Surely You Can Work a Little Harder…

Some of us need to work harder than we do. Students fool themselves, thinking they are “studying” when they are just hanging out with their friends with open books in front of them. Professors think they are working when they are merely chatting with colleagues or fussing about some minor matter of campus politics. Pastors think they are working when they are having yet another breakfast or coffee meeting with somebody in their parish simply because they are with somebody in their parish — even if the conversation seems to accomplish very little.

Many of us, however, work harder than we should. For whatever reason, and there are a lot of possible reasons, we are pushing ourselves beyond the limits of our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

This is hardly a startling observation, of course. So let us hear some wisdom from a very hard-working Christian brother who flourished four centuries ago. His name is Vincent de Paul, and he was an astonishing minister for good in the church. Furthermore, he has inspired many people to do good in his name and in the name of the Lord he so assiduously served.

So let us hear his warning today: “Be careful to preserve your health. It is a trick of the devil, which he employs to deceive good souls, to incite them to do more than they are able, in order that they may no longer be able to do anything.”

Hmm. I suddenly realize I’ve been sitting in this chair for too long, staring at this screen for too long. It’s time for a break. And you?

0 Responses to “Surely You Can Work a Little Harder…”

  1. Surrey Guy

    Our Olympic czar’s story in the Globe made me think.
    Rather off-topic but how did the book launch go? I desperately wanted to attend but fatherhood in the suburbs makes this challenging.

    Oh well, next time.

  2. Michael W. Kruse

    Working hard can actually be a type of sloth. We spend our time at work because it is easier than the work we know we should be doing in our relationship with God, our spouse, our children, or others in our lives. All the the time we can persuade ourselves we are such martyrs for working so hard.

    I’m not saying everyone who struggles to balance the many aspects of life is guilty, but I suspect more of us are guilty than would like to ‘fess up.

  3. Teresa

    Your post reminded me of a conversation I had with some friends recently. We were talking about how there’s always more good we *can* do, but that we shouldn’t do all of it. If we burn ourselves out by doing every work that is available, what good are we for the kingdoom in the long run.

    I find it also helpful to remember that different people have different energy levels and some need more down time than others. That helps me give myself permission to take a break when I need it but others are still working hard and keeps me from looking down on others who don’t seem do doing very much.

  4. John Stackhouse

    Surrey Guy, the launch was a blast. It wasn’t as well attended as previous launches–doubtless because it was put on a Friday night, rather than the usual Thursday–but those who attended were a warm, attentive bunch and lots of them kindly stayed after my lecture to chat a bit and have me sign their books.

  5. stackstudent

    Congrats on the book launch, Prof. Stackhouse, and thanks for the words yesterday evening.

    Tonight, I met up with a friend who’s dealing with some illness in the family and I just prayed with him and outlined the main points of last night’s talk while we had dinner. Jesus is good – Jesus is God – God is good. Run to Jesus. I cited your exact expressions throughout the conversation, so I’ll probably just grab him a copy of the book as well. 🙂

    Thanks again – here’s wishing you a good Sunday’s rest!

  6. Andy Rowell

    I can only make sense of this issue in terms of “sabbath.” We are not intended to be slaves in Egypt.

  7. Alan

    I wonder if many of us approach rest as simply the absence of work — a negative approach — rather than as an opportunity for enjoyment or pleasure. I find I have difficulty with this myself, sometimes seeing rest as just a break in the action until the real business of life picks up again. On my better days I can’t help but think that this is a mistaken view of the value and purpose of life.

  8. Frank

    One thing that concerns me is that many churches work so hard at creating a parallel universe where members and their families can spend all their time in a Christian atmosphere, that no one has any time or energy to interact with the non-Christian culture around them.

    I’m pretty sure that this was not what Jesus had in mind when he called us to be salt and light.

  9. J

    A former coworker of mine once sent me the following story by J. Oswald Sanders.

    “It is possible to throw our lives away foolishly by burning the candle at both ends. When Robert Murray McCheyne, only thirty years old, lay dying, he said to a friend at his bedside, ‘God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I killed the horse, and now I cannot deliver the message.’

    “The horse was, of course, his body. Christian workers should accept it that their service will be costly if it is to be effective, but they should be careful not to kill the horse.”

  10. tallandrew

    The issue is working out which type you are, the underworker or the overworker. Many overworkers think they are not doing enough. They need to take time out, to do less, and crucially, to not feel guilty about it.

    right, back to that sermon…

  11. poetreehugger

    The underworker, definitely the underworker. I find myself constantly distracted from daily work by some book, and often the Bible. I brought this up with a friend: is it a sin to evade daily work by escaping to reading my Bible? Only partly tongue-in-cheek.
    “At heart I am lazy, yet I find such peace and delight in it that I believe it is a natural state, and in what looks like my laziest periods I am closest to my center.”
    – Andre Dubus, “A Father’s Story”, in The Substance of Things Hoped For

  12. andkim

    I think the struggle in my life and ministry is the SIMULTANEOUS proclivities towards sloth and workaholism. It sounds ridiculous perhaps, but I have seasons where I’m both finding my identity in the work that I do, but also realizing the toxic effect of my desire for escape or idleness. I’m Satan is delighted with both extremes.

    I also just want to say that I think you have a fantastic blog and a wonderfully active readership. I enjoy reading it and consistently find thoughtful, substantial ideas and conversation– not too common in the blogosphere. Kudos to you! Keep up the great work.

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