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Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

We all, in our own ways, have busy lives. Our cultural context encourages us to place productivity, efficiency, and image above all else. But God wants us to be still and know that he is God. Unfortunately, we humans tend to we make things more complicated for ourselves than they really need to be. We forget that “our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121). We forget that God “will not let our foot be moved,” “that he watches over us while we sleep,” that he will “preserve us” and “keep us safe.” We forget that God is “watching over our going out and our coming in.” We live as if we have to watch out for ourselves. We live as if we have to save ourselves by doing as much as we can, day in and day out, to preserve ourselves. We live as if we have to make ourselves great, as if it depends on us to make a great name for ourselves—as if that is all that really matters. But when we do this, we are forgetting the terms of the covenant, the structure of our relationship with God, who says that he will bless us, so that we will, in turn, be a blessing. We get so caught up in working hard for ourselves, to make our own name great, that we forget that our worthiness is not due to our own efforts but that it is, in fact, a gift from God—a gift freely given, one that cannot be earned in any way.

A few years ago, not long after I finished seminary,  I read a book whose premise intrigued me. The premise is that people in our contemporary western culture, though they are worshipping in church much less, are in fact just as religious as ever—they’re just religious about secular pursuits. Instead of practicing faith by being part of a church community, many people are putting their faith in healthy eating, or in exercise regimes, or in devotion to a political candidate or party, or to being super-attentive parents, or just to being frenetically busy, successful people. The book is called Seculosity and it’s by David Zahl, an Episcopal lay preacher in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In his book, Zahl argues that chief among the things people get drawn into worshipping (instead of God) is being busy—he calls this the seculosity of busy-ness. His point is not new, but rather a new version of an old idea—along the lines of Max Weber’s thesis about the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Another term for this devotion to being busy is “performancism,” which Zahl explains as “the assumption, usually unspoken, that there is no distinction between what we do and who we are. … What makes you lovable, indeed what makes your life worth living, is your performance at X, Y, or Z. Performancism holds that if you are not doing enough, or doing enough well, [then] you are not enough” (Zahl 6).

Zahl offers several very compelling examples of what this performancism, or this feeling that our sense of self-worth comes from being busy and getting stuff done, looks like. One example comes from a scholar, Ann Burnett, who has collected and studied family Christmas letters and how they’ve changed over the past 50 years. As Zahl notes, “Her findings are sadly predictable. … [Christmas letters] from recent years focus far less on giving thanks or forecasting the future and much more on how jam-packed the preceding months have been” (5). One of the letters in Burnett’s study is especially poignant: “I’m not sure whether writing a Christmas letter when I’m working at the speed of light is a good idea, but given the amount of time I have to devote to any single project, it’s the only choice I have. We start every day at 4:45 a.m., launch ourselves through the day at breakneck speed, only to land in a crumpled heap at 8:30 p.m., wondering how we made it through the day” (5).

As Dave Zahl reflects, “For an increasing amount of the population, … to be alive in the twenty-first century is to wonder privately how much longer you can keep feeding the beast before you keel over. The very phrase feed the beast could not be more apt. It conjures the image of a ravenously hungry creature whose appetite demands satiation, lest it carve out its pound of flesh. It brings to mind a prowling monster that can be momentarily appeased but never fully satisfied. A life of feeding the beast recasts our activities, and the rewards they bring, as momentary offerings on the anxious altar of Enough” (6).

But this worshipping at “the anxious altar of Enough” is not the life that God has in mind for us.

As we read in today’s passage from Exodus, God wants Moses to realize that learning God’s ways, and asking God to show him his ways, is the key to knowing God and finding favor in God’s sight. God’s response to Moses asking him to show people his ways, and allow them to know God, is this: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

In order to know God and learn God’s ways, we need to be able to be in God’s presence. The good news, says God, is that “my presence will go with you.” God’s presence will go with us. What beautiful reassurance! Not only will God’s presence go with us, but God says, “and I will give you rest.”

Notice this important connection between God’s presence and God’s gift of rest. As I reflected on today’s Exodus passages, I was reminded of principles I’ve been learning in the DayCrafting course I took over the past six weeks. Along with clergy colleagues from the UK and US, I explored a countercultural approach to time. We can craft our days, rather than letting days happen to us. As the creator of the course describes, “Day Crafting develops the skilled use of time which is a much better enabler of happiness and flourishing than money or possessions. Imagine days where more gets done without feeling overly busy and there is room fo the slow appreciation of good things such as food and music and connection with friends and family. Day Crafting deliberately balances all of us; the different aspects of our day, our energy rhythms and our interior and exterior life. Rest is as important as working. Deep work is as important as play.”

So when I hear God saying to Moses, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest,” I hear a God who understands our human tendency to keep pushing on. Our stubbornness when it comes it believing our identity comes from how hard we work, or how many hours we spend on the job. But God wants us to know that we need rest—and not only that, but that in order to know God we need rest. We need stillness. We need to be still long enough to let God restore us and renew us from the inside out. This means that, when it comes to crafting our days, doing less allows us to experience life, and God, and ourselves, and one another more. If we believe that God’s presence will go with us, and that God will give us rest, then we are freed up to radically change the way we see ourselves and how we spend our days.

As we close our time reflecting on Exodus 33, I want to share with this blessing, which is from a book called The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days, by Kate Bowler, a writer and podcaster from Manitoba who’s on the faculty at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina. It’s called “A Blessing for When You’re Running on Fumes.”

Sometimes I am paper

Thinning at every touch.


Responsibilities and duties and errands

Are wearing me down.

There is not enough time or energy

Or finances or imagination.

I hardly recognize myself.


I can’t keep going, but I can’t rest.

God, can you help me slow down?


I just need a little shelter and a long breath.


Give me space to curl up for a while.

Hold me until I can feel my shoulders drop,

and I am freed from what can’t happen right now.


Let me think only about what is gentle and lovely,

what is bountiful and unencumbered

on this too-heavy day.


Let me be amazed by nature and gaze in wonder.

At the sky. The velvet of petals,

and the precision of fronds.

The ridiculous owl with its stark yellow stare

and tweedy feathers.


God, scoop me up into life as it is.

Stop me from running ahead,

so I can be here,

in this space,

for the moment.

And breathe.