You Don’t Have to Do It All

I’m a 38-year pastoral veteran, now serving in a semi-urban, multi-ethnic congregation. I’ve never felt more overwhelmed.

Though I’m not necessarily clocking in more pastoral hours, I am investing more grief and empathy—not to mention all the hours mulling over the threat to (and opportunity for) love, justice, unity, and mission that today’s issues present. I’m not busier, but I do feel more burdened. For many reasons—including pastoral-care situations, racism, injustice, riots, COVID, political factionalism, unbiblical cultural ideologies, and a lack of in-person congregational worship—I sometimes get in bed feeling weighed down, only to awaken in the same condition.

Some days I feel paralyzed, and I’m uncertain what to do about it. Some will judge this as a lack of faith. It may be. Still, there’s no point in denying it, and I’m sure I’m not alone. 

What Did Jesus Do?

God has helped me push through this paralysis by reminding me of Jesus’s comment that the poor will always be with us (John 12:7). Jesus is teaching that disadvantage—and all that goes with it—will be an ever-present and unrelenting reality. Scripture is clear that human woes—like oppression, prejudice, partiality, classism, racial tensions, injustice, disease, loneliness, imprisonment, hunger, and unequal opportunity—will always be with us. My best efforts will never finally eradicate these woes. 

So we need divine wisdom to guide us. And to that end, we do well to look at how Jesus—God’s Wisdom incarnate—handled life’s ever-present and intransigent needs.

Jesus’s to-do list seemed never-ending. There was always another needy crowd the next morning. And he left a lot of “unfinished business” behind when he returned to heaven. 

Jesus didn’t get it all done—on any given day, or in his lifetime—even though as God, he could have. Instead, he devoted his earthly life to people-oriented and compassion-driven works of gospel-preaching, healing, justice, mercy, caring for the poor and outcast, delivering the demonized, and much more. He did all of this knowing that not everyone’s needs around him would be met. He didn’t fix every injustice in his time on earth. From this, I draw this conclusion: Jesus didn’t do these things to end their existence. He did them because he was a just and good person, and these are the things just and good people do. 

This perspective releases us from the paralysis induced by need and ministry overload. The goal of life is not for us to “get it all done.” The goal is to be faithful.

The goal of life is not for us to ‘get it all done.’ The goal is to be faithful.

Life’s aim isn’t to bring everyone in the world to faith, but to share the gospel with those around us. It’s not to eradicate poverty, but to help the poor. It’s not to fix the world so there will be no more refugees, but to be a person who welcomes and serves the foreigner. It’s not to end all injustice, but to do justice. It’s not to alleviate all misery, but to comfort the miserable and lessen their grief. We aren’t called to create a racist-free world, but to have racism-free hearts and institutions that respect, serve, and uplift those of all colors.

We aren’t called to create a utopia. That’s God’s job. 

Here is hope for those of us who sometimes stare glassy-eyed and mind-numbed at a world full of hurt. You and I will never get everything done. But we can do the next thing in front of us. There is something we can put our hands to and someone we can give our hearts to. And that is what the Lord asks of us. 

Our purpose is not to change the world in our lifetime, but to choose a few good works in the next 24 hours. 

In the Scheme of Things

You and I may not—indeed we almost certainly will not—make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. In fact, that’s the reason why Jesus will have to return to make all things new. Cosmic change is his business, not ours. Still, not long before he returned to heaven to prepare a place for us, he left this charge: “Engage in business until I come” (Luke 19:13). Be about the Father’s business. Be doing what you can. He doesn’t tell us to fix or finish everything. We are to simply steward what he’s given us to some worthy and holy end. 

Our purpose is not to change the world in our lifetime, but to choose a few good works in the next 24 hours.

So what might that look like when it seems that there is too much to do? How can we do something today without being overwhelmed by everything? Here are some suggestions: 

If you’re married, be a faithful husband or wife.

If you’re single, be devoted to Jesus.

If you’re a parent, cherish and disciple your child today.

If you’re entrusted with leadership responsibilities, serve humbly and well.

If a person comes suddenly to mind, pray for him or her.

Ask someone how they’re doing, and linger long enough to get an answer.

Speak the gospel to someone.

Respond gently, but courageously and correctively, when you hear a racially offensive comment.

Ask an unbeliever how you can pray for him or her.

Connect to someone who’s culturally different from you, and start listening.

Provide a meal for a single parent.

If you’re in the ethnic majority, ask an African American brother or sister how you can pray in light of current events. 

Be Christ and grace-centered in your social-media activity.

Choose not to believe every bad report—even when about your opponents or enemies.

Notice the poor and oppressed nearby and see of there is one thing you can do for (or with) them today.

Notice the loner along the way and draw him or her in.

If we try to do everything, we will soon quit doing anything. It’s wiser to learn from Jesus who wasn’t in a frenzied rush to “get it all done” while on earth. Forsaking the illusion of becoming world-changing crusaders, ambitious to multiply our accomplishments, let’s aim simply to do a few good things in our time, knowing that he will get everything done in his.

Tim Shorey

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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