Spanning more than four months on the blog, C.J.’s 17-part series on biblical productivity has finally concluded. Via email and in personal conversations many of you have requested that the series be provided as a single document to make it easier to print and read. And today we are making this entire series available as a single 36-page document. You can view and download the PDF by clicking here (0.6 MB):
For anyone interested in reading the series online, I’ve included a final series index of the original posts (see below).
Thanks for reading!
- Are You Busy?
- Confessions of a Busy Procrastinator
- The Procrastinator Within
- Just Do It
- In All Thy Ways
- The Sluggard
- Time. Redeemed.
- Roles, Goals, Scheduling
- Roles (Part 1)
- Roles (Part 2)
- Goals (Part 1)
- Goals (Part 2)
- Goals (Part 3)
- Goals (Part 4)
- Scheduling the Unexpected
- The To-Do Lists Are Never Done
As the typical day unfolds, the unexpected expectedly happens. With one eye on the clock and another on our schedule, we can often watch our planning derail throughout the day. And as I realize my plans for the day will not be flawlessly executed, my soul has a tendency to be weighed down by accumulating cares. But rather than humbling myself as I should, I find myself vulnerable to self-sufficiency, at risk of relying upon my limited strength and wisdom. This is pride.
If we are not watchful, our burdens will subtly accumulate over time, and will gradually weigh down our soul. But it doesn’t need to be this way. There is a biblical alternative.
Casting Pride and Casting Cares
Scripture calls us to cast all our anxieties on God, because he cares for us.
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6–7, ESV)
Casting all my cares upon the Lord is a means of humbling myself before the Lord. In reading these passages we discover that casting our cares upon the Lord falls under the command to humble ourselves. Casting our cares is an expression of humility. When I fail to cast my cares upon him, I display prideful self-sufficiency.
A Few Words of Prayer
As I make my way from meeting to meeting, decision to decision, and phone call to phone call, I find the counsel of Charles Spurgeon very helpful. “I always feel it well,” he wrote, “to put a few words of prayer between everything I do.” Throughout his busy days, Spurgeon scattered words of prayer between each activity, a model I have sought to emulate over the years.
The content of my “few words of prayer” is not unique and if you overheard them, you wouldn’t be impressed. I am a simple man and when I think of casting all my cares it is a simple acknowledgement of my dependence upon God and my need of grace throughout the day.
But the very act of pausing in a busy day to pray is an act of weakening pride in my life, acknowledging that I am a dependent creature. I am not self-sufficient.
And taking a brief moment to humble myself in prayer makes all the difference in my soul throughout the day.
At its root, weariness is often the result of pride and self-sufficiency in my life. When I neglect casting my cares upon the Lord, the heavy fatigue of weariness will settle into my soul.
Casting our cares upon the Lord and humbling ourselves before him are critical activities, regardless of how busy we are. And this practice cannot be replaced by hours of careful planning and scheduling.
How about you? Do you follow the practice of Spurgeon and “put a few words of prayer” between everything you do throughout each day? Are you casting cares or accumulating burdens? Are you humbling yourself before the Lord or displaying self-sufficiency?
Biblical Productivity: This post is likely the final in C.J.’s series. For a complete index of the series posts click here. A printable PDF of the entire series is forthcoming.
Only God gets his to-do list done each day.
This simple sentence informs how I begin my day, what I expect to accomplish during the day, and how I close each day.
When I step out of my office and turn the light off at the end of my day, and the list of to-dos is incomplete, I say to my secretary, “Nora, we will try again tomorrow.” This brief statement is an acknowledgment of my limitations, and is my way of saying that—once again—I didn’t get everything done. It’s a moment for me to cultivate humility.
No matter how much planning, scheduling, and discipline is present in my life, I will never completely redeem the time. I am a finite creature, limited in what I can accomplish, and further limited by my sin. So it should surprise nobody that I leave to-dos undone each and every day.
My joy is not derived from the flawless execution of my goals. My joy each day is derived from the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Only God gets his to-do list done each day. I need the cross of Christ each day.
Readers who have followed our series on biblical productivity (planning, prioritizing, and scheduling) and who may not be completely tracking with us, thinking that my approach requires too much work, too much of your time, and squeezes out all the spontaneity from life—have I got an alternative approach for you!
