Posted in theology

Is it true that if I lived in Ancient Times I’d be able to focus better…?

By Elizabeth Prata

I mentioned a week ago that the claims of “these days” being especially busy, or stressful and clamorous may be true, but are not particular to only our day. Sure, our landscapes are littered with billboards, telephone poles, wind turbines; our ears are stuffed with podcasts, movies, music, video games, and TikToks. Sure, our laptops crawl with multiple screens, tabs, and images. It may be nice to dream of former days when what we saw was only bucolic, serene, and everything looked like a Constable landscape.

John Constable: The Vale of Dedham

But it never really WAS that way. Yes, many areas were landscape perfect before the Industrial Revolution. The farmer’s day was still busy and filled with temptations and distractions, just different ones than we are used to. In ancient days as well, there were huge cities, pollution, ghettoes, population stress, and noise. There were distractions. Since satan has been in the world there have always been distractions to keep us from wasting our time and being productive for the Lord.

Productivity for the Christian is important, because we only have so many days and so much time to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) before we depart for glory. But it’s important to realize that we are human, the generations prior to ours were human, and we have always lived among days of toil, thorns, and many clever satan-inspired ways to keep us off-balance, off-track, and off our walk.

We have new ways to distract us from Bible reading. These days surely have presented us with enticing diversions. But so it has always been. We are no different. Why? because we have always been sinners. Our flesh has always wanted something different than Jesus. Even as Christians we have to work to pursue Him by subduing the flesh. Yet satan always puts in front of our nose ways to keep us from it. How many scenes in TV and movies have you watched with a robber enticing the guard dogs with a piece of tasty meat (laced with doggie sleeping potion)? Many. The dogs are sidetracked, they eat the treat, and soon become somnolent and docile. That’s us.

Would it pique your interest to know that in Paul’s day when he wrote to the Romans, Rome was a crowded, thriving city of a million inhabitants? Pliny the Younger lived from 61 to ~113 AD, or during Paul and John’s time when the church was in nascent growth. He lived and worked in Rome as a lawyer, author, and magistrate. He complained of the many distractions that prevented him from accomplishing all he needed to do. He wasn’t complaining as a Christian, just observing he was a busy man unable to withstand the many temptations to do anything else but what one is supposed to be doing. He writes, ‘sure, I’ll go here, I’ll do this, I’ll indulge…until I realize I’ve wasted time on trivialities’.

Sheehan Quirke is The Cultural Tutor who sends out a newsletter each Friday. In this week’s letter, Quirke informed his readers of Pliny’s complaint:

Wasted Days by Sheehan Quirke, the Cultural Tutor

Quirke said: Do you ever feel like you don’t have enough time to write? Do you end up getting distracted (by emails, gossip, social media, unimportant business) and feeling like you’ve wasted a day instead of doing something much more meaningful?

If you understand this feeling then it may be some comfort to know that it isn’t new. Here is a remarkably relatable letter written by Pliny the Younger, a Roman lawyer, to his friend in about 100 AD. It turns out that the problems of modern life aren’t always so modern as we think.

(Pliny’s letter) To Minicius Fundanus,​

It is extraordinary how, if one takes a single day spent in Rome, one can give a more or less accurate account of it, but scarcely any account at all of several days put together. If you ask anyone what he did that day, the answer would be: ‘I was present at a coming-of-age ceremony, a betrothal, or a wedding. I was called on to witness a will, to support someone in court or to act as an assessor.’ All this seems important on the actual day, but quite pointless if you consider that you have done the same sort of thing every day, and still more pointless if you think about it when you are out of town. It is then that you realise how many days you have wasted in trivialities.

I always realise this when I am at Laurentum, reading and writing and finding time to take the exercise which keeps my mind fit for work. There is nothing there for me to say or hear which I would afterwards regret, no one disturbs me with malicious gossip, and I have no one to blame – except myself – when writing doesn’t come easily. Hopes and fears do not worry me, and my time is not wasted in idle talk; I share my thoughts with no one but my books. It is a good life and a genuine one, a seclusion which is happy and honourable, more rewarding than any “business” can ever be. The sea and shore are my private Helicon, an endless source of inspiration. You should take the first opportunity yourself to leave the din, the futile bustle and useless occupations of the city and devote yourself to literature or leisure. For it was wise as well as witty of our friend Atilius to say that it is better to have no occupation than be occupied with nothing. –end Pliny’s letter

Quirke said, “Although the legacy of the ancient world is largely one of great poetry and literature, art and statuary and philosophy, none of them can quite bring Antiquity to life like their letters. Those of Pliny the Younger are a treasure of deeply personal reflections on life in Ancient Rome. And, reading them, we find that our ancestors weren’t so different to us.”

