Can We Work Too Hard?

By Mark D. Roberts

April 9, 2019

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28


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.

comfy messy bed 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 also promotes unhealthy workaholism. Electricity allows us to work after the sun goes down. Digital devices welcome 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 and the first thing they do upon waking. 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 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.

Something to Think About:

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?

Something to Do:

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 afterwards.

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 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.


Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
God’s Prescription for Workaholics

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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