Meet my good friend David Powlison. Today in the third part of my interview with the biblical counselor and author, you will see that David sometimes chooses to “waste” time as a way of increasing productivity! David explains why.
David, what single bit of counsel has made the most significant difference in your effective use of time?
Effective is not the same as efficient. Productive is not the same as mass-production.
I’ll give a bit fuller answer here, as I think my response is likely a bit unusual. I’ve had to learn how I work best, and it’s not the cultural ideal of tightly scheduled efficiency. For me, effective and productive often operate in ways that seem quite “inefficient.” I’m more “third-world” in my use of time: event-oriented and person-oriented, rather than time-conscious and to-do-list-conscious. I operate with an inner gyroscope tuned to whether or not any particular experience or interaction is complete – not to how long it takes or whether it fits the schedule. I’m attuned to whether or not any particular thought is actually finished thinking, rather than whether the product is done on time. So I tend to take the time it takes to get something right—whether that “something” is the close attentiveness of getting fully engaged in this conversation of consequence, or how to craft this sentence and paragraph, or whether I’m stopping and actually noticing the hawk flying overhead right now.
My way of working—of living—means that I’m not very “efficient” in my use of time because I tend to take the time. I am the world’s worst when it comes to multi-tasking and to checking off to-do list items. It can be a fault for which I must repent; it’s my greatest strength, because I’m fully engaged. I usually forget the clock and the list when I’m working best because I become absorbed in free-form exploration and in qualitative aspects of work-in-progress. We seek to compensate for the shortcomings in my way of operating by getting support from more organized and efficient people who can field incoming requests and help me prioritize.
I admire people who seem able to use every moment productively. But I’ve found that I simply do not work well that way. A certain kind of “wasting time” has proven to be absolutely essential to my fruitfulness. (I’m not recommending my way to others, but simply describing what I’ve learned about how I work. Perhaps some readers also work this way, and can find freedom from trying to live up to an ideal—the so-called “Protestant ethic”—that ill suits how God has made them to function.)
Here’s an example. One time I was bogged down and frustrated on a major article that was already past due. Over previous days and weeks I’d been continually interrupted by other urgent necessities. I took a three day writing retreat, seeking to escape the clutter so that I could work on it undistracted. But I completely “wasted” the first day, taking a long walk, then reading a novel, and making a particularly interesting dinner. I completely “wasted” the second day, taking another long walk, and writing a long poem, and getting to know the director of the retreat center. I didn’t think about my article at all during those long walks or that talking. The novel I read was a good one—full of the rich complexity of people. The poem was as full as I could make it of candor and perception and beauty and faith and sorrow and joy. I pondered trees (the first pale green leaves of spring were showing). I watched and listened long to the flow and sound of a stream. I thought about Jesus and how to express what he means to me. Oh yes, on the third day I wrote the entire article in a white heat. I junked almost all of my earlier outlines and drafts. The article took a direction and a form I could never have imagined.
How should I think about those three days of “work”? Were the first two meandering, unplanned days actually wasted? If mass productivity is the chief end, my mastering goal and purpose, then it was mere squandering. I might have written three articles during those three days, if only I were more disciplined and on task. Or I might have at least read some more prosaic, informational books and other articles that were on topic for what I needed to accomplish. Maybe. Probably not. I think I needed the walks, and the novel, and the poem, and the talking, and a certain kind of wasting time. My article needed the walks, the novel, the poem, the talking: the fallow time. It came out better, clearer, surprising even me with where it went and how it got there. It came out more beautiful, as if fresh air came pouring in through an open window.
Again, I’m not recommending this, and it wouldn’t suit many callings and job descriptions. But I’ve learned that this is how I work and work best. Our dominant cultural ideal is that of the busy, efficient executive who is always on task and getting projects done. But that doesn’t fit the neighborly housewife who takes time for relationships and helping in the need of the moment, or the artist who takes the time for trial and error and experimentation, crafting and recrafting. I operate more like a neighbor and artist than like an executive.
I take comfort in the oddity of Jesus’ example of time management. He was certainly on task, but his way of going about his calling was to wander around and interact with whoever he happened to run into that day. He engaged whatever happened to be going on in those people’s lives right then. He took “little” people just as seriously as “big” people, and gave himself to both. His work life was more like Francis of Assisi than like a life structured around the Blackberry, strategic plan, project list, and meeting schedule. God’s kingdom embraces and uses many kinds of people, and we don’t all operate the same way.
