Productivity is something we hear a lot about in our culture...but rarely do we ask the question "why should we be productive?" Of the three pillars of the Rebelution, the second is competence (the other two being character and collaboration) and productivity is a key element of competence, so this is a question we must consider.
Speaking more broadly, not specifically to Rebelutionaries but to Christians as a whole, this oversight of consideration is unacceptable in light of the command to do all things for the glory of God. Further, it is clear that God is not glorified by unproductive servants. Proverbs speaks very pointedly and frequently in condemnation of the slothful person, pointing to foolishness as the primary cause of slothfulness (Proverbs 6:6, 13:14 and 24:30-31).
Matt Perman has put a great deal of thought into the matter, so much so that he is writing a book, and I would like to draw on his thoughts from several blog posts to help us lay the groundwork for a Biblical and Gospel-centric view of productivity.
Here are a couple of his answers to questions asked in an interview with christianitytoday.com.
Do you think Christians downplay the importance of productivity?
Yes, I think some do. Because we can think, Oh, it's not spiritual. You have to make a living and learn to do that job well. So I realized that I need to know more than theology; I need to know how to do my job well. That made me realize the importance of learning about the practical.
How does productivity fit with theology?
Theology gives significance to the practical. The practical helps advance theology. It's not that we have theology over here, here's practice, let's do these practical things that will help theology; rather, we can think theologically about the practical. That means we realize that the practical things we are doing are part of the good works that God created us in Christ Jesus to do. So when we're doing practical things, we're actually doing good works. That's a theological understanding of the things we're doing every day."
His answer to the second question brings Proverbs 22:29 to mind.
Mr. Perman makes an important connection for us in the answers above. Being productive isn't about getting ahead and glorifying our self, or shouldn't be. Being productive is about living out the Gospel in the form of good works and being competent and productive in those good works.
He further expounds in an article for his personal blog:
There are lots of reasons we care about productivity — we might want to have less stress, we might want to get more done in less time, or we might simply find the subject interesting in itself. And those are all good reasons.
But there are deeper, better reasons to care about productivity. There are, in fact, some amazing and incredible reasons to care about productivity that I am seeing almost no one ever talk about.
Chief among these reasons to care about productivity is this: Productivity is really about good works.
That’s worth saying again: Productivity is really about good works — which we were created in Christ to do (Ephesians 2:10) and which are to do eagerly and enthusiastically (Titus 2:14). That’s why productivity matters, and that’s why I write about productivity. My aim is to help Christians be effective in good works.
This changes how you think about everything.
It means that when you are getting your email inbox to zero, you aren’t just getting your email inbox to zero. You are doing good works. When you are going to a meeting, you aren’t just going to a meeting. You are doing good works. Everything that we do as Christians, in faith, is a good work.
And therefore we are doing good works all day long — and consequently need to learn how to be more effective in them so that we can be of greater service to others.
Matthew 5:16 says: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
So it is through our works that our light is meant to shine and it is by being productive that we maximize our ability to shine the light of Christ through/by our works. It's a connected cycle of cause and effect. By being unproductive in our good works or in our callings, which (as a point of emphasis) includes all the tasks we are called to by God whether they be in the home, for our career, our education (school) or as part of our church, we are in essence "hiding our light under a bushel" (Matthew 5:15) when we are not productive disciples.
Do you see the sequence? Matthew 5:14 says" "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." Matthew 5:15 says: "nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house." Matthew 15:16 says: ""Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
Let's simplify that one more time.
1) We are the light of the earth. God has made us to be that. 2) Why would God light a lamp and then put it under a bushel? 3. Therefore, be a light! Be productive in the work we are called to do and God will shine through us!
It's extremely important to understand that works are not in and of themselves of value in the eyes of God. To believe that would be highly legalistic for, after all, our righteousness is as "filthy garments" (Isaiah 64:6) and we are saved by grace through faith, "not by works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 82:8-10). But, we must understand that we are created for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10) and we must be productive if we are to shine brightly and not put ourselves under a bushel.
In closing, let's turn once more to Mr. Perman for his thoughts.
In a nutshell, what is the most important and fundamental principle for being productive?
I would actually say: realize that you don’t have to be productive. By this I mean: your significance does not come from your productivity. It comes from Christ, who obeyed God perfectly on our behalf such that our significance and standing before God comes from him, not anything we do. Then, on that basis, we pursue good works (which is what productivity is) and do so eagerly, as it says in Titus 2:14.
When it comes to day-to-day application, the main principle is this: The key denominator of effectiveness is not intelligence or even hard work, as important as those are. It is the discipline to put first things first. You need to operate from a center of sound principles and organize and execute around priorities. This means that instead of prioritizing your schedule, you schedule your priorities.
Many thanks to Matt Perman for his insight into this important matter! It is my hope that you were in some way challenged and/or encouraged by this post to be a brighter and more productive light in His service!