Do you ever feel like the work parts of your life are taking over everything else? It might feel a little like dandelions on your lawn. One day there’s only one on the outer edges. They’re not a big deal. Before you know it they’ve spread everywhere and it feels like they are taking over everything. Wherever there is space, dandelions will invade and take over. Work isn’t any different. There is always more to do. If you let it, that “more to do” will invade, spread, and take over more and more territory.
Eventually work and work related stress can choke out every good thing in the rest of your life. Leaving only the leftover energy and time for you, your family, and God. That’s why playing with the kids or talking with your spouse after work feels like trying to climb a mountain with an engine block strapped to your back. All you want to do is sleep, zone out in front of the tv, or fall apart completely. This isn’t how we are meant to live.
If you’ve found yourself chained to the treadmill of work excess, you probably have told yourself over and over again: “I need to just get through this busy season, then things will calm down.” As Carey Nieuwhof said: If the slow season never comes, you aren’t in a busy season. You have a busy life. (I paraphrased it… It was something like that.)
Maybe you’ve tried over and over to cut back, only to find that cutting back isn’t possible. Or you start strong and then fall into the same patterns when a crisis happens at work. Whatever it is, taming work in your life can feel harder than quitting smoking or losing weight. Why is that? This post is going to look at the reason we struggle with taming work. What does the Bible say about why you can’t just cut back?
For the TLDR Crowd:
The short answer, for the TLDR crowd, is that our lives become unmanageable because we are not living as God designed us to live. As long as we are trying to do the heavy lifting of changing ourselves, we will struggle. If we cannot manage our own lives, then we need someone who can do the job to take control of the situation on our behalf. The Bible explains that this is God’s job and we are to submit every aspect of it to him. He will do the job. Unfortunately, there are all sorts of things in our lives that make this change difficult and result in our rapid failure and return to the old ways. Jesus described those things in the parable of the sower. This post examines the three ways we choke out God’s change in our lives.
This post is part of a series on Ecclesiastes 4, including sermons and background posts explaining the ideas in detail.
The Problem in Us
Understanding the problem of why we can’t slow down or reprioritize work requires that we first understand something about human nature. We were made to know and have a relationship with our creator. God meant for us to know him, be his friends, and for him to be our God.
Sin messed all that up. It separated us from God. However, it did not change our nature. We are still meant to be connected to God, only now sin has made us distant and resistant to him. Even when we try hard to be good, we tend to fall on our faces. In order to fill that built in need to know and serve God, we find (or make) other gods to serve. Those gods can be money, power, politics, sex, pagan idols, organizations, our families, alcohol, philosophies, and all manner of other things.
Our culture, in particular, has developed an obvious illicit affair with work and money. Many of us become enslaved to work and allow it to be lord over our lives. Essentially, work moves from its proper place as a gift for us to enjoy to a god.
You probably don’t have a little altar in your living room to your employer. However, you have probably have weighed all manner of life decisions based on work before anything else. Many Christians, myself included, fall into this trap.
The Three Ways We Resist God’s Change
To really flesh out this idea, we’re going to look at something Jesus taught. This teaching was done through a story about a farmer planting seeds in different types of soil. Until this week in Men’s Bible study, I never recognized how well our toxic relationship with work is explained by this parable. The parable is really about the heart conditions that result in folks rejecting new life in Christ, though each of the types has more than its share of work specific examples.
In the story, a farmer goes out spreading seeds in a field. He is lavish in his use of seeds, throwing them everywhere. The farmer is more concerned about crops growing in the soil than he is about saving seeds. Later, Jesus clues us in that the seeds are actually the gospel being preached.
By the Gospel, I mean the truth that God sent his son to take punishment for our sins, giving us forgiveness and new life. It fixes sin in us and frees us from serving the gods we attached our lives to. It is free, requiring only faith. That faith prompts us to follow. We are the soil and the teachings about new life in Jesus are planted in us.
If the teachings take root and grow, we establish new life and a relationship with God. It also means that we live oriented toward him as God over our lives. He teaches us to live the way we were meant to live. This is key to understanding why work is so impossible to tame on our own. God isn’t stingy in offering new life. New life through Jesus isn’t something we can mess up too bad to receive. It is lavishly spread out. However, we can allow the junk in our lives to kill that new life.
Jesus explains the results of the scattering of seeds better than I can summarize:
“…some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Later while speaking privately with his disciples, he explained the meaning of the teaching. While Jesus was teaching more generally about life and the things that kill our new life in Christ, I am going to plug work into each of these scenarios.