Nope, we certainly don’t! At least I don’t. If I were to “waste” my first two retreat days, I can assure you that they would NOT be followed by a third day of creativity and productivity. My third day would be the same as the first two—wasted. And my retreat would be a total waste of time. But approaches to planning, scheduling, and working are not one-size-fits-all and I am amused by your unique approach, David! You are obviously gifted in ways that I am not. And I think your approach works only for the unusually gifted (and not for ordinary guys like me).
Join me next time for the fourth and final part of my interview with David.
After a short break, today we return to the biblical productivity series.
In the previous post in this series, I explained the personal goals that flow from my most important relationship: my relationship with God. Because that relationship is a priority, my goal is to practice the spiritual disciplines as a way of communing with God and acknowledging my dependence upon him. This goal shows up in my schedule as I protect my morning devotional time.
Today we begin to explore biblical productivity in my relationships with others, particularly in my roles as husband, father, and grandfather.
Serve and Surprise
As I explained earlier, in my relationships with others I work from two biblical categories. Broadly speaking, my goals are twofold:
- Serve (How can I serve?)
- Surprise (How can I surprise?)
Obviously, I don’t think these are the only categories you may work from, but thinking in terms of serving and surprising has helped clarify my goals and scheduling week after week over the years.
Connect my roles to my goals and you begin to see the basic framework that informs my schedule. If I were to draw this out, it might look something like this (click for larger):
I can hear you asking, But C.J., how do I serve and surprise my wife? How do I serve and surprise my son? What exactly am I to do? Give me specifics.
Actually, at this point the most effective way I can serve you is to not give you specifics on how I serve and surprise my wife, son, and grandchildren. Here’s why: Those you are called to serve and surprise are unique. This means the specific ways you serve and surprise your wife may look very different from the ways I serve and surprise my wife.
Study Your Wife
For example, let’s look at my role as husband to Carolyn. As I plan how to serve and surprise my wife, I think about a number of categories. Here are my two lists. You can probably add to them.
Do you know how to surprise and delight your wife in specific ways in each of these areas?
- clothing sizes, styles, and stores
- books and magazines
- the arts
- places to visit
- intellectual interests
- and, of course, sex
Do you know how your wife is faring in each of these areas?
- practice of the spiritual disciplines
- growth in godliness
- spiritual gifts that can be used to serve others
- involvement in the local church
- relationships with children
- relationships with parents
- relationships with in-laws
- relationships with friends
- personal retreats
Once I have considered these categories, I can put specific ways to serve and surprise my wife on my weekly and monthly schedule.
It’s relatively easy to consider our roles and create goals. The greater challenge is to deliver on our good intentions by transferring those goals to our schedules.
Serving and surprising others requires that we study them carefully, learn their particular needs and interests, and take action based on what we learn. And when we do, our wives and children, and all those we serve, will freshly experience our affection, care, and service.
Want to share a comment or question with C.J.? We invite you to email any suggestions or questions to blog AT sovgracemin DOT org. We cannot promise a personal email response, but we can promise your words will be read and taken into consideration. Thanks for reading! – Tony Reinke
Biblical Productivity: This post is part of a longer series. Find the complete index of posts here.
Meet J. Ligon Duncan III.
You guessed it, Dr. Duncan is also scary smart—a graduate of Furman University, Covenant Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and the University of Edinburgh (Ph.D.).
Since 1996 Ligon has served as the Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. He is also a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS-Jackson). Dr. Duncan is a one-man seminary, having taught courses on patristics, systematic theology, ethics, apologetics, history of philosophy and Christian thought, covenant theology, evangelism, and the theology of the Westminster Standards.
Dr. Duncan is the President and Chairman of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, the Chairman of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, has previously served as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCA, serves on the council of the Gospel Coalition, and is one of four friends who host Together for the Gospel.
But you probably know all this already.
So who is Ligon Duncan? During his ministry, what advice has informed his leadership? Which contemporary preachers does he learn from? What discourages him? How much weight is he trying to lose? If he were to lose the weight, what kind of mad hoops skilz would he display?
