• Matthew Thornton

Presence over productivity

Matthew writes a challenging article reflecting on the proliferation of #hustle culture in our modern society. He encourages us to consider how we are spending our time, and whether serving Jesus is lost in our busyness.

I don’t know about you, but the world just seems busy. I find when I ask people the question, “how are you doing?”, 90% of the time the answer is: “busy”.

A common reason for our busyness is our work. The ‘hustle’ culture of today continues to puzzle me. For those who aren’t familiar, ‘hustle’ culture is “obsessed with striving” (NY Times). It’s a culture that worships mantras such as “sleep when you’re dead”, or “rise and grind” (Nike Ad).

It’s strange because I think the concept of ‘work ethic’ has become distorted in our modern-day and age. No longer is it associated with sustained effort in meaningful work, but rather just any work of long duration. Busyness has become a virtue.


I think that one of the reasons for the proliferation of hustle culture is this age of start-ups that we live in. Many of the billionaires today – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk – have all made their fortunes in these start-up companies which are characterized by outlandishly long work weeks. Take Elon Musk, for example, he works 85 to 100 hours week – two full-time jobs (Business Insider)

It surprises me that working excessive amounts is often praised. I just think that if we dedicated that amount of time to anything else besides work, it would be considered an addiction; and we would be encouraged to go to therapy!

Yet, somewhere along the line society has decided that these tech giants are aspirational and that sacrificing your family life and social life for work is respectable.

Now, of course, many of these people I have mentioned have done great work. Microsoft, Tesla, they are all companies that have changed the world. Furthermore, Bill Gates continues to donate billions in philanthropic efforts. I don’t deny any of this, nor discount it.

However, something that has been on my heart lately is that how we do something is just as important as why we do something. I’ve found that I often use the reason I am doing something to justify how I am doing something.

The how is important

I’ll give you an example. I am currently studying civil engineering at university. I put a lot of hours into my study because I want to be the best that I can be. Also, I want to set myself up for opportunities in the future that could make a difference in people’s lives.

But often I’ll justify denying certain opportunities to volunteer, or to share my faith, or to do ministry because I’m ‘busy’ with university. I’ll say to myself that when I finish university, I will have more time to read my Bible. Or, when I finish this assignment, I will have more time to spend praying.

However, the truth is that there is always going to be another assignment, there is always going to be another task. If I keep using that as my excuse, I will never actually serve in the way that I intend to, or in the way that God has called me too.

Many of us will similarly justify our work life. We might say that we are working hard for these years to save up and then use the money to do good. Now that is admirable, and I don’t denounce that goal. However, we need to ask ourselves what are we doing in the meantime as well?

The truth is that Jesus died to reconcile ourselves to Him (Romans chapter 5, verse 10). He died so that we could have a relationship with Him, not so we would just work harder.

He died for our presence, not our productivity. Yet, often it is time spent with Him or serving Him that is sacrificed at the altar of our busyness.

I don’t deny that certain seasons will require more hard work and more sacrifice of our time than others. During exam times, for example, I will have less time to dedicate to other things than usual. What is important is that we reflect on our overall pattern.

People like Bill Gates are fortunate. He is in a position now that he can leverage the hard work he has put in the past for good. However, not everyone is that lucky. The scary truth is that day that we tell ourselves will be the day that we start serving, it may never come.

The future is not guaranteed. So, we need to ask ourselves, if we died tomorrow, what would we have to show? Are we busying ourselves with things that have eternal value, or those things that will pass away when we die?

He died for our presence, not our productivity.

Making time

So where do we need to be spending more time?

If obsessive work or study is a constant in our lives, then we need to ask ourselves what we truly value, and whether we are giving these things the time we should. The truth is that we will always be busy. Therefore, we need to be intentional about making time for the things we value.

Even though Jesus was occupied with the most important job in the world – reconciling mankind – He still took hours out to pray, to spend time with His Father (Luke chapter 5, verse 16; Mark chapter 1, verse 35). If anyone could have used the excuse of busyness, it was Jesus.

However, He knew that the how was just as important as the why. It is important for us too.

Matthew Thornton is studying at the University of Auckland, Matthew finds that writing is one of the prime ways he connects with and grows closer to God. He loves seeing the way in which God has wired everyone uniquely and finds immense fulfilment in seeing others discover who God is to them. He would love to hear from you: matthewcthornton13@gmail.com // Photo: Caleb van Essen

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