Editors’ note: 

TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].

My husband and I both work full-time, and we have two children in preschool. My job is creative and demanding; some would say I’m at the top of my field. On paper, this looks wonderful. In real life, it can be both messy and exhausting. Some nights, after the kids are in bed and my choices are laundry or working on my website, I’m too wiped out to do anything but go to bed.

I’m wondering all the time if I should stay the course, if I should change jobs (I’m topped out where I am), if I should switch to part-time so I can homeschool (I’d love to do this but not sure we can afford it). I wonder what I’m even aiming for. As a mom, what does a well-balanced, healthy, God-honoring life even look like?

Nearly 30 years ago, Mark Dever wrote a now-famous letter to a Massachusetts congregation that was asking much the same question, but about their church. In their search for a new pastor, they asked, what qualities should they be looking for?

Dever gave them the nine marks of a healthy church—which birthed a book, a ministry, and a movement.

I don’t think this advice will follow quite the same pattern. (For one thing, I could only come up with six.) But I do think we can define some qualities that make up “a well-balanced, healthy, God-honoring life.”

1. It prioritizes seeking God.

God made us. He saved us. In his sovereignty, he placed us into this point in history, in this geographic area, with these relationships. He gave us any talent, education, or opportunities we have. And he didn’t do any of that randomly or accidentally—he has a purpose for us (Col. 1:16; Ecc. 3:1; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 2:10).

Knowing this, our first priority should be to seek him daily in purposeful Bible reading (Josh. 1:8) and prayer (Eph. 6:18). Additionally, consider choosing times—in the car, waiting in a carpool line, before meals—where you can practice offering a short prayer or going over a memory verse. (It helps me to think of “stapling my day to God” with these little moments.) Without his work in our heart, without his renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), we are chasing the wind (Ecc. 1:14).

2. It serves your family and close friends well.

In his goodness, God has given you a husband and children (Ps. 127:3–5). In his goodness, he has placed others in different family circumstances. But all of us are called to love sacrificially, the way he loves us.

That means we spend time praying with and for our loved ones (Eph. 3:14–19). We bear their burdens (Gal. 6:2), which could be as mundane as strapping on a clean diaper, going over spelling words, or picking up dry cleaning. We teach our children the Word of God (Deut. 11:19), which might look like writing out Bible verses to have in the car, downloading the New City Catechism songs to play during breakfast, or reading a chapter of the Jesus Storybook Bible before bed. We work at home (Titus 2:4–5), which can look like cleaning the bathroom, making a meal, or paying the electric bill. And we practice confessing sin to each other and forgiving each other (James 5:16; Eph. 4:32).

All those things take time, but they don’t usually get a spot on the calendar. As a result, I’ve found that my family often feels the pinch when I overschedule. It’s worth taking occasional stock of your days to ensure you’re giving enough of your energy and attention to the people God’s given to you.

3. It engages in daily toil that serves God and neighbor.

Daily work is a gift from God, given before the fall to Adam (Gen. 1:28; Gen. 2:19) and in keeping with God’s own working nature (Gen. 1). From designing a website to washing dishes to answering the phone, our work “further develops, maintains, or repairs the fabric of the world,” as Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf put it in Every Good Endeavor.

This is most satisfying to us when we know we’re doing it—when we can see how our work glorifies God by adding beauty or restoring order or loving other humans. For many of us, that’s less a matter of finding a different occupation and more a matter of seeing opportunities for service in our current work. Consider thinking that through: Who has God given you to serve? How can you do that more effectively?

4. It includes actively serving in a local church body.

Hebrews tells us not to neglect “meeting together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:25). Committing to a local body of Christians is not only a commandment of Scripture (Heb. 13:17), but also good for our souls as we gain instruction, sanctification, accountability, and fellowship (Titus 2; 1 Tim. 4:16; Matt. 18:15–18).

We know the more effort we put into something, the more we’ll get out of it. The more notes we take on a book, the more we’ll remember it. The more questions we ask in class, the more we’ll understand and appreciate the instruction. The more time we spend with a friend, the closer our relationship.

The same is true for church. The more time and energy we spend stewarding our gifts to serve God’s people—by bringing a meal, stopping by for a visit, offering a ride, sending a card, writing a check—the more we’ll be invested in the bride he loves (1 Pet. 4:10–11; Gal. 6:10; Eph. 5:25–27). Certainly, the amount we can do depends on our seasons and circumstances. But it’s worth asking, What does my church need? What can I give?

5. It includes caring for your own health.

Our physical bodies belong to God twice over—given at birth and redeemed at the cross (1 Cor. 6:19–20). Caring for ourselves, then, is an act of worship and of submission—in it, we acknowledge that we aren’t the boss of ourselves. As hard as we push, we just don’t operate as well when we aren’t getting enough healthy food, regular exercise, or seven-to-nine hours of sleep a night. Thanks to God for both his special revelation (Ex. 34:21) and his general revelation that tell us this truth.

The challenge, of course, is that we’re busy doing good things: serving God and neighbor, helping in our church, and working hard at our job. This can make going to the gym or preparing a meal more nutritious than Fruit Loops seem like a waste of time, or worse, selfish. But that logic is twisted. Our family and friends and neighbors need us to be healthy and energetic and well-rested. Running ourselves down in the cause of serving others undercuts our ability to serve well.

The more we submit ourselves to God in this, the more we’ll see the gift he’s giving us in a well-rested mind or strong legs or a cheerful spirit.

6. It engages your mind and imagination regularly.

One way we reflect God’s image is in the things we create. It could be a banner for a birthday party, an organizational system for a closet, or a morning routine that works well. It could be knitting or gardening or cooking. It could be a class or conference that grows your professional skills, a book that lets you drop into another world, or a deep conversation with a friend.

In busy seasons, these are the things we tend to drop first—and that’s not wrong. But if we’re never stretching our brains to find or bring order and beauty to the world around us, we’re missing part of the joy of being ourselves.

Only God Finishes His To-Do List

The marks of a well-balanced, healthy, God-honoring life—like the marks of a healthy church—are a guide. These aren’t six boxes to check, but six questions to ask. Not only are we limited by human frailty and sin, but also by the way God designed us and the circumstances he’s appointed. For you, serving others and engaging your imagination probably come easily. In a different season, you’ll likely have more time for uninterrupted Bible study and caring for your health.

God knows our limits; he gave them to us on purpose. One of his clearest directives is to practice a sabbath (Ex. 20:9–11), a weekly, intentional pausing in our work—leaving some undone—to remind us that we aren’t able to do it all.

And to remind us, over and over again, to worship the One who can.

You can read previous installments in the Thorns & Thistles series.

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