Work Addiction

Not long ago, I received a moving letter from a friend who is working as a missionary in a Muslim portion of the Philippines. He wrote,

We heard gunshots the other day and the sounds of running feet as people rushed by our ministry center. The coffee and the rubber farms were on fire. We were in shock, because we were told it was most likely intentionally done. Many tears were shed, but we prayed that what people intended for evil God would work for good. We don’t know how, but because God is good, it should work out so. So, we could sleep.

The last words of his letter echo Psalm 127:2: “He gives to his beloved sleep.” If we’re awed by the fact that Almighty God loves us and that he’s working all things toward our best interests, then we really can be free from anxiety. Isaiah 26:3 tells us, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isn’t that wonderful? If our minds are focused on the Lord Jehovah, then our hearts can be at peace.

Realities of Life

Of course, we often approach life’s stresses in other ways that make us and our families anxious. I saw this in myself when my son’s elementary school teacher assigned her class to “draw a picture of something your father does every day.”

If we’re awed by the fact that Almighty God loves us and that he’s working all things toward our best interests, then we really can be free from anxiety.

My child drew stick figures of a family seated around a breakfast table, except for the father, who was running out the door. There were balloon captions over the heads of all the children seated at the kitchen table, and each had the same words: “Hurry, Daddy, hurry!”

My son’s drawing revealed a child’s perception that cut me to the heart. I had to ask myself the question, Why is my son’s most vivid image of his father a picture of me rushing away from him and the rest of my family every day?

I can offer all kinds of good explanations for why that was the case. I could say I was doing important work as a busy church executive. I was hustling to provide for my family. I was also fulfilling the important calling of training people for ministry. Yet I knew in my heart that if my son’s primary image of his father was me running away from him, something was out of balance in my life. Neither my heart nor my habits were resonating with the peace of God.

2 Types of People

Psalm 127:2 describes the approaches of two different types of people to our work realities. One is addicted to activity. These are the workaholics, and they’re addressed in the first half of the verse: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest.” These people are the early birds, getting a jump on things. And they’re the night owls, who work until late in the evening. In other words, they’re workaholics, burning the candle at both ends.

Of course, there have been workaholics throughout history. I smile remembering the story of an ancient Greek named Demosthenes. He was a statesman who worked against corruption in Greece. He worked night and day, thinking that if he ever stopped, the world would fall apart. To ensure that he would keep at his job, he shaved half of his head so he would be too embarrassed to go out in public.

But workaholism isn’t the only sign of a life out of balance. Some people are anxiety addicts. They feed off anxiety because it gives them the energy they need to engage the tasks before them. As the Psalmist says, “They eat the bread of anxious toil.” Such worry can motivate us to plan carefully or work at a frantic pace, and these approaches to work can be beneficial, or even necessary, for a time. But some people can’t stop worrying because their anxiety is the fuel of their drivenness, even as it empties their souls of happiness.

There’s nothing wrong with hard work, serious assessment of problems, and careful planning for solutions. But the faithlessness that drives workaholism and addictive anxiety is what the Scriptures warn against.

Freedom from Fear

Often the difference between responsible planning and destructive anxiety is what’s driving our activity. Often for the workaholic or the anxiety addict, a fear of the loss of stuff is the primary concern: I have to build this house or I won’t have nice things. I have to build this business or lose my livelihood. I have to build my reputation or lose others’ respect.

Often the difference between responsible planning and destructive anxiety is what’s driving our activity.

The pressure to avoid loss drives our motivation to build, and our burdens mount because everything we hold dear seems to depend upon the performance that secures our stuff or status.

The antidote to that kind of workaholism and anxiety is to trust that our God is in control of the universe and our corner of it. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and treasures us. He guides the nations and provides for our family. He loves our children more than we do. He loves me more than I can fathom. And because he’s my Lord, he will provide what I need the most for my eternal good.

The Work Under the Work

Tim Keller encourages us to consider “the work under the work” that we do. What is working on you, driving you? Fear of loss of significance? Fear of losing your reputation, luxury, relationships, or respect?

Whatever it is, such fears spell a loss of gospel perspective, because they’re triggered by forgetting the God who constantly says to us, “I don’t love you because of what you’ve accomplished; I love you because I’ve given my Son for you, and given you his status despite your sin. You have Jesus’ identity before me. Because you are that precious to me, not only do I love you but I give you the significance of a purpose and calling in life with whatever is needed to fulfill them so that you can respond in gratitude and thanksgiving to the wonder of my heart’s claim upon you.”

These gospel truths should free us from the fear of insignificance due to the loss of stuff or status. We can take some time off and balance our priorities because God loves us. Whatever we’re worried about, he’ll provide what we need, as he knows what’s absolutely best for our eternity.

Instead of fueling my work with anxiety, I have the privilege of saying to myself, God’s got this. It’s in his hands. So get some rest, and wake up refreshed and ready to tackle life’s challenges with the courage and energy that come from the assurance of his care.

Bryan Chapell

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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