Worshiping productivity is wasted effort

When you look at your to-do list and you see all the little check marks beside the tasks you’ve finished, what do you feel? Proud? Accomplished? Relieved? Maybe all of the above.

Being a person who finishes things is a gift. It’s not something that everyone you meet is actually capable of. Finishing things is hard work. It takes time and effort and focus, but once you dot that final i or turn that final page, you have the most tremendous sense of peace. Maybe that’s just me. But until that moment when that project is complete, some part of your brain never shuts up about it.

Being productive is good and important, but productivity is like any other achievement. If you don’t keep it in perspective, it can take over your life.

workaholicToday’s verses are Psalm 127:1-2.

Unless the Lord builds a house,
the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.
It is useless for you to work so hard
from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
for God gives rest to his loved ones.

We can work as hard as we are able to accomplish something great, but if it’s not what God wants you do to, it won’t accomplish anything.

I like the feeling of looking at my list of tasks and seeing all the check marks. I like knowing that I’ve done a lot today. But somehow, the wires in my brain got crossed, and somewhere along the line I started looking at my level of productivity as a measurement of my effectiveness as a Christ-follower.

I don’t know when, but at some point I started judging how good a Christian I was by how much I could accomplish in a day. And there’s only one word for that type of thinking: idolatry. Because my productivity level had become the measuring stick I used to determine if I were good enough. No, not good enough to be saved. But good enough so that people around me wouldn’t be disappointed in me.

On one hand, productivity is a great thing. Being able to get a lot of things done at once is remarkable. Being able to juggle multiple balls at the same time is a skill everyone appreciates. But when you start putting more emphasis on getting things done than doing what God has told you to do, you have a problem.

Ah, but what if the things you’re trying to get done are things God has told you to do? What do you do then?

If you think that God has called you to work from 6 in the morning to 11 at night every day for a month straight with irregular lunch and dinner times (if you eat at all), you need to be sure that’s really what He wants. Because I just did that. And looking back on it now, I can tell you that I’m not sure it was His intention for me to do it at all.

Sure, all of it is great stuff. And God used it in a big way. And it made a lot of people really, really happy. But did I agree to do all of it because He told me to? Or did I agree to do all of it because I wanted to do it? Because I wanted to check things off my list? Because I wanted to feel useful?

Just like with so many other struggles in life, I really think the key is perspective. Productivity isn’t bad. Can you imagine if no one was productive? But productivity shouldn’t be used to shape someone’s identify, and it should never be used to dictate how good (or bad) a Christ-follower you are.

That doesn’t mean Christ-followers are free to shirk responsibility whenever they feel like it, but it does mean that, succeed or fail, God will still love us regardless. I don’t have to finish this project on time to be a good Christian. I don’t have to hit my manuscript deadlines to be a good Christian. I don’t have to do everything everyone asks me to do to be a good Christian.

Don’t base your worth on what you get done today. Don’t judge your effectiveness as a Christ-follower on whether you meet your deadlines. All of those things are what you do—not God. When it comes to your worth, God has already spoken on that note. He gave His most precious blood to pay for you. And as far as your effectiveness? Live how God says to live. Do your best. God does the rest. It has nothing to do with whether or not you put a checkmark on a task list.

Worshiping productivity may make you an extraordinary employee for a while, but when you burn out because you’ve lost your purpose and direction, you won’t do anybody any good while you’re picking up the pieces.

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