In his short book Crazy Busy, Kevin DeYoung writes:
“We have more opportunity than ever before. The ability to cheaply go anywhere is a recent development. The ability to get information from anywhere is, too. Even the ability to easily stay up past sundown is relatively new. The result, then, is simple but true: because we can do so much, we do do so much. Our lives have no limits. We eat (most of) what we want, buy (most of) what we want, and say yes to (too much of) what we want. In all our lifetimes we’ve seen an exponential expansion in the number of opportunities for children, opportunities for seniors, opportunities for leisure, opportunities for travel, opportunities for education, opportunities at church (and for different churches), opportunities in our local communities, and opportunities to make a difference around the world. No wonder we are busy.”
Living such hectic lives brings with it inescapable problems. We spend too many of our days tired, stretched too thin, irritable, spiritually drained, and emotionally spent. To make matters worse, we live in a time that suffers information glut – that is, we are bombarded with all that we “should” be doing, in addition to what we are already struggling to accomplish.
In 1967, a testimony before a Senate subcommittee claimed that by 1985, the average American workweek would be 22 hours. The average American workweek now actually leads the world by a long-shot. From 1967 to 2000, the average working hours increased from 1,716 per year to 1,878 per year. Workers in Britain put in an hour per day more than their German and Italian counterparts, and that is still about an hour per day less than Americans.
Over 40 million Americans have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders. That’s about 1 out of every 10 Americans and that’s just the ones who have been diagnosed! It should also be noted that those numbers have skyrocketed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 70 million Americans have been diagnosed with sleep disorders, and the CDC has identified lack of sleep as a genuine public health problem (and that too is pre-pandemic!).
We could go on and on trying to pinpoint the cause of our anxiety, our chaotic lives, our tendency to overwork, and stretch ourselves too thin, but we can identify one root problem that permeates our society as either a cause or result of it – lack of peace.
As I do every year, I recently completed a series of sermons for our church that attempts to explain why we worship the way we do – why in that order, why those things, why not other things, what does it teach us, etc. One of my deepest concerns as a pastor is having the children in our congregation grow up not knowing why any of it is done, then concluding that there must be no good reason.
Near the end of the final sermon this year, we focused on these words from Leviticus 9:22-24: “Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.”
After all the offerings are done, Aaron lifted his hands and blessed the people. Numbers 6:23-26 tells us the specific words of that blessing: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: ‘The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.’”
This is the benediction (Latin for “good words”). The liturgy begins with an early confession of sin (the sin offering) but ends with blessing and peace. We arrive in need of confession and repentance, but we leave with the gift of peace and blessing, the gift of God’s countenance upon us.
So, what do we do with that gift?
Sadly, we often give that gift up for stress, anxiety, frustration, anger, pet sins – you name it. So, when we come back, God gives it to us again. By doing so, God is teaching us by repetition, calling us to hold on to His peace.
Perhaps making it to Monday morning’s first class, to Tuesday afternoon’s staff meeting? For some of us, getting home from church with God’s peace would be a great victory, particularly those of us who have to round up multiple children to do so! After all, whoever wrote the song “Easy Like Sunday Morning” never took his children to church.
But, the benediction is teaching us, calling us, to live in the peace of God. Believe the benediction. Don’t just believe the words are true, but have faith that when God gives His people something, they actually have it. Don’t squander it for petty things. Treat it like a gift from God.