Have you ever felt as if you’ve had a particularly a busy week, with more appointments and functions than available hours? Have you felt overwhelmed by chores, responsibilities and the seemingly mounting pressure to do more and do it better? Have you had so much to do and so little time in which to do it—and this despite all the modern conveniences and automatic everythings that supposedly save us so much time?
As a church, we were recently confronted by the Word in terms of our practical approach to being productive hearers. The timing of that message was excellent—for a number of reasons—not the least of which is that that sermon primed the pumps of thinking about productivity in the Christian life. Surely we all desire to be like the fourth soil in the Lord’s parable of the sower that grows and produces fruit. We want to lead productive lives. This study will build on the theme of productivity and get the pumps working overtime after they have been so well primed.
In the context of Joshua 11:15–23 we see here outworking of the rapid conquest of the Promised Land by the nation of Israel as led by Joshua. In fulfilment of some of the promises given to Abraham, the nation conquered the land, moved in and settled. The Lord had instructed Moses about how the land would be conquered and Moses had in turn passed on the instructions to Joshua who, in our text, was vindicated by what he actually did and achieved in the land. From this passage will we develop a working definition of what productivity looks like, especially from a Christian perspective.
A Working Definition
As a working definition of what it means to be a productive Christian consider, the following statement: True productivity entails making the best use of our God given opportunities and talents for the glory of God and the eternal benefit of others.
Now, this is not a definition that you will find in the dictionary or Wikipedia, but I believe that it represents a true and biblical understanding of what true productivity is. Consistently throughout the Scriptures we see men and women, whom we would consider to have been very productive, holding up to this definition. There are dozens of characters and examples of righteous and productive individuals in the Bible, but in this study we will consider the mighty man Joshua and see how his life and achievements accord with the definition of Christian productivity.
Worldly Productivity Versus Godly Productivity
To engage with the topic of productivity we must make sure that we are talking about the same thing. At the outset we must appreciate that productivity is productivity. In other words, being productive in one area—say, for example, Christian discipleship—counts as being productive just as much as gardening, reading or managing a major project at work. From the mandate given to Adam and Eve in the garden to go forth and multiply mankind has been called to be productive. But productivity is measured by different outcome measures, and that is where true, righteous and godly productivity differs from worldly productivity.
The world too often emphasises the tangible measures of productivity: How much money did you make? What status or position do you have? How many friends do you have on Facebook? What was your high score on your inane Xbox game?
But it is the intangible things that really define productivity for a believer: How does your life accord with godliness? How has your love for the Lord grown? How strong are your relationships? The intangibles count and are the things that last for eternity. So, how do we then seek to live, play and work in a society that demands tangible measures of productivity and yet still work for true productivity with things that last for eternity?
As a Christian, you do need to work in the realm where outcomes are measured tangibly. You need to be productive in the real world and at the same time produce the intangible measures of productivity. Enter Joshua. We could very well have considered what true productivity looks like from the life of Moses, Abraham, Joseph, Nehemiah, Paul, Timothy or (our ultimate example) the Lord Jesus Christ. I challenge you, as you read the Bible in coming days, to consider these examples in light of their productivity. You will see complete agreement, but in this study we will look as this particular passage to see what the life of Joshua teaches us about true productivity.
The Example of Joshua
When we first meet Joshua in Exodus 17, he is tasked by Moses to lead the Israelite army in a skirmish against the Amalekites. The Bible says that he successfully conquered the enemy. Joshua became Moses’ right hand man: his servant and minister, his “go-to” guy. Later, and most famously, Caleb and Joshua returned from spying out the Promised Land with a very different message from that of the other ten spies. He and Caleb saw opportunity where the others saw opposition. He saw a land ripe for the taking where others saw their life flashing before their eyes.
Unfortunately for Joshua, and the whole nation, the majority opinion won and, as a result, the nation was doomed to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Thereafter, Joshua was appointed leader of the nation, taking the reins from Moses to become the one who was to lead the advance into the Promised Land. He grabbed the bull by both horns and displayed amazing productivity in completing the task set before him.
