or credit union; but be careful. If you do not stop using your credit cards, a consolidation loan will only put you deeper into debt. You must be committed to simplifying your lifestyle and reducing excessive consumption. Managing the income you have more effectively can meet some of your financial needs without putting in more hours at work. God may have already provided all the income you need if you practice good stewardship.
On the other hand, you could be underemployed, working long hours just to eke out subsistence income. In that case, you might need to ask God for faith to step out of your familiar "comfort zone" and apply for a better job. If lack of education or job skills is holding you back, then let it be known in your church that you are interested in taking night classes at a local college or job training school. Take the initiative and select the course of study you would like to pursue as if money were no object. Pray about it. Ask others to pray with you. When you commit yourself to a worthwhile endeavor, you might be pleasantly surprised at how many people God inspires to help and encourage you, and the ways He supplies the resources you need to do His will. Jesus promised that God would provide food and shelter. He did not promise that every believer would be affluent. That is an expectation that comes from American culture. If you are overworking yourself (or holding on to a job that overworks you) in order to own more things, then the things own you, and you are building your life around them instead of Christ. A life centered on Christ will be in balance.
Accept your humanity.
"A fool's work wearies him; he does not know the way to town." (Ecclesiastes 10:15)
Solomon said that only a fool would allow his work to wear him down and be ignorant of the obvious problem he creates for himself. Matthew Henry explains, "All their labor is for the world and the body, and the meat that perishes, and in this labor they spend their strength, and exhaust their spirits, and weary themselves for very vanity…" The second phrase in the verse is an idiomatic expression that means one who wearies himself with work is ignorant of what is obvious to everyone else.
We often excuse ourselves for making a mistake by saying, "After all, I'm only human!" Yet we fail to apply that obvious truth when we allow ourselves to be overworked. We plan our schedules as if we have an unlimited supply of energy and stamina. Thinking that we are "getting the most out of life," we consider being over-programmed as normal and healthy. We accept labels that condone this behavior, such as "Super Mom" or "Winner." The fact is we are just human candles that are burning up at both ends. If we do not come to terms with our humanity and find a healthy balance we will eventually burn out.
One way to achieve balance is to choose carefully the tasks you expect to accomplish each day. Ask yourself, "What difference will it make ten years from now whether I do this activity or not?" If it is necessary to keep your career on track, your marriage intact, maintain a relationship with your family and good friends, remain connected to your church and community, exercise your spiritual gift, or maintain your spiritual, emotional and physical health, then put it on your list. If there will be no significant negative results should it not get done, if it could be done just as well or better by someone else, if it is a selfish indulgence or self aggrandizement, then leave it off your list. Even then you could end up with a lengthy list of worthwhile things to do.
Accepting your human limitations requires choosing between doing what is good and doing what is best. For example, you might have to say "No" to serving on a church committee if you are already involved in a discipleship program that requires a meeting every week. When making up your "To Do" list, remember, it is a human being you are planning for, not a machine. Balance your aspirations for the day with your human limitations.
Limit your labor.
"Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day." (Exodus 20: 9-11)
This is the fourth of the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. It states a principle that is vital to a balanced life: man needs one day of rest each week. The atheistic Soviet Union experimented with a seven-day workweek. They finally abandoned it because it was unproductive. Communist planners discovered that workers' morale and productivity improved dramatically when they were given one day a week to rest. Some Asian societies still adhere to a seven-day workweek. The result has been a higher rate of heart attacks and suicide than in Western societies.
Christians have been released from the specific requirements of the Mosaic Law. That is why we worship on the first day of the week, Sunday, instead of the seventh, Saturday, which is the Jewish Sabbath. When we rest from our works and trust in the work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection for our salvation, we experience the fulfillment of the fourth commandment. (See Hebrews 4:1-11.) Nevertheless, the principle remains true, that all men, including Christians, need one day of rest each week. God rested from His work of creation, not because He was tired, but to set an example for mankind to follow. Not being under the Law of Moses, we have many more options for utilizing that day of rest. As in Moses' time, part of the day should be spent worshipping God in fellowship with other believers. The rest of the day we are free to spend as we see fit. Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath…" (Mark 2:27)
The most important guideline to follow is to engage in activities that are different from what you do the other six days of the week. Spend time with your family. Putter around with your hobby. Enjoy recreational activities. But don't take your play too seriously. Don't work at it or be too competitive or compulsive about it. Remember, the purpose is relaxation and a refreshing change of pace from your regular routine. Plan some time for rest, solitude, silence and meditation.
