'But godliness with contentment is great gain' 1 Timothy 6:6
'Be still and know that I am God' Psalm 46:10
How do you decide whether a day has been productive? How do you judge whether your efforts to do whatever you have been doing are worthwhile? Is this a question you even ask, or are you so busy with the constant stream of tasks and activities that you don't even have time to stop and reflect?
In my professional life, my work can be measured in terms of grants secured, projects undertaken, results presented, papers published, presentations given and so forth. In clinical work it can be harder to quantify the outputs, but there is a clear task ahead of you, and you can normally be clear when the days' work is over: there are no more patients to see or the shift has ended.
But is the whole of life like that? Can we measure ourselves in terms of outputs, achievements, goals and tasks accomplished? Should we try to? Or do we need to step back and consider the greater picture?
I believe that there is a place for clear goals and targets. As homeschooling parents, we find it of great benefit to follow a schedule and to plan additional activities which complement this. We find it helpful to sit down from time to time and consider the progress and challenges of each individual child. I realise that there are other home educators who don't even find this necessary, and prefer to have a more laid-back, child-led approach. I believe some of this will depend on temperament, on the underlying motivation for home educating and many other factors.
Similarly, in our Christian walk, I do believe we need to take care not to drift. I recently considered parallels between physical training and spiritual discipline. I remember being extremely challenged by a speaker at the Christian Union when I was a student, rebuking us that many of us were doing our subjects to degree level, yet were doing our Bible study at primary school level. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy to, 'Study and do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, who correctly handles the word of truth'.
Goals, targets, aims and structures are not wrong. But I think the problem comes when we define ourselves only in these terms.
How does God see us? Does He see us as machines which undertake a list of tasks, and rebuke us when we do not achieve them all? Does He not see far more than that? As a young Christian, somebody encouraged me to go through the Bible and write down all the statements that spoke of who we are in Christ. It was an amazing exercise, and for several years I had this amazing list of promises and truths pinned to the wall by my bed. I came to realise, for the first time ever, that God's love was unconditional, not dependent on my achievements. I came to more fully (I say 'more fully' as I am not sure whether this side of heaven I will ever grasp it fully) understand the amazing free gift of God's grace. I came to understand that I was not defined in what I achieved or did not achieve, but rather in terms of who I was before God. A much loved child. Accepted, forgiven, adored.
As Christians, it is easy to accept this amazing grace in the early days, but subtly start to add layers of man-made pressures and targets on top of this. Not all these things are wrong - we want to be engaged in gospel work, we want to be helping others understand the truth of God, we want to serve and to encourage. But when these things start to become pressures and to define us, then we have slipped. Paul wrote to the Galatian church, 'You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?' Galatians 3:1-3
At the end of a day, do you define yourself by what you think you have achieved, or what you think you can show for your labours? If you are a parent, you will know that there are days when the house is tidy, there is a delicious meal cooked, and the children have produced some kind of art or craft which shows how hard they have worked (and what a creative person you are). You will also know that there are days when you feel you are going round and round in circles and can't fully get into anything because you need to stop and try to correct the attitude of one or other child. Which is more important? I believe the second has greater lasting benefit, but at the time can feel so thankless. This is one simple example, whereas I am sure you can think of many more!
Similarly, it is an error to think that some tasks bring God more glory than others. Certainly there are things which bring Him less glory, things that are sinful and selfish. But that is not what I refer to. I mean that if our task is to raise our children and look after the home, then all the mundane tasks this involves can be done to God's glory. Brother Lawrence discovered this, as he wrote in 'Practising the Presence of God'. He chose to work in the kitchen rather than do anything more 'spiritual', and learnt to do all for the glory of God. Sometimes the task will be more well-defined and have a clearer outcome; but here our temptation may be to pride, to consider it our own achievement or handiwork.
In work outside the home, there are also tasks that lead to recognition, and others which are done in secret to the glory of God. One could give a well-attended public lecture for an hour, or could spend an hour working one to one with a struggling student. Which is more important? A whole list of tasks could be crossed off, or you could spend extra time encouraging a client who really needs to talk things through. Again, same question?
For me, I need to remember that God loves me for who I am, not for what I do. When there is a quiet moment, it is so tempting to rush on to the next job that could be done, to start organising something, to squeeze in some extra work, to find something clear to do. But there are times when we should simply stop, and reflect on who we are, who God is, and how amazing that relationship is.
This week I choose to remember God's amazing grace and 'be still'.