One chief enemy of productivity is a cluttered-environment. This lightning bolt hit me one morning when I woke up with unusual enthusiasm to work. Having caffeinated myself, I hurriedly and excitedly walk to my work-space. Then, the sight discouraged me. I found in my desk a tall pile of books, crumpled papers, coffee mugs left unwashed, and some random stuff that shouldn’t even be lying there (keys, wallet, watch, empty bottles, a hankie, earplugs, cable wires, paper towel, etc). Beside it was a trash bin overfilled. I was determined to de-clutter… but only later. So a few minutes passed by; then hours; then the whole morning was gone. I wanted to study, not to clean up mess. So my enthusiasm for work had then subsided. Why? Because my environment wasn’t encouraging me for a fruitful labor. This is not a unique experience. We all know the frustration: laundry basket and the trash bin get filled; dust gathers; wardrobes, bookshelves, shoe stands, documents, all get disorganized; the bed needs to be made up every morning; your teeth collect food leftovers; and… you now get the point. This is why many people, such as I, would rather escape to a nice and cozy coffee shop where a staff gets paid in order to keep a clean environment conducive for business works. The clutter of everyday life is not insignificant to our pursuit of productivity.
Behind this frustration is an active work of God to orchestrate regular (and irregular) disruptions in our everyday lives – to remind us of the fallenness of the world we live in. Our daily lives will be filled with obstacles against productivity. The Bible teaches that we are not living in an ideal world where nature is cooperative to our labors. This is because of the intrusion of sin in the harmony of Man-Nature relationship. The Fall has introduced an enmity between God and man – and thus between God’s nature and man. In Genesis 3, after the Fall, we find God giving curse to the ‘ground’ due to man’s sin.
Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the land of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…’ (Gen 3:17-19).
Nature will not be very cooperative to our productivity. Man has to put himself in a sustained effort to manage and control his surroundings (a mandate already given prior to the fall, but now to be done) in a not so friendly environment. Unless he does this, chaos will not fail to take over and disrupt his attempt to productivity. This is not to say that man, through his earthly efforts, could ever tame life and nature in a way that reverses the curse God has put upon them. Only redemption could do that: a cosmic restoration that has been inaugurated by the work of Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, and will find glorious consummation on his return in glory. (Paul personified nature in Romans 8 as eagerly awaiting this final restorative act of God towards His fallen creation). But productivity remains a possibility even now through ‘painful’ toil and labor. Man’s God-given faculties of work and nature-dominion remain intact so that, by His common grace and through man’s hard work, nature could still submit its will to man and give the ‘produce of the land’. By God’s grace, my cluttered desk is not absolutely hopeless! It is my inactivity that would make it thus.
What perspectives should we have as we go through this hustle of everyday struggle between order and chaos? First, keep in mind that regardless of all your earthly efforts, nature will remain untamable in many respects. Frustration is an ineradicable part of this fallen world. This means that we should never make an idol out of ‘control’. Our ‘joy’ must not hang on having everything in all the proper places. We may be able to subdue much of the little chaos of our everyday lives (such as your laundry basket or closet), but in the grander scale of things we must learn to acknowledge our limitations. The cosmic struggles of this life will remain out of our control. Circumstance may come that we have lacked foresight to… and our only resort should be to trust the only One constant in life, and that is God. Second, the frustrating clutters of everyday life must awaken in us a yearning for the future redemption that is to come when our Savior returns in glory. Only then, the curse of the ground will be lifted up, and nature will no longer refuse to cooperate with us in our pursuit to productivity. Imagine, in that future world, far from being at odds with us, nature will in fact be serving us in our work to give glory to God. I don’t know exactly how to picture this wonderful phenomenon, but the hope should excite us in a way that we remain of earthly good. So, lastly, be encouraged dear reader now, to go pick up those scattered laundries, deal with that crowded closet, take those books back to the shelf, and commit to a God-honoring labor, praying to Him to bless the work of our feeble hands!