If you are a pastor or staff worker in a church, Sunday is a workday for you. Take off another day for your "Sabbath."
Adjust your values.
"And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor." (Ecclesiastes 4:4a)
Ask yourself, "How do I determine what is enough in the area of possessions and creature comforts?" If you do not actively think about it, you will most likely be drawn into the temptation to "keep up with the Joneses." For example, why do you decide you need to buy a new car? Is it because the one you have does not have many miles of useful service left in it? If you faithfully follow the manufacturer's recommendations for maintaining and servicing your car, you can drive a domestic make efficiently for 80,000 to 100,000 miles, and some foreign makes for well over 200,000 miles. Typically, the decision has more to do with the desire to own a new car because friends, relatives or neighbors have bought one.
The unprecedented affluence of the '90's has created extraordinary pressure on the average American to achieve an ever-higher living standard. Have you heard someone who lived through the 1930s' Great Depression say something like this: "When I was growing up, we didn't have much money to spend; but we didn't consider ourselves to be poor, because most of our friends and family didn't have much money either." In the 21st century, we compare our lifestyles to those of our prosperous friends and family or perhaps to fictional characters depicted in television programs and movies, or even the real "rich and famous" people in the news. If our standard of living does not equal or exceed the standards of the people around us, we feel that we are not keeping up the "winner" image we desire to maintain. That feeling is an important part of the driving force behind the frustrating frenzied push to "get ahead" that we often refer to as "the rat race." "This, too, is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 4:4b) Somewhere between the austerity of the depression and the "you can have it all" mentality of post-modern society there is a balance point. When we renounce our envious desires, we can adjust our values and find that balance.
"Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 4:6)
Some of the suggestions for lifestyle changes we have made so far might seem a bit radical or too stringent to you. Did you think that going against your culture and restructuring your life to align with biblical values would be easy? We never intended to give you that impression. What we are urging you to consider is that whatever changes you have to make to break out of your excessive busy-ness patterns are worth doing because they help you to become more effective without being frenzied.
One definition of insanity is "repeating the same behavior while expecting different results." If that is what you are doing, then you are out of touch with reality. If you want to achieve balance in your life, then you must be willing to adjust your values and change your behavior. You can do that by deciding to simplify your lifestyle.
There is nothing wrong with an affluent lifestyle if you can afford it. God can use people as witnesses to the gospel in every socio-economic level of society. If you can afford a spacious house, expensive cars, boats, etc. without letting your life get out of balance and compromising biblical priorities, then use those things to the glory of God. But if your lifestyle compels you to work long hours and miss the sleep you need every night, if it interferes with your family and church relationships, if it creates unhealthy stress, if it erodes your spiritual and emotional well-being, then you need to simplify your lifestyle. Sell the big house and buy one with a smaller mortgage that lets you sleep better at night. Trade in the expensive car and buy one with payments that won't strain your budget. If necessary, find a less demanding job that will allow you to have more time at home with your family. Yes, that means lowering your standard of living. But there is wisdom in living on less if that is what frees you to live a more meaningful and purposeful life. You must decide what is most important to you and how far you are willing to go to achieve balance in your life.
"What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36)
Jesus asks us one of the most significant questions we will ever consider. It cuts through all the confusion and banality of modern living and makes us think about what, after all, is truly, fundamentally important in life. There are basically two competing value systems that define what is most important in life: the way of the world and the way of the cross.
Jesus had just announced to his disciples that He would soon go to Jerusalem where He would suffer rejection and abuse at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then be resurrected three days later. Peter ignored the mention of resurrection and rebuked Jesus for His willingness to die under such circumstances. Jesus responded by rebuking Peter, saying, "You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:23) Peter was expressing the generally accepted worldly wisdom that one must value his own self-interest and security more than anything else.
Jesus offered Peter and the rest of the disciples another way of deciding what is most important in life: the way of the cross. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25)
The cross in the first century meant only one thing: death by execution. It was the "state of the art" instrument for torture and death. Romans considered it so humiliating and horrific that they passed a law protecting all Roman citizens from crucifixion, no matter how heinous their crimes might be. No wonder Peter and the other disciples shrank from Jesus' revelation that to follow Him would lead them to a cross!
