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.