These and many other things we will discover in my three-part interview with my good friend J. Ligon Duncan number 3.
Ligon, please describe your morning devotions. What time do you wake up in the morning? How much time do you spend reading, meditating, praying, etc.? What are you presently reading?
I usually wake up between 5-6:15 a.m., depending on the day. I typically do my devotions at the church, since I spend almost my entire time at home in the mornings helping to get the kids ready for and to school. I do have a home office (in addition to my study at the church) and I often do devotional reading there in the mornings (but not for very long) and more often in the evenings.
At present I am reading through 1 Chronicles, both the text and the notes, in the ESV Study Bible. I was going to do one of the ESV read through the Bible in a year plans, but the Chronicles readings at the first of the year captivated me, and I wanted an excuse to read through all the ESV Study Bible notes on that book, and I was enjoying Chronicles so much and desired to know it better that I decided to luxuriate in it.
I probably read fifteen minutes or so. Prayer time is distributed throughout the day, and I haven’t tried to quantify it, so I really don’t know. I carry a prayer list in my Bible and on MS Outlook on my Blackberry and iPhone. I also set aside a special prayer time, early on every Lord’s Day morning, to pray for the ministry of a handful of other pastors.
What book(s) are you currently reading in these three categories: (a) for your soul, (b) for pastoral ministry, or (c) for personal enjoyment?
I am not this well-organized! I don’t have my reading apportioned in three such good categories (but I’m not at all surprised that C.J. Mahaney thinks in these terms!). My categories are less sophisticated: what I have to read and what I want to read. Now, of course, I love to read what I have to read (most of the time), but I don’t always have to read what I want to read, so maybe these categories make sense.
Under the have to read category, (1) I am reading 15-20 commentaries at any given time, depending on what book of the Bible I am preaching through. So, currently I am reading through Luke commentaries (including Phil Ryken’s unpublished manuscript, Wilcock, Hendriksen, Geldenhuys, Ryle, Bock, Calvin, Marshall, Morris, etc). (2) Another major area under the have to read category is related to whatever courses I am teaching at that time. Right now, I am teaching covenant theology at RTS Jackson, and teaching a survey of the Westminster Confession of Faith, so I’m spending some time reading things related to covenant theology and reading commentaries on the Confession too (e.g. Hodge, Shaw, Ward, Warfield, etc). (3) The third area under the have to read category is manuscripts that I am to endorse or review (e.g., I’ve recently read Cornelis Venema’s critique of paedocommunion “Children at the Lord’s Table?” and Todd Rester’s translation of William Ames “Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism”). Or secondary literature related to writing and research projects (e.g., recently did a literature survey of every book and article written on covenant theology since 1985).
Under the want to read category, which sort of corresponds to your “personal enjoyment” category, I am an avid reader of book catalogs and a fervent frequenter of bookstores. So I’m on the hunt for new stuff all the time. I also am usually pulling recommendations from people like Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Derek Thomas, Russell Moore et al. I especially love history and great literature. At present I am reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Join us next time for the second part of my interview with Dr. Duncan.
Meet John Piper.
Dr. Piper is a graduate of Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.), and the University of Munich (D.theol.).
Dr. Piper is the Pastor for Preaching & Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church
in Minneapolis, the founder of Desiring God
, and the author of more than 30 books including:
But you probably know all this already.
So who is John Piper? What does he read for fun? What discourages him? How does he structure his devotional time? What correction from others has most benefited him? What career path would he have chosen if not ministry?
Thanks for your time, John! Please describe your morning devotions. What time do you wake up in the morning? How much time do you spend reading, meditating, praying, etc.? What are you presently reading?
I get up two mornings at 5:15, four mornings at 6:15 and one morning at 6:00.
I set aside one hour for prayer and Bible reading using the Discipleship Journal read through the Bible reading plan
. That puts me now (February 2009) in Exodus, Psalms, Matthew, and Acts. On the five free days when there are no assignments I focus on memorization.
What book(s) are you currently reading in these three categories: (a) for your soul, (b) for pastoral ministry, or (c) for personal enjoyment?
I am reading Team of Rivals
about Abraham Lincoln, Gilead
by Marilyn Robinson, Pilgrim’s Progress
, Culture Making
by Andy Crouch, and Reformed Is Not Enough
by Doug Wilson.
