When We Work Too Much

Mel Lawrenz is Teaching Pastor at Elmbrook Church. His most recent book is about dealing with loss, A Chronicle of Grief: Finding Life After Traumatic Loss.

Imbalance can be the result of too much of a good thing. At least on one day that we know of Jesus told his disciples to knock off work. Throngs of people were coming and going, the disciples “did not even have a chance to eat,” Mark tells us, and so Jesus said: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mk. 6:31). This simple but important event models four characteristics of rest: dropping the normal thing you do, finding a quiet place, enjoying fellowship with Christ, and being rejuvenated by rest. Some people hardly ever get around to doing any of them.

If the Bible doesn’t speak a great deal about overwork part of the reason may be that in ancient cultures where most work was physical it was less likely for people to get caught up in a never-ending whirlwind of activity.

The body regulates itself—it will collapse if necessary. If your work is holding a jackhammer, when you leave work, you really leave it. But in the modern world there are may forms of mental and emotional work that can be carried right out of the office, into the home, even into bed. Your head is placed gently on the pillow but as you look up at the ceiling you see that computer screen where you type that important letter that has to go out express mail the next day.

We have all heard how many illnesses are stress related. And sometimes we’re almost proud of them. An ulcer is like a purple heart, the badge of honor for performance above and beyond the call of duty. The Japanese have even coined a new word—karoshi—that means death due to overwork.

Here lies a real test of discernment. Where is the line between working hard and honorably and getting dog tired because of it, and working to the point of hurting oneself and others?

Stop and ask yourself: what motivates me to do what I do? Some people have a lack of balance in their lives because the lifestyle they have chosen requires a certain income level. They chose to take on a whopping huge mortgage to have their dream house only to find out that the work they have to do to pay for it prevents them from turning it into a home.

Some people never stop working because they have been taught their whole lives that the only way to be acceptable as a human being is to perform extraordinary feats. They leap tall buildings and jump through flaming hoops because they really don’t believe that anybody will like them or love them otherwise. Their very existence is legitimized by what they accomplish. While it is true that human beings can be and should be tools in the hand of God for the work of God, if we believe that is the only reason he created us, we have missed the biblical teaching about man.

Some never stop working because they are running scared. Deep inside there is great pain, or a hollowness, or hidden sin. Whatever the monster, if they stop, they will have to face it. So they don’t stop, they don’t look back, they just keep running.

[to be continued… the principle of Sabbath]

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