Why Productivity Starts with Doing Nothing

Bill GaultiereBy Bill Gaultiere5 Minutes

When I was too busy Dallas Willard advised me to set aside lots of time to do nothing.

Being busy or overworking puts you in a stress mode that’s out of sync with God’s loving presence and the people around you. In the end, it’s actually less productive than scheduling time for rest, relationships, and prayer before you work.

I learned this the hard way. In my late thirties, I was so driven to be productive and successful that I burned out. That’s common for Type A leaders, but I was a counselor and pastor of soul care helping others not to burn out!

In my season of recovery, I learned the value of taking regular spiritual retreats. I’d set aside all my work and responsibilities for five hours, a day, or longer to just BE with the Lord Jesus as my friend.

I’d ask myself, “What experiences would you enjoy sharing with your friend Jesus?”

Sometimes we hiked in the hills or walked on the beach. Other times, we meditated on Scripture and prayed, read short and inspiring classic devotional books, or I wrote love poems to him.

After a number of years of being personally mentored by Dallas, I participated in his two-week seminary class conducted at a monastery. He had me and the other pastors take a twenty-four-hour silent retreat to rest and learn to enjoy God.

Dallas’ instructions were stark: “Do nothing. Don’t try to make anything happen.” There was a long, awkward silence. Then he repeated with a mischievous smile, “Do nothing. Don’t try to make anything happen.”

That was it. Then he stepped away from the lectern, packed up his briefcase for the weekend, and walked out. As soon as we left the classroom our silence would begin.

A group of younger and overworked pastors huddled together and called me over. They laughed nervously, “Bill, you lead silent retreats for pastors — help!”

“This is a new challenge for you,” I empathized. “I understand why you feel anxious about it.”

“But what can we do?” asked one of them.

I replied, “Probably we need to do something in order to do nothing.”

I suggested, “You could take a prayer walk. Or just take a nap — Jesus took naps (Mark 4:38). Try meditating on a Scripture till you fall asleep.”

One of the guys joked sarcastically, “But we’re not going to sleep for the whole weekend of silence!”

“I know it’s tough,” I replied. “If you keep doing nothing your body will be jittery, your thoughts will wander, and you’ll feel pressure to be productive. But if you stay with it then you’ll feel bored — that’s when you know the solitude and silence are working and you can practice resting in God’s arms of grace and listening.”

Then I briefly taught them a method for how to relax in God’s presence with a breath prayer from the Bible: “In Christ alone my soul finds rest . . . Selah” (adapted from Psalm 62:1).

Simply breathe in as you pray, “In Christ alone my soul finds rest …”

Then breathe out as you pray, “Selah.” That’s the Psalmist’s word for pausing or resting (used 71 times in the ESV).

If you repeat this prayer a number of times with slow, deep breathing it will help you to get into a relational mode with God, which will then help you to have better creativity, focus, energy, and love for God and others in your work.

In Journey of the Soul, we teach that Breath Prayers from the Bible are an especially effective spiritual discipline for developing Inner Journey spirituality, which is the fourth of the six CHRIST stages we teach.

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