Did you know that there is a way to maximize a buffet? I learned of this through a friend who had a sophisticated game plan whenever he ate at those all-you-can-eat buffets. First, he would skip breakfast, avoid liquids, and minimize carbs. Chewing slowly, he would consume each desired item from the buffet in a meticulous order.

Taking two to three hours to finish a meal, he had achieved a perfectly optimized system for maximizing the value of a lunch buffet. It was a sight to behold.

God recently convicted me that I had begun to treat time this way. I falsely believed that if I could shave off a little time here and become a little more efficient there, I would be able to pack in a few more tasks. I believed the myth that if I incorporated another time hack or tweaked my to-do system, I could get it all done. 

I had made an idol of my productivity system.

The Subtle Lie of Productivity Systems

We all naturally try to develop systems to make our lives run smoother and juggle our competing priorities. I’m sure you have developed your way of doing things through much trial, error, and experience. 

It might be your well-honed approach to getting things done as fast as possible at work, the perfect planner system, time-saving hacks on household tasks, or a daily routine that helps get the kids to bed with the least shedding of tears.

In Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller writes, “Idolatry means turning a good thing into the ultimate thing.” While there is nothing wrong with productivity systems in and of themselves, too much focus on them can make them an idol.

The subtle lie is that we can do anything and everything, defying our human limitations.

When we learn to depend on our ways to getting things done and accomplishing our goals, we cease to rely on God. We believe that our systems can make us successful, rather than God Himself. And if we happen to achieve success, we run the risk of becoming complacent.

The underlying belief goes something like this: “If I could just improve my way of getting things done, then I could achieve X, Y, or Z.” We rely on our own self-effort and striving to accomplish more, rather than recognizing that it is God who enables and empowers us in the first place.

It’s a subtle—but important—distinction.

A Penchant for Self-Reliance

American culture places a high value on rugged self-sufficiency and individualism, making it difficult to unlearn our cultural ideals and place our full trust in God instead. From the time we are children, we hear, “You can be anyone that you want to be.” As adults, we are told the importance of “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.” 

Our self-reliance is ingrained in both the sin nature inside us and the culture around us. 

In the Bible, we find more examples of humanity’s penchant towards self-reliance. In the building of the Tower of Babel, a group of people build their own system to accomplish their own goals apart from God.

Genesis 11:4 says, “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (NIV).

Building Our Own Systems

Indeed, the human heart is often tempted to build mini-towers of Babel within itself. We can evaluate the presence of productivity system idolatry by asking ourselves a few questions:

·       How much does it bother us when our daily routines or agenda are disrupted? 

·       How impatient are we when interrupted or slowed down during the day? 

·       How much do we think about what needs to get done more than about God Himself? 

·       Do we plow through our to-do list apart from God, rather than with God? 

·       How much do we value efficiency above all things?

·       Do we evaluate our day based on how much we accomplished, rather than how well we loved others?

·       Do we find more satisfaction in achieving goals, as opposed to finding satisfaction in Him?

The One Who Makes Us Fruitful

The Bible says that it is God who makes our labor fruitful, not our own efforts. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, the apostle Paul writes, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” 

We may work hard, but the actual fruit of our labor comes through God. Let us not lose sight of this truth.

This is great news! It frees us from the tyranny of having to make things happen ourselves. In its place, we can enjoy the freedom of trusting God to make things happen in His timing. We can live at an unhurried pace as we cease the unnecessary striving that can lead to burnout.

This is the secret to experiencing the peace that comes from abiding in Jesus.

Turning to God Instead

If you, like me, discover that you have made an idol of your own systems, there’s no reason to despair. It is precisely this kind of deep, uncomfortable conviction that brings fruit and growth to our spiritual lives.

Here’s a few steps that you can take today:

1.     Confess and repent of any self-reliance and idols that you have come to rely on.

2.     Humble yourself before God. Recognize that you can do nothing apart from Him. 

3.     Release your daily plans, timetables, and goals to God. Learn to hold them lightly and be flexible. Instead of scrambling to make everything happen on your own, trust in God that everything will work out according to His will.

4.     Love God and other people more than your to-do list. Make this your new mindset each morning. Actively seek opportunities to bless other people throughout the day. 

In our modern age, it is easy to define a successful day by a (nearly) completed to-do list, rather than by how much we’ve loved God and the people around us. Yes, our daily responsibilities are important, but let’s not lose sight of what’s most important. Let’s keep our focus on Him and our neighbors more than on checking off that next box.

How much do you rely on God versus your own systems for success? 

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“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NIV)

Photo by Shiromani Kant on Unsplash

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About the Author

Helen Rees

I am a Christian, wife, stepmom, psychiatric nurse, and writer. I write about research-backed ways to navigate the challenges of fast-paced modern life while growing in your Christian faith.

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