Q1: What is the chief end of man?
A1: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.
— Westminster Shorter Catechism (1674)
My small group met this last Friday and the theme that came out in prayer requests and other revelations was simple: folks are struggling under a load of things to do. People are going to bed at 4 AM and getting up at 7 AM. Homeschoolers are scheduled to the max trying to pack requirements in every day. Life has become a clumsy dance of “do this, then do that” and our days have come to resemble little more than a succession of nags.
One mom wondered what would happen when her lone hour a day to herself went away come August. Too many of us know exactly how she feels.
In the last few weeks, I spent
- Eight hours on the phone trying to schedule a plane flight for three people
- Three hours trying to get information on my phone service (and still no response)
- Several hours trying to enroll my son in a state-approved homeschooling program (and I’m still not done)
- Cramming six errands spread across the city into two-and-a-half hours
- Mowing the grass to the tune of nine hours
- Switching my entire Web presence to a new host, new domains, and new software—untold hours
- Switching from Eudora (after twenty years of use!) to Thunderbird, and laboring through all the bureaucratic importation nonsense that went with that switch
- Attending six worship band practices
- Dealing with car maintenance issues
- Spending a couple hours wrangling on the phone with a service company that didn’t perform the service I asked of them
- And, sadly, finding very little time to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
There are countless unmentioned experiences in that list, but suffice it to say, my candle’s had more than two wicks burning at the same time. While this may sound like whining, I suspect it’s a whine all too common in most people’s lives. The pace of life continues to speed up.
One commenter to Part 1 said the answer was in moving to the country. Well, I already did that and only found a new set of problems. The issue is not so much where we live, but how we live.
When I look at what consumed most of my time the last few weeks, much of it had to do with the following:
- Bureaucracy, usually made concrete by the endless filling-out of forms or jumping through hoops
- Technology, our new master
- Maintaining possessions, the things we own that ultimately control us
- Lack of personal community, wherein we must individually do what the community used to do for us collectively
Those four issues form a quadrilateral in no way like Wesley’s, yet they’re just as spiritually significant. Not only that, but they feed off each other. We have bureaucracy because we no longer live in communities of trust. Our lack of community leads us to self-sufficiency, the stepfather of technology. Our bureaucracy safeguards our possessions, of which an increasing number are technological. We ultimately replace people with items and then call our lives good.
Modern Man’s dilemma is not so much that we cannot make time for ourselves, but that the things we’ve created to make time for ourselves ultimately consume all our time and destroy relationships. Not only relationships with flesh-and-blood human beings, but with God Himself.
It’s difficult to imagine not having a car in the United States, but how hard do we have to work to buy and maintain that car? In my own case, it seems not a month goes by that I don’t have something to do related to vehicles: oil changes, tire rotations or replacements, licensing, insurance, various bits of maintenance, and working hard enough to afford the cost of $3 gas alone. With gas that high, every trip becomes a logistical nightmare. How many errands can I run in one sprint into the city? When? How? And what if something comes up that upsets that delicate balance? The dentist wants to reschedule? Ugh.
Cars are a simple one to question. There’s the bureaucracy of simply owning one, with all the titles, government regulations, and yearly paperwork. It’s technology, and it’s gotten so technological that no one can service his own anymore. I can’t get my 13-year old truck an oil change at many oil change centers because they don’t have the right wrench to remove the specific kind of plug that’s on my oil pan. Multiply that by several million cars and you’ve got a tech nightmare. And you thought computer operating system differences were a hassle!
Cars also mean insurance, because in our litigious society no insurance means no legal way to drive in most states. That’s an added—costly—hassle. And as I mentioned earlier, there’s expensive maintenance. And community? Well, there’s not much personal community in a car. Most of us don’t carpool, and it seems odd to even have a neighbor or friend in our cars. Our cars are meant to hold our nuclear families and that’s usually about it.
But unlike Europe, which developed in self-sufficient burghs, America is a vast, spread-out place that astonishes non-Americans. Almost every Japanese I’ve met in America is swift to comment on our interstates and the amount of time we spend on them. And we have to spend a lot of time on them because everything sprawls in this country. A few weeks ago I asked how many of you lived within fifty miles of extended family and I would say that 90% of you did not. So we depend on cars to get us there—if we want to see extended family, that is.
Multiply cars, phones, jets, computers, insurance policies, and the like. My eight hours on the phone trying to schedule a flight is the length of the flight there and back. Hmm. What gained then? And for a family reunion, too. Isn’t family supposed to be nearby? If 90% of us have none within fifty miles, then I guess not.
I’m getting snarky here and I apologize. Already this post has failed my usual test for quality. But still I must ask, What has all this bought us except hectic lives that go full throttle 24/7/365?
And what about God? Do we even have time for Him, much less to truly enjoy Him?
It bothers me that it’s the hardcore green liberals that are asking the question that Christians should be asking but aren’t: Is our daily existence dictated by evil, rather than by good? In our case, we understand that God is the good here, but the problem does not go away by defining good.
