Something Else for Which Jesus Cares Greatly (Part 2)

Today’s message from John 15:1-11 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Here is the quote from Boice and Ryken’s The Doctrines of Grace I gave at the conclusion:

In the natural world there are animals that eat nothing but meat. They are called carnivores, from caro, carnis, which means “meat.” There are other animals that eat nothing but grass or plants. They are called herbivores, from herba, which means vegetation. Imagine taking a lion, who is a carnivore, and placing a bundle of hay or a trough of oats before him. He will not eat the hay or oats. Why not? It is not because he is physically or naturally unable to eat them. Physically, he could munch on the oats and swallow them. But he does not and will not, because it is not in his nature to eat this kind of food. Moreover, if we were to ask why he will not eat the herbivore’s meal, and if the lion could answer, he would say, “I can’t eat this food, because I hate it. I will only eat meat.” Now think of the verse that says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8), or of Jesus saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51). Why won’t a sinful person “taste and see that the Lord is good” or feed upon Jesus as “the living bread”? To use the lion’s words, it is because he “hates” such food. The sinner will not come to Christ because he does not want to. Deep in his heart he hates Christ and what he stands for. It is not because he cannot come naturally or physically (pp. 85-86).

Apart from Him we can do nothing.

This is the first and most important secret of fruitfulness in partnering with Jesus in His greater works mission of the gospel.

Our Most Crucial Role & the Need for Goals

Today our weekly morning prayer group finally resumed our discussion over breakfast of C. J. Mahaney’s helpful article on biblical productivity.

We’ve covered thus far in our reading some of the challenges of busyness masquerading as productivity and procrastination, to some guidance and help in how to ensure real productivity in our lives, to lately the consideration of the stewardship of the roles each of us has and the importance of setting limited goals weekly for each of those roles.

As a result of my interacting with this article I have identified six roles God has entrusted to me:

  1. Christian
  2. Husband
  3. Father
  4. Extended family member
  5. Ministry leader
  6. Neighbor

Mahaney rightly says that no other role is more crucial or central than that of “Christian.” And yet we mostly like assume this role and its responsibilities when we write our schedules and even consider it optional when other demands press.

He recommends identifying two specific goals as a subset of what it means to follow Christ:

  1. Communion with God
  2. Participation in the local church

Regarding the first, he writes:

The consequence of neglecting a personal goal is nowhere more serious than when we neglect God and neglect our own souls. Scripture sternly cautions us to enforce all diligence over our hearts: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV). We must study our hearts. We must monitor the condition of our hearts. We must work by the grace of God to employ the spiritual disciplines to keep our hearts with all vigilance.

Regarding  the second, he advises we ask ourselves the following questions:

  • When and how am I intentionally serving those around me? this year? this week?
  • When and how do I care specifically for those closest to me in the church? this year? this week? (For some of you, this will consist of serving those in your small group.)
  • When and how do I pray for and support my pastor? this year? this week?

I particularly like that last bullet point. 🙂

Jesus told His followers in John 15:5, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

That last phrase alone ought to grip us with the importance of intentionally scheduling spiritual goals lest the cumulative effect of our efforts amount to nothing.

A Sweet Way to Fall Asleep

Tomorrow morning our weekly prayer group will continue our discussion over breakfast of C. J. Mahaney’s helpful article on biblical productivity.

We’ve progressed in our reading beyond the challenges of busyness masquerading as productivity and procrastination to now some guidance and help in how to ensure real productivity in our lives.

Mahaney casts a vision for the reader in one simple sentence: It is sweet falling asleep knowing we have redeemed the time. That’s a reference to Eph. 5:16 and Col. 4:5 which the ESV renders as making the best use of the time.

His prescription for arriving at this day’s end sweetness on a regular basis he summarizes like this:

As I hope you will discover for yourself in this series, our biblical productivity depends upon a schedule, which depends upon clear goals, which depends upon clearly defined roles. Working toward clarity on understanding my present roles is my first (and most important) step in developing biblical productivity.

Mahaney contends that planning for a particular week doesn’t begin with one’s schedule but rather with considering one’s God-given roles. He says, If I am not fulfilling my roles, my goals will be misdirected, and I will be vulnerable to all manner of requests and fail to devote myself to what is most important.

Don’t underestimate the significance of this principle. There is great liberation in the reminder that we are not called to do everything.

Mahaney quotes Gene Veith:

In our earthly lives, we do not have to do everything. Earthly life—and this is operative with non-believers no less than believers—consists of giving and receiving, serving and being served, in a network of economic and social and personal interdependence (The Spirituality of the Cross, p. 76).

So here’s the formula: productivity = roles + goals + schedule.

What are your God-given roles? Go ahead. Write them down.

You just might sleep better tonight.

A Needed Fork in the Eye

Once again tomorrow my Tuesday early-morning prayer group will dive into C. J. Mahaney’s convicting article on biblical productivity.

Thus far we have wrestled with the hindrances to biblical productivity (procrastination, laziness, and the tendencies of the sluggard). Now we get to consider practical helps toward the end of becoming more diligent, faithful, and fruitful in our lives and ministries.

