Tragic Busyness

The wise Solomon tells us that laziness is tragic (Proverbs 6:9; 12:24; 24:33), but the irony is that some busyness is no less tragic than laziness, as we shall presently learn from the prophetic parable to King Ahab.  In that account, King Benhadad of Syria had been at war with King Ahab of Israel; Benhadad had been thoroughly defeated but got strangely spared by the king of Israel.  God was very displeased with Ahab for sparing whom He had appointed to death, so a prophet was promptly dispatched to the king, with a message on the implications of the unwarranted ‘mercy’ that he had unilaterally shown to the enemy.  The prophet disguised himself to deliver his message as follows:

39 And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver. 

40 And as thy servant was busy here and there, HE WAS GONE. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it (1 Kings 20:39-40).

The soldier in the parable was not an idle soldier.  He was a very active person, busy everywhere, “here and there.”  In the process of being so active, however, he could not also be still – at his post.  He was so busy doing ‘so much’ that he failed to do the one thing that was his primary assignment – watching.  In the process of being “here and there” and everywhere, he was missing from the one place that it mattered most to be at, in that season.  He had not prioritized his activities.  He probably failed to realise that not everything ‘urgent’ was important; that not everything that should be done now can still be done later to the same effect.  He learned sadly that some things cannot be deferred without consequences, especially in the season of war – such as the world is in at this time.

It is possible to get lost in a multitude of activities.  Here-and-there busyness might seem more engaging, more honourable, more ‘international,’ and more distinguishing than being ‘localised’ and sedentary, but the quantity of activities is not Heaven’s ruler for measuring effective and commendable service (Matthew 20:12-13).

Keeping watch on the prisoner of war meant sitting still and just watching that lone prisoner.  Between such an ‘idle’ watcher over one prisoner and another soldier who is everywhere chasing all the enemies, whom would you have honoured?  Certainly, we would have been more disposed to commend the ‘busier’ one, yet, according to this prophetic parable, sometimes we do more sitting down, ‘doing nothing,’ than when we are everywhere doing everything.

Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha.  Mary sat down to listen to Jesus; Martha was busy everywhere with the protocols of hospitality, and was understandably uncomfortable with Mary’s spiritualized ‘laziness.’  When Martha took her case to the Master, His verdict was shocking: the sitting woman had done more preferably than her sister who had been ‘busy here and there’ (Luke 10:38-42).

Sometimes we are proud of being thought ‘very busy,’ but how much of that is productive busyness?  How much of it is pointless activity?  What was God’s sentence against the busy but distracted soldier?

And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people (v.42).

Being busy is good, but busyness can sometimes be a subtle distraction.  Sometimes we get distracted by what is urgent but not important; or what is important to somebody but not important to us.   Being very busy with wrong (but apparently good) things, we have often lost irreplaceable opportunities.  A good task does not mean the right thing for me.  It is helpful always to ask, like Paul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6).

From The Preacher’s diary, 

November 28, 2021. 

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