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]
What is the best advice you have received about balancing work and life?
Your desire to balance work and life is understandable in today’s work environment, with so many people experiencing burnout and juggling new work and home routines.
But through my career of 30-plus years, I’ve found that work-life balance is a myth. It’s a myth because “balance” suggests a static state of being, whereas life is constantly changing. But it’s also a myth because work is not the opposite of life—it isn’t something separate from life. It’s an integral part of life, or at least it should be.
Work is not the opposite of life. It’s an integral part of life.
So instead of trying to achieve work-life balance, I’ve pursued centeredness. I aim to put Jesus at the center of my life and then design and manage all the different parts of my life around that center. The truth is, Jesus is already at the center of everything—he is the Lord of all, the Alpha and Omega, the central figure in all of Scripture and of this world.
But we don’t always live according to this truth. We often live as if we are the center of our lives—and then we wonder how our lives get all out of whack! We need to remember that Jesus is the center and then develop and live out priorities from that center.
Here are a few practices that by God’s grace and power I use to orient my life around Jesus.
1. Preach the gospel to yourself.
We must embrace Jesus’s finished work on the cross and understand that means the ultimate work has been completed.
Because Christ died for us and secured our righteousness before the Father, we don’t have to work hard to earn our salvation or our relationship with God. Instead, when we remember that Christ has purchased our redemption, we’re freed to work hard out of love for God, gratitude for his gifts, and a sincere desire to please him as children pleasing a loving father.
So we need to regularly preach the gospel to ourselves, as Jack Miller would say. The gospel isn’t a message that we hear and believe and then move on to do work out of our own effort and intention. We must continually renew our minds and guide our lives by the gospel.
2. Articulate a purpose and values for your life.
Just as companies use a mission statement and core values to express what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to do it, clearly articulated purpose and values can help us stay on track.
In Christ we’re freed to work hard out of love for God, gratitude for his gifts, and a sincere desire to please him as children pleasing a loving father.
Discerning your purpose and values involves prayerful reflection and deep work. Once this work is done, write down your purpose and values and use them to make decisions about how and with whom you spend your time.
My purpose is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever. I do this by helping businesspeople faithfully steward their vocations.” This means the work I do must help businesspeople discern their callings at work and then fulfill them. I try to do this whether I’m speaking to a group of business leaders at a conference or teaching young professionals in the ministry I lead.
One of my core values is to “be purposeful, not simply productive.” I use this core value to ensure I’m not so focused on checking off my to-do list that I miss the people and the things God wants me to pay attention to. Sometimes this means I don’t accomplish everything I set out to do, and sometimes I end up working more than I planned. But that leads me to the last practice for centering on Jesus.
3. Understand and plan for seasons at work.
Inevitably there will be seasons when working longer hours is required. This is a natural part of work and, as much as possible, we should seek clarity on what the next season of work will require. Then we can plan the other aspects of our life accordingly, setting expectations with others and not taking on additional responsibilities we’ll struggle to fulfill.
But this should only last for a period of time. We should ensure the heavier workload will subside and be followed by time for rest and other priorities. If our jobs don’t allow for this rhythm of seasons, then we need to look for other ones that will. Doing so might require some hard choices, but that’s why engaging in the first two practices are important.
Without Jesus at the center of our lives, we’ll always be pulled in a million different directions—and struggle to navigate all the competing priorities we face. But when centered on Jesus, we can experience focus and rest.