Apart from Scripture, what book do you most frequently re-read and why?
I don’t re-read books, except to read them to my family (like Pilgrim’s Progress
When you finish a book, what system have you developed in order to remember and reference that book in the future?
I index books as I read them, by writing short notes in the front of the book with page numbers beside them. In a good book there may be over a hundred such notes.
If you could study under any theologian in church history (excluding those men in Scripture), who would it be and why?
Jonathan Edwards because he saw the grandeur of God and experienced a great awakening and ran a happy family.
What single piece of counsel (or constructive criticism) has most improved your preaching?
Don’t preach in a way that a Muslim would approve. Preach a divine crucified Christ.
What books on preaching, or examples of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students
; Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers
; John Stott, Between Two Worlds
; Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture
What single bit of counsel has made the most significant difference in your effective use of time?
A great tree will fall with many small chops. Pray for daily grace to keep chopping.
What single bit of counsel has made the most significant difference in your leadership?
Lead by helping people see the same truth in the Bible you do so that commonly perceived truth is the fabric that binds together. When truth is not the bond, power moves are inevitable.
Where in ministry are you most regularly tempted to discouragement?
My own recurrent sins are the most discouraging thing in ministry. Next are the sins and sorrows of my family.
Do you exercise? If so, what do you do? If not, why not? (Please be specific.)
I run on the treadmill 30 minutes Monday, Wednesday and Saturday morning followed by a set of back lifts with a Swiss ball, stomach crunches with the ball, and pushups on the floor. I almost always walk to church instead of driving, 600 paces from door to door.
Currently, what sport do you like to play and/or watch?
I enjoy watching gymnastics, soccer, basketball, and football, in that order. If my back weren’t so stiff I would love to play racquetball. When our staff goes away we play volleyball and floor hockey.
What do you do for leisure?
Fill out forms from fellow pastors. Play scrabble with Noël. Read.
If you were not in ministry, what occupational path would you have chosen?
Teaching literature. Or, if my hands stopped shaking, medicine.
This series is becoming increasingly practice oriented. As it does, I think it is important to note that my approach is merely a recommendation, one recommendation among so many available today.
It’s not important that you emulate my approach, but you do need some theologically informed approach to time management, a custom-designed approach that incorporates your particular roles and goals into your weekly or monthly schedule.
So let me explain how the specific goals work in relation to each of my five specific roles.
1. My Goals as a Christian
If you are a Christian, you have personally experienced God’s saving act of love. And no other role is more crucial or central than that of “Christian.”
Yet I suspect the role of “Christian” is also the one we’re most likely to assume when we write our schedules. But the relationship with God we’ve been given as a result of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ for our sin should be our highest priority.
I find it useful to identify two specific goals. As a Christian, my goals are:
- Communion with God.
- Participation in the local church.
Communion with God. It’s possible to view our practice of the spiritual disciplines (study of Scripture, prayer, etc.) as optional additions to our routine when time allows, rather than goals derived from our primary role (Christians). Our communion with God can often remain a vague “should do” in our minds that—if we’re honest with ourselves—often takes less of a priority in our schedules than that important Wednesday lunch meeting with a colleague.
The consequence of neglecting a personal goal is nowhere more serious than when we neglect God and neglect our own souls. Scripture sternly cautions us to enforce all diligence over our hearts: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV). We must study our hearts. We must monitor the condition of our hearts. We must work by the grace of God to employ the spiritual disciplines to keep our hearts with all vigilance.
And ultimately we must look outward and upward, surveying the wondrous cross and the Savior who died there for us. The Father’s wrath against all our sins has been satisfied. We must never lose sight of Calvary. And the spiritual disciplines help us daily focus our gaze on the Savior.
So we should be careful that this primary role is reflected in our schedules.
In carving out 45–60 minutes of time in the morning, I am seeking to:
- Acknowledge my dependence upon God, affirm my intention to trust in him, and voice skepticism of my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5–6).
- Slowly enter the day, careful to begin with a divine perspective.
- Preach the gospel to myself.
- Get my soul happy before God by meditating on Scripture (a practice I learned from the writings of George Mueller).
