You Aren’t Called To Do Everything: Say “No” to Busy

“But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction” (2 Chr. 26:16).

So says the Jewish Chronicler about King Uzziah. An otherwise good king, Uzziah fails miserably in the end. The beginning of his story is marked by sincerity and obedience toward God. The scripture says, “And [Uzziah] did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper” (2 Chr. 26:4-5). 

Like many, King Uzziah’s life began with, as I said above, sincerity. You get the sense from the text that he really wanted to follow God with all of his soul. And for the most part he did. The problem, however, was that his sincerity soon gave way to pride and arrogance. During his reign, he was quite successful, and his fame was said to have spread far and wide (vv.6-15). And the Chronicler was careful to note that King Uzziah’s good fortunes were the result of God’s own help (v.7). Toward the end of this otherwise good story, we read that, “his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong” (v.15).

Notice those last words: “till he was strong.” God had been gracious to King Uzziah–after all, Uzziah himself began his reign with a humble posture toward God and, as a result, was able to receive goodness from God. But having experienced such great successes and even prosperity, Uzziah began to forget God’s kindness to him, focusing rather upon his own strength and might. Verse 16 says so much. “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction” (v.16).

The interesting thing here is the form that Uzziah’s pride took. Here’s the rest of the passage in context:

But when he became strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, and they withstood the King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God. Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priest in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead. And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land” (vv.16-21).

The scene begins with King Uzziah walking into the Temple, proceeding to burn incense before God. But the reality was that the Law did not allow for anyone other than priests to offer incense (Num 16:40). This was only reserved for Aaron’s descendants (Ex 30:1-10), not for a king. In the wisdom of God, living under the Old Covenant was a sort of de-centralized endeavor for God’s people. That is, not one person, or even one group of persons, were called to do everything. Some were called to be kings, some priests, some prophets, others farmers or whatever. But all the same, not one person was to do everything in Jewish life. After all, Israel was not to be a cult, centered upon only one celebrity leader. Yet, this is exactly where the King found himself drifting. He was a royal celebrity, after all, with fame and fortune. He began to get a big head, and as scripture says, pride comes right before a fall (Prov 16:18). King Uzziah’s own fall began with the rise of his own pride. He was so successful, so prosperous, that he began to think he could do anything. In fact, one wonders if Uzziah thought he could do everything. Perhaps that’s why he took upon himself the role of a priest. But, again, he was called to be a king, not a priest. This act was one of rebellion, plain and simple.

For those living in our 21st-century culture, I think a couple of insights and principles can be gleaned from this story. First, we need to realize that burning incense in the Temple was part of the worship service and therefore a good thing. In a sense (no pun intended), there was nothing wrong in what was done (namely, burning incense). The problem was that this particular service was not his to carry out. I think pastors, as well as every minister (whether lay or ordained) serving in the church, can be tempted to make the same mistake. If you are a minister (again, of any sort), read these words slowly: You weren’t called to do everything. You may try if you wish (as many do), but this will be to your own destruction. There is a huge temptation in our fast-paced, get-it-done-myself culture that draws ministers toward King Uzziah’s mindset–namely, the mindset that you can do everything and anything. Yes, I know. It’s hardly ever done with bad intentions or in explicit selfishness. In fact, most busy ministers are busy precisely because they don’t have bad intentions or selfishness. Rather, they busy themselves in a multitude of areas out of sincerity and compassion for others. Most busy pastors want to help as many people as they can, counsel as many people as possible, spend time preparing quality sermons, expend themselves making sure a mission trip happens, consume themselves with administrative issues or with raising funds for the next building project. It is always sincere. I am sure that King Uzziah had good motives and well-intentioned thoughts about what he was doing. It’s a good thing to do, he thought. I am after all serving God in worship, he probably mused. But worship service, even if it is driven by sincerity, can actually be destructive if not done appropriately (that’s a good word to consider). Exhaustion is a spiritual leprosy, a disease that all too often begins in the sanctuary if we aren’t careful. 

Second, you must know yourself and your gifts. If you take an honest assessment of how God has gifted (and hence, called) you to serve, then you will know where you can be most effective, as well as know where you are most limited. King Uzziah failed to do this. In his mind, he was gifted in everything and limited to nothing. He was too proud, and the Bible describes his actions as “unfaithful” (v.18). King Uzziah, by dabbling into what was only reserved by Law for priests, became unfaithful not just to the Law, but also to his own calling as King. This is interesting because when those who minister in today’s world begin to take on more than they are called to do (or more than they are gifted to do), they are really being unfaithful. This is ironic because, often, our busyness in the church is seen by others as tremendous faithfulness; pastoral busyness is seen as a spiritual feat to be imitated. But busyness is not rooted in faithfulness; it is an offshoot of pride. But this type of pride is unique, perhaps of the worst sort. After all, it does not look like pride; as we say, it looks like faithfulness. It is therefore the most deceptive sort of pride, and because of this, it is the most destructive. We cannot be too careful here. What looks faithful and good and pleasing to the eye can often prove to be quite deadly. Busyness is the turf of serpents.

Our culture is all about the product and therefore idolizes productivity. As a result, I reckon, we have adopted an unhealthy mindset that multi-tasking is the great virtue. In the West–not least in the western church–doing much is good, and more of that is better. The overpowering American concept of “pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps” has permeated every area of our lives–even, yes, church life. This was, in a sense, King Uzziah’s own problem and downfall. The serpent whispers quite convincingly, “burn the incense yourself.” By way of analogy, this proves to be our own peril–by burning another person’s incense, we end up burning out. Exhaustion really is spiritual leprosy. Like King Uzziah, you will be forced out of the truly effective life and driven to a house of regret and, often, loneliness. We were meant for Eden, but we’ve settled for a lonely and dry wilderness. Again, the turf of serpents. 

Saying “no” to busyness is a dangerous proposition. Our fast-paced culture will call you lazy, after all. The spirit that rules our times, like a cruel slavemaster, pushes and pushes us to constantly work, stretching ourselves to areas we have no business being busy in (read that slowly). But we have to respond with a resounding “No!” The cultural spirit, hating that word, will label you a glutton. But that’s okay; you are in good company. If the life of Jesus ever taught us anything, then we will surely know that it is better to be denounced by the culture (and religious people who have been inoculated with it) than to be denounced by God; better to be unfaithful to cultural norms than biblical ones. It’s tempting to always jump around, dabbling in this church program or exhausting oneself in that ministry. It looks good to appear busy and active and part of the action. But as Eugene Peterson says, “The pastoral itch to be ‘where the action is’ should be resisted.”

Yes.

The fact is, you are not called to do everything, mainly because you can’t. You will end up being unfaithful to the ministry you are called to if you spend so much time operating outside your own giftedness. So, don’t do that. Don’t operate outside your spiritual gifts. Find your ministry, the one that is energizing, not exhausting. Find your passion and don’t get distracted from it (no matter how lucrative it sounds). Find your gifts–your spiritual tools–and use them. But just remember, if your particular tools are hammers and nails, then that probably means you aren’t called to a life of painting (and so, don’t try to spend your life painting). Like every construction site, the church is being built up, and we need different people doing different things in order to grow effectively and in unity (Eph 4:11-16). An unhealthy busyness is simply distracting to our being effective in the church.

Therefore, say no to busy distractions and yes to your calling.

Indeed, say no to busy distractions so that you can say yes to your calling.

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This was an article I shared with our Pastoral Leadership Team at my church. If you found it helpful, please feel free to share it with your church’s leaders as well. 

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