When Hard Work Doesn’t Work

If you’re new to Life Compass, on Sundays I write on Spirituality, Faith and Ethics.  I do it because I believe we’re all spiritual beings and have some sort of a moral compass in our lives, and because the topic personally interests me.  You can learn more by clicking here.

For thousands of years, millions of people have turned to The Book of Psalms for comfort in times of need and for instruction and wisdom in how to live a life of meaning and purpose.

There’s one Psalm in particular that speaks to me about work-life balance, and that’s Psalm 127:1-2.  Here it is, from The Message paraphrase at www.biblegateway.com:

If God doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn’t guard the city,
the night watchman might as well nap.

It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he enjoys
giving rest to those he loves?

To me, verse 1 says that I can do nothing in my own strength that will be of lasting value.  If God is not the initiator, if he is not directing and guiding my steps, if he is not the driving force of what I’m doing, then all that I strive for will come to nothing.

Verse 2 is closely related.  It tells me that if God is the initiator, if he’s guiding and directing my steps, then there’s no need to knock myself out by staying up late or getting up early all the time to try to get the task done.

Yes, I need to be diligent and do my part.  But there is a time to rest, and rest is a gift from God.  I wrote about that in last Sunday’s post: How a Day of Rest Can Improve Work-Life Balance.

Whenever I read this Psalm, I wrestle with a couple of questions that pop into my head:

  1. Doesn’t God value hard work? I think the answer to this, from reading the whole of scripture, is that he does value diligence and hard work.  But if God is not “in” whatever it is that I’m doing, no amount of hard work on my part will make up for God’s uninvolvement or lack of blessing.
  2. Is it wrong for me to stay up late or get up early in order to get ahead? I think there are times when it may make sense for us to do this.  But if we consistently short-change our sleep in order to get work done, we might think we’re getting ahead in our career or finances, but we may end up falling behind in other life areas like our health or relationships.
  3. How can I know that I’m doing what God wants me to do? I can only tell you what has worked for me.  I seek to have a relationship with God through prayer, reading the scriptures, and seeking to follow his ways.  The more I do these things, the more I feel like I know what God wants me to do. When I’m in doubt or unsure, I ask people who know me best – my spouse and friends – for their help in discerning whether I’m on the right track or not.

In times when my life feels out of balance, I’m learning to pause and ask myself these questions:

  1. Is God “in” what I’m doing?  Is it consistent with what I know about God, and what I know he wants me to do? This is a question of the heart.
  2. Am I doing it in the right way, in a way that is consistent with the values that are important to me? This is a question of my actions and obedience.
  3. Am I doing it for the right reasons? This is a question of my motivation.

Does your life feel like it is out of balance right now?  Do you feel the stress level rising?  Do you find yourself moving backwards while you’re trying to get ahead?

If so, you might want to make time to consider how these scriptures could be applied in your own life.  If you have questions or need help, let me know.

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