7 Secrets of Highly Successful – Unproductive People

The following 7 secrets are gleaned from the bestselling author (who prefers to remain anonymous); let’s call her Priscilla.   Priscilla’s book reverses the standard formulas for success equated with productivity and offers an alternative ground and formula – “rest for success.”  

  1. Success is not in working to produce but in enjoying the production.

The definition of success typically handed down by the “successful” presumes production or acquisition is the measure of a successful life. This notion is tied to an entire belief system – or sets of belief systems – which are essentially materialistic.[1] Priscilla grounds her alternative understanding in the supreme virtue of rest, which she defines as the telos or end point even of God’s creative or productive activity (Heb 4:4).  To cut off the seventh day from the other six is to imagine creation is about material production rather than enjoying the production (walking in the garden in the cool of the day).  The seventh day as the answer to the purpose of creation sets up a different value system in which “doing” or production is not determinative, but entering – resting – and abiding.

  1. The struggle to succeed entails its own failure.

To “work toward success” is already to have entered a system in which the lure is not contained in the activity. The work is not its own end but is the road to an end which it, in fact, cannot produce.  This is the work which is taken up in an effort to gain identity or even life.  So, there is a sort of work which, by its very nature, is death dealing.  This work, toward which we are naturally inclined, is geared toward producing what it is impossible to produce and therefore it reinforces the failure of those who take it up for purposes of success. This work will eat at the conscience as it enacts and reinforces failure and alienation (Heb 9:14).

  1. Rest is its own kind of work.

Rest is not inactivity; it is an alternative activity and work.  Christ’s exhortation to come to him and find rest outlines a series of activities: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Mt 11:28–30).  This light burden and easy yoke entails its own work of taking it up, learning, and bearing.  As Jesus argues right after this in Math, with the incident of the disciples picking grain on the day of rest and Jesus healing a man’s withered hand, the sabbath is not without activity but it is activity aimed at restoration and redemption.

One work is replaced by another: “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.”  The work involved is not materially productive but is ministering and loving, which contains its own success: “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end.”  The work not only provides its own assurance and hope but also wards off laziness as it is rejuvenating: “so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Heb 6:10–12). The whole point of the Christian project is to provide this alternative work: “even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight” (Heb 13:20).

  1. You can take it with you if you work it right.

While there is a labor that produces death and which ends in death there is also a work which follows one into death and beyond: “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them” (Re 14:11–13). This entails, as Jesus and Priscilla suggest, trading in one’s own labor for a labor which is inherently restful.  Laying down one’s own burdens and picking the burden Jesus has designated is taking up an enduring work.

A first century work, Dialogues of the Savior, summarizes Christ, saying, “When you abandon the works which will not be able to follow you, then you will rest.”  The implication is that there is a rest which will “follow you” as this is an eschatological rest experienced in the present.  The sayings conclude, “Already the time has come, brothers, for us to abandon our labor and stand at rest. For whoever stands at rest will rest forever.”  While the sayings are not canonical, they seem to combine and summarize Jesus words from Math with the words of the Spirit from Re 14.

5. Faith is the work of rest. 

Anxiety is our response to the threat of our own undoing, death, or being reduced to nothingness (shame) (Heb 2:14-15) and faith is the alternative to the work of this pervasive anxiety (Ro 4:16-21; Heb 11:17-19).  Unbelief is labor for nothing, which Priscilla equates with taking a long trip into the wilderness so as to drop dead (Heb 4:13).  Those who do not enter rest do so because, though they have heard the word, they do not combine it with faith.  These unfaithful ones are left trying to work things out on their own.

To have faith is the means of participating – entering in – to the promised sabbath rest.  This is not just any faith; rather it is precisely the sabbath faith – with all this entails. Christ, as Lord of the sabbath, brings about creations purpose for those who would participate in His rest (Heb 3:1-4:14).

  1. Christ does our believing for us.

The faith or faithfulness of Christ is that which initiates us into our own faithfulness.  The faithfulness of Christ is mediated to us so that our own faithfulness is not conjured up through our own effort but is a participation in “the pioneer” who has gone before us.  This in no way reduces our responsibility to be faithful.  It is not like the prayers of a Buddhist, offered up by the Priest spinning the prayer wheel while the supplicant does something else.  This faithfulness is grasped and enjoyed through imitation – Jesus was faithful and this elicits the same sort of faithfulness (Heb 3-4).

While one, in the spirit of Paul Tillich, might speak of faith as embracing doubt, this also may be inadequate.  If doubt is equated with wavering, it should be remembered that the faith we are called “to hold fast” is His faith.  Priscilla argues on the basis of his faithfulness to our own unwavering faith (Heb 10:23).  If doubt is equated with angst, fear, and wavering then this is not the faith of Christ.  This is the faith of Paul Tillich and all of his modern-day followers who seem to delight in their own masochistic struggle. 

  1. Rest is the supreme value in life.

When all is said and done the key question in life is how much have you rested. The goal in life is not production. If identity is in production then we are mostly fertilizer.  Human beings are not factories and the goal is not how much a unit (or person) can excrete, secrete, produce, or manufacture.  The point is to become partakers of Christ (Heb 13:12-14) so as to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  We cannot work to conjure this up but we must work at entering in and enjoying this rest (Heb 4:1-14).

Priscilla’s book pursues this theme of work with a call to move away from “dead works” and into good works. Just as God’s work, the first six days, was preparatory for God’s rest, so, for the faithful, good works do not aim at reduplicating creation, but entering in to God’s creation purpose.  This sort of work is care for what has been created by God: the nurture and encouragement of the community – the temple – the body –  and the cosmic temple.  This is the life giving work of rest.


[1] This materialism precedes and undergirds the Marxist-atheistic sort in that it is a Christian materialism. Max Weber traces the development of the notion that profit is an end in itself, the pursuit of which can be counted as a virtue, to Calvinism.  At first, profit was a way of sorting out the saved and the damned as a sign of God’s blessing, but then it became a virtue in and of itself.  This understanding was picked up across the religious and non-religious spectrum in what Weber calls, “the spirit of capitalism.”  The Protestant ethic, according to Weber, accounts for the pervasive materialistic pragmatism in which work, blessing, and virtue can all be quantified in capital

Discover more from Forging Ploughshares

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

Leave a Reply