Jesus obviously did not mean that every one of His disciples would be required to hang on a Roman cross. What He meant was that every one who follows Him must make a conscious decision to die to himself: to die to self protection at all costs, to selfish ambitions, to self aggrandizement, to worldly standards of self-fulfillment. The true disciple must decide to live for Christ no matter what it may cost him in worldly gain. Human wisdom says that is too much to ask; if you buy into that value system you will be a "loser."
But Jesus asserts that just the opposite is true. Those who adjust their values and dedicate their whole lives and everything they possess and hold dear to serving Christ will be richly rewarded when He returns in glory to establish His kingdom. Those who hold back and try to protect their own self-interests will loose everything.
Jesus proved that His promise will hold true by going to the cross Himself and then rising from the dead three days later. Then He ascended to the place of honor at His Father's right hand. (Acts 2:33) All of the original disciples except Judas chose the way of the cross. Ten of them died violent deaths at the hands of those who opposed their preaching the Christian message. John was tortured and sentenced to confinement and hard labor in a rock quarry on the Isle of Patmos. Were they losers? Jesus promised, "For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done." (Matthew 16:27)
Those who choose the way of the world must consider time to be their worst enemy. Eventually it will take everything they are living for away from them. They must work harder, faster and longer to cram everything they ever wanted into one lifetime. But in the end, they are just living to die.
When we accept the way of the cross, we die to live. Jesus made another promise: "…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10) Only when you are ready to face death can you begin to live life to the fullest degree. The Apostle, Paul, said, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) By adjusting our values to live a life that serves and honors Christ, we can determine what is ultimately most important and offset the "weight of the world" with eternal values.
Nourish your inner life.
"I delight in your decrees. I will not neglect your word." (Psalm 119:16)
For most of each day, we will be exposed to a barrage of words and images that impress on us the values of our culture. We need time every day in the Word of God to counterbalance that influence. In this psalm, David reveals one of the reasons that he became "a man after God's own heart." In his youth, he committed himself to live according to the teachings and commands of God's Word. If you consider reading and studying your Bible as just one more obligatory task that must be added to an already overcrowded schedule, it will probably be the first thing you neglect when you become "too busy." But when you decide to commit your whole life to Christ, to loving and serving Him, then learning more about God and His will for you becomes a delight.
Be honest with yourself. Don't you manage to find time to do most of the things that you truly want to do: the ones that give you the most pleasure in life? David's desire was for communion with God. "I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands." (Psalm 119:10) When you make the decision to seek God with all your heart, then finding time for Bible reading and study will be easy for you. For most people, early morning is the best time. Then you have all day to reflect on what you read. You can always get up a few minutes earlier no matter how crowded your schedule is. (Just be sure to go to bed a few minutes earlier at night to get in your eight hours of sleep.) Some people are nocturnal. They prefer to read their Bible at night when they are settling down to go to sleep. It is not a bad idea to begin and end your day with Bible reading, but don't make a chore out of it. Do it the way that best fits your disposition. Keep it a delight.
"…Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (Luke 5:16)
Jesus was a busy man. As news of His unique teaching and healing ministry spread, crowds of people came to hear Him speak and to seek healing. Several speaking engagements every day, and in between long lines of sick people, each one asking for personal attention and a healing touch; can you imagine the time pressure and stress this created for Jesus? Yet, Luke informs us that during the most hectic phase of His earthly ministry Jesus frequently withdrew from His other responsibilities and spent time in prayer. The busier Jesus became, the more He needed time alone to pray. He always maintained perfect balance between giving out power and strength in work and service, and taking it in through rest and spiritual renewal. Do you dare to assume that you need prayer less than Jesus did? See Chapter 8 for more information about solitude, silence and prayer.
Commit your schedule to God.
"There is a time and season for everything under Heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
This verse introduces a vivid description of the way the Bible views time and history. It stresses the totality of God's control. No matter what happens, one way or the other, time moves forward and history unfolds in the way God ordains. It is a cyclical view of time. Yet, other passages in the Bible (such as Matthew 28:20; I Corinthians 15:24; and Revelation 22:13) indicate that history as we know it began at the creation of the universe and is moving toward a goal, namely the Second Coming of Christ. So the biblical view of time is not static, but has a linear aspect. To picture this concept in three dimensions, imagine a spiral moving along a straight line from one end of it to the other.
Man can cause events to happen that affect his experience in time, but history moves forward with a certain inevitability. The worst thing a man can do is attempt to plan and order his life without regard to what God is doing. The best thing he can do is to discern what part of the cycle time is moving through and cooperate with it. That means committing the way you spend your time to God. In the next chapter we will explain specific ways to manage your time.
