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February 21, 2018

Holy & Intense Activity: JI Packer’s Four Stage Sequence

With all of the dangers we face with being too busy (see DeYoung’s Crazy Busy), there can almost become a suspicion of intense activity as being a bit fleshly.

I remember once in a church how some people were criticizing an explosion of ministry activity by a zealous few. A wise farmer told me that everyone looks busy when you’re standing still.

We can still cast suspicion on those who are busy with the Lord’s work. It is helpful to have guidelines for what intense activity looks like when it maintains holiness as a priority.

JI Packer has great wisdom on this theme. In one section from Keep in Step With the Spirit, he outlines the four stages of activity according to what he calls “Augustinian holiness”.  He says:

The activity Augustinian holiness teaching encourages is intense, as the careers of such prodigiously busy holy men as Augustine himself, Calvin, Whitefield, Spurgeon, and Kuyper show, but it is not in the least self-reliant in spirit.”

This is Packer’s “four stage sequence” for intense, holy activity

  1. First, as one who wants to do all the good you can, you observe what tasks, opportunities, and responsibilities face you.
  2. Second, you pray for help in these, acknowledging that without Christ you can do nothing—nothing fruitful, that is (John 15:5).
  3. Third, you go to work with a good will and a high heart, expecting to be helped as you asked to be.
  4. Fourth, you thank God for help given, ask pardon for your own failures en route, and request more help for the next task.

Packer concludes:

Augustinian holiness is hardworking holiness, based on endless repetitions of this sequence.” Keep in Step With the Spirit (Baker, 2005), 105

Questions to Consider:

  • Are you suspicious of those who seem to do a lot of good ministry?
  • Have you considered that God could expand your capacities according to opportunities and responsibilities? Have you seen God do this for you in the past?
  • Do you pray for help so that you don’t work in a Christ-less way?
  • Do you have expectancy that God will help you in the good activity?
  • Do you show gratitude to God for the things that you’ve accomplished, or repentance for what you’ve failed in, as well as prayer for further help?


About Clint Humfrey

Pastor of Calvary Grace Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I'm married with three sons. Views expressed on this blog are my own.