“What is the meaning of life?” The age old question, if asked of myself, or many a believer, will likely result in a prompt answer along the lines of “the Gospel,” “the worship of God,” or “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
But “What is the purpose of today?” is a question that I don’t always have an answer for. Let me rephrase that- I’ll likely have an answer. The matter is really that answer is founded upon a similar theological framework.
And my suggestion today is that if it isn’t, today will likely be wasted.
“What is the purpose of today?” is a question we are faced with every morning our eyes pry themselves open and we swing our feet out of bed. And it’s an answer you’d better find quickly! Although “the meaning of life” is a question that should be of the greatest urgency, one does theoretically have his or her entire life to articulate and answer. “What is the purpose of today?” needs one in 24 hours… and in most cases, really must be made in the first one or two.
My answer on a typical day would be “to make today productive.” In an effort to make this happen, a good part of “today” is already mapped out for me the day before. The “to-do-list” is the master agenda that controls my day. Frequently the list is daunting, and to the end of a disgruntled and agitated spirit, I often find items left on it at the end of the day.
So: is today all about productivity? And if not, what are the implications for those (like me) who have this inner compulsion that screams at them telling me that it is?
Fortunately, I’m not the only person to struggle with this. Matt Perman, former director of Strategy at Desiring God, has done a great deal of thinking. IN fact, he is writing a book on the matter due this October. His proposal is that productivity is meaningful because productivity is really about good works. From getting your inbox to zero, to meeting the deadline for the project of the century, productivity is about good works. This is what we are created to do in Christ (Eph 2:10), and productivity helps us best actually achieve this purpose.
Although Perman is adamant about reminding his audience that productivity is never to become an idol or sense of identity, the Christian is to be genuinely excited and eager to participate in good works (Titus 2:14).
My immediate response to this proposal was that this answer isn’t very satisfying. I still believe that a great deal of the guilt (and sometimes inner rage) I feel at the end of the day when that list is still intolerably long doesn’t necessarily stem from making productivity an idol. And, Perman’s little adage almost seems to justify this emotional response to an unproductive day.
But then I began to think further. When I evaluate my day based upon a ‘to-do-list’ paradigm, I am placing purpose in my day based upon a presupposition that “work” is the supreme good. And what I have learned from the age of 12 (when I first became compelled by the sense of “ought” to burn the candle at both ends to finish the capstone country “ABC” project with a higher grade and more detail than anyone else in the class…) is that this mentality is exhausting. It’s unsatisfying. It isn’t right.
But as I thought about “we are created for his workmanship,” I began to think that the right paradigm doesn’t come from seeing work as the supreme good.
Instead, good is the supreme work.
As I turn my head to look at my purple and green sticky notes filled with dashes and items of importance next to them, I now look at these action items and evaluate them not based upon whether they were completed and how well they were done, but on the depth and duration of their impact, and the benefit it provides to others. Accomplishing tasks takes on a less salty and irony flavor, seasoned by the sweat and blood invested in trying to achieve personal freedom from the imprisoning weight of deadlines and due dates. Instead, the thought of scratching items off the list smells more like incense and aromas, as it becomes an exercise in meditation, and in converging my actions and behaviors with the eternal values of God.
Thus, productivity is healthy when the motivation is the multiplication of good, and not in simply multiplying one’s work. I believe Peter Drucker can be understood to hold a similar position, when he says “effective executives put first things first, and do one thing at a time.” Although intended for applicability, I believe this statement also drips with philosophy: productivity is not chiefly about the volume of things that get done, but about the most important things being accomplished.
Personally, altering a perspective of thirteen that values work as the great good is a task I will need help in. And what I share with you are some humbling pointers on how to request the help of the only One who can do this (modified from and indebted to Rob Lister at )
1) Pray specifically for what God wants me to do today, and to trust Him with both what I AM working on, and what I’m NOT working on.
2) Pray for contentment in my current vocations, gifts, talents, and callings- and not to be envious of others’
3) Pray for freedom from guilt over the unaccomplished when it is time for rest
4) Pray for freedom from the fear of man that might motivate me to please others with my work, versus working for good
What was today’s purpose? For me: learning to look forward for the good, not the guilt and grief, that might be accomplished tomorrow.
 (http://www.whatsbestnext.com/2010/09/3-questions-on-productivity-2/). Christ is that. But, there should be an eagerness to do good that characterizes the Christian’s life (Titus 2:14).