A couple weeks ago, I departed from this blog’s usual focus of applying the academic discipline of biblical studies to the church. Instead, I posted devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 4, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. I pray they will be an encouragement and guide in our current circumstances.
We are in deep do do.
Why do we do what we do? There are some conscious and some not-so-conscious reasons for our choices. The next few chapters look at many of the forces behind what we do. No matter the elements involved in our choice of what to do, the goal of a Christian life is to do everything from God’s guidance. Choosing what to do out of a relationship with God may sound difficult and a bit restrictive, but the Bible promises great rewards for following God in our actions. We are promised intimacy with God, deeper meaning to life, power, and inner peace.
God actually wants what is best for us and He desires to bless us by fulfilling His promises to His followers. We can’t follow God’s voice into these blessings if we aren’t listening. This deafness is why God gives “time outs.” We are busy and the activity is distracting us because our choices are coming from a source other than God. We are choosing to do many things for many reasons but none of this activity is from the Father’s instruction. God gives us a time out so that we can hear His voice once again and our actions can spring from an interaction with God. Wouldn’t it be great if all the things we did actually drew us closer to God instead of distracting us from Him? God wants you and me to experience this blessing.
The next chapters will look at the many reasons why we do what we do, why we end up getting into deep “do-do”, and why so many are hearing impaired and need a time out.
Giving You Your Do.
We live in a culture of doers. Where I live in the Northeast when asked, “How are you doing?” a common response is, “Keeping busy.” The assumption is that this person is well because to be busy is what life is about. Most people turn on the radio the moment they get in the car, or turn on the television as soon as they get home. There must be stimuli, something to busy the airwaves around them. Being entertained is one way of keeping busy. When we listen to the radio, watch television, see a movie, play video games, watch sports, we are being entertained, also known as “keeping busy.” The entertainment industry is huge because our need to be busy with stimuli is huge. In our culture, being entertained qualifies as doing something positive. If someone is asked what they did on Sunday afternoon and the response is, “Watched the football game,” that person will get no strange or quizzical looks from anybody. If that same person answers, “I sat by the river and watched the water,” that person will get a few raised eyebrows and the title “Weirdo.” Is a watcher of pigskin doing any more than a watcher of water? We live in a culture of doers but we aren’t driven to do everything, just those things that society holds in highest regard. Whatever we choose to do, if it is held in regard, we let people know. There are bumper stickers, T-shirts, throw rugs, and hats proclaiming that we go fishing or play golf more than we talk to our wives. In a culture of doers what you do is almost (but not quite) as important as how busy you are.
The importance we place on what we do is even more magnified when considering our occupation. Who hasn’t met new people and within five minutes someone asks, “What do you do?” It is one of the first questions new acquaintances ask one another because of the importance our culture places on what we do, especially for a “living.” In other cultures, your family background is inquired about first. Have you ever been asked, “So, what’s your lineage?” I haven’t, but I know I have been asked countless times, “What do you do?”
When you are in a time out you aren’t doing much of anything according to this world’s values. You may not even know where you are going next. You have no answer to the question, “What do you do?” You can’t even say, “Well, I am preparing to switch gears and go into . . .” I remember in my first time out, when I dropped out of college for a while, old friends would ask, “So what are you doing?” I would say, “I’m just reading my Bible, trying to discern what God would have me do next.” What they would hear, “I am doing nothing.” In our culture, reading the Bible and tuning into God’s voice doesn’t qualify as doing something. Even in many Christian sub-cultures it doesn’t qualify as a positive endeavor. Nevertheless, when we are in a time out and we are trying to tune into the voice of God, we are engaged in an activity that is life transforming and eternally meaningful.
In another time out I was kept from doing formal ministry or holding any secular employment and when people asked me what I did, I would say, “I watch my kids during the day.” What people actually heard, “I am doing nothing.” Although this has changed a lot over recent years, raising kids as your sole occupation doesn’t actually count as doing something – especially if you are male. Sometimes I told people about my last ministry because I didn’t want to be judged as not doing anything by our culture’s standards. Deep in my heart I had not accepted the fact that my relationship with God and following His will were my most important tasks. During that particular time out, God wanted me to take care of my children and take care of my relationship with Him. I needed to learn that no matter what stimuli this world dubs as valuable, no matter what tasks vie for my attention, the most important task before me is to listen to my Father’s voice. If I can’t listen on my own, for my well being, He will give me a time out to cultivate the relationship.
Why do we choose to do what we do? Do our choices spring from our relationship with God and His values – or from the values of our culture? Why do we believe the hype that we must always be busy doing certain activities? As Christians, we say that our beliefs come from the Bible, but what we choose to do on a daily basis seems to come more from our culture. What we do minute by minute and our goals for the day, these are given to us. We are given our “do” by the voice of society. Will we accept the hype? If enough people start doing or endorsing something then our minds tell us that the thing has to be of some value and we want to do it so that we will be valued too. The problem is that very few things live up to their billing. We go through life thinking we need to have a certain occupation or to be entertained a certain way. When we finally have what we seek, and it doesn’t satisfy, we move on to another set of promises. We get in a rat race of believing the hype and when that thing doesn’t satisfy we try something else, whatever society is currently endorsing. Worse yet, we settle for the temporary, tiny pleasures instead of seeking the deep, abiding satisfaction that only God can provide.
