What Your Calendar Says About Your View of God

Kara Powell | November 26, 2013

If I want to find out what a leader thinks about God, I don’t look at their prayer journal or their preaching.

I look at their calendar.

Everyone I know grapples with busyness. It’s often how we define ourselves. When someone asks us, “How are you?” our default answer is frequently one word: “Busy”. This busyness cuts across boundaries of faith, vocation, and socio-economic status. As Wayne Muller writes,

“I have visited the large offices of wealthy donors, the crowded rooms of social service agencies, and the small houses of the poorest families. Remarkably, within this mosaic there is a universal refrain: I am so busy. It does not seem to matter if the people I speak with are doctors or day-care workers, shopkeepers or social workers, parents or teachers, nurses or lawyers, students or therapists, community activists or cooks…The standard greeting everywhere has become: I am so busy.”

On those rare weeks when we’re not feeling too busy, we still interact every day with a host of others who are. The madness seems pervasive.

When I’m busy…

            I don’t have patience as a mom.

            I don’t have empathy as a wife.

            I don’t have vision as a leader.

            I don’t have passion as a follower of Jesus.

 

As someone who studies teenagers, I see this busyness every day—both in our research as well as in our own church’s student ministry. When I was a youth leader in the 1990s, we saw our most involved students two to three times each week. Now, we see our most involved students two to three times per month.

Parents used to call our student ministry office, asking us to provide more activities to nurture their kids’ faith. Now they email and apologize that their family is so busy their kids can’t attend our ministry’s events.

This frenetic schedule is continually reinforced by our culture. It’s like we have a “Let’s see which of us is more busy” competition. Teachers compare who has more assignments to grade. Business leaders share travel schedules, seeing who’s accumulated more frequent flyer miles and the more privileged airline status. Parents compare soccer/hockey/piano/Girl Scout/carpool schedules.The implicit message in all this comparison is that the busier the schedule, the more valuable the person.

Why have we become so busy?

Why is it that we complain about our busyness and yet brag about it at the same time?

Even more importantly, at a fundamental level, why have we become so busy?

Some point to technology. Others point to advances in transportation that allow us to go more places faster, squeezing more meetings into the day.

Technology and transportation are certainly factors, but I doubt they are the ultimate causes of our busyness. We need to go deeper. Or maybe higher. We need to go to the part of us that is most central to who we are—the part of us that most defines us.

I’m talking about our view of God.

Busyness isn’t ultimately about our schedule. Our pace of life is more about our theology than our watches.

I’m a practical theologian, which means I believe our thoughts about God affect every part of us—from how I treat a waitress to how I drive. And our thoughts about God certainly affect our schedule.

So thinking theologically about our busyness, the bottom line of what I want to suggest is this: Our busyness is often a result of our atheism.

Let me make a few caveats. First, note that I say “our”. Many days a month, I am on the same busy bus as you. Some days I feel like I’m the one driving this busy bus crammed full—and maybe even overflowing—with activities, roles, and responsibilities. My foot seems to be stuck on the gas pedal and the busy bus is careening down the road. So please hear that this is an ongoing struggle for me too.

Second, note I say “often” a result of our atheism. We all have those seasons when we just have to be busy. It might be days, weeks, or months because of upcoming deadlines or events. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about more prolonged busyness—when frenetic activity becomes our norm. When it’s all we know.

Third, we’re not really atheists. It’s just that we’ve become “functional atheists”—people who believe in God, but don’t act like it.

I want to get at the root of my functional atheism—the false views of God that keep me on a treadmill, panting and huffing and puffing until I’m so tired that all I want to do is jump off. I want to be able to offer that escape from the treadmill to my church.

A God-centered escape from our busyness

I think the escape is found at least partly in Psalm 46:10a: Be still and know that I am God.

I love these famous words from an unknown psalmist in unknown circumstances. They are like a steaming hot cup of tea to our souls, aren’t they? If you’re like me, a few sappy worship songs quoting this Psalm comes immediately to mind.

Christians love this verse. We put it on coffee cups and on mouse pads. It makes us feel warm and cozy. That’s all well and good, but that’s a far cry from the original context of the Psalm. Let’s zoom out a bit and see more of what the psalmist wrote in the surrounding verses.

In Psalm 46:8a, the psalmist urges, “Come and see the works of the Lord.” But the works of the Lord the psalmist has in mind aren’t his meadows, rainbows, and butterflies.

Psalm 46:9 continues, “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.” That verse about bows, spears, and shields-on-fire is the precursor to the famous “Be still and know that I am God” passage.

We can “be still” because the God of the universe is on the throne, taking care of the oppressed and the downtrodden. And us. Our God is not drifting asleep. He is a BIG God doing BIG work. As we are celebrating in this year’s Catalyst theme, we are KNOWN by the God who is all-powerful, all good, and almighty.

With that as a backdrop, now let’s read Psalm 46:10a again: “Be still and know that I am God.” It feels a bit different now, doesn’t it? Interestingly, another translation for “Be still” is STOP. And another translation for “know” is ADMIT. So we can think of this Psalm as compelling us to “STOP AND ADMIT that I am God.”

It’s as if God is saying, “Enough with how you’ve been trying to fight your own battles. Enough with how you’ve been trying to do it on your own. Enough with how you’ve been so busy in your ministry that you’ve neglected me.

Enough. Enough. Enough. Stop. Cease. End it.”

In The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan writes, “If God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called to his purposes, you can relax. If he doesn’t, start worrying. If God can take any mess, any mishap, any wastage, any wreckage, any anything, and choreograph beauty and meaning from it, then you can take a day off. If he can’t, get busy. Either God’s always at work, watching the city, building the house, or you need to try harder.”

Catalyst leaders, which view of God is driving your schedule?

Kara Powell, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. Kara is the author or co-author of a number of books including Sticky Faith, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Deep Justice Journeys, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.

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