Time: Take or Make?
Years ago, I served as interim pastor to a large international church in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Among many joys that came with this assignment was the opportunity to meet and become acquainted with my Dutch heritage and extended family. I met my second cousin, Henriette, who is an artist and we spent hours talking about the creative process. One day, while visiting the birthplace of my grandfather, Henriette suggested that we photograph the two of us standing in front of our ancestral home. She said, “Let’s make a picture.”
The phrase “make a picture” struck me. In the United States, we say “let’s take a picture.” In Europe, I learned, people “make” pictures. The difference may say more about us than we would like to admit.
The word “make” is generative and creative, it implies collaboration. When Henriette said, “Let’s make a picture,” she was inviting me to give as well as receive, to join a shared process, co-creating a mutual memory. Making the picture united us in art and action. The photo, like our relationship, became ours, not mine or hers alone.
When you and I say, “Let’s take a picture” we assume we mean the same thing, but I wonder. Take communicates a different sentiment. Take is possessive, implies solitary action, maybe even some coercion or control, not collaboration. Synonyms for take include grab, seize and steal. Think about those family photos that capture people frowning at the lens because they did not want their picture “taken.” When I was a child, I heard missionaries tell stories about native people believing photographs took some spiritual essence from them. Perhaps they were right.
In my last article, we began contrasting busyness with diligence. Busyness is about taking. Diligence is about making.
Paul’s words, “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” invites us into a generative, not possessive process. He describes Jesus who, “though in the very form of God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” It is a call to surrender and commitment to service following the example of Jesus.
Busyness consumes time. I must control my time even if that means forcing my demands on you. Busyness is about tasks and outcomes, not art or beauty. Leaders are to exercise their gift with diligence. The virtue, diligence, is close to mindfulness and stands in contrast to busyness. Diligence begins with the understanding that my thoughts are not Jesus’ thoughts. My time is not his time. My urgency is not his urgency. My values may be very different from the values of Jesus. Thus, diligence invites Jesus’ presence to rewire my mind toward self-emptying love and self-sacrificing service.
So, how does this happen? How do I move from taking to making?
Paul describes mindfulness as a disposition of character, a comprehensive way of thinking, feeling and acting that, like all organic change, usually starts small.
Beginning new each day
Diligence is a daily discipline that makes each day new, without regret for yesterday or worry about tomorrow. “This is the day the Lord has made.” Each morning I begin proclaiming, “Jesus is Lord,” reminding myself that I am not. The Creator’s work is re-creation. My response is to, “rejoice and be glad.” This is often best expressed in song, like my wake alarm that is always set to “Give me Jesus” sung by Fernando Ortega.
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
Give me Jesus
Turning busyness to mindfulness begins with asking God to, “Tune my heart, Lord, to sing thy grace.”
Engaging the work
Praise moves to reverent submission. “Speak, Lord, and teach me to listen.” The day’s first task is not thinking or list-making or planning. The first task is asking and listening for God’s voice, “Today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts.” How quickly my day goes wrong when I wake with worry and fail to ask God’s direction.
Like busyness, diligence may require many hours on difficult tasks. But the metrics are different. My need for accomplishment and control can mistake busyness for diligence. “If I am busy,” Busyness tells me, “than I am productive. So, the busier I am, the more productive I will be.” Track this logic very far and you will soon be slave to the clock, chasing people instead of following Jesus. This road leads to pride, “Look what I’ve accomplished, Lord!” or futility and exhaustion, “There are just not enough hours in the day!” Mindfulness orders the day by Kingdom ideals:
“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
Ending the day
End the day the same way you began, with praise that Jesus is Lord, giving thanks for grace fulfilled and, when needed, humble confession for grace neglected. Ask God’s care and keeping through the night hours that you may wake afresh for a new day.
God invites you to mindfulness, saying, “Let’s make a picture.”
–Jim Van Yperen
1 Corinthians 12
Words to Hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Psalm 95:8; Hebrews 3:15
Jesus is Coming. Look Busy.
Last week, I received an email from an associate, “Hey Jim,” he wrote, “ You’ve been on my mind. Let’s get together.”
It is nice to know people are thinking about you. “Sure,” I responded, “What’s your schedule?”
Two days later I got a return email, not from my friend but from his secretary, asking which of four dates would work for me. Every date was a least two months away.
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “he must be really busy.” Then I began to wonder: would my friend keep me in his thoughts for two months? Or, would he only start minding me again when his daily planner alarm went off? It felt like he had already stopped thinking about me. Maybe he delegated his mind- keeping to his secretary along with the scheduling, “Mary, I’m too busy to think about Jim. Please keep him in mind for me. Once a week should suffice.”
The dictionary defines busyness as the state of having a great deal to do; the quality of being full of activity, of not being idle. However, busyness does not equal productivity. I can be very busy doing very little. But the biggest problem with busyness is that being busy usually results in being too busy to be. Busy people become distant and self-centered. We smile and say, “I’ll be with you in just a minute,” or after, “Just one more thing” but minutes turn to hours and one thing turns to a hundred more.
Busyness is a virus everyone seems is catching, for which no one has a cure. Try, for example, calling a doctor for an appointment.
You: “I’d like to make an appointment.”
Receptionist: “We have an opening on June 22nd. Are afternoons good for you?” You: “But it’s only September. I may not live till July.”
Receptionist: “I understand, but the doctor is very busy.”
Years ago, during a time when prophecy books became popular and many Christians were caught up wishing “we all were ready” for Christ’s return, I found a button with a saying on it that made me laugh. I have kept the button attached to a desk lamp in my office and thought of it while writing this article. The button states boldly: “JESUS IS COMING. LOOK BUSY”
Busyness is a real problem in ministry. Some busyness is due to poor planning or lack of resources. We are overworked and understaffed. Some busyness reflects the inability to set and keep boundaries. We say “yes” when we should say, “no.” Consequently we get overloaded and overwhelmed with “too much muchiness.”1 For some leaders, busyness is a drug to mask deficiency or puff up accomplishment and self-importance. To others, busyness at work offers a kind of freedom, a distraction from thinking deeply or facing reality. “Work will set you free,” was the lie written on the gates to Auschwitz. Jesus said,
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth
will set you free.”2 The truth is that following Jesus cannot be measured in busyness, only mindful
The Apostle Paul calls disciples to transformation by the renewing of our mind. This mindfulness is illustrated with a metaphor of the body. One body has many members with various functions, Paul
writes, and each member belongs to all the others, each exercising different gifts according to the grace
If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with you[ faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it
is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give
generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
Christian leaders are called to a certain kind of Kingdom work, working in a certain kind of Kingdom way. In a word, Christian leadership requires diligence: the virtue of careful work and persistent effort. The
virtue, diligence, stands in contrast to the sin of busyness. Diligence may involve hard work and long
hours, but, like Jesus, you are never too busy to be. Diligence is mindful of others—those around you,
working with you and for you. Such mindfulness does not put on airs.4 Rather, diligence is humble
presence, your presence and the presence of Christ abiding in you.
How would you describe your ministry? Are you too busy? Do you need to be more mindful?
Next month we will explore how diligence does not just happen but is nurtured by mindfulness and
1 To quote the Mad Hatter in Alice in Underland
2 John 8:31-32
3 Romans 12:1-8
4 Romans 12:3