Avoiding 3 Common Dangers of Work
I am intrigued by several recent articles that reported declining productivity for workers and companies. There may be a variety of causes for this; I suspect that the polarizing health, social and political pressures of the past few years have caused a lot of weariness. That discouragement results in lower output and work of poorer quality. It is a loss of focus and purpose. We are more productive when we understand clearly why and for whom we do our work.
The writer of Ecclesiastes had a good grasp on the value and limits of work. Let’s explore his inspired words:
I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a person and his neighbor. This too is futility and striving after wind. The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh. One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind. –Ecclesiastes 4:4-6
In this brief paragraph, I see three work-related temptations to avoid:
Work Done out of Rivalry: The writer of Ecclesiastes says that so much work and skill are expended simply in the practice of outdoing someone else: “I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a person and his neighbor.” As C.S. Lewis said of our pride, “The pleasure is not in being clever or wealthy or wise – it is in being cleverer, wealthier or wiser than others”. This is a fruitless contest – the keeping up with the Joneses. It is common and a sad reason for work – but it leaves everyone sorrowful in the end.
Work Left Undone: While some overwork out of rivalry, “The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh”. By a refusal to work, some actually become parasites on the community. If carried to its ultimate conclusion, this erodes the humanity of a person made in the image of God. God Himself is a worker and created us for good works (Philippians 2:10). The work itself is a blessing to the one who does it.
Overwork that Destroys the Blessing: Work is a good thing. However, it is possible to work excessively and miss the blessing and joy of work. “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.” God meant for us to develop a rhythm of work and rest. God Himself rested on the seventh day – not because He was tired, but to demonstrate a pattern He wove into all of creation. We must rest to remember that we are not God.
Work is a gift from God. By work, we join God in the effort to order creation. We participate in His Divine purposes! God has made it so that our work produces fruit, and that gives us the opportunity to receive with enjoyment and share with generosity. We work for Him, no matter how many bosses we have (Colossians 3:23). In sum: God is our King. He has called us to work. We are not God — we do our work for God. If we remember those principles, then we will escape the traps warned of in Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 and regain the solid motivation for hard work that is well done.