Thinking Differently About Efficiency

One of the primary messages that our culture screams at us is the need to be efficient in every area of our lives. In fact, much of our culture is based on the ability to get more things done in less time, while utilizing fewer resources. This creates the feeling of intense pressure on us to measure up and “prove ourselves useful” as we inevitably attempt to cram more into the day and to get as many tasks done as possible. This dynamic seems to intensify during the holiday season as the year draws to a close. During my time living in India, God began to reorient my thinking about efficiency and how the gospel helps us see what we do and how we do what we do through a new set of lenses.

Interestingly enough, it was the density of Mumbai’s population and the difficulties in travel that God used to solidify this lesson in my mind and heart. While living in the United States, my tendency was always to fill a to-do list with lots of things that I can get done in a day. From meetings and errands, to texts, phone calls and emails, there always seems to be an endless list. But after we moved to Mumbai I realized very quickly that the expectations of what I can get done in a day had to shift. Because it could often take hours to get somewhere in traffic, I couldn’t fit nearly as much on my calendar and my to-do list.

As I began to settle into rhythms that included fewer tasks, the conversation shifted in my mind from “how many things can I get done in a day,” to “how many things should I get done in a day… and what are the right things to get done?” Put more simply, my thinking about efficiency began to shift away from the number of tasks I can complete to what are the most important things that need to get done, and how can I be more focused on those things? In other words, my idea of efficiency began to change.

Efficiency is generally understood as the ability to do things well with as little waste as possible. So, here’s where the shift in thinking began happening in my mind and heart. What if, instead of interpreting efficiency through the lens of how many things I’m able to get done in as short a period of time, I think about efficiency through the lens of simply walking in what God has laid out in advance for my life. Remember what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10. He wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The implications of this passage are incredibly powerful for our lives. Paul says that we are God’s “poiema” (the Greek word for workmanship). That is the root word from which we form the English word poem. Paul is communicating that each of us are God’s work of art — new creations in Jesus — called to walk in the good things which He has laid out beforehand that we should walk in them. That is, God has already pre-selected the things that He has for you and me in any given day.

My question is simply this — “what if we began to define efficiency as operating in the things that God has laid out for us before the foundation of the world, and operating at a pace that finds rest in Him as we walk in those things?” I believe that living that way would have a transformative effect on our hearts. I believe that we would find more joy, more peace, and more purpose in everything that we do, because we are learning to be present in every situation as we are fed life by the presence of Jesus.

I’m convinced that living this way is the right way to live. The question that I’m wrestling with right now is, “how do I operate this way?” Here’s the answer that I keep coming back to:  this will not happen where we I am treasuring anything above the presence of God in my life. Where I find myself chasing after the things of the world, I will have motivations and desires that are not aimed at the glory of God and guided by His wisdom. Rather, I will be guided by my flesh and will then bend toward mis-prioritizing everything else in my life.

What I need (what we all need) is deep on-going repentance that continually casts down idols and runs into the arms of Jesus to find delight and rest in Him. I am so thankful for the patience and forbearance of the Lord that continually beckons me to return to Him and find waves of mercy and grace. It is the redemptive, loving posture of God that consistently woos me away from the fast-paced culture of high efficiency that exists in our world in order that I might find a kingdom-paced culture of great purpose as I walk in what God has for me. To be sure, this requires abiding prayer as we seek the wisdom of God to walk in the things that He has for us. But, isn’t that the point of our lives — that we would walk with God and enjoy utter dependence upon Him?

As we approach Christmas, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus — the author and perfecter of our faith — and trust Him to lead us into what we do and how we do it!

Because of Christ,

Jeff Neville