It seems like most people are working longer hours and it feels like at least every other person feels they are about to explode from the pressure of their job. Some statistics say that in the average household the husband and wife work better than 90 hours a week (in some households that would be an easy week) . . . and this is before you count the work that needs to be done in and around the house. It was not uncommon in the 19th century for people to work 60 hours a week. However, in those days, mom stayed home with the kids. The family worshiped together. People worked hard, but the home was still a stable environment.
Now both husband and wife will work long hours. They will live on fast food and be so tired that they have no energy left for each other. We work to make a better life for our family and ourselves but as we do so, we give the raising of our kids over to child-care providers and even worse, to the television.
This is not just an American problem. The Japanese have a death-by-overwork syndrome called karoshi where otherwise healthy men simply drop dead at their desks. They literally work themselves to death.
To get free from this overload from our work we need to learn how to think differently. To do this, we turn to the very first verses of the Bible in Genesis 1:27-2:3. This is the account of creation. From here I want you to see three very simple observations.
In the first two chapters of Genesis we see God working as the Creator of the Universe. He fashioned and designed all that is . . .and it was good. We constantly read in the Bible about the Lord’s work. He works in the life of believers and He governs the world. God is not indifferent, and certainly not inactive.
God wants us to work. When God made man we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”(Gen 2:15) From the very beginning God intended for us to be involved in productive labor. In Genesis 3 we are told that because of sin, work would become more, if you will, laborious.
In Proverbs, Solomon writes,
- Proverbs 18:9 One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys
- Proverbs 24:33-34 33 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— 34 and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.
In 2 Thessalonians we read,
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
The person who will not work is a drain on the society! They choose to live on the labor of others. The Bible is clear: lazy people should not be coddled. They should be made to work.
God wants us to be active, useful, and productive. There are several reasons work is good for us.
- It allows us the resources to provide for our family and for others. It helps us to be a fruitful member of the community.
- It is a matter of stewardship. It is a way of using what God has given to us. He wants us to be actively involved in His plan.
- It is a matter of testimony. The way we work is a testimony to the people who watch us work. God wants us to be the best workers. He wants others to see that we give an honest days work for an honest days wage. He wants us to be the best employees so that God is honored through us.
God values our honest labor. He not only wants us to be on/at the job, He wants us to do the job.
The second thing we need to see is that God rested.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3)
When the law was given, God commanded that the principle of a Sabbath rest be observed. In the fourth commandment we read,
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. [Exodus 20:8-11]
As the years went by the Jews guarded the command to obey the Sabbath with a zeal that seemed to transform it from a day of rest to a test of spirituality. There were so many Sabbath laws that it was work to know how you were supposed to rest! The Sabbath created anxiety rather than rest. Several times Jesus “got in trouble” with the religious leaders because His disciples eat some grain from a field and he chose to heal people on the Sabbath. After one such time Jesus made this statement,
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” [Mark 2:27,28]
I think Jesus was telling the religious people that they were “missing the point”. The Sabbath was not meant so much to be another obligation to meet but a needed safeguard over our lives. Today people continue to debate what we should or shouldn’t do on the Sabbath Day. They debate whether the Sabbath should be a Saturday or a Sunday. And we continue to miss the point: God created us to need rest. One day out of seven we need to stop and to recharge. We need to recharge physically, emotionally, and spiritually each week. We need to seek that fresh encounter with the Lord to help us keep our balance and our focus.
This is important! We need our times of rest. When we don’t take time to rest,
- We are less productive. Statistics seem to say that somewhere between 50-60 hours a week productivity and efficiency begin to reverse.
- We face Illness. We face blood pressure disorders, ulcers and depression and in today’s computer dominated work environment there are things like repetitive stress disorder..
- We can’t Sleep. When we work all the time we find it hard to sleep because we can’t relax (we’re too tense) and when we do sleep we work in our dreams!
- We end up with fractured families. When we don’t give time to the people in our lives, we drift apart.
- We drift spiritually. When we are working or running all the time, we don’t have time to be still before God. We don’t have the opportunity to get re-centered and re-charged.
Finding Balance is Our Struggle
The third thing we need to see is the fact that finding a balance between work and rest is the challenge of our lives.
Dr. Richard Swenson in his book MARGIN, gives us some answers to the question, “Why do we work so much?”.
- Economic necessity…it costs more to live.
- Increasing job insecurity. Corporate downsizing makes every job a little tenuous.
- Our Consumptive lifestyle. We must be honest. We work long hours because we feel like we “need” more stuff. We work long hours to pay for our expensive new cars, our ridiculous mortgage payments, our cable television, our cell phones, our video games, and our expensive hobbies. We’re paying for all this stuff that we don’t have time to enjoy!
- We want to be successful. We have become a society where work has become the highest form of human endeavor. Our jobs have become the measure of who we are. In truth, our job is not who we are….it is just what we do!
- Work has become a place to hide from the tensions at home. You can see how it has become a vicious circle. Long hours creates tension at home. To avoid we work longer hours.