Participation in the local church. As those who have been forever changed by the gospel, we have the privilege and joy of serving in the local church.
When we consider how to apply this goal to our schedules, we can ask ourselves three simple questions.
- When and how am I intentionally serving those around me? this year? this week?
- When and how do I care specifically for those closest to me in the church? this year? this week? (For some of you, this will consist of serving those in your small group.)
- When and how do I pray for and support my pastor? this year? this week?
These are questions that flow directly from my goal.
In the coming posts I’ll focus on my personal goals derived from my roles as husband, father, grandfather, and ministry leader.
Want to share your own personal list of roles and goals with C.J.? We invite you to email your list, and any suggestions or questions, via email (blog AT sovgracemin DOT org). We cannot promise a personal email response, but we can promise your words will be read and taken into consideration. Thanks for reading! – Tony Reinke
Biblical Productivity: This post is part of a longer series. Find the complete index of series posts here.
January 6, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Schedule | Time Management
For several weeks on this blog we have been considering the topic of biblical productivity. We started by understanding how Scripture defines procrastination. Then we transitioned to a discussion about roles, goals, and scheduling. In the previous two posts we talked about roles. Today we begin looking at the topic of goals.
With each of our God-assigned roles, God assigns us specific goals. Open your Bible and begin reading and within a few pages you will discover the genesis of this role-goal connection.
In those first few pages, we read that God reached down and formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils, and that lifeless form came to life. Adam—the first man—was “born.”
In the creation account, God wasted little time in assigning Adam specific roles and goals: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
If we fast-forward into the next chapter, we zoom into a specific situation: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). For simplicity, I’ll give Adam the title of “Chief Gardener.”
Adam was to “work” and “keep” the garden. We can imagine the Chief Gardener walking peacefully through the lush paradise, making certain everything was properly cultivated and protected. Not a bad gig in the pre-thorn era.
If we look in on Adam’s role in the garden, his profile may look something like this:
: Chief Gardener
: To subdue the earth (specifically in the garden).
: We don’t know what Adam’s daily routine looked like—he didn’t have a day planner—but we can assume it was filled with specific duties of “working,” or serving, and “keeping,” or protecting, the garden.
We can only speculate about the specific duties Adam was assigned in the garden. What’s important is that we see that from the very beginning, before sin entered the garden, there seems to be a connection between Adam’s roles
and his goals
. Those goals, in turn, would have directed his daily activities—which we’re calling his schedule
Twentieth-century Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, as he reflected on Adam’s position in the garden, captures the priority of goals (in relation to roles) when he writes:
Work cannot have its end and final purpose in itself but always has as its further objective to bring something into being. It ceases when that objective has been reached. To work, simply to work, without deliberation, plan, or purpose, is to work hopelessly and is unworthy of rational man. 
God assigns specific roles for the purpose of achieving specific goals. It may seem obvious, but if we are not clear on this role-goal connection, we are likely to fill our schedules—or find our schedules filled—by everything but the truly important.
God has called me to my specific role because he intends that I achieve a specific goal. I do this through specific tasks, reflected in my schedule.
A second example will help us more fully develop a biblical picture of goals.
Acts describes the spread of the gospel and the growth of the first-century church. Churches were planted, leadership structures were formed, and communities of believers were established. With the increasing numbers added to the church came increasing personal and practical needs.
In Acts 6 we read about one specific challenge faced by the Apostles, requiring them to revisit their roles and goals:
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (vv. 1–4)
Notice the looming mercy ministry challenge faced by the growing church: How do we feed all the hungry widows? Obviously, the hungry widows posed a critical—and very legitimate—need that required a timely response from the church leaders.
But the food would not come from the hands of the Apostles.
Notice the profiles that emerge in this passage of the two separate groups:
: Proclaim the gospel, plant and build churches
: Pray, prepare sermons, preach, and build
: Preserve the goals of the Apostles by feeding the widows
: Daily coordination of food distribution
The roles-goals principle was alive and at work in first-century Jerusalem. The Apostles were called by God for the specific goal of preaching the Word and prayer. They were not
called to serve food to the widows. To do so would have moved them outside their specific roles and goals.
Simultaneously, seven servant-leaders in the church were identified and positioned to serve the needs of the hungry widows.
