As Christians, we live as strangers and aliens in a culture of contradictions. Of course, that’s been the theme of this entire series. We’ve attempted to answer an important question: “How do we live for Christ in a world in which we’re constantly being pulled in a different direction?”
Here’s the question for today: Do you live to work or do you work to live? We live in a world in which people typically err on one of two extremes when it comes to the illusive work-life balance.
Some live to work. It’s not uncommon for people—whether they wear a white collar, a blue collar, no collar, or even in a pastor’s collar—to work 60, 70, or 80 hours a week. When I was in college, I worked as a courier at a law firm. Several partners and associates had couches, blankets, pillows, and spare suits in their offices because they regularly spent the night. Last week, I spoke to a medical student who easily clocks 70 hours each week and rarely gets to see her husband and child. Some are required to spend many hours at work. For the majority, obsessive work—and the success, status, wealth, and accolades it brings—is a choice.
Some work to live. We tend to think that this is the holier of the two extremes. However, sometimes it is simply an excuse for laziness or the result of a time-consuming hobby or a commitment to maintain the façade of a life of wealth and leisure. I worked at a nonprofit organization in Indy several years ago. I was amazed by how anxiously my coworkers watched the clock each afternoon, waiting for happy hour to begin, and by how much they talked about the weekend they just completed or the weekend they were planning. They didn’t want to be there. And, their attitude was reflected in their work.
I’ve reflected upon this question a lot of times: Should I live to work or work to live? I have come to believe the answer is “Yes!” We live to work and we work to live. Three essential truths apply.
God shaped us to work and create
God formed us in His own image and placed us within an intricate system that requires our care, cultivation, and stewardship. He also placed us in a lush paradise full of inspiration and with plenty of space in which to dream, create, build, and express ourselves. God’s creation mandate charges us with the responsibility to rule over the earth as His representatives, to fill the earth, to subdue it by bringing it into order, and to make it a place in which humanity can flourish. It is a good, right, and holy thing to give oneself to honest work that provides for people, creates excellent products, and contributes to the common good. We are being faithful to God when we work well.
God shaped us to require rest
God established a rhythm for life when, after creating the heavens and the earth, He rested on the seventh day and made it holy. Did God rest because he was exhausted? Absolutely not! He possesses immeasurable, inexhaustible strength. The Creator did not require rest. But, because He knew that His creation and the creatures therein would require regular relaxation, reflection, and recreation, He set aside one day a week and commanded those who worship Him to honor it. We are human beings, not machines. And, as such, we require a regular routine to remember that we depend upon God, to enjoy time with the people He has put in our lives, to enjoy the world He created for us, to recalibrate our hearts and souls, and to worship Him.
We must resist making work or leisure an idol
Our sinful bent toward idolatry—giving the honor, praise, and priority to anything that is not God—is really at the heart of this whole issue. Work is a false god. Free time is a lousy lord. Neither deserves to reside on the throne of our hearts. That place is reserved for God alone. If we’re serving either the god of work or the lord of leisure, we’ll never experience the peace, purpose, and wholeness we can only find in Christ.
So, as a stranger and alien, how do you spend your work time and free time? When you’re at work, work with all your heart as if you’re serving the Lord and not just your boss or your board (see Colossians 3:23-24). When you have free time, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, be thankful, reflect on God’s great love, and do it all in the name of Jesus (see Colossians 3:12-17).
Christian friends, we live to work. We also work to live. And we do it all to the glory of God.