Thursday, July 24, 2008

Just Enough Time

The official song of our culture is "I Need More Time."

We live under the delusion that our problems would all be solved if we just had more hours in each day. There's just not enough time to get everything done. If only we had just a little more time.

But as Parkinson's Law tell us, "Work expands so as to full the time available for its completion."

However, work is not the only thing that expands. If we had more time, we would tend to fill it in the same way that we do the 24 hours we get every day.

We see this dynamic in computer storage capacity. In the past 30 years hard drive capacity has increased by about a factor of 1,000,000:1. But instead of having abundant free space, we've filled up our drives with music, videos and mega-pixel photos. John Dvorak may be an early adopter, but he voices a complaint that we can all indentify with: "I filled a terabyte drive with crap; now I need another terabyte drive."

Besides being metaphysically impossible, manufacturing more time is not the solution.

Since we can't have more time, we must get more out of the time we have.

What was once known as time management has now become an entire industry. We have planning notebooks, software, blogs, newsletters and clothing to help us make the most efficient use of the 86,400 seconds that slip through our fingers every day.

Now we are not just overwhelmed with stuff to do, but we also feel guilty because we are not productive enough. We feel the angst of opportunity cost for all the things we should do that we never get to.

This problem is especially bad for pastors and other church leaders. Our "opportunity cost" has eternal consequences.

So what's the solution?

Clergy renewal centers call us to pay more attention to our own spiritual development:
More than anything, God has called pastors to have an intimate relationship with Him. That must come before the ministry, that must come before the congregation, and that must even come before the family. As you can plainly see from the statistics above, we literally cannot survive in the ministry without taking the time to be with the Lord.
If we, as ministers, don't have an intimate relationship with the Lord, how can we expect to have anything to minister to others? Our congregations don't need yesterday's warmed over breadcrumbs. They need the fresh meat and manna for today. But, you know what? We need that too.

Unfortunately, we pastors tend to hear this as just another thing we should do, another thing that we can't get to. So we try to do more devotional activities and schedule time for retreats. But these good intentions go the way of our diet and exercise plans. Before we know it, we're just as busy as ever—and even more guilt ridden.

There are several things that contribute to this culture of perpetual busyness and constant stress.

Most Protestant congregations have unrealistic expectations for their pastors.

And denominational officials try to "get the most out of" those under their direction.

But the main source of stress and pressure is the mindset of the pastors themselves.

Many pastors have a Messiah complex. They have the notion that everything depends upon them. They talk about grace, but they have no experience of grace.

Our culture canonizes workaholics. And ministry workaholics are raised to an even higher level. Overwork is seen as dedication, commitment and sacrifice.

But at the heart of this obsession is ego.

Dallas Willard suggests that church leaders need to let go of the illusion that everything depends upon them and to "release the world and [their] fate" to God's care and keeping. But this may be the most difficult challenge these leaders face.

Consequently, one of the greatest blessings a pastor can experience is failure.
If we are not very successful in ministry, in whatever way we measure success, then God does not have a hard time getting us out of the way. . . . The burdens of office may have become so heavy that we welcome being bumped aside by Jesus.
Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry, p. 25

Once we resign as Messiah, the true Messiah can take over.
Ministry is no longer about us and our skills. It is now about the real presence of Jesus Christ.
Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry, p. 16

If we feel that we have too much to do, it is a sign that we are not trusting God.
  • It is not our job to save people.
  • It is not our job to change the world.
  • It is not our job to build the Church.
So how do we break the grip of this ego-centered, compulsive, workaholic approach to ministry?

Here's a hint: Exodus 20:10.

The Sabbath for the Israelites had one overriding purpose, to continually remind the people that their future was in the hands of God. They were not allowed to be productive for one entire day every week. They were forced to do nothing.

I'm not advocating the keeping of a literal Sabbath. For many people (e.g. the Pharisees) the keeping of a Sabbath quickly turns into a legalistic obligation.
One of the great dangers in the process of spiritual formation is that self-denial and death to self will be taken as but one more technique or "job" for those who wish to save their life (soul).
Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 67

Sabbath-keeping is just one example of the kind of spiritual discipline that reminds us that God is in control and we are not.

Another spiritual discipline that addresses the problem of "grandiosity" is solitude.
Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. You will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways. Joy and peace will begin to bubble up within you and arrive from things and events around you.
Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, p. 36

Ironically, the cure for the feeling of not having enough time is to set aside time to do nothing.

Once we assume our proper place in ministry, we begin to realize that we have just as much time as we need. Eventually, we learn to live with the relaxed urgency of Jesus.
Jesus was willing to adjust his personal schedule to give time to anyone who began to follow him. He was accessible, adaptable, and capable of showing love and attention.
Arthur Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom, p. 210

If we give up the job of trying fix everything, then we can take the time to be present to the people around us. And we have all the time we need to be loving and caring to those that God sends across our path. We don't have to solve their problems. We just need to be with them and do what we can with the resources that God makes available to us.

Pastor Rod
"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

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