The challenge of our lives is to find the balance we need. We start by going back to a key question: Why Am I Here? Why has God left us here? Is it merely to make a lot of money and gather a lot of stuff so we can leave it to our kids so they can get more stuff than we had? Of course not! We are here to serve the Lord and to serve each other. When we forget this, we lose our balance.
The problem is that there are lots of good places where we can invest our time. These are good things! We have been told that we can have and should do, it all. But it’s a lie! You can’t do everything. There are not enough hours in the day. We’re killing ourselves because we are unwilling to make the tough choices.
So what do we do? Where do we start? Let me give you several suggestions.
First, we need to admit that we need help. We live in a society where values are all mixed up. When someone drinks too much we call him a drunk or an alcoholic. When someone eats too much we call him a glutton. When people are overly concerned about their appearance we call them vain or a narcissist. When people play too much we call them childish or lazy. So why is it that when someone works too much we call them a success?
It’s because we have lost our way. When all is said and done, few of us are going to say that we “wish we had spent more time at work.” We will wish that we had taken more time to enjoy the journey, that we had taken time more time to love our family and to enjoy our friends. And at the end of our life we will surely wish we had taken more time to develop our relationship with God. We will wish that we had gotten to know Him better and to love Him more.
Second, we need to tell ourselves the truth. More is not always better. More hours doesn’t mean we do a better job. More money doesn’t mean we are more significant. More stuff does not bring more happiness. And let me be straightforward: having our kids in more stuff doesn’t make us a better parent. In fact, we may be teaching our kids to never be fully committed to anything. We may be failing to teach them about setting limits. We may be training them to be just as addicted to the material as we are.
Third, We need to check the price tag on the things dangled before us. Not every opportunity is a good one. Not every promotion should be accepted. Every perk has a price tag.
A while back I had the opportunity to pursue a job that most people would have considered a promotion. On the one hand it seemed ideal. There would be more money, a big congregation, great visibility, a talented staff, and a chance to own our own home. However, every time I looked at the benefits I asked a simple question, “At what price?” This promotion would mean I’d be more of a CEO than a Shepherd, there would be more meetings, more nights out, more pressure, more people being critical, a bigger budget to manage, I’d be preaching each week largely to people I didn’t know, I’d lose some great friends, and we would have to surrender the lifestyle we enjoy thoroughly.
As I laid the issue before the Lord I was sure this opportunity must have been from Him. I expected God to say, “You just need to have more faith.” Instead, it seemed that the Lord was saying to me, “Are you crazy? Why would you give up a job and life you love in order to do something you know you would hate?”
Check the price tag on that new job. Check the price of being named to the Board of Directors. Find out what you will be spending before you uproot your family for a ‘great opportunity’. Some opportunities ARE great. But you need to know what it will cost as well as what you will gain. Once you know what the cost is, you can decide whether the price is too high.
Fourth, We must defend our boundaries. One of the authors I read suggests we get rid of “electronic leashes”. I like that phrase. We need to get free of our cell phones, pagers, and the lure of the computer. Early on in our home we made it a rule that we would not answer the phone during family meal times. We no longer feel the need to jump up every time the phone rings. We want the phone to be a servant, not the master. We need to defend our family boundaries.
We must also defend our spiritual boundaries. More and more things are squeezing our time with God. Stores are open on Sundays, school activities have taken over Wednesday nights, and longer hours leave more chores to get done on the weekend. If we surrender our time with the Lord we will lose our balance. If we give in to the demands of our society, we will become slaves to that society. We must determine where our boundaries are.
Fifth, we must work to develop Interests outside of work. If all we know is work, all we’ll do is work. I admit that I need to work on this one. We need something that will allow us to “get away from the job”. We need time to recharge. Take up a hobby, read a book, learn to play a musical instrument, do something physical, be creative.
Sixth, we need to esteem mom’s role in the family. Mothers are often made to feel guilty for choosing to live more simply so they can stay home with their children. We should encourage these mothers rather than criticize them. Many women go to work so they can feel good about themselves. They should be made to feel great for choosing to invest in the life of their children.
Finally, We must pursue simplicity. The idea is pretty simple: the more stuff you have, the more you will be enslaved to your stuff. If we would work at downsizing our lives we could be free from most of our debt and the driving need to “work more hours”. We would have time for the things that truly matter. We’ll talk more about this is weeks to come.
God created us for a higher purpose than simply being animals on a treadmill. He calls us to influence the world rather than being controlled by it. He calls us to make the difficult choices. He calls us to say “No” when it is necessary so we can say yes when we have the opportunity. He calls us to value people over things; relationships over titles; service over stuff. God wants us to be productive. He wants us to work well. He wants us to find balance.
Let me be direct. If you are waiting for someone else to restore balance to your life, it isn’t going to happen. You have to take responsibility for your own schedule. You have to choose between lots of good options for the use of your time. You have to determine what is most important. You have to determine what God wants you to do. And the sooner you start, the better.