August 10, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ephesians 4:28 (NRSV)
Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
Again and again our culture prizes, not just hard work, but long hours of work. If you’re the first person in the office in the morning and the last person to leave, you get to wear the badge of courage and feel superior to your slothful colleagues. We are meant to work hard. But we are also meant to rest regularly and intentionally. Working hard is one thing; working too much is another. May God teach us how to build our lives according to God’s own rhythm of work and rest.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we saw that one way of honoring God is through working hard. If we use the gifts and strengths God has given us energetically, God is pleased, and we may be as well. Most of us have experienced the sense of satisfaction that comes when we work hard for a worthy purpose, whether or not it is part of our paid work. For example, when I spend several hours writing these devotions, I can feel mentally and emotionally fatigued. But I also feel content in the knowledge that I have used my gifts and strengths to serve both God and people.
But as you read yesterday’s exhortation to work hard, you might have felt uneasy. Perhaps you worried that my advocacy of hard work might play into the unhealthy workaholism that plagues much of our society today. For example, a recent article in The Atlantic proclaims, “Workism is Making Americans Miserable.” Its subtitle reads, “For the college-educated elite, work has morphed into a religious identity—promising transcendence and community, but failing to deliver.” Those who practice workism, among other things, work excessively, with little time for rest or restoration.
The reality of workism shows up in another recent piece in the New York Times: “Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” Erin Griffith, the article’s millennial author, claims: “I saw the greatest minds of my generation log 18-hour days — and then boast about #hustle on Instagram. When did performative workaholism become a lifestyle?”
Technology can help us work more effectively and efficiently, but it also promotes unhealthy workaholism. Electricity allows us to work long after the sun goes down. Digital devices invite work into our homes, churches, and family dinners. Millions upon millions of people check their email while they’re in bed, often as the last thing they do before sleep, which has a strongly negative impact on the quality of their sleep. Talk about work invading our personal lives!
Yet, I’m not sure I would want to describe this lamentable situation as a matter of working too hard. Rather, it seems to be more a problem of working too much. Many of us simply don’t know how to stop working. We don’t have boundaries to keep us from working all the time. The fact that God rested a whole day after working six days and then instructed us to do the same hasn’t made a difference in our lives. The fact that Jesus escaped from his work to retreat into the wilderness in order to be alone for rest and prayer doesn’t seem to commend our imitation. Rather we have chosen to worship the idol, not of hard work, but of endless work.
I could say a lot more about when and why it might be wrong to work too hard. For me, sometimes my hard work reflects a lack of trust in God rather than an offering of myself to him. Yet, I am convinced that many of us need to learn not to work less hard but rather to work fewer hours. We need to discover the God-given rhythm of work and rest (see Exodus 20:8-11). By God’s grace, may we learn to work hard and to rest regularly, just like God intended from the beginning.
Do you work too many hours? If so, why? If not, why not?
Can you think of times when your life was in better balance?
What helps you to establish healthy, godly rhythms for living—rhythms of work and rest, and play?
As you take a good look at how you spend your time, if you recognize that you are working too many hours and failing to have time for many of the things in life that matter most, ask the Lord for wisdom about how to do less so that you’ll have time for rest. You may want to talk this over with a trusted friend or your small group so you can get support for whatever you decide is best to do.
Gracious God, thank you for creating me with the ability to work. Thank you for the gift of good work, work that uses my talents and makes a difference in the world. Thank you for the opportunity to work hard, for the joy that comes in the working, and the satisfaction that comes afterward.
Yet, Lord, I must confess that sometimes I work too much. I can try to sneak in a few extra hours of work on what is supposed to be my day of rest. I can let work invade my sleep, my prayers, and my family time. I can easily heed the siren call of my smartphone, with its invitation to read email or answer texts. Forgive me, Lord, when I fail to stop working in order to rest.
Help me to work hard, yes, but also to stop when it’s time to stop. Give me the wisdom to put away the distractions of endless work. Teach me to be fully present to others and to you. Help me to discover the gift of rest and the joy of play. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: “Observe the Sabbath Day and Keep It Holy” (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.