Say No to Busyness

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Those who follow Jesus must say “No” to self for the sake of the gospel and “No” to a world which competes with God’s glory. For only by losing our lives for the sake of Christ will we demonstrate that our lives have been saved through Christ. Amidst this world of self-love and self-promotion, Jesus identified self-denial as the distinguishing mark of disciples who followed him:

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).

Jesus modeled self-denial himself: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). He said “No” to busyness, people-pleasing, self-centeredness, and ministry by always doing his Father’s will. He said “No” to sickness, sin, and death by dying in our place and rising again.

He maintained his focus in a world of demands by living out his call to self-denial. Jesus said “No” during his earthly ministry and empowered each of us to follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).

Application Insight: Would your friends and family say you work too much or that you suffer from “hurry sickness”? Is your physical health ailing because of stress? Do you daily spend quality time with the Lord in prayer? Consider Jesus’ teaching and example as a new way to live your life.

Say “No” to Busyness

We’ve all done it. Someone asks, “How are you?” and we answer without thinking, “Busy!” That one word encapsulates the hectic, frantic frenzy of our lives. “Busy” creates a way of escape: “I’m so tired, I don’t even have energy to form the words.” “Busy” communicates, “I don’t feel like talking about it. Can’t you see I’m busy?” We are a people stricken by our busyness, yet that is not the way of Jesus.

State the Problem

Some think that Jesus always said “Yes,” to every opportunity in life. Yet in order to say “Yes,” he had to often say “No.” He kept his focus in a world of demands and stayed busy at only the main things. Therefore, by observing Jesus’ life, we too can learn the discipline of self-denial as we address our problem of busyness.

Application Insight: Take a moment to reflect on life as you know it. Do you consider yourself too busy? Are you busy about the right things? Do you struggle to prioritize what you deem most important such as your relationship with God and others? Consider what you can learn by saying “No” like Jesus.

Jesus revealed how our busyness often produces anxiety. We fear failure in the eyes of others and worry about our limited finances. We convince ourselves that the only way to find peace and security is by working harder than the next person. So Jesus addressed our thorns of anxiety in his parable of the soils:

Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold (Mark 4:3-8).

That seed, Jesus told us, was the Word of God (v. 14) and each soil represented a different kind of listener. One of those was the anxious person whose “seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain” (v. 7).

Jesus then explained how “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (v. 19; see Matthew 6:25). We become anxious as we accumulate possessions. We buy a house we can’t afford, so we work two jobs. Our car needs repairs. Our lawn needs mowing. Our faucet is dripping. Our kids need clothes.

The things we thought would bring us happiness have added to our burden. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (8:36). Our possessions feed the thorns of anxiety and anxiety chokes us from receiving God’s Word. In love, Jesus warned us that busyness would rob our hearts of joy. As Kevin DeYoung puts it, “Busyness kills more Christians than bullets.”

Application Insight: Consider your own life. Do you constantly feel behind or lacking the time and energy to be emotional present for your family? Do you often fall into bed exhausted and still wake up feeling tired? Are you experiencing health problems because of your anxiety? You can become so anxious about the cares of life that God’s Word no longer calms your heart. What thoughts occupy the first few moments of your day and the last few moments before you go to sleep? Do you think more about the promises of God or the unchecked boxes on your to-do list?

The real problem of busyness is not how much stuff we have or how many responsibilities are stacked on our plates. The real problem of busyness is a problem of the heart.

We work to earn, earn to spend, and spend on what we think will bring us joy. We hope our bosses and coworkers will think highly of us, so we say “Yes” to everything because we are afraid to disappoint everyone. We try to prove our worth to family or friends who thought we’d never amount to much.

Driven by perfectionism, envy, and comparison, we make ourselves and the people around us miserable for the sake of man’s applause. We post our beautiful homes, over-achieving kids, and exotic vacations on social media. Our résumés drive our ambitions. Yet all these reasons for busyness have one common denominator: They are rooted in a heart of pride.

Pride makes us anxious and anxiety makes us busy. We care too much for what others think of us. We believe the lie that the world might fall apart without us.

Application Insight: How do you know if your anxious heart and busy lifestyle are rooted in pride? Ask yourself some diagnostic questions: Am I busy doing good for the Lord and others or only for myself? Who am I serving in my daily life? Who looks better because of my busyness? Dig deeper to discover if the root of your busyness is a heart of pride.

10/18/2021 3:50:55 PM
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  • Tom Sugimura
    About Tom Sugimura
    Tom Sugimura is a pastor-writer, church planting coach, and professor of biblical counseling. He writes at, ministers the gospel at New Life Church, and hosts the Every Peoples Podcast. He and his wife cherish the moments as they raise their four kids in Southern California.