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Sermon illustrations

Productivity

Accelerated Growth

The inordinate desire in the west for productivity, to go faster and faster, especially in business, can actually become counterproductive. In this short story from the Chinese philosopher Mencius we find a helpful reminder that our attempts to speed things up doesn’t always work:

You don’t want to be like the man from Sung. There was a man from Sung who was worried about the slow growth of his crops and so he went and yanked on them to accelerate their growth. Empty-headed, he returned home and announced to his people: “I am so tired today. I have been out stretching the crops.” His son ran out to look, but the crops had already withered. 

Quoted in Michael Steinberg in The Fiction of a Thinkable World: Body, Meaning, and the Culture of Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2005), 129.

Be More Productive by Taking Breaks

A New York Times story reports on the positive impact school recess has on academic performance. Here’s how it begins: “The best way to improve children’s performance in the classroom may be to take them out of it.”

The paradoxical lesson of this story is relevant not just for schoolchildren but for us grown-ups, too: Taking time out to restore and rejuvenate ourselves results not in reduced performance caused by less time dedicated to work, but to increased performance caused by the stronger, more focused effort you bring to work after fruitful rest. But how can anyone think seriously, and without guilt, about undertaking activity that isn’t directly reducing costs or increasing revenues? The short answer is that you can’t afford not to.

Harvard Business Review, HBR Guide to Managing Stress, Harvard Business Review Press.

The Parable of the Two Servants

In this modern day parable, Alan Fadling describes a king and his two servants. Each of the servants desires to do the will of the king, but they approach their work very differently:

One of the servants, for fear of not pleasing his master, rose early each day to hurry along to do all the things that he believed the king wanted done. He didn’t want to bother the king with questions about what that work was. Instead, he hurried from project to project from early morning until late at night. The other servant, also eager to please his master, would rise early as well, but he took a few moments to go to the king, ask him about his wishes for the day and find out just what it was he desired to be done. Only after such a consultation did this servant step into the work of his day.

…The busy servant may have gotten a lot done by the time the inquiring servant even started his work, but which of them was doing the will of the master and pleasing him? Genuine productivity is not about getting as much done for God as we can manage. It is doing the good work God actually has for us in a given day. Genuine productivity is learning that we are more than servants, that we are beloved sons and daughters invited into the good kingdom work of our heavenly Father. That being the case, how might God be inviting you to wait for his specific direction?

Taken from An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling Copyright (c) 2013 by Alan Fadling. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Why We Resist a Less Hurried Life

A primary resistance to a less hurried way of life—a resistance I find in myself and in others—is the belief that “I won’t be as productive” or that “I will fail to seize the opportunities God sets before me.” I have come to believe, though, that this sort of obsession with work results, ironically, in a reduction of true fruitfulness. We sometimes hear it said, “Less is more.” Sometimes, though, more is also less.

Taken from An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling Copyright (c) 2013 by Alan Fadling. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

See also Illustrations on Business, Busyness, Slowing Down