Isaiah 30:12-17 Therefore this is what the Holy One of Israel says: “Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit, 13 this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant. 14 It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from a hearth or scooping water out of a cistern.” 15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. 16 You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee! You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift! 17 A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.”
Busyness is as American as apple pie or baseball. And to one extent or another we are all children of that culture. But I’m not really talking about calendar busy. Not really. I remember back to when I literally worked three jobs; was taking 20 credits at Seminary; and was trying to hold down a marriage. My calendar was full, but I wasn’t busy. Not really. I was exhausted and sometimes more like a zombie than a human being, but busy wasn’t really my feeling. I was just tired. Busy is something else. One writer put it like this, “Notice it generally isn’t people who work… in the I.C.U. who tell you how busy they are… It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed.” We voluntarily take on work and obligations. We choose sports for our kids. We take classes. We head to activities. And we do it because of what we believe busyness will do for our souls.
Or, sometimes we put a slight twist on it and we let busyness choose us. That’s the story that broke just last weekend. You probably heard about it or maybe even read the story. It was a scathing piece put out by the New York Times on Amazon’s work place culture. Here are few quotes from the article that has had people roiling all week, “The joke in the office was that when it came to work/life balance, work came first, life came second, and trying to find the balance came last.” Here’s a couple more: “Emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered.” And, “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” One man said he “usually worked 85 or more hours a week and rarely took a vacation.”
No matter how you cut the busyness cake busyness it comes down to existence. It’s just that simple. Busyness is all about how we exist – if we are a significant existence to God and others OR if we are a significant existence to ourselves. Busyness is about existence. It always has been. It was back in Isaiah’s time too. Granted, they weren’t hanging their existence on something as flimsy as their schedules, but they were fighting for their very existence. They wanted to make sure that tomorrow they would still be alive. They wanted to ensure that their names and their families weren’t about to be swept off the face of the earth in a coming military campaign. So they got busy.
They went out as diplomats and envoys. They cultivated treaties. They bought off politicians – Egypt in particular. The world then wasn’t a whole lot different than the world now. Today you’ve got the Chinese, American, and Russian spheres of influence. And you sort of have to pick your horse. You’ve got the superpowers and you bet on one of them. And Judah made their bet. They picked Egypt. So they sent their envoys to Egypt. They cultivated protection from them and bought off their politicians. They were busy, busy, busy with their existence. As if it was up to them…
Now you might think God would approve of this. You might think he would say to them, “Way to go. Smart thinking. It’s a big, nasty, unpredictable world. I’m glad you’re busy trying to make a safe corner in it.” Or you might think he would say, “Thank you for your diligence and acting like grown-ups in this situation. I always appreciate initiative and hard work.” That’s the sort of performance review you might expect for their busyness. What they got instead was a God who reared up with disapproval. It’s almost like you can see him unfolding against the skyline like Godzilla might in New York. He’s big. He’s powerful. And he’s emphasized that way here when he’s called, “Holy One of Israel,” (v. 12)
And like I said, this was disapproval of their busyness. This isn’t just Godzilla rearing up against the skyline. This is Godzilla with his fists changing the way the skyline looks. Did you catch that when I read the Scripture earlier? These words in this section are some of the most brilliant, scathing, poetic, and powerful prophetic words you’ll come across in the Bible. And they are for the moment pure condemnation. Now what’s important for us to notice is what exactly the Holy One of Israel is condemning. It’s not just the money they took from their own people to send to Egypt and it’s not just the deceit they used to make that happen. Listen to what is actually condemned, “… relied on oppression and depended on deceit.” It’s not primarily the oppression that God condemns. It’s the reliance on it. It’s not chiefly the deceit that so upsets God. Its their heart’s dependence on it.
And that’s just it. When it comes to busyness and what we’re up to, it’s never ultimately about what we do. It’s about why we do it. It’s about the motivation. And this – this right here – is where this Scripture meets our lives. With their busyness, the ancients were fighting for their existence. And with our busyness, we are too. Everybody admits this about our culture. Christians do. Seculars do. Everybody admits this about our culture. We are busy not because we have to be busy, but because we want to be busy. Here’s a quote from a secular article about this: “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
It’s interesting how Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, encouraged exactly that. In the aftermath of that New York Times article he wrote a memo to his entire company. It had these closing lines: “But hopefully, you don’t recognize the company described. Hopefully, you’re having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way.” Did you catch it? With his closing words, he’s not really being an employer anymore. Not really. With his closing words, he’s really being a pastor. He wants to lead them to trust. He wants to lead them to hope. He wants to lead them to believe that through their busyness they are, “helping invent the future.” Because busyness whether it’s for Amazon or someone or something else, is never about the busyness. It’s about meaning. It’s about existence. It’s about what we trust in, rely on, and depend on to fill the void.