If the way you spend your time is out of balance, then most of your life will be out of balance, too. God is not the author of confusion. When you commit your time schedule to Him, He will lead you into order and balance. Chapter 6 will explore this subject in more detail.
Enjoy each moment.
"That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil - this is the gift of God." (Ecclesiastes 3:13)
Work was not always toilsome and difficult. When God placed man in the Garden of Eden, He gave him work to do: tending the garden. It did not become toilsome and difficult until after man sinned by disobeying God's command to abstain from eating fruit from the tree that imparted knowledge of good and evil. Part of man's punishment was a curse. "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life." (Genesis 3:17)
Under the curse for man's sin, work is naturally painful. Yet, because of God's mercy and grace, it is still possible to find satisfaction in it. There is honor in labor. Most jobs contribute something useful to human society. If your job doesn't, by all means look for a better one. If you manage a business, you must be providing goods or services that people need, as well as a livelihood for your employees. Airline workers help people visit their families, do their jobs, enjoy vacations, or get medical treatment. Food service workers provide nourishment and enjoyable dining experiences. Retail workers supply clothing, appliances that make life easier, toys for children. Health care workers aid and comfort people who are sick. On and on the list could go. There is satisfaction in serving other people. Furthermore, there is dignity in providing your own living. Even though you don't deserve it, God wants to give you the gift of enjoying your work. Satisfaction in your work balances its pain and difficulty.
"A heart at peace gives life to the body…" (Proverbs 14:30)
The Bible views man as a whole entity including body, mind and spirit. Whatever is going on in one part of man invariably affects the other two areas. The Hebrews used the word, "heart" the way Westerners use the word, "mind." When your mind is at peace and relaxed, your body benefits. The opposite is true as well. Most of the things we worry about and stress over either work themselves out to a satisfactory conclusion or don't amount to much in the long run. Only a relatively few things in life are of major importance. We can trust God's grace and providence to deal with them. So, relax! You will be healthier for it.
"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)
The context of this great invitation is particularly important for its understanding and our discussion of busy-ness. Jesus had just poured out His heart in prayer and praise to God the Father for the way He has chosen to reveal Himself to man. He did not reveal Himself to the "wise and learned." That was a reference to the Scribes and Pharisees, who prided themselves on their mastery of human reason and wisdom, who thought they understood what God is like and what is necessary to know Him. Rather, it was God's "good pleasure" to reveal Himself to "little children." They are the ones who humble themselves and come to Jesus for instruction, for He is the Son of God who alone reveals the Father. Here is a profound revelation: those who want to know the truth about God must surrender their pre-conceived ideas and allow themselves to be re-educated by Jesus' words and works.
The "wise and learned" post-modern thinkers and teachers of the 21st century have concluded that there is no objective reality, and certainly nothing that can be known about a personal God. Reason no longer applies, so each individual is free to make up his own reality in his head. Language is meaningless except as each individual gives it his own meaning to create the image or the effect he desires. Man is free to create god in his own image, which in the final analysis means that man becomes his own god. We have already explained how this way of thinking drives men to fanatical frenzied activity in their useless efforts to give life meaning and purpose. To break free from the culture of busy-ness, you must give up the postmodern mindset and humbly return to the basic truths about God that secular humanism abandoned during the "Enlightenment."
Jesus says that those truths are found in Him alone. "Come to me," He says. He directs His invitation specifically to "all who are weary and burdened." It is a terrible burden to be your own god. You are responsible for everything! Jesus promises to give you "rest," a word that could be better translated, "relief."
Jesus is not offering a life of indolence and ease. Having too much free time makes life boring. Knowing and serving God through devotion to Christ involves responsibilities, even trials and hardship. He invites us to take His yoke and "learn" who He is and what He requires. Jesus Himself "learned" what the will of God for Him required when He went to the cross. "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…" (Hebrews 5:8) Since He has suffered as a man, Jesus is the ideal teacher: one who is "gentle and humble in heart."
