January 26, 2014

Punctuality, busyness, and pride

Is it possible to make idols of our virtues? Today’s devotional reading says it is. The writer tells of a woman who had a series of appointments with a counselor. She was always on time, but one day arrived a few minutes late. She was frenzied and apologized so many times that the counselor said to her, “Do you think that there might be a ‘god’ for you in this?”

She knew that being on time showed respect for others, but after some discussion, she came to see that she was proud of her punctuality. Since pride is about relying on self rather than God, the object of her pride had become an idol.

Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God) . . .  (Exodus 34:11–14)

The gods of the Amorites and other nations living in Canaan were carved images and associated with demonic forces. The gods of the land in which I live are things like human achievement, the admiration and respect of others, anything that makes me look good in their eyes, anything associated with self. In this story, it was punctuality, but it could be anything from being a good cook, having a well-decorated house, raising well-behaved children, driving a nice car, having a well-paying job . . .  the list is endless.

A few passages in the devotional suggested how another ‘virtue’ can be idol-potential, at least for me. This virtue starts out as refusing to be a lazy person, but often winds up as the familiar, “I’m so busy” tag that marks me as someone trying to impress others with my lack of laziness and my multitude of activities. The Bible commands are there, admonishing laziness and lack of planning ahead . . .  

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:6–11)

Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys. (Proverbs 18:9)

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:30–34)

Raised in a home where the work ethic was high, I’ve rarely been guilty of inactivity, yet the use of the word ‘guilty’ shows that I associate lack of work and idleness with sin, forgetting that idleness can also be simply taking a rest, something else that God commands.

Yes, Solomon said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) but God also says to worship Him and rest, taking one entire day a week to cease labor and do just that.

While being busy is not wrong, letting it become a point of pride and an obsession indicates it has become an idol. Today is that day of rest and a good opportunity to seek the will of God about what I will do this day, rather than be driven by the idol of busyness.

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