The Myth of Over-Busyness

c81e728d9d4c2f636f067f89cc14862c_1433763822  Convenient, fast, and efficient.  These three words epitomize our cultural fascination with all things technological.  We are a generation of multi-taskers, a society of workaholics, and a group of gregarious extroverts (even if we are internally introverts).  Yet, what does God have to say about our strenuous patterns of over-work?  How does a jam-packed schedule affect our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves?  How does busyness change our relationships at work or within our family?

I have struggled with workaholism most of my life, although I probably would never have described it in those terms until quite recently.  I’ve always enjoyed being right in the centre of whatever was happening.  Being passive is not an option to me.  When I was younger I used to be part of a number of extra-circular activities and clubs.  In university I served on several campus and church ministries while taking a full course-load, and then in seminary I foolishly worked 4 part time jobs while taking 5 master’s level courses and trying to maintain a rigorous social life.  Everyone around me cautioned me that this was not going to be sustainable, but I was convinced that I could make it happen.  I dreaded missing out on anything social, and because social occasions often consist of lunches and dinners out, I knew I had to keep up my work schedule in order to afford having fun.  This continued until my body finally told me that something had to give.

The first time I realized I needed to slow-down was when I was in my first year of seminary.  I had moved to the U.S. to engage in a Peace and Theological Studies program, was working two campus jobs (one in maintenance and one at the library) and was trying to get involved in a local church.  I remember nearly falling asleep one day in the student lounge when someone mentioned that I didn’t look well.  She asked if everything was okay (assuming it was merely an emotional issue).  Almost as a bragging point, I mentioned my intense schedule.  Rather than sharing in my pride, this woman mentioned that she used to be like me, but because of over-working her body and mind, she had suffered 3 mini-strokes within the past year.  I was absolutely stunned.  This woman was not much older than I was!  At most, she was still in her mid-thirties.  I had always assumed strokes and TIAs happened to the elderly due to heart complications.  I had no idea that someone under 40 could experience those kinds of effects due to the sheer burden of stress and physical exhaustion.  I will never forget her wise words of counsel to me: “You need to slow down because if you don’t, your body will make it happen.  Your body knows when enough is enough.”  Since that time I have heard that some of my friends have suffered from seizures and other health complications exactly for the same reason: over-busyness.

I would love to say that I learned my lesson early on, but I am rather stubborn and slow when it comes to learning this invaluable wisdom, so I continued down this slippery slope for several more months.  Eventually it came to a head when my doctor told me that my body was giving out.  You can read more of that story here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/3-things-that-i-wish-everyone-understood-about-burn-out/

God designed our bodies for work, but also for rest and relaxation.  He designed us to be driven and motivated by causes we are passionate about, but he also created us for community and inter-dependence.

What does the Bible say about over-work?  According to the Scriptures, what is the best balance for a work-play-rest rhythm?