Jesus' requirements of us might seem heavy at times, yet they are easy to bear. He said, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." When a farmer living near Nazareth was ready to break in a new team of oxen that had never plowed before, he would take the oxen to the carpenter's shop, probably the one where Jesus worked with His father, Joseph. There the carpenter carefully measured them and custom-made a yoke for them. If the yoke did not fit properly, it would rub sores on the animal's shoulders when it strained at the plow. But if the yoke was "easy," made to fit just right, the ox could plow all day without injury. Jesus, the carpenter's son from Nazareth, knows all about yokes. His yoke fits just right. The tasks He gives you to do are suited to your temperament and spiritual gifts. Because we serve Him out of love, they are never a heavy burden. The word Jesus used for "burden" comes from the word for "cargo" or "load," but He used the diminutive form. "My little burden is light," He said.
When you stop trying to control your life according to your own will and submit to Jesus Christ, "you will find rest." Jesus does not want to add to your misery by increasing your busy-ness with tasks and responsibilities that you cannot manage. He offers you relief, refreshment for your soul. He offers you a balanced life. Enjoy it!
You might be well into your life's flight, but it is not too late to check your course. Is your life so out of balance that you are not getting at least eight hours of sleep on a regular basis? If so, you could be two degrees off course and heading toward a destination that is many miles away from where you want to go.
Why the big hurry?
Another deviation from our flight plan is in the way we spend our waking hours. Americans are increasingly in a hurry. We expect things to happen now, not later, and have little patience with delays. One reason is the improvements in technology. In the eighteenth century, a man on horseback could travel at a top speed of about twenty miles per hour, and then only for short periods of time. The first automobiles could travel only slightly faster because of the poor road conditions. Now super highways permit travel at speeds up to seventy-five miles per hour. Bullet trains glide on cushions of air and magnetic fields at two hundred miles per hour. Conventional jetliners soar at over five hundred miles per hour.
Most of the daily routines in our lives take only a fraction of the time they used to require. Microwave ovens cook meals in minutes that used to take an hour or two to prepare. Sometimes even that is not fast enough for us, so we eat in "fast food" restaurants where the food is cooked and ready to eat before we walk through the door...or wheel into the drive-through. One national hamburger chain is experimenting in Dallas, Texas with scanning equipment that can read a code number from a tag in your car and charge your meal to your credit card, saving the time it takes to make change at the "first window."
Business documents sent through the mail require days or even weeks for delivery, but fax machines send them anywhere in the world in just a few minutes. Likewise, an e-mail letter travels to its destination at the speed of light.
There is no need to wait until you get to the office or back to your home to make a telephone call. Most people carry cell phones with them now. When was the last time you took a ride in your car, or went to a ball game and turned off your cell phone? Studies indicate that use of the cell phone is already adding 30 to 45 minutes a day to our week. The constant need for "connection" is in itself a stressor that forces relaxation to take a back seat to "perceived progress."
Fifty years ago when futurists anticipated the development of some of these devices, they predicted that Americans would enjoy more leisure time because of all the time and labor saved. They were dead wrong! Just the opposite has occurred. Instead of expecting to accomplish the same amount of work and responsibility, finishing it in less time, we cram even more work into each day, and take on more responsibilities than we ever would have dared in the past.
Planet Earth: an alien environment?
We imagine that surely the "good" we get from technological improvements outweighs the bad ten-to-one. That one negative, however, might in the final analysis destroy the ten good factors. For example, suppose you receive ten positive pieces of mail today. One indicates that you won the sweepstakes for a million dollars; another informs you that your child who just graduated from high school has been offered a full scholarship to one of the top universities in the nation. The other eight contain similar good news. But the eleventh envelope is from your doctor. He explains that the results of your lab report indicate you have inoperable cancer. Now the other ten letters don't seem as important to you anymore. When we are too busy to live, we cannot enjoy the benefits that technology is supposed to provide.
Instead of providing a life of leisure and luxury, technology is creating an environment that is increasingly alien to the conditions in which the human mind and body were designed to live and flourish. For example, when travel was slower, our bodies had time to adjust to the changes in the environment. But when we jet across several time zones in just a few hours, our biological clocks do not have time to re-set. The result is a sickness called "jet lag" that is familiar to experienced travelers.
Jet lag is not a serious ailment, and it goes away after a day of rest and recuperation. But what about similar problems that occur nearly every day of our lives without remedy? The human mind and emotions are not like our machines that function constantly and efficiently without interruption. Rather, they naturally work in cycles of activity and inactivity. The mind needs time to reflect and process the information that is streaming into it every day. The emotions need a down cycle to calm them from the myriad of stimuli encountered during the day. When we do not allow this down time to occur, our bodies begin to get sick.
