Article by Miles Trump
This is not a blog post about how to improve your workflow in 2017.
Nor will it give you zero-inbox, SMART-goal and decluttering techniques.
That’s all good stuff. But this is a blog post about the foundation of and motivation for our productivity – a topic I find much more important than any efficiency technique.
Our productivity matters to God. But in our schedule-driven, workaholic, calendar-invite culture, we sometimes (often?) confuse productivity as an end instead of a means. We glorify “busyness” as if our jam-packed schedules determine our value as people.
That’s a backward approach to productivity.
The foundation of our productivity must be our faith in Christ. We must feel compelled to be productive because God loves us and has been more productive for our sake than anyone in the history of mankind. And we must be productive in ways that glorify Him, not in ways that glorify ourselves.
If our hearts and minds are not positioned in this way, we will face an uphill battle.
To a degree, I have experienced this battle.
In an effort to live with intent and purpose, a close friend and I created a long list of individual goals last year that would push us to become better men.
I drew up spiritual goals, financial goals, physical goals and mental goals. Marriage goals, leisure goals, stewardship goals. Goals, goals, goals – about 35 total. I inputted them into one of those trendy mobile apps that, with a tap or swipe, could track and report my progress back to me instantly.
The goals were “good.” The motivation and enthusiasm was there. Everything was great
But by spring, I grew tired and stopped feeling like these “SMART Goals” were all that smart. They grew heavier and began to feel more frivolous in comparison to day-to-day life.
Was it truly necessary for me to memorize three new words each week? Did God care if I read 12 books or became a better cook? Were these achievements glorifying Him?
I now realize I didn’t grasp the true foundation and purpose for productivity. While many of my goals were rooted in my faith in Christ, others were rooted in my faith in myself.
As a result, I believe I’d fallen into several – avoidable – traps that wore me down.
- Turning productivity into an idol. I turned “busyness” into an idol. Progress on my goals made me feel more and more important. A real mover and shaker. A truly good person.
- Believing my good works helped me earn my salvation. This was less noticeable in the moment. But it’s clear that I began creeping into this Pharisaical area of trying to earn my salvation – and God’s favor – through my “good works” rather than feeling compelled to do good works because of God’s immeasurable grace in my life.
- Failing and growing dejected. I realized I had bit off more than I could chew, but, because of the two points above, my pride wouldn’t let me give up. I dropped a few of my goals and (with middling success) tried to salvage what I could. But with time, most of my plan fizzled away.
So, what now? As I write this, I’m working on setting my goals for 2017. But this time, I’m explicitly asking the question, “Why and how does God want me to be productive in 2017?”
Below are three overarching Biblical principles, which I chose based on my own experience and a few helpful articles (shoutout Google!), that I’m using to serve as the inspiration for my productivity in 2017.*
To do good works for God’s glory.
James declares that faith without good deeds is dead. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save them?” (James 2:14). James is not saying that our good works will save us, but rather, that our salvation through God’s grace must compel us to do good work.
Matt Perman, author of “What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done,” says productivity is about learning how to do good works in the most effective way possible. He writes on the What’s Best Next blog: “Everything we learn about productivity (and at all levels — work, life, organizations, and society), every productivity practice we might implement, and every productivity tool we might use, ultimately exists for the purpose of helping to amplify our effectiveness in good works, for the glory of God.”
To act out of love for others.
When I think about productivity, or getting things done, I rarely think of other people. Our culture often tells us productivity is about work efficiency, self-improvement, personal gain, career advancement, etc.
The Gospel tells us differently. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). We are to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify God (Matthew 5:16). We are to do everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:14).
Shouldn’t our checklists and planners focus on fulfilling commands such as these – rather than clearing our email inboxes each night – with the best of our effort?
Perman says yes. In another blog post, he writes that “the guiding principle in all the things we get done should be the good of others. … In the end, love is to be our supreme motive in all that we get done.”
To purposefully steward the resources God has given us.
I’m not talking about money only. Resources, in my view, can be anything God gives to us. And yes, that means finances, but also time, expertise, energy, relationships, opportunities and much more. If it’s a resource to us, then it’s a resource we can look after (or steward) for God’s glory.
Productivity can – and should – manifest itself in the form of biblical stewardship. We’ve seen the importance God places on biblical stewardship and productivity in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14), in which a noble man gives bags of silver to his servants, according to their abilities, before leaving for a long journey. When he returns, he celebrates the servants who have been good stewards of the silver and punishes the servant who has not.
Later in the New Testament, Paul writes that we must make the most of every opportunity and understand what the Lord wants us to do (Ephesians 5:16-17), and that we must work willingly at whatever we do, as though we are working for God instead of people (Colossians 3:23).
These passages show us that our productivity in stewarding our resources matters to God. And so it should matter to us. We should be productive in managing our money, taking care of our families, doing our jobs, volunteering our time, growing in our faith and much, much more.
As many of us look ahead into 2017, we will be swept up by New Year’s resolutions and plans to improve ourselves. We will get organized, get our lives together and get things done.
But let us always remember to be productive for the right reasons.
* I am not a biblical scholar, by any stretch of the imagination. These are three simple Biblical principles for productivity, and undoubtedly many more exist. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. My hope is that this blog post will help you consider productivity in light of the Gospel.