On this issue, I took Al Mohler to task over his non-answer when he usually has one. Perhaps that was unfair. To Mohler’s credit, he does quote Francis Schaeffer’s book title. Schaeffer asked, “How then shall we live?” in that eponymous book, and it’s a valid question.
I believe we are living in an evil construct. There is no good to be found in much of our activity. In past posts I’ve wondered aloud where the Christians are who are envisioning communities that eschew pharisaic bureaucracy, man-handling technology, devotion to things, and a lack of devotion to people. A few are cropping up, but not nearly enough to make a dent in the dialog in our churches. Mostly, those folks are seen as cranks or environmentalists or some other irritant not worth engaging. That’s too bad.
Not only are our lives being stolen by bureaucracy, technology, possession maintenance, and lack of community, but I genuinely believe that there are demonic components behind those four issues. We dismiss too easily and laugh at the notion, but could there not be a better way, a way that more fully expresses the life of God in the individual rather than the individual at the mercy of his surroundings? I believe that reality exists and is possible, but only if better people than me start working toward it.
In Song of Solomon, it says:
Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.
—Song of Solomon 2:15 ESV
Our vineyards today are overrun with little foxes, but we are not catching them. In fact, we take them for granted, have made our peace with them, and then no longer wonder why we aren’t fruitful. We take barrenness as the natural state of living.
If we desire to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, something has to give.
18 thoughts on “Speed Kills the Christian Soul–Part 2”
You are so right that time on the road affects community! We have friends who wouldn’t dream of getting in their car with their own children without foursets of cd players and headphones or a dvd player in the car. I can’t even fathom that mindset. Our family actually chats in the car. We sing together, play games, tell stories, listen to Bible story tapes. So it’s not all bad (at least, for us). And riding in a car with a good friend gives some wonderful time for fellowship and interaction – don’t worry, we pull over when we pray because we’re emotional females and we always cry!
I also find, when I’m getting overwhelmed and need time alone with God, a ride alone in the car with the windows down does wonders.
The trips are shorter now, due to gas prices, but God can be glorified – or not – in cars as well as in every other area of our lives. It all comes down to Romans 12: 1-3. We’ve GOT to keep Him as our focus. He will show us what possessions and activities need to revamped or sold or given away for His glory.
I hear legitimate frustration. Your post is good, alarming, and needful for us to hear. I have found a deep need to simplify and am making some headway. It is harder when one is younger. My husband and I sold our home (in the country) and moved into a nice apartment building in the city to simplify. I gave the children much of what they would inherit anyway, and just simplified everything. (My husband is retired and now works with me in full-time ministry).
Being in the city allows us much less time taken in travel, and ready access to our family, ministry and church. It could consume us instead of release us. It is a constant battle.
Right now, I am once again, caught in my spirit with the need to simplify. Too much to do, to study, to know, to be involved in — must spend some quality time in our Lord’s presence (in stillness) and find out essentials — they become blurred in the hustle.
Thanks for the reminders of this necessity. I believe you are hitting at the core of what is amiss in our 21st century church. We are awash with programs, teachings, etc… but leadership is not deep into an awareness of Him in stillness, listening for His breath. Just think of the difference that would make.
I had a state official of a large denomination tell me a few years ago, “Iris, I no longer have the time for digging into the Word. Oh, I have my devotionals, but then must move. No time for digging.” My heart understood but was deeply saddened.
I pray, your post will be used by our Lord to prompt some small changes and plant seeds that will flourish into a truly Christ centered relationship with time and program.
Outstanding post. As for the answer to your questions, it did take us years to arrive at this kind of lifestyle, so overnight change isn’t to be expected.
In last night’s evening service, I preached about hearing God as the foundation of our worship. My text was Ecclesiastes 5:1. In my preparation, the Lord convicted me countless times of my propensity to be busy doing good things while missing out on the best thing — sitting at the feet of Christ.
John Piper addressed this tendency by describing God as a mountain stream rather than a watering trough. The mountain stream is glorifed not by my watering of it, but my partaking from it!
Thanks again for the post!
I had a dream last night in which I lost my temper and cursed because I had a stack of papers and books, too much to do (while I stood out on the street in front of my childhood’s house). The Bible was laid on top, a King James Bible I bought when I was younger. Another book I could make out was a journal of the arts. (I am a poet, so sometimes I feel obligated to “keep up” with the arts community, although I mostly ignore trends and advice. Why bother, then? one might ask.)
The insurance has come due. The car’s brake lamp needs fixing. The car needs washing. My antivirus needs updating. I have lunch with my parents tomorrow. My pastor’s wife wants me to teach a lesson about poetry to her son and other homeschooled children (if my boss does not need me to come in early). A friend needs my old computer. A friend wants to try out his birthday toy, which is in its second week of sitting idle because I have not had a suitable window of opportunity to do it with him. I may have to take a friend to a lawyer this Wednesday. And, believe it or not, I have a lax schedule with plenty of leisure time. It just seems that most of my leisure time falls on hours when everyone else is busy, so I am alone most of the time, and I work alone at my job.