In the tangible outcome measures of getting things done, and done well, Joshua was right up there with the most productive people of all time. Verses 15–19 of Joshua 11 state that he did it all: He left nothing undone of all that he had been instructed to do. The entire land, which would subsequently be divided up among the tribes of Israel, was subjected to Joshua’s swift and decisive actions. On a worldly scale of productivity it would be correct to say that Joshua was more than effective. When the opportunity presented itself (again) to go and conquer the land flowing with milk and honey, he took to his task, stuck to it and completely achieved all that was set out for him to do.
Sovereignty and Responsibility
We must at this point interrupt our consideration of productivity as displayed by Joshua to again think about the interplay between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. In all our desire to be productive, we have to remember that, ultimately, God is the sovereign who controls the what, when, who and how of everything that goes down. Verse 20 clearly and irrefutably states this principle: It was of the Lord to harden the hearts of the Canaanites, so that they would rise up against the Israelites and give the invading army every justification and impetus to take the battle to them until the very end. In this we see that God, in His divine plan, works things out in our lives and sets us up with opportunities in which we can be productive—or not. Israel had stood on the border of the Promised Land before, but the first time, through unbelief and doubt, they did not take advantage of their opportunity and ended up walking in circles in the desert for forty years. This time, under Joshua’s leadership, when the opportunity knocked, productivity ensued.
If we return to our working definition of what productivity looks like, we see that true productivity entails making the best use of our God given opportunities and talents for the glory of God and for the eternal benefit of others.
What opportunities has God brought about in your life? What doors are being opened right now that require you to step up and enter, in order for you to be productive? What God-given abilities and talents have you been given that you should be employing, as best you can, for the glory of God and the eternal benefit of others? You very well might not be gifted with the same abilities as Joshua in terms of his leadership, vision, strategy and strength, but if you are a believer then, according to2 Peter 1:3, you have been given “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.” Are you using it productively?
Recall the parable of the stewards, who were given talents according to their ability in Matthew 25. The three servants were given five, two and one talent respectively. The first two stewards were rewarded for being good and faithful since they employed their talents and doubled them. The last steward took the safe option and hid his talent in the ground for safekeeping. He was not rewarded for his caution; rather, he was chastised for being unfaithful, lazy and unprofitable.
Take your talents and double them up to the praise of His glorious name. You have been given these gifts and you should be putting them to good use, the best use you possibly can, so that you will not be declared unprofitable or lazy. There’s a good chance that you might not even be aware of your particular giftings, but there is certainly good reason to find out how God has moulded you. Be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading into certain ministries and activities. Ask those who have walked a road with you what abilities they think God has blessed you with and then get stuck in. Wouldn’t it be a blessing if BBC embraced the FCE model (First Church of Ephesus) described in Ephesians 4 where we see how various people were blessed by the Lord with various gifts in order to employ them in the ministry of the church so that the entire body may benefit by growing in Christlikeness and spiritual maturity?
The Intangible behind the Tangible
At this point, you may be thinking (if you are engaging with the text and reasoning with the preacher’s argument) that the results of Joshua’s productivity are all of the tangible nature, and therefore we should just focus on doing the visibly productive things that result in tangible results—like conquering 32 kings and their cities, or cutting off the Anakim, the breed of giants that lived in the land. And Joshua did that—very well. But how was this possible? Why was Joshua so successful in his task? According to v. 23, we see that Joshua was not merely working towards the completion of the tangibles. In fact, it is fair to say that the tangible results we see here were simply the by-products of his determination to produce intangible results. What were these intangibles? The glory of the one true God being appreciated across the land and the eternal benefit of the nation!
Joshua took victory over the whole land according to and in obedience to all that the Lord had said to Moses. For him to do any less would have been to say that his desires and plans were more important than those of the Lord; that his glory and recognition in society were more important than the Lord being glorified across the nation. Anything less than complete productivity would have been stating that the commandments of the Lord were not really commandments from the supreme ruler of the universe but merely suggestions from someone who doesn’t really possess any weight or influence. You see, Joshua had been commanded by Moses, who had in turn been commanded and instructed by the Lord, in exactly what was required to possess the Promised Land. For those instructions to be realised, some background work had to be put in. The promises needed to be believed; faith needed to be exercised; instructions needed to be obeyed; self-interest needed to be put aside; the needs of others needed to be considered above selfish needs; dependence and humility had to be developed. Joshua’s obedience to God’s commands resulted in glory to God’s name. All across Canaan, people were saying that the Israelites had a great big, powerful God. Their knees knocked and they literally quivered in their boots when they heard that the army of this great God was headed in their direction. So while Joshua was productively leading the army forth to conquer the Canaanites, he was also exalting the name of the Lord in a pagan and hostile land.
