written by Timothy Smith
powered by www.worklife.org
The key to contented living is to walk the middle ground between extremes. In Parenting, we are trying to walk the balance between being too strict or too permissive. In Finances, we are working at avoiding the extreme of hoarding on one hand and indulgence on the other. In our Personal Lives, we’ve got to find the balance between ambition and contentment. We need to strive to do better, but we also need to be content with what we have.
The Fourth Commandment reads: “Remember the day of worship by observing it as a holy day.” (Exodus 20:8). Obviously, to God there is to be a balance between work and our worship of Him. But as we read Scripture we also see that we are to spend time with our family, to take care of our bodies, to rest. To keep the proper tension between work and the rest of life is a very complex problem. How can a modern worker give the proper amount of attention to a career and at the same time not neglect family, the church and personal time?
Identify the Problem: Avoid the Extremes
(1) The extreme of laziness.
Ecclesiastes 10:18 says, "If someone is lazy, the roof will begin to fall. If his idleness continues, the house will leak". In other words, laziness produces a poor product.
The Bible has some harsh words for the lazy. 1 Timothy 5:8 says,"If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." The book of Proverbs has all kinds of instructions against laziness. It says a lazy person sleeps in instead of doing what he should. "As a door turns back and forth on its hinges, so the lazy person turns over in bed" (Proverbs 26: 14). Proverbs 22:13 says, "The lazy person is full of excuses, saying, ‘If I go outside, I might meet a lion in the street and be killed!’" He rationalizes his inactivity. I can’t work today, the pollen count is too high. It’s Monday, people don’t buy on Monday. It’s Friday, people are knocking off early on Friday. Everything in God’s creation, from the ant to the human being, has a function and is supposed to work. But the lazy person spends his energy finding ways to avoid that responsibility.
(2) The workaholic extreme.
The workaholic gives an inordinate amount of time and energy to a career. Jesus gave an excellent example of a workaholic in Luke 12:16 – “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. In fact, his barns were full to overflowing… But instead of enjoying that success that God had given him, what did he do? He said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store everything…’” Jesus was not saying that we should never prepare financially for the future, but He was making the point that this man’s things were his future! He was so wrong. “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get it all?’" (Luke 12:20).
The workaholic becomes obsessed with achieving. He or she tells themself that they’re doing it for tomorrow. There’ll be a day in the future when he’ll be able to relax and enjoy his family and get his spiritual life together. But somehow that day never comes. Where the lazy person produces a poor product, a useless faith and contention, a workaholic produces greed, selfishness and a false security. They think they’ll always have enough time to turn things around; they count success in dollars and cents and yet have no sense. For they have put their security in temporary things. Jesus says that’s foolish, because you don’t know the future and the things you have won’t be taken with you - "Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God." (Luke 12:21).
We’ve traded the good for the best. It’s not evil to have nice things or to work hard. But we’ve become so caught up in giving our time to the job that we have, in our stress and worry, neglected the best things – our relationships. In Luke 10:38-41 Jesus says something to a woman named Martha that we need to hear. "As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing…...” But listen to what Jesus says to her.."My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details!" What had Mary chosen? She had chosen to sit at the feet of Christ. Might not Jesus have been just as pleased with a bologna sandwich that took three minutes as He might be with a four course meal that took three hours? There is something better than our career, than getting our "to do" list accomplished... and that’s knowing Jesus. In her business, Martha forgot what was really important.
There is also our materialism that contributes to this problem of work-aholism. Like the rich farmer, we get caught up in the "I want" syndrome. We aren’t satisfied with anything ordinary; we’ve got to have a lot and it’s got to be the best. And to get it, we’ve got to work harder and longer. There is recognition, where prestige matters most.
Another stumbling block is escape, where the only real satisfaction is found at work. But the time is only part of the problem. People hung up on career achievement give their primary emotional energy to their work. We give our best efforts to work, and then our family and our faith get the emotional leftovers.
The philosophy of this age says, Success at work equals success at life. But that is so far removed from what God calls success. The world evaluates our success in life by status symbols. God evaluates our success in life by spiritual depth and by balance, neither lazy nor a workaholic.
Employ the Cure: Find the Balance
How do we put it into practice? Four practical prescriptions provide a cure for the extremes and give us balance.
1) Recognize that it is God’s desire that you have balance. The fourth commandment in Exodus 20 instructs us to work. But it also commands us to rest. Why did God say to rest at least one day a week? Because He knows how we are constructed. He knows in the long run we’ll be more productive and effective if we have balance, if we have a change of pace. When you take time off, you’re not disobeying God – you are living life His way, by His design and in His desire.
(2) Schedule a personal appointment with your family. You get the necessary things done at work probably because, for the most part, you’ve scheduled it. You know what time you’re supposed to be there, what time your deadlines are due, when your appointments are. One of the real secrets in living the balanced life as God has planned is to schedule the other areas of life too. 1 Timothy 5:8 says that if you neglect your family you are worse than an unbeliever! At least once a month, choose a Saturday or an evening and make that "family night." Have devotions together, play a game together, eat supper by candlelight and don’t answer the phone. Make it a time where just your family is together. Put your kids’ ball games and activities in your calendar. Pick one other night or Saturday a month and make that a "date night," where you and your spouse get out of the house without the children. Schedule it! We budget our money; why shouldn’t we budget our time as well?
(3) Cultivate an interest outside work. Some people say, "Well, my work is my hobby, I don’t really need anything else." It is good if you enjoy what you’re doing, but all of us need some diversion, something that gets our minds off the job. Proverbs 14:30 says, "A relaxed attitude lengthens a man’s life." There’s an old Indian proverb that would agree with that. It says, "You will break the bow if you keep it always bent.” I hear people say, "I’m too busy to play tennis, no time for crafts." I believe people who say that are busier than Jesus. He often took time away, to relax and to renew His mind. Develop something where you can find fulfillment – painting, gardening, sports, for example.
(4) We must keep reminding ourselves of the “one thing” that is the most important. Remember what Jesus said to Martha? “There is really only one thing worth being concerned about.” It was knowing Him. As it says so succinctly in Matthew 6:33, “Our heavenly Father already knows perfectly well what you need, and he will give it to you if you give him first place in your life." So we can say, “Sunday is God’s, along with a regularly scheduled quiet time with Him. That is going to take priority.” That’s the best tangible way to put Him first. I used to work shift work so I know that Sunday can be a work day. So, make sure you still have a time with God. A time when you are learning about Him, a time when you are talking to Him. But what I also know from working in the world is this – the only reason I missed wasn’t just because I was working. When I wasn’t working, I missed those times because it just wasn’t important enough for me to be in church. I know all the excuses, because I used to use them. Have you ever wondered why it is that you have to take one of the hours a week the Church offers to do those things that you just can’t seem to get in at any other time? The plain hard cold fact is that the other things are more important.
But it’s not just about going to church. Jesus is to be first all week too. When we study Jesus’ life we see Him scheduling daily time to be with God. Every day we are saturated with worldly values of materialism, prestige, popularity, or power. But Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters, either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Luke 16:13). I suspect that we have made our lives a whole lot more complicated than God intended. In the end, it’s not so much a matter of our schedules or the demands of our jobs; it is a matter of our hearts. When our heart is in the right position then everything else falls into place. That’s why Jesus said, "Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.” (Luke 12:34). So, where are yours?
Excerpted from a sermon delivered by Timothy Smith at Discovery Christian Church, Colorado Springs, CO in August 2004. Edited for online presentation. sermoncentral.com. Content distributed by WorkLife.org> Used for non-profit teaching purposes only.
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