Workism: Working Without Rest

by | May 19, 2022 | Articles, Faith and Work, Resources

Working has always been a part of my life, and I thought rest had been too, for a while. Yet,  when I first came to North Central, I found that my life was far more contingent on busyness &  productivity than it was on proper rest. 

There were a few factors in play here that led me to pursue productivity as my evaluating mark,  even in my devotional time. 

One, I had found that having spent seven or more hours a day studying my textbooks & Bible in  my first semester of college had set an unusually high standard for myself. Two, I was  surrounded by pressure – both self-inflicted & external – to achieve excellent marks in school.  Three, I had not begun to grasp the depth of God’s love for me and what His grace truly entails.  Four, I forsook rest. 

That’s a bad equation! 

In the end, this created a sense of workism in my life – a value-system based on my productivity  and my ability to get things done. This practice became workism in a new way, something that  tied directly to my vocational work, but to my schoolwork, and even my devotional study.

Workism Looks Good on You 

The problem with all of that, too, is that it made me look really good. It got me a 4.0 GPA for my  first year of school, it got me through an entire year with a maxed-out margin of productivity, I  accomplished a ton, I was in the Bible constantly, and I was absorbing all that I could from my  textbooks. This workism made me look good, and it made me feel good, too. I felt like I was  killing it! I was a high-achiever and it all looked great from the outside. I could tell people that  “according to the righteous requirements of the law, I was blameless”. 

But why does workism feel good? Workism feels good because it is man’s own way of setting  up his salvation. It satisfies the flesh, which works against the Spirit. 

Workism can be like taking the Law too far, as the Pharisees et al. did back in Jesus’ day. It’s  taking a grace-inspired charge, like the call to work, and turning it into a legalistic requirement  in order to be “okay” with God, yourself, and/or others. Thus, when you fulfill workism’s  requirements, you can boast in yourself, not in the Lord. 

Sounds like sin, doesn’t it? It is. It’s idolatry. And that’s what workism is at its core: idolatry. We  begin to worship our work as the means to our salvation, safety, or identity instead of God. 

Workism sets us up for self-righteousness and worship of our work, something that God did not  intend for man to do and something that Christ died to accomplish. We are not meant to earn  our salvation through our own hands – that was never God’s intention. 

The problem with earning our own salvation, as workism promises, is that we end up broken, burnt out, and just straight up exhausted. Just like I was after that first year of college! During that first year, I was stuck in a place with God where I felt like I was on “bad terms” with Him if I  missed a devotional or didn’t get all of my work done that day.  

Sure, God desires for us to work, and He desires us to do so with excellence, but our  relationship with Him is not based on our work. That’s an offshoot of workism, which I was  practicing alongside my Christianity. Yikes. 

Workism is Not Trust in God 

Workism isn’t something that just fades away in time, and it’s not something that just comes up  randomly. It is a habit, a pattern formation, that comes through repetition and allowing the  sinful nature to soak up identity in work or trust the paycheck more than God. 

I recently made a large purchase. This purchase will change both my life and the life of  someone close to me. However, it took most of my checking & savings accounts to do so. While  this may seem unwise to some, I knew, prayerfully, that it was the right call and the right time  to do so.

How can I do this? Because I trust God, not my work, as my provider. 

If I relied on my work alone, I’d be toast. I’d be homeless in a week. But I know God and I know  His will for me; therefore, I can trust in Him, not in my work. 

That does not excuse unwise financial decisions, no, but the point is that if I was still wrapped  up in workism, I would be crippled with shame, guilt, and fear at this moment, but I’m not.  Because I am outside of workism’s grasp, I can rely on God for anything & everything that I  need, even though I cannot pay my rent right now. 

Therein lies the tension, however, because while we want to avoid workism, we also must  understand that work is a part of God’s creation – something we were literally created to do  (Genesis 2:15).  

How can we combat this pull of workism and hold the tension between operating in fear and  operating by faith in God? 

I think a big part of that is rest. 

Rest, physically, mentally, and spiritually, is a necessity of humankind’s survival. It was outfitted  to us by God Himself as both a pattern of His creative character and as a means to which we  can be prepared & nourished in our bodies, souls, and spirits for what lies ahead, while also  recuperating from what lies behind us.  

Erik Cooper states in well in saying, 

Not only is rest a gift from God, but it’s also a regular reminder that the world doesn’t  rise and fall on our ability to get things done. We are needy people who require rest and  find our strength in our dependence on Jesus.” (full article here). 

I can say that I am 100% depending on Jesus right now. I need to! And rest is one way I can tell  my human mind, body, and soul that I am doing that. Rest says, “I can pause because I trust  God”. Workism says, “If I stop, everything will fall apart”. 

As I write this article, I realize how much God has cultivated my own dependence on Him in this  season. I am absolutely relying on Him to come through in a miraculous way for me, financially,  which is something I could not expect if I was practicing workism. 

While I am seeking out more work to provide for this summer and its activities, I know that  ultimately it all comes from God. If He so chooses me to work my tail off, then His will be done.  If He so chooses me to have a restful summer and wants to provide miraculously alongside my  work, then His will be done. 

At the end of the day, workism cannot tell me what to do. Only God can. And God, right now,  says, “rest”. 

Rest in His presence. Rest in the fact that He is faithful, just, and true to deliver you from your  enemies. Rest in His good & trustworthy character. He is worthy of our faith, and our worship.

Scott Brown

Scott is a full-time Pastoral Studies student at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was called into ministry in March 2020, one year after he was born-again. Scott loves the Lord, is passionate about empowering Christians, and loves to see Spirit-led people flourish in their work. He enjoys writing, preaching, and catching fish.

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