Yes, it might be nice as Pliny said to retreat to your castle by the sea and write, and granted there are fewer distractions there. But there will be distractions. Watching birds, or finding a sudden need to re-brick the east wall, or to consult with the cook about the menu or to build that fountain you’ve been meaning to…distractions to pull the believer off the path always existed and satan is crafty and subtle about it.

As Pliny wrote, “All this seems important on the actual day” but when you look back over 15 days or 30 days or 6 months and realize you still haven’t finished the Bible reading or haven’t prayed as much as you’ve wanted or haven’t reached out to struggling friend…you then realize all the other stuff added up to something quite pointless.

Christian Productivity expert Reagan Rose said succinctly: “I don’t have enough time!” That’s a lie. You have precisely enough time to do what God has called you to do. The problem is all the other stuff you’re doing instead.”

Whether we live in 2023, 33, or 3003BC, there were and are always distractions in which the believer to indulge. The former times were not any better or different than they are now. The difference in our lives (if you’re a true believer) is Christ, and His Spirit in us. Rely on Him, subdue the flesh, focus, and get to work!

We THINK we’re so busy, we are never too busy to do the things that count- working for Christ’s glory.
Photo by Karen Lau on Unsplash
Posted in theology

Alone time? Is it biblical?

By Elizabeth Prata

Is taking some time to refresh yourself on the weekends dropping the ball on our biblical duty to care for others, first? This was a discussion with a reader. I know I sometimes feel like I’m failing my Lord if I’m not using every single minute for His name, to be busy doing something. I feel guilty on Saturdays when I use the day to do home chores, take a nap, and refresh myself alone. I am busy as per 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-11,

But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to excel even more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we instructed you, (1 Thessalonians 4:10-11).

I even named my other blog The Quiet Life because I take this verse so seriously.

I think it is wise to know your limits, and what you need. We aren’t doormats. We do pour out our lives for others but not in ways that leave us nothing to pour. Mindful busy-ness is the key.

Let’s look to the scriptures for an example- “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16)

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, on Luke 5:16
“And he withdrew himself into the wilderness – Or rather, He frequently withdrew into the desert. This I believe to be the import of the original words, ην ὑποχωρων. He made it a frequent custom to withdraw from the multitudes for a time, and pray, teaching hereby the ministers of the Gospel that they are to receive fresh supplies of light and power from God by prayer, that they may be the more successful in their work; and that they ought to seek frequent opportunities of being in private with God and their books.” 

Jesus withdrew often, to think, recharge, pray. Once you see it in the Gospel, it’s everywhere. “Jesus withdrew”…

Alternately, it’s good not to let a short period of refreshment turn into a pattern of laziness. I find that listening to or reading Reagan Rose’s Redeeming Productivity podcast & blog helps keep the idea of productive productivity in the forefront of my mind. Overstressing ourselves or constant busy-ness for the sake of being busy is more tiring than intentional productivity punctuated with short periods of refreshing.

The Craziness of Laziness, podcast
How to Stop Being So Lazy, blog

However you take your re-charging, by walking or hiking, playing a sport, quiet alone time in nature, reading, I do think it’s important to combine those times with prayer and quiet contemplation amid the busy pouring out the Bible calls us to do.

Posted in christian living, Uncategorized

Being busy is not the problem

I understand how life can get busy as different obligations creep in. I know there are seasons of busy-ness and that’s OK. But here is something to think about.

People who say they are busy say sometimes that if they were less busy, they would have time to read the Bible. If they just weren’t so busy, they’d have time for serving. If they didn’t have such a crowded day, they’d have time for ministry. Being busy is sometimes the reason they do not meet with God or serve the kingdom.