  • The Bible tells us to rest.  God Himself set this precedent when He created the world.  The Bible tells us that God worked for 6 days and then He rested.  We know that God is big, mighty, and all-powerful.  Certainly God could have created the earth in one day or even one minute if that’s what He wanted to do.  So why did God stretch out the creation?  Because He wanted to pace Himself.  Because He wanted to show us that we don’t need to accomplish everything all at once.  We can do a little at a time.  Pause.  Reflect.  Appreciate the beauty.  Take time to be grateful for our progress.  Get our creative juices flowing, then start again.  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV
  • The Bible tells us that work is good.  When God created Adam and Eve, He sent them on a mission.  Nowhere in the Scriptures is work portrayed as “a necessary evil” or “the daily grind just to pay the bills” unlike how the majority of people in our world feel today.  The Bible does mention that when sin entered into the world, work became harder.  The ground was less likely to yield a bountiful crop, dishonesty and a “dog-eat-dog” mentality ensued, but still work was good.  Many people in our world feel unsatisfied at their jobs, but they stay on because they feel they need the money.  Work has become the butt of many jokes, “oh, it’s Monday, AGAIN!”  Many people say that they wish they didn’t have to work, but work is such an integral part of our identity that often people who are unemployed or laid-off face the highest rates of depression and low self-esteem.  Rough sleepers long for something to do.  Many of them mention that they would take any job (even a menial one) in order to support themselves.  There is something inherent in our human condition that promotes a healthy sense of pride when we are able to accomplish something and be recognized for it.  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+31&version=NIV
  • The Bible tells us to let the ground lay fallow.  This is something I never understood until I moved to Scotland.  Scotland was probably the first year of my life in which I decided to intentionally take a break, mostly because I had no choice.  Moving to a new country where no one knew me, I didn’t want to come across as some hyper-active kid who needed to get involved in everything and I was also working close to 50 hours a week.  I still went to church, small groups, and other activities, but I made the intentional choice to take a sabbatical.  To take a rest.  To learn from the experience of others.  To let the ground lay fallow.  At first this was very challenging.  There were many moments when I was edging to do a bit more or when I was tempted to brag about my Master’s of Theology in hopes that someone might ask me to lead or serve.  However, this opportunity of being in the background was quite formative for me.  Without the pressure to lead, I was able to learn from the knowledge and life-stage of those much older than me.  I was no longer a kid in my early/mid-twenties giving instruction (as if I actually knew anything), instead I was receiving encouragement from parents, grandparents, and elders.  That year of stepping back taught me humility and patience as those with no theological background were wrestling through Biblical texts.  It taught me new perspectives as 16 and 18 year old explained what the text meant to them.  I’m not saying to lay fallow forever – I know I wouldn’t last.  A year was about as long as I would want to go with no form of leadership or servanthood.  I also feel like because God entrusted me with this type of education and calling it is an important responsibility to minister and use my natural skills and learned abilities.  Nevertheless, it is important from time to time to step back and let someone else take the lead.  Someone who needs to be in charge all the time can often become over-controlling or fall prey to narcissism and self-importance.  Someone who has found the balance between work and rest, between being a leader and being a follower has the potential to be a much more effective minister.  Know your limit, serve within it. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+23%3A11&version=NIV

So, more practically, what does taking a rest mean for the average ministering person?

  • It means practicing self-care.  It means eating healthy, finding the time to exercise, and hanging out with non-ministry friends.  It also means having ministry colleagues who can spur you on and encourage you when you want to quit (because trust me: if you’re in any type of full-time ministry there will be plenty of times when you are ready to give up!)
  • It means making daily devotional time with God a priority.  If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy to serve!  When you have such a busy schedule, it can be difficult to find an hour to really set aside for meditation and to read the Scriptures.  But this is where you will draw your strength from.  Godly friends and good parishioners will only get you so far.  Without the power source, you are powerless!
  • It means keeping your family as your central priority.  This is true both of married pastors as well as those who are single.  If you’re married, it’s so important to keep your spouse central to your ministry.  To make time for him or her and to not neglect his or her needs.  If you’re single, it’s important not to overwork yourself under the myth that you have no other responsibilities.  When your friends start complaining that you aren’t as present as you used to be (or that you are tuning out when you are with them), it’s time to re-evaluate and make a change.  Trust me: some of my friends have mentioned this to me before!  I (and you) need to listen to them!
  • It might mean serving in a different area.  My main calling in life is to serve adults with developmental disabilities.  I absolutely love this, but I also long to do something more in the organized church.  That’s why volunteering in the creche or even ushering has become so important to me.  It adds a bit more variety in my life  – though be careful with how much you are willing to take on.  If you’re already feeling burnt-out in your central ministry, you might want to scale back a bit rather than adding even more activities.
  • It means listening to yourself, to your body, and to God.  It’s learning how to say no, how to accept that you can’t do it all, how to relinquish control.  It’s not beating yourself up if you can’t (or simply don’t want to) do something.  It’s having the courage to ask for help when you are feeling overwhelmed.  It’s being able to embrace your limitations.

Sound like something you want to be part of, but don’t know where to start?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • April Yamasaki (one of my fellow MennoNerds) wrote a great book a few years ago on this very topic.  You can find her book “Sacred Pauses” here: https://www.amazon.ca/Sacred-Pauses-Spiritual-Practices-Personal/dp/0836196856.  She also does quite a bit of blogging on this topic at her personal blog: https://aprilyamasaki.com
  • Consider seeing a spiritual director.  I have seen a spiritual director on and off for a number of years now.  This can be a very helpful tool in allowing you time to pause, reflect, and think about your spiritual journey, your calling, and your priorities.  It is different than counselling in the sense that a spiritual director does not look to fix a specific problem, but to journey with you through life’s peaks and valleys.  It is probably more akin to spiritual life-coaching and can be valuable whether for a few sessions or on a more on-going basis
  • If you’re having a difficult time keeping Christ as your priority – spending time FOR Him instead of with HIM, consider asking a close friend or ministry colleague to keep you accountable.  When God sent me as a missionary to Scotland, I had a friend who held me accountable to read the Word 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.  I used to email her to let her know if I had done this and it really helped to keep me going on days when I was so stressed with work that I could easily have neglected it, had it not been for having to report to another person.  Soon it became a habit and so much a part of me that I was able to do it without sending her constant messages, but to get my feet off the ground and running it definitely helped for the first little bit. (NOTE OF WISDOM: If you miss a devotional time, don’t worry about letting your friend or even God down.  Don’t read the Bible for 2 hours just to make up for it.  We all make mistakes and we all get busy.  Brush yourself off, and start again.  Trying to “make up” time is likely just going to overwhelm you and make you resentful and you’ll be more likely to quit)
  • Finally here’s a blog I wrote a while ago that might be of benefit to you: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/5-prayer-practices-for-preoccupied-people/

