The worship of work

By Mark Smith, Mukilteo Presbyterian Church | May 09, 2012

Daily work is truly a gift from God; it is not only a means to make a living, but lends meaning and purpose to our lives. We are indeed blessed if we love what we do!

It’s possible, however, to love our work too much. We can end up worshipping work to the exclusion of God, family, friends, and all we hold dear.

Work becomes an idol when it is elevated to the level of the sacred, becomes the controlling center of one’s life, and has top priority over everything else.

There are business executives, coaches, professionals, managers, shopkeepers, workers of various kinds who will literally drop everything – marriage, family, friends, even moral values, to advance a career. Work is allowed to trump everything else.

How many marriages has the god of work destroyed? I wonder how many relationships between parents and children have been ruined because of a parent’s obsession with work and the attendant lack of time and attention paid to children. We tend to assuage our guilt by giving our kids things rather than what they really want – namely, the gift of our selves.

The world tells us that work is the means to ultimate self-fulfillment. If we can just find the right work and work hard enough, all our needs and wants will be met and we will truly be happy.

But our work can so easily become an enslaving obsession; driven to “succeed” in the eyes of the world, we do not know how to quit or how to let go and find some rest. And it takes its toll on us.

A self-confessed workaholic shares his own experience:

“The workaholism issue is a real one for me. I am never more than a couple steps – mentally – from the computer. What keeps me tethered is the fear that if I stop, my whole world will come crashing in on me.

“It's hard to get out of that mindset for even a few minutes . . . I am embarrassed at how my mind loses focus when I am with someone I care about. Even if I don't turn the subject of conversation around to my work, I am thinking about it while I talk to the person.

“I need to rediscover how to do nothing, to relearn that rest is not a waste of time. All of this effort is an attempt to control an outcome that is mostly beyond our control. There is no real security. We are vulnerable in unimaginable ways. I don't know how to resolve this inner struggle …”

This fellow speaks for a lot of people today. There are many who literally don’t know how to stop working. They feel guilty taking a day off; they can’t rest on vacation. They can never really get away.

Today’s technology has made matters worse, for cell phones and laptops have tethered us ever more tightly to the office.

Pollster Lou Harris tells us that 86 percent of Americans are chronically stressed out, much of it brought on by overwork. Americans, trying to cope with their stress, consume about 30 tons of aspirins, tranquilizers and sleeping pills every day.

God has spoken to those tempted to worship at the altar of work: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to he Lord Your God. On it you shall not do any work …”. (Exodus 20:8-10)

This command originally came as welcome news for people who were enslaved in Egypt and who knew only backbreaking work seven days a week. Work was their life and it was no life at all.

But now, having rescued the people from slavery in Egypt, God graciously commands his people to observe a Sabbath rest – one day in seven was theirs to stop and enjoy God and God’s creation.

God meant it for the welfare and happiness of humankind. In giving us the Sabbath command, God would have us remember that life is more than work, and we are more than workers.

As hard as it is for some of us workaholics, we simply must learn to take time out, to get away, to smell the roses. God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit, because he knows we need rest.

One day in seven we are free to do something different, to get away from the daily grind – perhaps to take a leisurely walk on the beach, to watch a sunset, or to do something fun as a family. It means leaving the cell phone and the laptop behind so that we can be fully present to those we love.

Failure to do so is to miss what is most important in life. As someone has reminded us, “No one on his deathbed ever said: ‘I wish I'd spent more time at the office.’”

Most importantly, when we observe the Sabbath, we remember that the biggest thing in life is our relationship with God. Taking time out on the Sabbath to worship with fellow believers, to read scripture, to reflect upon his character and to discern his will for our lives is to put first things first.

If we allow God to be the controlling center of our lives, then the rest of our lives – including our work life – will be placed in proper perspective.

The world tells us that work is the means to ultimate self-fulfillment. The trouble is, work is unable to deliver the goods.

True happiness is not a matter of what we do or how hard we try; it is something that God gives. It comes from beyond us. Only God can fill the void in our hearts. Find your rest and joy in him.

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