My family tells me I have a hard time discerning the difference between meeting the needs of others when I encounter them, versus taking on more than I can handle. I want to be a person who serves generously but knows when I’m taking on too much (and thus trying to be godlike). How do I know when I’m straying too far toward one side or the other?
By example and teaching, Jesus called us to the kind of lavish generosity you have shown in your workplace. Jesus used his energies and ability to serve others—healing, mending, casting out demons, calming storms, feeding others. In fact, the only time we see even the prospect of his miraculous energies being used for himself is when Satan tempts him to turn stones to bread—a temptation he resists (Matt. 4:2–4).
The Bible tells us to do the same—to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24) and to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). The Christian call is to pour it all out for Christ and leave nothing in the workplace.
But of course, God also created us with limited abilities—as you say, we aren’t actually godlike. In fact, our only ability to do good comes from resting in God himself (John 15:5).
So how can we know when we’re taking on too much?
Let’s return to Paul’s command in Ephesians: submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). Paul’s command certainly involves serving those in our local church (see Eph. 4:1–16). Even more explicitly, though, Paul directs our serving energies in four ways—toward our spouses (5:22–33), our parents (6:1–3), our children (6:4), and our workplace (6:5–9).
This is instructive for the question at hand. The Bible calls us to radical generosity, but also gives a framework for generosity that helps us evaluate whether we are serving too much in one area.
For example, if our service at work means we lack time and energy to serve our church, spouse, or children, then we are spending too much time working.
Any one of Paul’s “service arenas” can become all-consuming, squeezing the life out of us. This is what happened to Emi Nietfeld, who devoted her life to her work at Google. She likened the company to a “garden of Eden,” providing everything she needed—generous salary, meals, nap pods, doctors, transportation, community, and much more. She admits living “in fear of being cast out” of the garden. This is because, Neitfeld says, “after years of idolizing [her] workplace, [she] couldn’t imagine life beyond its walls.” So when a superior began harassing her, she quietly dealt with it for a year. This, she believed, was “the price of inclusion.”
Work had become an idol to Neitfeld. Here’s Tim Keller on that: “[A]n idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.” He points out that many workers in our age have performed a form of child sacrifice (by neglect) in an effort to meet the demands of career gods.
And it’s not just career gods. Every sphere of our lives—romance, leisure, church, children—can become all-consuming. Any one area can cause us to despise other areas.
If you’re wondering if you take on too much at work, ask yourself the following questions. If you think you might be giving too much attention to another sphere, simply adjust the questions accordingly.
- If coworkers describe me as generous and helpful at work (or at home or church), can my closest friends and family say the same when I’m away from work? Put differently, do I bring laser focus and ready willingness to my work, but fatigue and annoyance when serving in nonwork arenas?
- When away from work, am I attentive? Does my mind drift toward work concerns?
- What does my smartphone’s screen-time report indicate about my time spent away from work? Does my phone tell me I am working when I shouldn’t be?
- Do I routinely wake up at odd hours and struggle to go back to sleep due to worries related to my work?
- In a 24-hour day, do I regularly get about eight hours of sleep? Do my waking hours strike a balance between about eight hours at work and the other eight hours attentively serving and communing with God, friends, family, and my church community?
Now that you have asked yourself these questions, talk them through with the help of a trusted friend, ideally a fellow church member. Ask what your friend thinks. After all, the path toward biblical wisdom is a path walked in fellowship with others.
Remember that Christ has already accomplished the work that needed to be done. By his life and death, he fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets. Our labors should be rooted in the peace and rest of a job well done.
Remember too that Christ holds all the pieces of our lives together. Unlike the idols of this world, he is both Creator and Lord, so his call drives our serving energies outward and keeps them in balance.
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]