DickersonBakker Blog

Are You the Master of Your Work … or Is Your Work Mastering You?

Do you love your work? The Bible tells us: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Many Christians think that glorifying God means going to church, singing praises, reading the Bible, and praying. But that’s not what the passage says. It says that ALL we do should be for the glory of God. This includes our work. God created us to find enjoyment and purpose in our work. Our work is a calling from God. 

But how much work is too much work? I am blessed that the Lord provides me the opportunity to do work that I love to do. I also have the privilege of working with colleagues who share my passion for this work. But sometimes this passion for our work creates tension in other areas of our lives. No one wants to become the stereotype of that successful person who has built a highly successful career at the expense of real relationships with family members or friends, no matter how noble or fulfilling the work. 

As Christians, how do we live out our calling to glorify God through our work without sacrificing other areas of life? How do we find that balance?

I happened upon an interesting bible verse the other day. It is Judges 17:6, which says, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” As I dug into it, I learned that this phrase or a version of it is actually repeated multiple times throughout the book of Judges (17:6, 18:1, 19:1 and 21:25).

If you consider the context for the Book of Judges, you would think that these would be golden years for the people of Israel. Think about the situation they were in. They were six centuries removed from God’s original promise to Abraham. After over two centuries of slavery in Egypt, followed by 40 years wandering the desert, and then at least a decade of war as they fought to conquer the land of Canaan, the people of Israel had FINALLY seen the promise fulfilled. God had indeed brought them into the Promised Land. They were the first generation of their people who were not wanderers or living in bondage to another nation. They could settle down and build their own nation. Each tribe had land of their own and the autonomy to rule themselves as they saw fit.

It should have been the best of times. That’s not what happened however. Instead, this turned out to be a very dark time in the history of Israel. 

The Book of Judges covers the time from the death of Joshua until when Saul was crowned king of Israel. For most of their history, the people of Israel either lived under the rule of a foreign power, or they had been led by a strong, God-fearing leader. During the time of the book of Judges, however, they were living in freedom.

Going all the way back to Abraham, the deal for the Israelites had always been that if they worshipped and obeyed God, God in return would guide them and protect them and give them their own land. But now that the people were safely settled in the Promised Land, I guess they figured the old rules no longer applied. They turned their backs on God and his laws. They had no ruler, and virtually no rules. They lived their lives as they saw fit.

As a result, what should have been a time of “liberty” was instead marked by turmoil and upheaval. The people started following other gods, worshipped idols, adopted lifestyles that were debased in all kinds of immorality, and generally descended into godless chaos. With their enemies largely defeated, they also started fighting with each other. A couple of the smaller tribes of Israel were almost wiped out because of infighting. 

It turns out that “everyone doing as they saw fit” didn’t work out so well. They had all the freedom in the world. But they ended up living out a Jewish version of Game of Thrones. Is it any wonder that they were desperate for a king to bring order? 

In 1 Samuel 8, the people plead for a king to rule over them. Samuel tried to warn them why that was not a good idea. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons … Some he will assign to his armies and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment. He will take your daughters. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves … He will take your servants and the best of your cattle for his own use. You yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people would not listen. They were tired of the chaos. They wanted their king. When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Why would any people willingly trade God-given liberty for a king to rule over them?

The Roman philosopher Cicero recognized what was going on here. He even coined a name for it: the “paradox of liberty”. One of his most enduring quotes is this: “The fruit of too much liberty is slavery.” He recognized that people need to have a set of rules to live by. Without rules to live by, no one can be truly free. Too much freedom can actually be a bad thing.

This does not only apply to society. This also applies to personal freedom. Too much personal freedom can easily become oppressive.

One of my earliest fundraising jobs was for a mental health ministry that included a substance abuse program. I was surprised to discover that many who received help from this program were young people from very wealthy families. These young people had all the freedom that came with wealth and privilege. But they didn’t feel free. Instead they became slaves to their addictions. 

Our team at Dickerson-Bakker has a lot of freedom in how we do our work. You may as well. In that context, think again about that quote from Cicero: “The fruit of too much liberty is slavery.”

At Dickerson-Bakker, our team is made up of people who are typically high-achievers with a strong sense of personal responsibility. And when very responsible high-achievers have a lot of freedom, there is a risk that they will become slaves to their work. As I like to say, “sometimes the problem with working from home is that you never go home from work.”

We do this work because we love it. But as I have stressed to our team, we cannot let our love for our work become the very thing that oppresses us or deprives us of joy. Because that would be a direct contradiction to why we exist as a company. 

There is only one way to avoid this. At the end of the day, it isn’t going to come from me telling our team members what they should or should not be doing. It has to come from within them. The same is true for you. Each of us needs to “train our brain” to find the right balance.

Here are some practical ways our team has been discussing how we can better manage this:

  • Practice self-observation … which is a necessary first step to self-discipline
  • Listen to others when they tell you that you are working too much
  • Manage your time 
  • Schedule your life
  • Become good at compartmentalizing
  • Set healthy boundaries
  • Learn to say no (nicely)
  • Focus on first things first
  • Ask for help when you need it

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul writes: All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” Work is a blessing, especially if you are doing meaningful work that God has uniquely gifted you to do. It is how we live out our purpose here on earth. But like anything else, too much of a good thing can become harmful. So be the master of your work; do not let it become the master of you. 

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