Self-care can be a difficult skill to master and the journey can be quite demanding and challenging at times, but it is always so worth it.  When you feel good about yourself and your ministry, it will trickle down to all those you are serving and you will become a much more effective minister of the Gospel.  May God bless you, lead, guide, and direct you on this exhilarating mission!

Developing a Posture of Perpetual Prayer (Mennocostal: IHOPKC Onething Series)

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The idea that Christians pray is often a mandate which is taken for granted.  We assume that it is the Christian thing to do and that all Christians pray.  Prayer is, after all, what makes a Christian.  It is the fundamental root of Christianity.  The one action that keeps us living and breathing Christ.  The Apostle Paul wrote that we are to “pray without ceasing” regardless of our circumstances.[1]  Yet, if only all Christians prayed!  If only all Christians fervently poured out their hearts on a regular basis how different our nations and our world would be!  Indeed we would see miracles happening!  We would truly see blessings taken place in our daily lives.

Prayer is something that I have often struggled with in my own life.  There have definitely been seasons of my life when I have been so on fire for Christ that I have prayed for hours and lived out my life as if it were an aroma to God.[2]  Yet, there have been even more times in my life when I have wrestled with knowing what to say to God.  There are times in my personal life when I am really struggling and when God seems distant and talking to Him seems so much harder than talking to a friend who I have met and gotten to know in person over the past few years.  To be honest, I have often been envious of Moses who was able to talk to God face-to-face in the way a man talks to his best friend![3]

Martin Luther once noted that, “It is the business of tailors to mend clothes and cobblers to fix shoes, and it is the BUSINESS OF CHRISTIANS TO PRAY.”  Christians are to be about their Father’s business, always!  It’s our vocation and our missional calling! 

We know that prayer is important because it is perhaps THE most fundamental teaching in all of Scriptures.  I know of few other topics which have as much teaching devoted to them than prayer and which have been modeled by Christ, Himself, as much as prayer.  Works of justice, righteousness, and compassion are important to the Christian faith and Christians are called to engage in them – but they are secondary to prayer.  Without prayer these works will cease.  Without pray these works are not sustainable!  That’s because, as Mike Bickle (founder and leader of the International House of Prayer movement in Kansas City, MO) states, “prayer and mission are inseparable and both need the prophetic ministry added on to them.”[4]

WHY PRAY?Oftentimes when you meet a very mature Christian, someone who has been through the most difficult things in their own lives, but who still has an unshakeable faith the answer for why they are able to keep carrying on even amidst adversity lies in the fact that they pray!  That they talk to God about whatever’s going on in their life and that He answers even if it is in unexpected ways.  They trust Him to be faithful even when they are not.[5]

Their prayer life has rooted them so deeply in Christ’s love and care for them that their hearts have a completely rock solid foundation.  Even when the highest storm waves crash over the sea or the mightiest tempests blow, they are still standing firm.  They are immoveable.[6]  They can sign with gusto the words to the song which says, “What though my joys and comforts die?  The Lord my Saviour liveth! What though the darkness gather round?  Songs in the night He giveth! No storm can shake my inmost calm while to the Rock I’m clinging.  Since Christ is Lord of Heaven and Earth, how can I keep from singing?”[7]

In the book of James we read the following, “Now the prayer offered in faith will make a sick person well.  The Lord will raise him up and he will be healed.  If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.  Confess your sins then to each other and PRAY for each other so that you may be HEALED.  The PRAYER of a righteous man is POWERFUL and EFFECTIVE.”

