Out of the Slavery of Productivity

These days you may be beginning a Bible reading plan, praying more, eating better, organizing your stuff better, etc. There's something about the turn of the calendar that hastens an impulse within us, to depart from ourselves and be a better self.

For me, it's in January that iPhone apps for productivity suddenly become attractive. One is called "Nirvana" - presumably the feeling I will experience once the app has helped me get everything done. It appeals to that swirl of desires within us, to be at peace; to leave nothing undone before I die; to feel OK in my own skin. Its attraction is the seemingly reasonable antidote it offers: to cure busyness by helping me get everything done. But that "nirvana" is only fleeting - Ecclesiastes calls it "vanity". Go ahead - be successful, get everything done, Ecclesiastes says - just remember that you'll die, too. And you'll come under judgment for what you neglected or pushed aside in the pursuit of efficiency and improvement. So go ahead, get it done, knowing that it really doesn't matter (Eccl. 1:1-11).

The wise prioritize; they take care to pursue what matters: God. "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Eccl. 12:13-14).
Our unresting desire to get everything done belies a deep-seated, remaining fear of death. This fear pushes us into a life of busyness that never stops to ask ourselves if we should even be doing what we're doing. The fruit, sometimes coming too late in life to do anything about it, is futility and exhaustion.

The wise prioritize. How? The writer of Hebrews knew the way: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." Freedom from the slavery of productivity begins, paradoxically, by resting in the one who feared God and kept his commandments perfectly, while in our skin. Jesus is the purpose of Bible reading: not to better yourself, but to know and delight in the one who has done it all for you. From this place of rest, true priorities become clearer. A byproduct is enjoyment, where we once unrestingly sought productivity.