Busy or Productive…

Posted by on Oct 29, 2023 in Blog | 2 comments

swarm insects bees honey

I started my working life as a chaplain to university students. It was a wonderful post. I was paid to have conversations with emerging leaders, and my job description (such as it was) included taking time to think deeply together with them about things that matter, and to give talks at the many events which were hosted at the five campuses I worked on. There was only one frustration. Many of the meetings I was asked to speak at never happened. I would spend hours agonising over the morality of euthanasia or I would work out a Christian response to Marxism, and come ready to deliver my insights only to discover that some unforeseen event (like forgetting to book the venue, or to advertise the event) had seen it cancelled at the last minute. There was a fair grrrr factor in that, and I would often look at my carefully handwritten notes (this was before computerisation) and think what a lot of waste that was.

I chatted to an older and wiser colleague about this and he said simply, “Why think of your work as wasted? Just because you couldn’t use it yesterday doesn’t mean it won’t prove invaluable at another time. You are equipping yourself to be someone who has something to say. The fruit of that could last for decades.”

Turned out he was right. As the decades have flicked by, I’ve been struck by how often I’ve interacted with ideas and insights gained during those 4 very productive years – productive, not because every day had some tangible and obvious benefits, but because it laid an excellent foundation for the decades that lay ahead. My only regret is that I didn’t use my time even better – for I could have read more widely and explored some ideas more deeply. It’s just that at the time I didn’t realise that in life nothing need be wasted, provided we are willing to reflect on what we learn, and allow it to impact us.

This week I was in discussion with a former student of mine. He is wonderfully talented and gifted, and reflects thoughtfully on life. There is also something of the artist in him, and he is able to see goodness in unexpected places and events. He was pleased that a small church youth group has invited him to speak for four weeks in a row, and has put a lot of time and effort into giving them his best. But he did wonder if it was worth it. As he noted, its just a small group, and not all of them are that interested in what he is sharing. The performer in him was carefully planning on how to win them over, while the poet was trying to make sure he was saying something of beauty and meaning. But was it worth it?

“How is it impacting you?” I asked. “Oh, it’s forming me,” he assured me. “This is meaningful stuff – you can build your life on it.” “So you’ve answered your question,” I reflected back to him. “For if it’s shaping you – well that’s a very long term dividend that its paying.”

I’ve been thinking about this. It’s easy to become busy – and often we feel important when we are. But is what we are busy with likely to be productive over the longer haul?

Have you ever wondered why Jesus only commenced his public ministry when he was 30? Given that he was probably 33 when he was crucified, his public ministry was fitted into less than 10% of his lifespan. What happened before he was 30 shaped him. Even as a 12 year old he was “wasting” time at the temple, chatting with its leaders, growing in wisdom and stature as Luke 2:52 puts it. How can God grow in wisdom? It’s a fair question, but Luke doesn’t hesitate to claim that Jesus did. I’m sure that the first 30 years of Jesus’ life were busy – but they were also deeply productive as they shaped him for all that happened in the final 3.

Busy or productive? It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but if what we are busy with is unlikely to lead to a long term harvest well – well, we are just busy. And its much better to be productive than simply busy.

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  1. Comment *wonderful insight dear Brian, very encouraging. I sometimes do wonder too about the effectiveness of my theological studies as I seem not to get the job I would like to get. Yet, all the studies shaped me in my thinking and attitude towards myself and others, believers in Christ Jesus or believers into something else. All conversations I have are deeply influenced from what I learnt or experienced during studies and it keeps me thinking critically but deeply to this day, no matter in which circumstance. That’s value beyond measure.

    • Thanks Lenka. What you’ve said is so important. It’s being able to see the unanticipated benefits which we sometimes overlook.

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