The Art of Doing Nothing

Written by: Rev. Nathan Hill

My wife has a new favourite saying, and it goes like this: “Not my zoo, not my monkeys.” She uses this phrase as a way to say that she is not planning to meddle with things that are none of her business, and that is sound wisdom. I have often told young pastors that I work with to pick their battles wisely, and only fight the ones they know they can win or are prepared to die for. I think everyone knows someone who has a tendency to stick their nose into everything—and I think we all find that equally annoying.

There are times, however, when it is our zoo, they are our monkeys, and it is a battle that we should die for. In these cases, the art of doing nothing is neither wise nor expedient. Rather, it is destructive and foolhardy.

The book of 2 Kings, chapter 15, records the story of Azariah, King of Israel. As king, it was his responsibility to ensure that Israel was well-managed in terms of resources, defense, and religious practices, just to name a few. We learn here that Azariah was a godly man—“he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”—yet he did not remove the “high places.” These “high places” were pagan alters where Israelites would offer worship and prayers to gods other than Yahweh as well as engage in sexually immoral behaviour. Although Azariah himself was not involved in these practices, because he was a godly man, members of the nation of Israel that were under his reign continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense on these pagan altars.

They very next thing we learn about Azariah is that the Lord afflicted him with leprosy until the day he died, and because of this his son Jotham had charge or the palace and governed the people of the land. The text does not explicitly say “because Azariah did not remove the high places, the Lord afflicted him with leprosy,” yet the implication is there and I believe it is a responsible interpretation of what happened. Though Azariah was a godly man, his lack of action in areas under his influence and responsibility caused him to be set aside (by illness in this case) and another person was given charge of Azariah’s kingdom.

The wisdom of Solomon from Ecclesiastes is pertinent here: there is a season for all things under the sun. There is a season to be quiet (i.e., when it really is none of our business), yet there is also a season to speak and act (i.e., when we have been given the authority to do so, or we are prompted by God to respectfully offer a new perspective on things).

Ultimately, the changing of hearts is the business of God by his Holy Spirit, and so we have dispensed our role once we speak or act, regardless if the words or the actions are taken seriously. When we act responsibility within our channels of authority and influence, or when we respectfully offer a new perspective when prompted by God, there should be very little room for offense (at least directed at us and the way we handled the situation), and we should have no need to become defensive of our stance if we are truly hearing the voice of God. Our role is simply to make the change, share the perspective, and then live the change with integrity.

The rest is up to the Holy Spirit—and that is really quite a relief, don’t you think?