That’s why the cycle of busyness is so ingrained in us. Busyness is not just a time problem and it’s not just a scheduling problem. It’s a heart problem. If we slow down, we’re afraid we might have the time to find inside an uncomfortable amount of filth. If we slow down, we’re afraid that we may just have the time to come to grips with the insignificance we sense. If we slow down, we’re afraid we may just encounter a deep and awful void in our souls. So we strategically busy ourselves. That way we never have to look. We post on Facebook. We work crazy hours. We run to the next soccer camp or gymnastics class. We travel here and we’re in demand there. And we never step off the hamster wheel in our lives. We madly keep on keeping on.
Until God steps in and ends the madness. He does that powerfully and poetically here. This time God rears up again, but this time he rears up with even more authority and even more power than he did last time. Last time Isaiah simply said, “This is what the Holy One of Israel says.” (v. 12) But this time the tone gets louder and more insistent. It really is striking. Here’s the lead in that Isaiah uses this time, “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel says.” (v. 15) That’s a whole lot of title. It’s longer and more powerful than the last one. Because this time he wants to be something bigger than a Godzilla tearing down skyline of our souls. This time he wants to loom even larger than he did when he condemned our busyness. This time his goal has expanded to something much greater. This time he doesn’t want to condemn busyness. He wants to replace busyness. This time he doesn’t want to frighten us away from busyness. He wants to woo us to rest from busyness.
And this his how he does it: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, The Holy One of Israel says, ‘In returning and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” (v. 15) In other words, “Judah, if you want national security, leave Egypt and return home. Stop the envoys. End the diplomacy. Don’t cultivate treaties. Stop the frantic attempt to protect your existence. End all busyness and rest. Then you will win. Right there in returning from all your activities you will find salvation. Right there in the midst of quietness and trust you will find strength.” Apparently, the Sovereign Lord is pretty intent in helping us understand what he wants from us. He uses four different and rare words to describe it. All four of them here are states of being. Just being. They’re not different states of busyness. They’re states of un-busyness. Returning (from activity). Rest. Quietness. Trust.
Those are the states of being that the Lord wants from us and that Isaiah is emphasizing. Tell me that’s not amazing and fascinating. Right there in quietness. Right there in the stillness. Right there in the midst of passivity and inactivity. Right there in the return from activity and at end of keeping on the keeping on. Right there is where God promises we’ll find it. Think about it. God is saying that right there in the place and the space we dreaded the most is where we’ll find salvation and strength. We thought that if we’d step off life’s hamster wheel that we’d find a void. We thought that if we’d stop the busyness we’d find only meaninglessness for ourselves. And then right there in the quietness; right there in the passivity; and right there in the inactivity we find salvation.
And that was the plan. God wanted to meet us at the end of our activity and after our frantic busyness. God wanted us to meet us after we gave up finding meaning for ourselves. God wanted to meet us staring down into the void of our sin. He wanted to meet us there so that we could know him the way he wants to be known. He doesn’t want us to know him as the God who will accept our meaning, our worth, or our activity. He wants to be known as the God who gives meaning and worth and activity to us. He doesn’t want to be known as the God who allows us to scratch and claw our way to a worthwhile life. He wants to be known as the God who bestows worthwhile life on us. In other words, God wants to be known as the God who busies himself so that we can rest. So says Isaiah, the prophet of the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel.
And so lived Jesus, the Christ of the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel. Because what God’s prophet said, he meant. Before we made a single move toward him or – for that matter – inside our mother’s womb… in burst of divine activity and busyness, Christ came and busied himself with God’s mission. He busied himself with clearing our plates and our calendars of ever dealing with sin or significance or security. That’s what his busyness with living and dying and rising was all about. He did those things so we could rest in those things. So we could sit relaxed in the armchair of his forgiveness. So we could exist – without any activity – as one of the most valuable and significant creations on earth – one of God’s own blood-bought saints. So we could rest with a secure future – not having to carve one out for ourselves.
That’s what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel wants us up to. God wants us busy with one thing and one thing alone: resting in him. And why wouldn’t we? If rest is our salvation. If quietness is our strength, then why wouldn’t we be busy with that? Why wouldn’t that be both our preoccupation and our occupation. Why wouldn’t we spend our valuable soul time finding our significance and our salvation and our security in what he did for us? Why wouldn’t we stop everything so that we can stare at EVERYTHING, our Jesus, our forgiveness and our Savior and our God. Why wouldn’t we just do what God’s prophet so obviously wants us to busy ourselves with doing? Returning. Rest. Quietness. And trust.
That’s when we’re not victims of life’s hamster wheel anymore. We don’t have to send the kids to every athletic opportunity known to man. We don’t have to work ourselves to the bone for Amazon. Or, then again, we can if that serves God well. There’s so much freedom when it comes to our calendar, efforts, and schedule. And that’s the point of this sermon. Freedom. We weren’t free before. We were slaves to busyness – to creating our significance through it; to establishing our security with it; to ignoring our void by it. But now we have forgiveness for our busyness; significance that fills our inner void; and security in God’s love. These are the gifts of God’s busyness. Not ours. Let’s get busy resting in that. Amen.