My first experience with believing the hype was when I was about nine years old. I was looking through a comic book when there they were – Sea monkeys.
The picture was actually a drawing of a father, mother, and two kid sea monkeys. They were pink with webbed hands and feet and they looked much like people but with knobby antennae on their heads instead of hair. I imagined having a fish tank in my room with this charming little sea monkey family living in it. Every day I could check on their well-being. I imagined that these little sea monkeys, while not as intelligent as people, would communicate in their own charming way.
I eagerly sent away for the sea monkeys using my saved up allowance. I checked the mail every day as I waited for my sea monkey family to arrive. Finally, after a couple of weeks, they arrived! I poured the little packet of eggs into the water and followed the other directions. In a week or so, the instructions said that my sea monkeys would hatch. Sure enough, in about a week I started seeing some movement. The “monkeys” were so tiny that they looked like little water fleas. I reasoned that they would soon grow and that this strange look was just a stage in their development. Another week went by, and then another, and instead of changing into something that looked more like a monkey, one by one they died – all of them.
My father explained to me that those little creatures were brine shrimp, tiny ocean creatures that look like water fleas. I exclaimed, “But what about the picture in the magazine? The picture showed the little house that they would build to live in! I thought they looked like humans!” My father said, “We tried to tell you. When people are trying to sell you something, it is usually not as good as it seems.”
I felt so cheated. What bothered me wasn’t the saved up allowance. My disappointment came from putting my hope in hype. The hype didn’t deliver any satisfaction and the hype lasted only a week and then died.
My father was wise to the hype and tried to share his wisdom about the sea monkeys. I didn’t listen. How could so many satisfied customers, as the advertisement said, be wrong? The hype of doing something valuable by people’s standards trumped the value of hearing the wisdom of my father’s voice. Our society is trying to gives us our “do.” Will we believe the hype and “do the do” or will we tune into the wise voice of our heavenly Father?
While American culture promotes keeping busy, there are threads of wisdom woven into the fabric of our society. While the overarching theme of our culture is to keep busy, there is a sense that this doesn’t always apply in the context of relationships. If you have ever read the personal ads you come across some statements that would seem strange on a bumper sticker or even on television, but are common in the ads. A common statement in the personal ads is, “I enjoy walks on the beach and long talks.” I have never read that on a T-Shirt or bumper sticker – only in the personals. Many people still understand that the key to a relationship is connection and time spent with the loved one. What is done is not important, the connection is.
In Christian speak, we talk about having a “personal relationship” with God or Jesus but our churches seem to follow a task list. There is one list for the church body to perform together and one list that you should do independently. The lists have tasks such as: buy new pews, organize a revival meeting, set up for the missions council and summer camp, or have good attendance at the weekly pot luck. As Christians, and as the church, we often do things in the same manner and with the same value system as the prevailing culture. Instead of God giving us our “do,” the surrounding culture gives us our to do list. We are good at organizing and getting things done. Long talks and walks on the beach don’t get things done, so we focus on the tasks.
Many people forget how they fell in love with their spouse. Long talks and holding hands on the beach gives way to getting things done, things like: doing over the kitchen, achieving financial stability . . . keeping busy. Our churches, and many people in them, perform many tasks but have forgotten how they fell in love with God. In Revelation, Jesus addresses the church at Ephesus in this way,
“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:2-5)
Just like the church in Ephesus, we may be great at “toiling”, “not tolerating evil men”, and “putting people who call themselves apostles to the test” and not “growing weary.” But we leave our first love, and the deeds that made us fall in love – holding hands on the beach and long talks with God. We are much like the Ephesian church indeed. But we have a choice. We can repent and return to the deeds that made us fall in love at first. We can make connection to God (with all the long talks, walks, and “time outs” that connection entails) the most important thing that we do.
One reason that the divorce rate in America is so high is couples who started out with the idealism of love and long talks, end up being swept up in the hype to do. Both spouses are supposed to be doing a career, doing a hobby, and doing entertainment. There is no time for long talks. Intimacy is lost and neither can hear what the other person is really saying anymore. Husband and wife just can’t seem to communicate, and they talk in different directions. The relationship fails because they left their first love. The love of connection was usurped by the over-hyped love of doing. This estrangement from one’s first love also happens to the church and those of us in it. Will we return to loving God and doing those things that foster our relationship with Him? Will we take a time out to walk and talk with God?
Questions to Ponder
What tasks are regarded as most important by your upbringing and culture?
In what ways has your culture already affected your choices of what to do in life?
What are some tasks that you consider valuable that your culture does not?
Do you have a “Sea monkey” story? When did you buy into the hype? In what ways do you still believe the hype?
Where do you get your spiritual “to do” list? Where does your church get its spiritual ‘to do” list?
How can you better cultivate your relationship with God? What tasks need to be scrapped? What activities would be helpful?