I ended 2013 the way I have ended the past few years: obsessing over productivity. I found myself frantic to squeeze out a few more hours of “work” time from my schedule, though I didn’t really know where they would come from. I read every blog post and article I’d clipped about scheduling and productivity, seeking some new idea, new technique, new method that I might have missed before. I even sat in church that final weekend of the year praying that God would show me how to tweak my schedule to give me more time to do the thing He’d called me to do.
Meanwhile, I’d started a new Bible reading plan. It landed me in the book of Mark at the end of December. After days of staring at the number of hours in the day and the number of hours of things I needed and wanted to do each week, after that time in church asking God to show me how to make it all fall into place, I read this from Mark 12:
One of the teacher of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Of course I’ve read those words a thousand times, but that morning, I could see the scene, hear the words. And the weight of them brought me to my knees. Why? Because Jesus didn’t say the greatest commandment was to be productive. He said it was to love Him and to love others. Of course I realize that doesn’t mean I need to ignore productivity, but it does mean I need to pay attention to the motivation behind my desire to be productive. And I knew immediately my motivation didn’t stem from a desire to show love to my God. It tended more toward the “offerings and sacrifices” that the man referenced. I don’t want to be that person, more concerned with the outward appearance than the inward motivation.
Interestingly enough, the next day I totaled out what I call my Productivity spreadsheet. Since 2005, I’ve logged my writing activities for each year because, truth be told, I often feel I’m not accomplishing anything, when in reality, I am. When I looked at the numbers on the bottom row, I realized I’d written far more words in 2013 than any other year. I’d read as many books as the past few years. And my other categories (pages edited, pages revised, research, etc.) were not lagging, either. I’d been so frantic over finding more productivity, when in reality, I’d been quite productive!
Still, I came back to Jesus’s words recorded in Mark. My desire to be productive should stem from love for the One who has called me to something that requires my effort. Productivity should be motivated by love, not numbers, not self esteem or self congratulation or anything else. Keeping up with what I do is good, for I need to be reminded what I’ve accomplished over a stretch of time. I just don’t need to make those numbers my focus or my taskmaster.
As we begin 2014, my prayer for all of us is that we will fall more fully in love with Jesus, to the point that it motivates all we do. For when that happens, the Lord is more pleased with us than if we’d created a thousand other “somethings” in His name.