Busy vs. Productive

What does the Bible say?

Woman typing on a a laptop.
Photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

This content is available in Spanish here.

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30) a wealthy man gives his servants money to invest while he returns from a journey. Although two of the servants did as requested, the third didn’t obey the orders and for this, he was punished.

However, in this story, there’s a truth that we often overlook, a truth about productivity. In verse 26 the rich man calls the servant “wicked and lazy”, but was the servant really lazy? Or unproductive?

The Usual Chores

Although the text does not explain to us who these servants were, we know that there must have been a specific responsibility or job assigned to each one. Because they were servants rather than day laborers, we can assume that as soon as they got up in the morning they had a long list of chores to complete.

Now their lord was preparing to take a long trip, leaving them at home, did this mean that they had vacations until their master returned? Of course not, there was no vacation time for a slave; and the daily chores, although perhaps different during the absence of their lord, should continue. After all, his master’s house and property had to be maintained.

This means that when his master called them to give them the money and ask them to do business for him he was adding one more job to the list, not relieving them of their other responsibilities. Now the servants had to fulfill their regular obligations and also find good business opportunities to invest their master’s money.

We also know that the rich man distributed the money according to each one’s capacity, so his idea was not to overwhelm them by giving them a task that they could not fulfill. So, what happened to this servant? Did he decide to take a nap the whole time? Surely not, but he did lose focus.

A man sleeping in a sofa with a book covering his face.
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A Case Study

The most famous example of blur is found in Luke 10:38–42, in the story of Martha and Mary where Marta is busy with many chores while Maria listens to Jesus. Was Mary a lazy woman who took advantage of the Master’s visit to be excused of her chores that day? Surely not, but she knew how to recognize that the Master was the priority at that time. Jesus would not be at home every day. The chores, on the other hand, would never end.

Although it was important to do the household chores (good stewardship), that day Jesus had the priority, the chores would be done later. Mary knew understood the principle of productivity: being busy is not the same as being productive.

The Bible does not tell us to be busy, on the contrary, it asks us not to worry or be anxious. However, it does tell us on several occasions to be productive or be fruitful. This lets us know that it is possible to be busy without producing any fruit, and it is important to be mindful of this situation.

Not because we spend our time on various tasks throughout the day means that we have produced something. Yet it is possible to obtain fruit if we do the right thing, even with less effort. This is what the negligent servant did not understand.

Meeting the Quote

It is safe to think that the servant, after burying his part of the money, carried on with the other chores as usual and continued to work in his master’s house until he returned. When his owner returned, he did not call him lazy for not having done anything during that time, the problem was that this servant had done everything except the only thing that had been asked of him.

Although the servant did have to carry out his regular responsibilities, as usual, the only instruction his master had given him upon leaving was to multiply his money. It is possible his lord forgave him for a task that was behind schedule if it meant that he had fulfilled what he had been entrusted with.

Although, precisely thinking about his ability to solve everything, he had been assigned the smallest amount of money and, therefore, the easiest to multiply. The servant could handle all of this, but he got scared and decided he wouldn’t even try. So his master called him lazy because he was not even willing to put in the effort.

A weekly planner in a tablet.
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Discerning the True Priorities

In the same way, we must be careful when establishing our day’s priorities. We are often very busy, but is there fruit from our work? Let us remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21–23, “ Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” The big difference is whether we are busy doing what we think we should do, or if we are busy doing what we know God has commanded us to do.

Most parents would be upset if they asked their child to do something and their child did everything except what was asked. But when we behave the same way with God we want Him to excuse us because what we did was still “good”. But how “good” is it to perform an action that was not entrusted to us while ignoring a direct command? That is disobedience.

We must be careful when deciding whether something is good or bad, we know that our ability to judge what is good is null, so we depend on the Holy Spirit. Ask him, he is more than willing to lead you.

In the portion of Matthew 7, we see how several people argue: “ Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” All these things are good, and yet God declares that he does not know them and calls them iniquitous and lawless.

The previous verse tells us why: “Not everyone … but he who does the will of My Father.” Having a powerful ministry can give us much glory before men, but if what we do is not aligned with the will of the Lord, we are not reaping any fruit. It is not about being the best, but about being obedient.

Drawing the Line

We often hear messages that tell us about eagerness or toil, and we can easily distinguish between worldly and spiritual chores. This is good, but what happens when the line is not so clear? What happens when we must choose between two things that are “good”?

What happens when we dedicate years of our lives (consciously) to the wrong ministry for us just because the demands of this ministry fit better our agendas than the responsibilities of the ministry that God has commanded us?

Let’s be very careful, the comfort zone can be a very dangerous area that inhibits our growth and suppresses our ability to be fruitful. Keep in mind that every branch that does not bear fruit will be cut (John 15: 1–2). Not producing can seem very comfortable, until it is time to prune. This is why we must seek spiritual comfort before physical comfort.

If we are attentive to the Spirit, we will notice that a physical comfort zone produces discomfort in our spirit, discomfort caused by what we have already mentioned, the impossibility of growing and producing.

God designed us to grow and be fruitful, our spirit is comfortable when it can develop and produce, even when it takes effort. But we are happy to carry out that effort because it is what we were born for. It is there where we can multiply the talents that were given to us, and when our Lord returns he will see the fruit that we have produced and we will hear the words:

“Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”- Matthew 25:23

On the other hand, if we are in a place of physical comfort but not designed for us, we will soon feel the effects on our spirit. We will be in a place where we probably cannot use our gifts and talents. This will prevent us from developing them and, therefore, we will not be able to bear fruit there. Although humanly we feel good, soon our spirit will notice that something is wrong.

Since we are not being productive, we will feel that what we are doing is not enough and we will begin to try to do more things to compensate for this feeling. We will begin to load our day with activities that seem to be good but, if we do not listen to the Spirit, they will not lead us to anything.

That’s when the rush and anxiety start, and we start complaining about how busy we are all the time. However, we have no joy in what we do. It is because we are in the wrong place, we are very busy (probably too much), but we are not being productive.

A close-up of a mug with the numbers 80/20 on it.
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Filling Out Our Agenda

We must be careful when choosing how we spend our time. This is why Pareto’s principle exists (the 80/20 rule). We can occupy our day trying to do 80% of the things that only produce 20% of the fruit, or we can set priorities and dedicate our day to carrying out 20% of the most important tasks that will produce 80% of the fruit.

Our time on this earth is limited, we cannot waste it on anything that doesn’t produce fruit. Especially if God has already instructed us about what to do. Let us remember Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He will help me, not to do everything I want, but to carry out everything that God has commissioned me to do.

However, if by the time that we decide to do the task assigned to us we are already tired from having worked all day on things that were not ours to do, we will not get very far. For this reason, it is necessary to ask for wisdom and discernment at the beginning of the day.

Let’s not write our agenda hoping God will bless it and then complain because we are so tired. Let the Lord give you the agenda for the day and stick to it. If He asked you to, He will back you up and give you the grace to do it all in His time.

Remember that God does not need your fruit, everything God entrusts to you is for your good. He wants you to live a life full of joy and blessing, a life that you can love; not a life of endless eagerness, bitterness, and complaint, but a fruitful life. But this is only possible if we are attentive to the will of God and we are his obedient servants.

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