Avoiding Workaholism

By Mark D. Roberts

November 9, 2018

Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Psalm 127:1-2


In 1971, theologian and psychologist Wayne E. Oates published a book called Confessions of a Workaholic. His use of the term “workaholic” went viral, as they say. Soon, everybody was talking about whether or not they were workaholics, how much they overworked, and so on. American culture tends to hold up workaholics as role models of commitment and success, even as we worry about the implications of overwork for health and family.

A sleeping cat.Although Psalm 127 was written centuries before Confessions of a Workaholic, it speaks to this condition with incisive insight. “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain” (127:1). All of our efforts to produce and to guard what we have produced will come to naught without God’s help. Thus, Psalm 127 continues, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves” (127:2). Long hours filled with anxiety might get the job done, but they will not produce a life of value and significance. God intends for us to work, yes, but also to rest.

Psalm 127 doesn’t suggest that it’s wrong to build a house or guard a city. The problem comes when we do it on our own strength, trusting in our efforts, working long hours, thus disregarding our health, our families, and, indeed, God’s gift of rest. The question for you and for me is this: What is God doing? How can I get involved in his project? How can I cooperate with God in the activities of my life?

When we invest our lives in what God is doing, our efforts are fruitful. Our lives are balanced. We have the joy of accomplishment as well as the benefits of peace of mind and rest. Today, I want to join the Lord in his work, offering my best to him, trusting him for the results. I want to take time for his good gifts, for family and friendship, for prayer and rest.

Something to Think About:

Do you tend to overwork? If so, why? If not, why not?

How does Psalm 127:1-2 speak to you?

What is the “house” you’re trying to build?

What is the “house” God wants to build through your life?

Something to Do:

If you tend to work more than is healthy and right, decide to stop working for an extended period in the next week. Tell a Christian friend or your small group about what you’re doing so you can receive support and accountability.


Gracious God, I confess that, all too often, I’m trying to “build a house” and “protect a city” through my own efforts. I sometimes think I can work from early morning until late at night and pull it off on my own. Forgive me for such arrogance.

I acknowledge, dear Lord, that I will not be able to build anything of lasting value in my life apart from you and your strength. You are the master builder. You are the source of all good things, the giver of all good gifts. So help me, I pray, to do my work as your junior partner. May I look to see what you’re doing and join in this effort. May I trust you to work through me by the power of your Spirit.

And when it’s time to stop, O God, may I trust you enough to stop, knowing that you want to give me rest. In the name of Jesus, Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Producing true value at work (Psalms 127)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

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,...

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