I’m so busy! We’ve all uttered the dreaded phrase. There is no doubt our lives are busy, but sometimes our busyness is rather unfocussed. The disciple of Jesus, in contrast to the goals of our society, has a clear goal: follow the Master. Today we’re going to talk about three spiritual siphons that threaten the wellbeing of disciples of Jesus.[1] The definition of siphon is “to convey, draw off, or empty by or as if by a siphon.”[2] Siphons threaten to empty, weaken or distract people from faith.

“Words Without Action.”

Our first siphon is: Words without Action. “We are tempted to think that saying something actualizes it. We have a momentary feeling of spirituality when we talk about wanting to pray more or “have more time in the Word.””[3]

Have you ever struggled to find time to read the Bible, pray, or gather with other believers? This one can be a faith killer. Most people have great intentions, but we don’t always follow through on them. Here’s an interesting tidbit. Stephen Covey says: “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.”[4] We feel that our intentions will happen (really, I’ll get around to it soon), while we judge others on their actions or inactions (They never did that thing they said they would do). We can have all the best intentions in the world to grow in Christ but talking about it, without action, does not lead anywhere.

So how do we deal with this? For me personally, I experienced this recently. I was reading a great book called Boundaries for Your Soul. It’s about finding healing for your soul and dealing with issues of the soul so that you can move forward in confidence and free from wrong thought patterns and destructive habits. Now, it’s relatively easy to read the book. I feel positive because I’m ‘doing something.’ But wait, just reading the book leaves me at: “That’s a great idea…” I can feel like I’m doing something to grow and move forward when I’m actually just reading about other people growing and moving forward and reading about the prayers and techniques that might help. But this is one of those books with follow up questions and suggested exercises to help you practice and use the tools taught in the book. I got a little crazy and actually did most of the exercises in the book. It was a lot harder than just reading the book. It took a lot more effort and time. But I can genuinely say that it has made a difference in my life.

Words without actions; a spiritual siphon. To move forward in life and in faith we must take action, we can’t just talk about it.

“Busyness Without Purpose”

Our second siphon is busyness without purpose. “Life (Ministry) produces activities, programs, conversations. If our choices of time-use are not disciplined by call and purpose, our energies become like a lazy, shallow river.”[5]

We all say we’re busy, but what are we busy doing? There is a good chance we are spending at least some of our time on things that are not important or essential. So how do we deal with this?

Be honest with your use of time.

How much time do you spend on social media? Reading the news? Watching tv? A little news and social media in moderation is not a bad thing, but these things are like junk food for the mind. A little isn’t bad, but too much and it becomes unhealthy and addictive. For most of us, some of our busyness is self inflicted, spent on time suckers like these examples.


Another great tool to focus our lives and time use is examining our values. “Values are those deeply held beliefs that have the worth to influence decisions made and actions taken.”[6] If you constantly feel chaotic and frustrated, there is a good chance you are not living according to your values or have crossed your own internal boundaries. Are the things you are doing meaningful to you and your family?

People’s expectations

Here’s another killer: Being busy with other people’s expectations, or our own expectations of what we ‘think’ other people’s expectations are. Maybe we are trying to keep up with the Jones’ or maybe we are trying to fulfill the dreams and expectations of others around us. Here’s the reality: “Nobody will ever ask you to accomplish your top priorities. They will only ask you to accomplish theirs.”[7] We need to examine what God has called us to and what we actually want to do and focus on those things.

Busyness without purpose siphons our energy and focus. Spend some time in reflection and prayer to discern what Jesus would have you focus on.

“Calendars Without a Sabbath.”

Our final siphon is a calendar without a Sabbath. “A datebook filled with activities (appointments) but absent of significant hours (days) of quiet and reflection—written in first—is an abomination (an old and harsh word) to the God of the Bible, who said, “Six days you shall labor … the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.”[8]

We tend to consider the Sabbath as something for the Old Testament. A nice idea, but not practical today. In our lives our to-do list usually comes first and rest happens on vacation. Maybe. The problem is that a week or two of vacation cannot fix the issues we live with the other 50 weeks of the year. “How I spent my time off wasn’t the solution, because how I spend my time off wasn’t my problem. Your time off can’t save you if the problem is how you spend your time on.”[9]

We need a full life solution, not another week or two of vacation. The ancient practice of Sabbath offers us the solution we need. So what is Sabbath and can we practice it today?

Author Mark Buchanan offers his definition of Sabbath: “So I submit this as Sabbath’s golden rule: Cease from what is necessary.  Embrace that which gives life.  And then do whatever you want.”[10] Sabbath is meant to be life giving and full of joy, rest and peace. Choose one day or a period of hours each week that works for you and your family to practice Sabbath. On that day, commit to doing no work. Your definition of ‘work’ must be your own but for me, anything that feels like something I ‘have to’ or ‘should’ do is work. Then do things that bring delight and joy. Go for a hike with your family, drink a latte in your backyard, read a book for the fun and joy of it (choose whatever brings you joy).

It’s important to dedicate at least some of your Sabbath to finding space to listen to Jesus, pray, read scripture, celebrate God’s goodness, and reflect on life. We tend to cram our days so full or fill them with phone scrolling that we don’t spend much time thinking and reflecting on life. We’re constantly overwhelmed because we never take the time to stop. To help practice Sabbath without distractions I find it helpful to turn my phone off or leave it someplace out of sight.

Calendars without a Sabbath, another symptom of our busy world. When we look to Jesus first and spend time in rest, we can rediscover joy and delight in life.

Application and Conclusion

  • These three spiritual siphons threaten our spiritual well being and they must be dealt with in order to move forward in life and faith
  • To move forward in faith we must take intentional action and move beyond talk and good intentions
  • To move forward in faith we must be intentional with our use of time
  • To move forward in faith we must practice a time of Sabbath rest

[1] These three siphons are from an article by Gordon MacDonald

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/siphon

[3] Gordon MacDonald, The Seven Deadly Siphons https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/1998/winter/8l1031.html

[4] Stephen R. Covey, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, Free Press, New York, 2006. Pg 13.

[5] Gordon MacDonald, The Seven Deadly Siphons https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/1998/winter/8l1031.html

[6] Vantage Point 3, The Journey, Stage 1, pg 97

[7] Carey Nieuwhof https://careynieuwhof.com/an-antidote-to-burnout-5-reasons-you-havent-found-a-sustainable-pace/

[8] Gordon MacDonald, The Seven Deadly Siphons https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/1998/winter/8l1031.html

[9] Carey Nieuwhof https://careynieuwhof.com/why-your-time-off-will-never-be-enough-to-truly-destress-you/

[10] Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God, pg 129

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