Have you ever seen mountains move?  Have you ever seen the earth turn over and surrender to God?  It’s because faithful people pray!  It’s the prayers of the elderly grandmothers for their grandchildren that impact the world.  It’s the prayers of the drunkard crying out in the dead of night that awakens God’s attention![8]  It’s in the sinner’s cry, the beating of the chest that God hears – it’s NOT in the pious, overly zealous prayer that is full of empty words but no heart![9]

When we pray for our brothers and sisters, God promises to heal them of their afflictions.  He promises to bring them comfort and relief.  He promises forgiveness and complete absolution of any sins.  But James doesn’t just end with that.  He says that not only are we to pray silently in our rooms, but that we should also have prayer meetings where we gather with other believers and are mutually encouraged by the things that Christ is teaching them!  How often I have been in a prayer meeting hearing another brother or sister pray something that the Lord has laid on their heart and in that instance known that that word was meant for me and that God was giving me the same encouragement that He had taught them!  If you are righteous and if you’re living a life that follows after Christ’s heart than it doesn’t matter how long you have been saved, it doesn’t matter how much seminary education you have, and it doesn’t matter if you are able to sing or preach, your prayers are still effective.  Your prayers are still heard by God and He takes notice of them!

A CALLING TO A LIFE OF PRAYER: Throughout my life, I have relegated prayer to the sidelines.  I made it a point to pray before meals and before bed… often my “amen” being muttered in the morning when I had gotten up realizing that I trailed off before I even finished.  As I got older and started to be more involved with non-Christian peers that soon ended up resulting in me not even thinking of praying before meals.  Sometimes I went entire weeks without lifting my heart and voice to Christ!  In the back of my mind, Christ was always there, but He was more like the One I called on when I needed something.  I didn’t spend nearly as much time praising and worshiping Him as He deserved.

However, over the last few years Christ has started tugging on my heartstrings again and reclaiming His rightful place as center of my life.  He has reminded me of my need for Him and how to a believer prayer is the food and water of the soul.  He has reminded me that in order to grow into full Christian maturity I need to spend time in His Word discovering who He is.

With Christ, prayer is a 24/7 lifestyle, it’s not simply a once in a while type deal.  It’s not good enough just to pray at breakfast.  It takes effort, but we really need to carve out dedicated time for Him.  Once we start intentionally making time for prayer and making time for Christ in our lives, then there is no possible way that we will stop being able to share our testimonies.  No possible way that we will stop being able to share all that we have seen and heard![10]  When we pray we will begin to see the hearts of families and of nations turned to Christ.  Until we pray, though, we can utter with our lips that we want to see revival, but it won’t take place.  It won’t take place because God sees our hearts and He knows that we are all talk and no action.  That we don’t want it enough to spend even one hour with Him in order to help join Him in His reconciling mission of the church on this earth!

HOW IHOP CHANGED MY PRAYER LIFE: A large part of my IHOP experience was simply being able to spend unhindered time with Christ alone where He came and ministered to my soul.  He delivered me out of my brokenness and set my feet on high places so that I could worship Him.[11]  During this time with Christ alone He continued to repeat over and over to my soul, “come with Me to the quiet place and allow Me to minister to you.”  I believe that this is the same message that Christ echoes to each person – young and old, across all different nationalities and ethnicities, across all socioeconomic levels.  It is a message of what true greatness really is. It is a reminder that all ministries need to be consumed with an attitude of prayer and completely covered with adoration to Christ!

We are often reminded in the Bible that worshiping and prayer never stops.  In Revelation we read that, “day and night they did not cease worshiping the Lamb.”  They kept saying over and over, “blessing, and honour, glory, and power be unto the Ancient of Days!”[12]  The Apostle Paul reminds us to be “steadfast in prayer and abundant in love.”[13]  Note here how prayer comes before love.  That’s because it’s impossible for us to love without first experiencing the ultimate and true love of Christ!  There are many non-Christian married couples who are deeply committed to one another, there are many non-Christian parents who truly do love their children, but they only love the best they know how to.  They don’t know true love because they have never experienced what that feels like.  I don’t doubt the fact that they are compassionate to their children and spouses, but the Bible tells us plainly that WE LOVE BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US![14]  If you want to know true love, if you want your love for your significant other, spouse, or child to grow, you need Christ to minister to you!  You need to come with Him to the quiet place so that He can love you and fill you with a love so great that you never knew it was possible to love someone to that extent before!