Mahaney prescribes three things to achieve biblical productivity:

  1. define one’s present God-given roles
  2. determine specific, theologically informed goals
  3. transfer goals into one’s schedule

This means planning. Some of us would rather stick a fork in our eye than do any kind of planning, but Mahaney insists on the absolute necessity of this discipline if we are to be productive.

The problem for those of us with this fork-in-the-eye approach to planning is that during each day the most urgent requests will compete with and distract from the most important goals and priorities of our lives. Each day the number of requests we receive normally outnumber the time allotted for the day. My experience confirms that if I fail to attack my week with theologically informed planning, my week attacks me with an onslaught of the urgent. And I end up devoting more time to the urgent than the important. And at the end of the week there is a low-grade guilt and dissatisfaction in my soul, because I’ve neglected to do the truly important stuff. I want to have as few weeks like this as possible in whatever time remains for me to serve the Savior. I’m thinking you do as well.

I do indeed. Do you? Stay tuned for more, or better yet, read the article for yourself!

An Expanded Definition of Laziness

Tomorrow morning following intercession our staff and weekly prayer group will gather around the breakfast table and discuss, among other things, our ongoing reactions to C. J. Mahaney’s provocative article on biblical productivity.

For this week I assigned sections five through seven of the article for our consideration. I found the content on the neglected wealth of Proverbs, particularly as it applied to the repeated subject of the sluggard, especially convicting.

Mahaney attributes his reading of Dr. Derek Kidner’s commentary on Proverbs to contributing to what he calls movement from a narrow and limited understanding of laziness to an expanded definition of the subject.

Here are the words from Dr. Kidner’s commentary that did the trick:

“The sluggard in Proverbs is a figure of tragi-comedy, with his sheer animal laziness (he is more than anchored to his bed: he is hinged to it, 26:14), his preposterous excuses (“there is a lion outside!” 26:13; 22:13) and his final helplessness.

(1) He will not begin things. When we ask him (6:9, 10) “How long…?” “When…?”, we are being too definite for him. He doesn’t know. All he knows is his delicious drowsiness; all he asks is a little respite: “a little…a little…a little…”. He does not commit himself to a refusal, but deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders. So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.

(2) He will not finish things. The rare effort of beginning has been too much; the impulse dies. So his quarry goes bad on him (12:27) and his meal goes cold on him (19:24; 26:15).

(3) He will not face things.
He comes to believe his own excuses (perhaps there is a lion out there, 22:13), and to rationalize his laziness; for he is “wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (26:16). Because he makes a habit of the soft choice (he “will not plow by reason of the cold,” 20:4) his character suffers as much as his business, so that he is implied in 15:19 to be fundamentally dishonest…

(4) Consequently he is restless (13:4; 21:25, 26) with unsatisfied desire; helpless in face of the tangle of his affairs, which are like a “hedge of thorns” (15:19); and useless—expensively (18:9) and exasperatingly (10:26)—to any who must employ him…

The wise man will learn while there is time. He knows that the sluggard is no freak, but, as often as not, an ordinary man who has made too many excuses, too many refusals and too many postponements. It has all been as imperceptible, and as pleasant, as falling asleep.”

-Derek Kidner, Proverbs (IVP, 1964), pp. 42–43.

Anyone care for another muffin?

Busy But Lazy

Our staff and prayer group partners begin tomorrow morning to work through an excellent article by C. J. Mahaney entitled Biblical Productivity.

The author hits hard right out of the chute with his own personal realization at some point in his journey that just how often my busyness was an expression of laziness, not diligence.

That struck me as a most provocative notion. It also intrigued me as I qualify, I think, as a pretty busy person. It also scared me as I began reading knowing that the article would shine the light on my habits of schedule and work and perhaps reveal that I too might fall into the category of a hectic sluggard. Not a pleasant prospect.

Mahaney takes aim at sins of procrastination in this thoughtful, biblical, and practical article. He challenges the reader to examine the sins (pride, fear of others, laziness, pleasure seeking and escapism) that potentially lie behind not just being a procrastinator but also a work-around-er. That is to say we might actually buzz diligently around a room or office doing this or that, while the one thing most needing to be done sits unheeded in the middle of it. Underneath procrastination, says Mahaney, more than likely lies a sinful heart, not so much a busy schedule. Convicting stuff.

To make war on these sins, among other things, Mahaney keeps a copy of this quote by the Scottish preacher, Alexander MacLaren (1826–1910) posted under his computer monitor for daily reflection:

No unwelcome tasks become any the less unwelcome by putting them off till tomorrow. It is only when they are behind us and done, that we begin to find that there is a sweetness to be tasted afterwards, and that the remembrance of unwelcome duties unhesitatingly done is welcome and pleasant. Accomplished, they are full of blessing, and there is a smile on their faces as they leave us. Undone, they stand threatening and disturbing our tranquility, and hindering our communion with God. If there be lying before you any bit of work from which you shrink, go straight up to it, and do it at once. The only way to get rid of it is to do it.

I think the first thing I will do when I get into the office tomorrow morning is print out my own copy of this quote and post it at my work station. How about you?