Blog - Becoming Christ-Like
Danger: People at WorkFriday, February 04, 2011
The old signs, "Danger, Men at Work,” got repainted. The gender-neutral signs say "Workers Ahead,”
or simply "Workers.” That’s okay with me,
but could we keep the word "danger”? Perhaps,
"Danger: People at Work.” Why? Because any work can be dangerous to
spiritual health when we turn it into something other than what God intends it
This website focuses on work and Christians in the work world. A focus like that has its risks. For some readers, it might feed what the world calls "workaholism” or "overachieving.” Encouraging that is definitely not my aim. Rather, through these blogs I’m hoping to help correct a way of seeing work that our Christian traditions have thrown out of balance. In the process, though, I want to guard against leaving the tire out of balance on the opposite side.
A few days ago a friend called my attention to some comments Eugene Peterson includes after Numbers 29 in the "Conversations” edition of The Message. Here, in part, is what he writes:
"...Even in the austere environment of the wilderness, where much work was required to maintain the community, the Israelites were commanded to keep Sabbath. . . .The Hebrew evening-morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace. We go to sleep, and God begins his work. . . . While we sleep, great and marvelous things, far beyond our capacities to invent or engineer, are in process –from the moon marking the seasons to the earthworm aerating the soil to proteins repairing our muscles. Our work settles into the context of God's work. Human effort is honored, but it's never taken out of context and exalted. It's respected not as a thing in itself but by its integration into the rhythms of grace."
Just as a pendulum regulates a clock, the "rhythms of grace” should regulate our lives. Work and rest, work and rest—God calls us to swing with each in its turn. But as it disrupts so many other areas, sin also disrupts the work-rest cadence by turning it into an interruption or an idol. Seen as an interruption, work becomes something to shun. But in our culture—even among Christians—work more often becomes an idol. That’s when it crowds out God as our source for satisfaction, supply, and significance.
Years ago I learned how quickly my natural heart can make just about anything into an idol. I have loved to create things out of wood, to make music with my trumpet, to write books. And in each of those areas, God has had to rein me in so he could reign in me.
Joyce Meyer, in her book Enjoying Where You Are on the Way to Where You Are Going, writes: "Because of my insecurities, coupled with a determination never to ‘need’ anyone, to me work became an idol. It made me feel that I had worth. I thought God would bless me if I worked real hard.”
How can we escape the idolatry of work? By quitting our jobs and going into "full-time service”? No, I found that I can turn even church work into a false god. One pastor said that he, like most ministers, wanted others to see him as dedicated and working hard to serve the Lord. And should anyone doubt his devotion, his automatic reflex led him to squeeze even more hours into his already overloaded schedule.
Jesus points us to the way of escape with these words: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25).
That cross is a killing tool. Idols need to die on it. As I go to work each day, I must hoist "All the vain things that charm me most,” including all my self-seeking motives for working, onto that killing rack. That act of self-denial, sacrifice, will clear space for the life of Christ in me to thrive and to bear fruit.
Is work-as-idol an issue for you? If so, how are you dealing with it?