MY PRAYER LIFE WAS SHIFTED AT IHOP

In the first sermon that I heard Mike Bickle preach he told us, “Worship is an agreement of who Christ is.  Intercession is an agreement of what Christ said He would do.”  In order to have a vibrant prayer life – one that makes God take notice and one which will draw us into deeper Spiritual maturity with Christ, we need both of these elements.  They are completely inseparable.

At IHOP we listened and sang music, but it was NOT a concert.  I’ve been to many concerts before.  I have many favourite secular as well as Christian artists.  Oftentimes these concerts (primarily secular) are little more than mosh pits with the occasional overpriced beer or whisky.  Yet at IHOP as we sang, we were lead into deeper worship and communion with Christ.  Sometimes I sang, other times I sat there silently, there were a few times that I wept.  Still other times I prayed and interceded so hard and felt assurance from Christ that He was going to bring healing to the people I was praying for.  He confirmed many things to me during my time with Him.   I promise you that if you spend that time with Christ, He will do the same for you!  If you make an effort for Him, He will make time for you!  He’s never too busy to hear the requests of His children!

RECEIVING PERSONAL ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRAY THROUGH MY TEAM

When I went to IHOP I traveled with a group of just under 50 young adults (ages 18-30).  I got into a 12 passenger van with them and we drove all the way down to Kansas City, Missouri (which is a little over 15 hours from where I live).  I didn’t know anyone before I left.  I actually had a lot of anxiety.  I am an extrovert and do really enjoy getting to meet other young adults, especially if they are Christian and I perceive that we might be able to have much in common and might be able to network.  But when I left my hometown I had been through a very difficult past four months and was feeling pretty broken and the idea of having people I never even met before minister to me sounded pretty daunting.

I’m glad I didn’t let that hold me back!  These young adults might have been primarily younger than me, but they had a certain spiritual maturity that really inspired me.  This maturity led them to give up a shopping trip in St. Louis just so that we could spend additional hours in prayer at IHOP and continue to intercede and see the Spirit move and work!  To be honest, I don’t know many other 18 year olds who would have taken our leader up on that offer!

Really, it’s crazy how I spent all day every day for 6 days, literally over 10 hours in worship and then came back to the hotel and continued praying and discerning the Lord’s voice.  Even prophesying.  Up until last week when I went to IHOP, this was the kind of stuff I had only heard about in books or from missionaries.  I thought the empowerment of the Holy Spirit was confined to Africa and Asia.  I never realized He was so present here in affluent and busy North America!  I’ve never experienced worshiping this long before.  When I was a student at Tyndale there were some intense times when I was caught up in the Spirit and worshiped for 3 hours…once even almost all night.  But never all day AND all night!  I’ve adopted this posture of prayer.  At IHOP there were days when it was 1:30am and I just couldn’t stop praising Him.  Some days I would get 5 or 6 hours of sleep because I was so caught up in the Spirit and in worship, and I would be fully recharged the next day, and usually I’m the type of person who needs 8 hours or I’m sunk. 

I used to marvel that Africans went to church for hours, now I know it IS possible and it’s what I want.  I feel like I could do this all day every day and never get bored of it.  This must be just a glimpse of what heaven will be like when all nations praise God with the angels day and night before the Throne unceasingly!

CONCLUSION:Sometimes people think that I’ve gone IHOP crazy.  That I’m all about edifying IHOP, but that’s not the case at all!  IHOP was just one instrument that God used to encourage and strengthen me in my walk with Him.  He could have used any other means and I would have been equally as grateful, but God spoke to me and got a hold of my heart through this conference.  Any thanksgiving I have goes straight to God.  I give IHOP props for being faithful to the calling God has laid on their heart and how they have ministered to thousands and pray that God will bless them richly both in heaven and on earth for it.  But in the end of the day – it’s God I worship, NOT IHOP.

I want to encourage you to read my next several blogs about how the Spirit moved during my time at IHOPKC and all that He taught me while I was there.  My next blog will be written on the topic of intercession primarily on how God called me and equipped me to pray during the Night Watch – one of the most intense and Spiritually demanding assignments He has ever given me, but a ministry for which I am glad to be a part.  I hope you will join me in reading that blog and that the Lord may also call some of my faithful readers to join me in this vision of proclaiming the Kingdom of Christ until He comes again.[15]


[4] From a sermon Mike Bickle preached at IHOPKC’s ONETHING 2013 Conference

[7] My Life Flows On (Text and Music By: Robert Lowry, 1869)

[8] Better Than A Hallelujah (By: Amy Grant) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm5kx3xqmg0