We can imagine the compassionate impulse in the heart of the Apostles to take up the needs of the widows as their own personal goal. But that would be inconsistent with their roles.
Both of these Scriptural accounts, one describing Adam’s pre-sin vocation and the other describing first-century church leadership, remind us that roles have purpose. Our specific roles are reminders—divine Post-It notes—that God has called us to fulfill specific goals. So throughout each day I should ask myself, “Is what I’m doing consistent with my God-ordained goals?
Awareness of the roles God has assigned positions us to pursue our goals and to fill a day planner that reflects genuine diligence, faithfulness, and fruitfulness. All to God’s glory.
So how can I identify the specific goals that flow out of my specific roles? That’s for next time.
 Our Reasonable Faith
(Grand Rapids, MI; 1956, Eerdmans) p. 216.
December 18, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
Not long ago I was awake in the middle of the night, reading, and enjoying the silence.
Except I kept hearing a sound.
It sounded like dripping water. But from where?
A short search led me to our main-level bathroom, where the dripping noise was the loudest. Crouching down, I opened the cabinet doors under the sink and discovered a little puddle of water in the cabinet.
The problem was easy to see: The drip was coming from the shut-off valve connecting the main water pipe to the faucet pipe.
A small drip.
A small puddle.
A small problem.
I had two choices: seek help from someone who understands plumbing, or take matters into my own hands and fix the drip myself.
I chose the less wise option.
Equipped with no plumbing knowledge whatsoever, I assumed that turning the shut-off valve would tighten the connection and stop the leak. But as I tried to tighten the valve, it came loose. Powered by the water pressure behind it, the valve was fired past me like a bullet.
Immediately an unstoppable spray drenched my clothes, sprayed through the makeshift stopper of my hand that was clenching the pipe, soaked the bathroom floor, and began to flood the hallway.
The dark, quiet, sleepy household was filled with the loud shouts of a helpless, waterlogged man.
With some help we shut off the water pressure, cleaned up the mess, laughed a lot, and went back to bed. Someone with actual plumbing expertise fixed the problem the next day.
My point is obvious: I am not a plumber. And although sometimes I think I can excel beyond my limited gifting, I cannot. Now that the bathroom has been restored to proper working order, I find great liberation in yet another reminder that I am not called to do everything.
Gene Veith writes, “In our earthly lives, we do not have to do everything. Earthly life—and this is operative with non-believers no less than believers—consists of giving and receiving, serving and being served, in a network of economic and social and personal interdependence” (The Spirituality of the Cross
, p. 76).
Which is to say that God calls us to fulfill specific roles.
What Are My Roles?
It is liberating to know that God has called me to fulfill specific roles. And knowing this can protect me from doing stupid things. But how do I know what God has called me to do?
In the last post we talked about two very helpful questions:
- Where has God placed me?
- Where am I positioned to serve others?
If this all seems illusive to you, it may help to see a list of roles (or vocations). This is hardly a comprehensive list, but in this list perhaps you will better identify specific roles where God has placed you.
- Single man
- Single woman
- Church member
- Ministry leader
- Church planter
- Business owner
- 24-hour emergency plumber
Wonderfully, none of these roles falls outside the scope of God’s calling. By his sovereign grace, he has placed each of us where we presently are. And once we identify these God-given roles, we can begin to think about creating specific goals.
And I think it’s important to note that our specific roles will change over time, so we need to revisit the list (maybe even annually).
So here is where my planning for a particular week begins, not with the schedule, but with considering my God-given roles. If I’m not fulfilling my roles, my goals will be misdirected, and I will be vulnerable to all manner of requests and fail to devote myself to what is most important.
These are the roles assigned to me by the grace of God. I am a…
- Ministry leader
So how has God called you? Take a moment to list God’s callings on your life. Create your own personal list of roles. Writing this list out will increase your awareness of your God-given roles, which will help you prioritize and plan.
As I hope you will discover for yourself in this series, our biblical productivity
depends upon a schedule
, which depends upon clear goals
, which depends upon clearly defined roles
. Working toward clarity on understanding my present roles is my first (and most important) step in developing biblical productivity.
Defining our roles helps to ensure that we are doing stuff that matters each day, knowing we have in some small way advanced the gospel and served others.
It is sweet falling asleep knowing we have redeemed the time.