Recently I realized that saying “yes” without reflection had become a habit for me. Never did I ask, “Do I have time for this activity?” or “What will I cut out of my present activities in order to add this one to my schedule?” I had passed from being an ordinary member of the human race to a member of that exalted company, the rat race. But I have become more and more convinced that this is not God’s will for my life, and there are negative consequences.

First, the quality of all my work goes down. I begin to do so many things that I skimp a bit on them and do none really well. Thus, I do less than my best at the things God really wants me to do.

Second, I begin to neglect other aspects of life that are also important in God’s sight: regular exercise, for example, or memorizing Scripture, or spending longer times in prayer.

As I reflected on these things, I wondered whether there were passages of Scripture that spoke to the subject of excessive busyness. Several came to mind. “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33) reminds us that God’s own character is not one of disorder, confusion, or chaos. God’s way of acting is characterized by “peace.” Should not our lives also reflect this order, this peace? Should we not more and more reflect God’s lordship over time in our own lives?

Psalm 127:2 reminds us that the reason for our overburdened schedules is often our vanity or pride: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

Have we not frequently, in pride, failed to go to bed when we should, not trusting the Lord to take care of what we could not possibly do in the time available to us? We think that it all depends on us, that we alone can accomplish what God wants us to leave to others, or what he wants us to leave until the next day, trusting him to insure that it will be done. Rest and peace are a blessing for those who live righteous lives before the Lord (Psa. 116:7; Prov. 29:17; Isa. 30:15; et al).

When Romans 13:8 says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another,” it primarily applies to financial or material debt. The present imperative suggests, “Don’t continually be in a state of owing something to someone else.” But I think it is not inappropriate to expand the application of that verse to time as well. Is it not wrong for us to live continually in a state of owing debts of time to others, to live continually in a condition of being obligated for more time than we have to give?

Perhaps the most striking example of Jesus’ own resolute obedience to God in the use of his time is seen in Luke 5:15–16: “Great multitudes were gathering to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he was repeatedly withdrawing to the wilderness and praying.” Could anything force Jesus to overfill his schedule, to say yes to too many things, to be kept from doing well exactly what God had sent him to do?

Was Jesus turned aside from his task by an “affirming audience”? (It says that “great crowds” were pressing around him.) Could he have been sidetracked by an appeal to pride? (People must have said, “We need this ministry and you are the only one who can do it.”) Was he able to be turned aside by a false evaluation of his own limitations? (“Sure, I can do a little bit more.”) Or by a desire to make everyone happy so there would be no complaints? Or by the offer of greater pay?

No, none of these things that so easily tempt us could turn Jesus aside from his own task of obedience to his heavenly Father. And it meant that many apparently “urgent” needs, many insistent demands, and many opportunities to do some very good deeds, all went unmet. But he did his Father’s will.

When we are asked, Will you speak to this group? Serve on this committee? Coach this soccer team?—and hundreds of other requests—what will we say? Do we have the courage to say no again and again until we leave the rat race and regain a pattern of life pleasing to our heavenly Father?

Personally, I am trying to catch up. The first step has been to say no continually and repeatedly to any requests for further commitments of time.

Then, I am trying to keep current. It is so much more efficient to handle correspondence and other tasks the day they arrive rather than put them off until “later.” In fact, I think I am busier and more effective than before during my days of work, because I am so encouraged that this busyness is not intruding into other important areas of my life, and I realize that I must continue to work diligently (Col. 3:23) during these work hours in order to protect the other hours of the day for family, health, prayer, and friendships.

The task is not easy. Yet I see much progress. The joy of attaining a more peaceful, more orderly, more responsible life is beginning to be felt.

Should we not also pray for one another, that we will move out of the rat race and into God’s will for our lives?

Wayne Grudem is associate professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

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