When the Seed Never Gets Planted in Our Hearts
In the first example birds came along and ate the seeds. Jesus explained that this represents the message arriving, but satan snatches it away before it can take root. The idea here is that the person hears the message and doesn’t understand. Either they have made up their mind that they won’t listen, they find excuses as to why it’s not an option, or whatever else. The end result is that it never goes to seed.
If we consider this part of the parable in light of our toxic relationship with work, there are plenty of examples as to why folks might choose not to reorganize their lives around following Jesus and his teachings. For example, we tend to take pride in being busy. It is a virtue of sorts in our world. This is why folks tend to complain about work dominating their lives, but don’t often do anything about it.
Another common argument is that adding religion to life would just make it busy. It’s just one more demand on your time. In terms of this discussion, this argument is sort of like complaining that papers are piled everywhere in your office, creating clutter, and making it impossible to find anything or get anything done. Only to turn down the offer of a filing cabinet, files, and a personal organizer. Following Jesus has the net effect of putting everything in its place and reorganizing our lives around his teaching. What’s more, he helps us do it through his Spirit.
There are plenty of other reasons folks don’t ever consider the gospel, but they all have the ultimate effect of preventing the gospel from changing us.
When the Roots Get Crowded Out
The second example involves rocky soil, where the plant takes root and begins to grow. Sadly roots never grow deep, so the new life dies. Jesus explains that these folks accept the truth with joy and begin to grow and change. When difficulty in life came along, the new life cannot survive because it had no depth.
There are all sorts of rocks in our lives that prevent us from allowing spiritual depth to happen. Again, in terms of our work life, there are plenty of things that keep us low commitment to the new way of of life he calls us to live.
The love of possessions or success is a rock in our hearts. We may want to experience the freedom God offers, but we also want to be successful. When we hit the rough patches in life, whether our faith becomes hard to follow or just stress in general or we have to choose between work/money/etc and following Jesus, the fact that we’re trying to hold onto both results in spiritual withering.
I have known a lot of folks who have fallen into workaholism because they were trying to “live up to” a parent’s expectations or earn their love. When push comes to shove the lure of earning dad’s approval (even if he has long since passed away) is far too strong to resist for some folks. Submitting to God involves us setting everything else under his rule.
These are both examples of folks who are taking a halfway approach. They are either going into change halfway or trying to hold onto other gods while following God. When difficulty happens and a choice has to be made, they choose the old way because it is familiar and “safe.”
The real trick here is that the stuff which doesn’t produce anything good in our lives needs very little to thrive. Dandelions can grow in sidewalk cracks. Wheat needs good soil. Everything that is beneficial to us requires more.
When Weeds and Thorns Choke Out New Life
The third soil is full of weeds and thorns that choke the new life to death. This is busyness. All of the junk that has dominated life up until this point refuses to give way as the new life takes root. There are only so many hours in the day and so much of you to go around. In the end, those things choke faith to death.
This is a painful truth: if you want to change, you do so by rooting out the parts of life that are trying to be the number one priority and organizing around the priority you were designed to focus on.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of good things in our lives that are time consuming. Kids take time. Running a business takes time. Exercise takes time. Even spiritual growth and development take time.
The problem of chaos in our lives is a result of those things taking more than their rightful place. They want to squeeze out everything else for the lion’s share of your life. Work is just the most aggressive.
By rooting them out, I am not saying that they need to go entirely. Rather, that they need to take their rightful spot in terms of your time, talent, and treasures. Any time one of them becomes your god, it will act as a dictator or an overly demanding boss.
The only thing that can control it all is God himself, primarily because that is the way we were designed to operate. We don’t need to cut back on our time with kids. We need to look at them in terms of how we were made to live.
The Good Soil
The final soil in Jesus’ parable is good soil. This ground has been tilled, broken, weeded, and the rocks have been cleaned out or broken up. The seeds in that soil take root and grow. This new life produces good things in the hearts and lives of those who experience it.
Having the good soil in our lives starts with God being in control, setting the priorities, training us how to live, and his Spirit aiding us in the process. The good news is that God will help us pick rocks out of our fields, trim weeds, and everything else. He just has to be God in our lives. He has to be in charge.
The Key to Change
The real trick to get control of your life isn’t to try harder or move to a new town or anything else. It’s to give up control to the one who can do the job well. It begins by admitting that we cannot run things and we need him to do it for us. We have to jump in with both feet and learn to let him steer.
Jesus once said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
If you are starving for something better and stumbling under the burden of what parts of your life has become, the solution is easy. But, it cannot begin until we accept his direction and follow him. As you do, he’ll teach you to understand the truth better and better.
Every time Jesus calls one of the disciples in the Bible, he does it by saying: “Follow me.” Peter, James, John, Matthew, and all the rest made a choice between learning from him or remaining in their old work and lives. We all have to make that decision. What will you do?