I have spent the past week sitting in a classroom studying the book of Philippians.
9-5 each day.
Listening to lectures.
Honestly, I didn’t want to take the class.
Not because I hate school or because I hate Philippians or because I’m unaware of what a privilege it is to study, but because I was busy. My blood family is getting ready to close on a house and I am preparing to lead my church family through a season of vision-casting. That’s in addition to the daily, weekly, ongoing process of loving and leading a them both, building relationships in the community, and serving wider, kingdom-focused ministries and purposes as well.
I didn’t want to take the class because I was busy. I didn’t want to take the time “off” from “real ministry” to go sit in class, struggle to recall Greek parsing and syntax rules, and “waste” a week away from the field.
But I was wrong. So wrong.
Far from being a waste of time, the class was a time of rejoicing in the Word and being spiritually refreshed. I am exceedingly grateful for the time spent in Philippians, for a congregation that gave me the time to come, fellow leaders who covered my responsibilities, and a family who sacrifices so I can continue my education. To borrow from Paul, I am rejoicing, and even again, I rejoice!
And to think I didn’t want to go!
Sometimes I think I am too American to be a good Christ-follower. Time and time again, I fall into the trap of equating frenetic activity with kingdom productivity. I measure my worth by the amount of widgets I produce in a given day. I assess ministry by applying measures of productivity borrowed from the heartlessly corporate culture of my country instead of the relationally-focused commands of Christ.
By my culturally default measures, this class came at the worst time. By productivity assessment, I’ve wasted my week. By leadership principles, I’ve squandered the build-up to an important, culture-setting opportunity. By social standards, I’ve unduly stressed my family during a transitional time.
And I couldn’t be happier to have been wrong. Wrong about my feelings before the class, wrong in my cultural evaluation, wrong even about my general approach to ministry.
I have always been a passionate advocate for the centrality of scripture in Christian ministry, but this week I have been reminded of why: because nothing else can ignite the flame of Christian imagination like the fire of God’s Word applied to the Christian mind and heart with joy. I was unaware that in the busyness of life, I had let my fire die down. It wasn’t out, but it was smoldering. I paid lip service to it, structured my sermons with it in mind, but the heat and light were fading.
But this week I have seen again the fire that burned a bush but didn’t consume it, the fire that fell and did consume, not just the bull but the stones and the water as well, fire that flashes in the eyes of a King on a white horse. My petty efforts to produce a spark have been revealed for what they are: infinitesimally small and utterly inadequate.
I didn’t need to be busy: I needed to sit, silently, unproductively, before the Word. I don’t need to be in control: I need to pledge allegiance again and again to Christ, submitting myself to his revelation. I won’t need to worry: I will need to worship the Lord who holds past, present, and future simultaneously.
I didn’t want to come to class before, but afterwards I couldn’t wait to leave. Not because I am ready to get back to being busy, but because now I remember what I should never have forgot: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” I am not called to complete tasks, I am called to be completed by the Word. I am not called to perfect disciples, but to point them to the perfect Word. Leaving class, going back to the real world, is not an opportunity for me to get back to doing stuff, but for me to see again that the Word is doing stuff, in me, in my family, in my church.
I don’t want to ever see time spent digging into the Word as wasted again.
To sit and savor the Scriptures, to dive into its depths and drink deep, to go with God through this incredible revelation of grace…this is not a waste of time. This is the only means by which the dry twigs of my efforts can be ignited into a flame that welcomes all, family, friend, and enemy, to come and be warmed. My effectiveness in ministry, my productivity, are not tied to time-management, but to this alchemical process by which the base metals of my thoughts and emotions are transformed into wealth immeasurable by the Word of God. Only what is transformed by the Word will be worth anything towards transforming the world.
Fellow pastor, fellow Christian, let us not waste time on busyness! Instead, let us learn to sit and eat and savor the Word of God!