But that’s not all. Joshua had other motivations driving him to successfully conquer the land of Canaan. Simply put, he had a genuine care for the future of the nation. Joshua led, fought and persevered so that the nation of Israel could lay claim to the land promised to them. He persisted because he believed that God’s promise to Abraham was true and that, for the promise to be realised, they needed a land, a place to call home, to settle and to build their nation. Joshua knew that the eternal prosperity of the nation depended on the successful conquering of the pagan land of Canaan. He said as much after his scouting mission. When the unbelieving Israelites refused to enter the land out of fear of the giants and fierce warriors Caleb and Joshua pleaded with the people by saying,
The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.
So, if we refer back to our working definition, we see that Joshua was being extremely productive. True productivity entails making the best use of our God given opportunities and talents for the glory of God and for the eternal benefit of others.
So how do we do the same? How should we best emulate Joshua’s example by being truly, biblically, God-glorifyingly productive? Not just productive of the tangibles of life in accumulating material possessions, positions and prominence, and completing various sporting challenges, but ultimately in producing the intangible products of glorifying God’s name and being of eternal benefit to others.
A False Dichotomy
Consider first that the reason we don’t display true productivity is that we all too often separate the sacred and the secular. We create a distinction between being productive in the tangibles of work, sport, politics, society, etc. and being productive in the intangibles of bringing glory to God and benefitting others eternally.
If we are going to be truly productive then we must see that there is no such separation. We need to appreciate that, whether we are working in the corporate world of high finance or teaching pre-schoolers to cut with scissors and colour in the lines, we are to still seek to glorify God and benefit others eternally. And vice versa: When we are worshipping together at church and edifying one another at Grace Groups, we are simultaneously influencing the way we approach and tackle the physical tasks of work, play and life together.
It’s all kingdom work. The student sitting on the hard study chair for what seems like days on end is not just preparing to write (and hopefully pass) an exam but is striving to use his studies as a springboard to being gainfully employed in his chosen field. And when he starts working in the office in his little cubicle, he will view that as an opportunity to work excellently, rendering a valuable contribution to his employer. And as he works he carries the name of Jesus high by his high quality of work, honest dealings, and Philippians 4 ethics and morals. In his interactions with colleagues and clients he portrays Christ. He earns money and gives generously to the glory of God and the eternal benefit of others.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said many wise and insightful things, and much of what he wrote is worthy of repetition. When considering this topic, he wrote that every Christian must be fully Christian by bringing God into all his life, not merely some spiritual realm. Create no separation between the sacred and secular and you will be enabled to be truly productive.
You will notice that, in our working definition of productivity, there is no mention of being productive to our own personal benefit. That is where so much of our quest for productivity becomes derailed. The general perception of productivity focuses entirely on personal gain: becoming more productive so that you have more leisure and income and less hassles and delays. In and of themselves, those are not bad things. We could all afford to spend less time with mundane activities. But the problem comes in when God and others are excluded from our reasoning in becoming more effective. By all means, find ways of cutting down on wasted time and becoming more efficient, but don’t do so in order to waste that time on things that aren’t truly productive.
Consider Joshua again: Nowhere do we see Joshua seeking personal gain or benefit from all his pursuits for the glory of the Lord and eternal benefit of the people. And yet Joshua was honoured and cherished by all who saw his work. Consider the legacy he left, a legacy because, throughout his life, he sought to be truly productive. In Judges 2:7 we read that “the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel.” Elsewhere it is written that if you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all the other benefits from the hand of the Lord will be added unto you. Be desirous of the gain of others, so that they may be eternally benefitted and you will know the satisfaction and rewards of true productivity.