I struggled with this for years and never saw it as a sin, just a way of life for this century. Then I read The Purpose Driven Life (40 Days of Purpose) and felt like I got whacked over the head. (I’m not going to quote this properly, but I’ll give it a shot.) It basically said that God has only given us a certain amount of time to complete the tasks we must do. And to rest a day.
If we’re not getting everything done (and not getting our day of rest), then we are doing more than what God wants us to. And if we’re filling our time doing things that aren’t what God wants us to, then we’re probably not doing the things that we need to do. (Does that make sense? I feel like I’m talking in circles.) I’m not saying that everything in life has to be ministry. You can take time to ride your bike, go finishing, or paint, I believe that these fit in quite well with God’s will for our lives. But if I’m so busy that I can’t enjoy these things, then I think I’ve taken on too much, and I’m wasting the time God has given to me.
Anyway, I thought I’d pass this on. I’ve simplified my life since reading that book. I’ve let go of some ministries and have decided to focus on the ones that feel like only I can do. The rest can be handled by others, and perhaps do better than I did. (Princess Diana did this after her divorce. Just chose a handfull of charities to really focus her attention on.)
You’re right, Dan. Our system is inherently evil (always has been, I think, it’s just that tech is the angle these days), and demonic “powers and principalities’ are behind it. Glad to see you asking the questions you’re asking. Peace.
I just wish more Christians would question “The System.” There’s almost a benumbed inability to see it. Though a pop culture reference is usually inappropriate, I can’t see a better parallel than the one in the first Matrix movie—The Red Pill. We in the American Church need to take it so we can better ask if we can experience more than what we are living and to see The System for what it is. Instead, I fear, we promulgate it without realizing its effects.
Very good post. If the enemy can distract us with “busyness”, he can certainly keep us from being what God wants us to be. I appreciate this post. I enjoyed your blog and will definitely be back.
Thanks for stopping by. New readers are always appreciated!
I would like to hear more about this, “Lack of personal community, wherein we must individually do what the community used to do for us collectively.”
I’ve blogged about this issue extensively. Unfortunately, I do not have all the links repaired in my move from Blogger to WordPress, but if you do a search above on the word “community,” you’ll find most of the posts where I address this issue.
The basis behind most of those posts is Acts 4:32-35 (which if you mouseover will pull up this awesome pop-up plugin that summons the text right from the ESV Bible site. Truly a helpful WordPress plugin!) That passaage is meant to show the norm for NT “tithing” and attitude toward goods and benevolence to others. But we don’t live that way in self-sufficient America, even if it is the Gospel standard.
Something to think about.
Reading everyone’s to do list made my head swim! And I totally relate. I have lost my mom, moved, and started a new job since January and was about to crash until I decided to let go of everything that I did not have to do. My blog was one of the things that bit the dust, along with kid’s softball games this summer at a few games a week with practices, my church group and writers group, pretty much everything. And I am starting to feel human again.
And it makes me sad and angry that our society expects this hustle and bustle, go go go. I feel angry when I explain that I am not a “soccer-mom.” And guilty, and I should not because I have wonderful well-adjusted children.
Our system is evil. I believe the reason that God will judge the mark of the beast mainly is it promotes self-reliance. I don’t see any way to change what is happening on a global scale (beyond prayer), but we can do what we can do individually. Listening to God is key. It is an adventure and I would not trade it for anything.
It doesn’t start globally, but in the hearts of individuals moved by the Holy Spirit. From there it affects a small group, then a community, and then a region.
We CAN break out of the system, but the cost will be extraordinarily high. Quite simply, most people are not willing to make that break. I’m trying very hard to, but it’s truly difficult. The pressure to conform is astonishing and the penalty for going counterculture is harsh.
I’m curious what you (or other CS readers) think about a recent series I did about how Satan robs the American Church of its time (as well as treasure, talent, and testimony).
Satan simply needs to get us all wrapped up in this present, dark age, and we’re useless in the true Kingdom. He keeps our possessions and treasures wrapped up in meaningless “stuff”, then takes our time away as we try to keep that “stuff”, and when life has come and gone, we realize we have nothing invested in God’s Kingdom.
Good posts… I’d love to see some Americans start to unravel the web we’re caught in and refocus on truly important tasks.
I have been out of the blogosphere for a while with some fairly serious eye surgery — but I finally got back, and read this… Great post — Being a Messianic pastor, I have tried to instill in my congregation the concept of ‘community’ that I always relished in my Jewish community. You are right on the money — my eye surgery required that I sit, or lie face-down for a month — and during that time I had friends come by and just talk/visit, or read to me, for hours at a time. I began to realize how rare it was that I TRULY visit with friends… Maybe God was preparing me to read your post! 😉
I missed reading your insights for the past 5 weeks… Glad to be back…