I’ll look at the issue in two ways, first, here is John MacArthur talking about giving. He isn’t talking about being busy, but the concept is the same. If you had more money, you’d give more. If you had more time, you’re do more. Here is JMac:

Some people say, “Well, if I just had more I’d give more.” No, I’ve heard that. You always hear them say, “If I had $1 million I’d give it over here and I’d give…if I could just win the lottery. Oh man, if I could just win the lottery.” The question is not what would you do with $1 million. The question is what are you doing with this $4.00 you’ve got in your pocket. What are you doing with the $10.00?  What are you doing with the $20.00 or the $60.00? That’s the issue, because Ecclesiastes 5:10-11 says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money. When good things increase, those who consume them increase.”

Another way to say that is, the only advantage to money is to watch it slip through your fingers. The more you get, the more that goes. So it isn’t a question of if you had more you’d give more. No, that’s not the issue. Jesus said it this way, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much, and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” Sermon, The Biblical View of Money

It isn’t a question of if you had more you’d give more. I can attest to that. Confession time: sometimes I’m not busy at all and that’s when I do the least for Jesus.

I work in education, which means I have extended time off during the summer break. This year our break is about 8 1/2 weeks. I work hard during the school year. Most school years I also work a second job in the After School Program, as I will be doing this year again. When I arrive home between 5:30-6:00pm, I begin my second shift of reading the Bible, writing, praying etc. Thursday nights are devoted to Bible Discussion Group, and of course, Sundays are for worship service with either Bible group or fellowship time afterward. Add the occasional social time with friends, school meetings, and must-do tasks (car oil change, doctor appointment,) and you have a pretty full schedule. I’m not crazy busy, but the school year has structured time that mostly fills my day from bedtime-to-bedtime.

All I can think about during the school year is how happy I will be during Summer when I have all this time to myself. “I’ll read the Bible more…write more…research different topics…read theological books…” And I do. At the beginning. I get up early, do my spiritual tasks, spend the rest of the day productively for the Kingdom.

As summertime slides on, though, so does my schedule. I get up later, watch more movies, snuggle with the cats longer, take more naps. I spend less time doing things for the kingdom and more time just being comfortable for myself. There have been a few days when I sit here, the Bible within reach, and never have opened it once during the day once.

If I had more time I’d do more? Not hardly. Sloth and laziness are built into us I think, and I soon fall victim to it. I have to work diligently during summer to ensure that I maintain my prayers, do my Bible readings, and complete my spiritual kingdom work when what I really want to do is watch Youtube videos of Kids Escaping Cribs or Funny Cats.

So I can attest that having more time does not mean that I’d do more. In fact, for me it’s the opposite. When school starts in ten days I’ll be grateful for the structure again. My work schedule really helps me keep track of my spiritual self.

Don’t delude yourself into thinking it is because you’re so crazy busy you have no time to read your Bible, pray, or serve. As John MacArthur said on the subject of giving, it’s not about not having millions of dollars, it is about what are you doing with $4 in your pocket. Whether you have 24 hours to yourself or 20 minutes to spare, what are you doing with the time? If the issue regarding money isn’t “Oh man, if I could just win the lottery”, it’s the same for time. It isn’t about “Oh man, if I could just have all day to myself.”

Here are a few resources on balancing work-busy with (summer)-lazy.

What does the Bible say about being too busy?

In our supersonic postmodern society, known for its busyness and its increasing ability to deliver instantaneously, we find ourselves hurried more than our ancestors ever could have imagined. We have come a long way from the horse-and-buggy days, and because of that, our twenty-four hours a day seem more and more restrictive. We never feel like we have enough time to accomplish everything we want or need to do, and the clock keeps ticking

Parents, don’t waste your lazy summer days

But is it really such a bad thing to have wide open spaces in our planners? Might this be the very thing we need in order to refocus our priorities and make the most of the short season of time we’re given with our children?

Tim Challies’ book and course with a practical guide to productivity
Do More Better

I wrote this short, fast-paced, practical guide to productivity to share what I have learned about getting things done in today’s digital world. It will help you learn to structure your life to do the most good to the glory of God.

Challies’ book is also a course with the same title at Ligonier Connect.