Returning to our working definition, what does being productive for the eternal benefit of others look like? The answer to this question is that it looks a lot like the gospel. The moment you practically apply the gospel to someone’s life is when you start getting really productive. True productivity does not merely seek the temporal benefit of others but rather their eternal benefit. There are three things that are going to last forever and therefore three things that are worth investing your life in: God, the Word of God and the souls of men. Efforts in productivity beyond these eternal causes are not truly productive but busyness.
This does not automatically exclude doing generous acts of kindness and benevolence to the marginalised of our world, but it focuses those efforts on seeking the eternal lasting benefit of those to whom we minister. How many hours and how much money has been spent on noble pursuits that are not inherently wrong or bad but could’ve been so much more productive if they had been focused on giving, living or doing the gospel into someone’s life? See how the FCE was encouraged to work to the eternal benefit of others: Each member in the covenant community is to see his vital role in the body and to work accordingly. And when the membership becomes a productive membership then the entire body is strengthened and becomes more like Christ.
There are as many different ways of becoming truly productive as there are people reading this, and it is beyond our reach or purpose to develop particular strategies to accomplish that. For now, suffice it to say that each of us has a specific set of abilities, gifts and unique opportunities to declare the glory of God and to work to the eternal benefit of others. But there is one characteristic that is present in all those who are truly productive. They have their heart in the right place. Their priorities declare that they have a handle on what is truly worth pursuing and being productive in.
I am often amazed by the output of certain individuals, as I’m sure you are: writing books, teaching, working full days, answering emails, and still finding time to exercise and for hobbies. They seem to be positively overflowing with productivity.
But in consideration of true productivity it is apparent that, unless these people are doing what they do to the glory of God and the eternal benefit of others, they are not being productive but merely busy. I hope that this lesson from the life of Joshua gives you cause to look at your own busyness and schedule. How much of what you’re doing is truly productive and how much is just busyness without a point? There is no need to rush out to the self-help section at the local bookstore or on Kindle to grab the latest book on increasing performance and productivity, but there is every need to look at your heart. Where do your priorities lie? Are you obsessed with being productive in the material, tangible sphere, or are you desirous of fruit that will last? Are you pursuing gold, silver and precious stones, or is your treasure chest full of wood, hay and stubble? Just think back to yesterday: How much of what you did glorified God and benefitted others eternally? Surely a radical shift in our priorities is called for. Where is your heart? It surely isn’t an easy task, but the eternal rewards of doing so will be worth the effort.
The beauty of this approach to productivity is that it fits across the board. Regardless of your age or status in life, you can be productive. In the alternate measures of productivity, an older and infirm individual cannot be as productive of material tangibles as an active middle-aged person. But here, anyone can glorify God. Anyone can harness their gifts and abilities and employ them for the eternal benefit of others.
For example, to the outside world prayer doesn’t look like a very productive pursuit, but anyone who has developed a consistent prayer life will tell you that it is in fact very productive. Memorising Scripture is productive because, since the Word of God will last forever, it has benefits for eternity. Anyone can be productive.
Actually, that may not be true. By this definition of productivity, there are many people who would not ever be able to be productive. They might produce goods and services, earn oodles of money and gain the acclaim of the latest tabloids, but this all is just busyness. It is temporary, and when it passes through the furnace of God’s high standard judgement, it’s just going to burn up. True productivity is reserved only for those who have had their heart changed by God, for those who realise that their own efforts amount to nothing and that there is nothing of lasting significance and eternal worth and therefore of a truly productive nature that they can do. Instead, they realise that Jesus has done it all. He has paid it all. He has conquered all. All that we can do amounts to filthy rags and grass that withers and dew that evaporates. We need to realise the weight and burden of our sin and then confess and repent and embrace the ultimate act of productivity that the world has ever seen. In this act, the sinless Saviour died under the weight of our sin, and in so doing he glorified His Father and worked the ultimate blessing for the eternal benefit of all that would believe.
If this is true in your life—if you believe that you can be truly productive by what Jesus has done—then make the best use of your God-given opportunities and talents to glorify God and work to the eternal benefit of others. If you have never considered your sin and subsequently embraced the Saviour, then do so today so that you can begin to live a truly productive life.
As we draw this study to a close, consider these well-known words from C. T. Studd:
Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, “Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “’twas worth it all”;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.