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Just Thinking

I Was Just Thinking … About Resting Work

We all want rest for our souls, and we come to Jesus because he wants to teach us how to receive it from him. One part of his prescription for finding this rest reads, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). Working heartily brings rest because it dispels the tension that otherwise builds up when we have too much time on our hands or are discontent with our tasks.

But work can become an obsession which kills rather than heals. “Workaholism” (a word coined by seminary professor, Wayne Oates, in Confessions of a Workaholic [1971]) is a compulsion to work which destroys personal relationships and places one under stress that can bring on physical or emotional breakdown. The second part of Jesus’ prescription to bring rest to our souls undercuts the reasons that people become workaholics. It reads, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act” (Psalm 37:5).

One reason for workaholism is that by being busily employed almost every waking hour, we won’t have time left to face fears about the future, disappointments over the present, and regrets for the past. But when we are assured that God has assumed full responsibility for our way (which includes past, present, and future) and is working everything out for good, then coming to the end of a stint of work, we can relax and play because the peace of God rules in our hearts. This peace shuts our fear, disappointment, and regret. Obviously, people who are following the prescription of Psalm 37:5 will not be so liable to physical or emotional breakdown. And because they have peace in their hearts, they are able to be more outgoing toward others. Such people glorify God, for their ability to rest despite adversities makes evident God’s trustworthiness in keeping his promises.

Another reason people overwork is that they want more of the rewards from work and, if possible, enough of them to bring rest for their souls. Indeed, “in all toil there is profit” (Proverbs 14:23). A job well done, an improvement in the skill of our line of work, and the increased value our skill has for other people—these are some of the satisfactions that come from working hard and well.

But work can bring only so much satisfaction. Beyond a certain point, working harder and longer brings no additional satisfaction but rather an increased sense of stress. So while the benefits of a normal work load are an essential part of Jesus’ prescription to bring rest for our souls, yet true rest will be found only by understanding that we should respond to all our work, and all that befalls us in our lives as we would respond to a health regimen that a doctor has prescribed for us.

When, for example, a doctor prescribes that at set intervals, like three times a week, we jog for a specified distance at a certain speed, we express confidence that the doctor really knows how to cure us by doing precisely—and only—that. We do not try to hurry up our cure by running farther, faster, and more often than he prescribes. In like manner, we express confidence in Jesus, our Great Physician, by carrying out our daily affairs one step at a time, thanking him for all that happens because it is part of the cure he is administering to us. Anxious striving to hurry things up, as well as rebellion against what befalls us in life, is a vote of “no confidence” against Jesus.

Someone asked D. L. Moody, the great evangelist of the 19th century, what the key was to the peace and joy he experienced in his Christian life. His reply was, “I live my life like a clock; one tick at a time.” Living like that is possible only when we have committed our way to the Lord and regard him, and not ourselves, as the One who is working hard and well enough so that all things work together for the good in which we will experience rest for our souls.

Daniel P. Fuller
April 1977


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