Stott’s Simple—Yet Surprising—Productivity Secret

by Kevin Halloran February 2, 2017

A 29-year-old John Stott was overwhelmed with his ministry responsibilities as Rector of All Souls Church.

How would all of his administrative tasks not bury him? How would he spiritually nourish himself enough to feed those he served?

Young Stott didn’t know what to do—until he attended a pastor’s conference and received counsel from a wiser, older pastor:

Take a quiet day once a month. Go away into the country, if you can, where you can be sure of being undisturbed. Stand back, look ahead, and consider where you are going. Allow yourself to be drawn up into the mind and perspective of God. Try to see things as he sees them. Relax!

And Stott’s response?

I went home, and immediately marked one day a month in my diary with the letter ‘Q’ for Quiet. And I began to enjoy these days, the intolerable burden lifted and has never returned. In fact, so valuable did these days prove that for many years I have tried to manage one a week. I use them for those items which need unhurried and uninterrupted time—long-term planning, problems I must think and pray over, difficult letters, preparation, reading and writing. These quiet days have brought immense blessing to my life and ministry.

Following the preacher’s practical suggestion gave Stott the spiritual and mental clarity and quiet he needed for ministry—and it can help you as well.

Ministry is a tricky thing, because you’re never really done until Christ returns. Even if you’re not a minister, 21st century life is hectic and responsibilities are demanding. Building in an extra ‘sabbath’ into your schedule will keep from feeling overwhelmed and refreshed by seeking the Lord through the Word and prayer.

The problem for many of us (myself included) is that we often don’t have the ability to take one extra day off per month, let alone per week! We probably won’t keep the same schedule as Stott, but we can seek to regularly incorporate rest, prayer, planning, special projects, and study in other ways that fit into our schedules.

How I Apply This Principle

For me, this means that every month or so, I take an hour or two out of my work day to reflect on what I have accomplished and what I hope to accomplish. I draw near to God in prayer, not always out of urgent necessity, but with a humble desire to abide in Him.

I keep a OneNote file that serves as a work journal sharing my successes, dreams for the future, frustrations, and struggles. I use this time to take a long-term view of my life and ponder my wildest dreams for Kingdom impact. Then I jot down ideas of how I might, by God’s grace, take steps toward those wildest dreams.

When I pray, I ask God to guide me, bless the work of my hands, clarify my thinking by showing me truth and error, and use my efforts for His glory and the building of His church.

I will often speed walk during these times because I find it easier to meditate on deep things and maintain a sharp focus while away from my desk which reminds me of my to-do list.

I have found this practice extremely helpful for several reasons:

  • I depend more on the Lord in prayer for ministry fruit.
  • God often brings clarity or needed perspective to complex situations.
  • I renew my mind in truth and my purpose.
  • I often have great ideas to write down that might not have come in a normal brainstorming session.
  • I am refreshed to sit down at my desk with new vigor.

What It Could Mean For You

Since taking a weekly quiet day like Stott may be impossible for you as it is for most, you may need creativity to experience the refreshment and rest you desire.

Here are a few ideas - some little, some big - to help you:

  • Find a few hours to unplug from your normal routine. Turn off all technology and just pray and think through your life prayerfully. Think through how Christ has grace to fit your every need and situation.
     
  • Fast from all social media and use time you would normally spend on Facebook or Instagram to pray, think, memorize Scripture, or read. If your phone is still a temptation, remove tempting apps.
     
  • Fast from food or another areas of your life to focus on God. 
     
  • If you commute, have regular quiet commutes of praise, prayer, thanksgiving, and communion with God.
     
  • Consider taking time off of work/ministry for a spiritual retreat. Use your vacation days, drop the kids off at grandma's or with some friends, and make your time all about pursuing Jesus and talking to Him about your life. Some free or discounted spiritual retreat centers exist. Ask around or look at Ed Stetzer’s list for pastors.
     
  • If you are a pastor or in ministry full-time, prayerfully consider taking a sabbatical (or asking for permission to take one) to recharge.

Rest for your souls

This whole idea is really just one application of drawing near to Jesus and finding rest:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28–30

Sometimes the best way to move forward in life is to hit the pause button and begin to see life as God does. That simple perspective will help us find rest for our souls and experience a sweet foretaste of heavenly rest in Christ’s presence.