Jesus invites all who labor and are heavy laden to learn from him, so that they might experience rest instead of travail in their lives (Matthew 11:28–30). But we may ask, What does Jesus prescribe in order for us to experience this “rest for our souls”?
For one thing, he would tell us to give ourselves wholeheartedly to our present occupations, whatever they might be (granted, of course, that they help meet the legitimate needs of others). “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men” (Colossians 3:23). It is easy to see how work engaged in wholeheartedly, with a confidence that thereby we serve God, will bring far more health, or rest, to our souls than work done halfheartedly because we think that it has no real purpose.
Many people I know are discontent with their work and thus cannot give it their best. Consequently they experience travail of soul instead of rest. Such people “labor and are heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28).
Two considerations, I believe, are helpful in overcoming this problem. First, we do well to consider how fortunate we are to have work to do. Almost every occupation has some undesirable features. I as a teacher, for example, find the grading of papers rather tedious. But we are foolish to complain about our work because it involves certain vexing features. The godly thinker Blaise Pascal (1650) said, “if a soldier, or laborer, complain of the hardship of his lot, set him to do nothing (and then he would really complain!).” So instead of focusing attention on the distasteful aspects of our work, we do better to reflect on all the blessings our present occupations do bring us.
Secondly, we should turn over to Christ the question of whether or not another sort of job would be better for us. Then, concerning ourselves no more with this matter, we are free to give ourselves heartily to our present work and thus fulfill the command, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord.”
One reason that working heartily at our present task brings rest to our souls is that it keeps time from hanging heavily on our hands. Unless we expend our energies in accomplishing something useful, these energies become pent up inside in the form of tension and stress. Far from experiencing rest for their souls, the people who are working only halfheartedly, or not at all, experience travail.
Another reason why work brings rest is that the wages earned bring the self-respect of providing for our needs. Then this joy of providing for ourselves is doubled as we use some of our earnings to help others who would like to work but can’t. It is highly significant, I believe, that Paul in his farewell address at Ephesus, an occasion for mentioning only the most vital matters, concluded with the following exhortation: “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:34–35). It is easy to see how that doubled blessing which comes from giving has to mean more rest for our souls.
But work can become an obsession that kills rather than heals. In the next essay we will consider another part of Jesus’ prescription of finding rest for our souls, which is also a preventative against “workaholism.”
Daniel P. Fuller