Dr. Archibald D. Hart, dean of the Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, warns that unrelenting stress produces excessive levels of adrenaline in the bloodstream that eventually can become the underlying cause of heart disease as well as other ailments. Some degree of stress is desirable, he explains. The release of adrenaline it stimulates gives us energy to deal with the challenges of life and sharpens our mental acuity. Without it we would be rather dull and listless much of the time.
But the body needs time following a stressful experience to process the extra adrenaline. Even positive experiences like being commended by your employer, attending a concert, watching a suspenseful or action adventure movie, or even attending a high energy contemporary worship service can produce stress. When your days and evenings consist of one stressful experience after another with no letup, the adrenaline in your bloodstream remains at high enough levels to cause physical damage and burnout. Some of the symptoms are headaches, ulcers, muscle spasms and digestive problems. 3
Steer clear of stress.
To avoid disease brought on by stress, give yourself permission to relax and unwind several times during the day. Instead of consuming a caffeine drink on your "coffee break," (which stimulates the adrenal glands) try a couple of relaxation exercises that the authors recommend for times when you feel "keyed up."
1. Sit in a chair or lie down in a quiet area.
2. Take a deep breath and hold it, counting as long as you can - 1,001, …1,002,…1,003,…
3. While you are counting, squeeze your hands as tight as you can.
4. When you feel you are about to burst, let the air out of your lungs slowly and relax your hands.
5. After all the air is out, breathe deeply - don't allow yourself to gasp for air.
6. Take several slow deep breaths and then hold your breath again, repeating the counting process. If you are beginning to relax, you will be able to count to a higher number. (Your body needs more oxygen when under stress, so when you're relaxed there is less need for oxygen and you should be able to increase the count.)
Muscle relaxation exercises are similar to the natural body response that often accompanies a yawn. Specific muscles contract and tense up, then release and relax.
To begin, settle back as comfortably as you can. Let all your muscles go loose and heavy. Wrinkle up your forehead…wrinkle it tighter…then stop wrinkling it…relax and smooth it out. Now tense up your right shoulder…contract the muscles even tighter…now relax.
Starting at the top of your body and working your way down, continue to isolate different muscle groups. Follow the same process of tensing and relaxing each one. Try to achieve deeper and deeper levels of relaxation.
Any time you feel stressed, you can use these relaxation techniques to help control your feelings and their physical signs (such as sweating, higher pulse, or tightening in the chest). When those tensions occur, take time to break the pressure cycle. Push back and breathe deeply or get up and walk around for a few minutes.
If you need help unwinding, you might also find it relaxing and therapeutic to work with your hands, complete routine chores, or listen to restful music. It's not by accident that people say, "peace and quiet" in the same breath. Noise and confusion contribute to stress, so if at all possible, schedule periods of quiet and solitude in your day.
Perhaps the best way to relieve stress and lower adrenaline levels is to exercise. Almost any kind of exercise you choose will be beneficial. Cassie Findley believes that the best exercise is one you enjoy doing. It helps to clean out your system, promotes relaxation, and builds up your serotonin level. (Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that positively affects many behavior patterns, including mood, learning and sleep.) In fact, research among AIDS patients found that the one thing that often put AIDS into remission was exercise. Twenty to thirty minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times a week would be ideal. But it is not an all-or-nothing benefit package. Walking or any increase in physical activity can help. Try parking farther from your office and walking the distance, using the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking a brisk walk around the block during your lunch hour. Improvise. Learn to look for opportunities to be active.
Check your course heading.
These recommendations require some significant changes in your lifestyle; and changes are hard to make. Dr. Shad Helmstetter, author of Choices wrote, "It is only when you exercise your right to choose that you can also exercise your right to change."4 Check your life course heading. If you are always in a hurry, choose to slow down and give yourself permission to relax.
By now you may realize that your life is off-course. If you are a young adult or a new Christian, you might be able to make a course correction and continue with your flight plan. On the other hand, if you have been on the wrong course heading for many years, it might be too late for a mere course correction. It is even possible that you filed the wrong flight plan because you have never made the decision to trust Christ for salvation. When it is too late for a course correction, the best action is to swallow your pride, admit that you are headed the wrong way in your life, turn around and go back to a new starting point. The Bible calls that decision "repentance." Change your mind about the way you have been living. Decide that you will no longer let the culture dictate how you live your life. Accept Christ's invitation to receive His yoke; yield your will to His will. Trust Him to forgive you and to guide you into the abundant, balanced life that He promised.