About 20 years ago, I was having lunch with a local director of a large well-known ministry. He asked me how many hours a week I put into my work. After thinking about it, I told him, on the average, I put in fifty hours a week. He smirked and condescendingly commented that it was a “light week.” I was put off at first, and informed him it was the quality of the work that was important. The fact is, that ministry had a notorious reputation for working their people like slaves; demanding seventy to eighty hours a week out of their workers and would humiliate them if they didn’t keep up the pace. When their workers balked, they guilt tripped them about being in “the Lord’s work,” and kept them in line until they eventually burned out.
Ironically, after that director left that ministry, he confided to me that they kept him so busy, he didn’t have time for his own spiritual life. He was so busy trying to do God’s work, he didn’t have any time to spend with God Himself!
While this is an extreme case, and in my opinion, somewhat cultic, on a less extreme level, many people are self abusive in the guise of being diligent. We feel like if we are doing something for God, we need to expend all our efforts, and resting is not right if it’s work for God. Somewhere we got the mistaken idea, that resting is just for Shabbat, the day of rest, but when it comes to Shabbat, people are running around trying to make it so special, they need to rest from Shabbat. In the long run, they get no rest at all.
When I look at the Scriptures, I find plenty of people resting. Rest is important, because when people are allowed to rest, they are rejuvenated. Their strength is renewed and they can return to the task with new vigor. In Exodus 31:17 it says, “for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. ” The principle of resting and being refreshed was established by God Himself.
Working ourselves (or others)to death , even under the guise of being for God’s sake, is at best a crock, and even worse, is a profanation of His Name. It is telling people that God wants us to burn ourselves out for his glory. That is a lie, and sends people a false message about God. If people want to make themselves martyrs, that is their business, but they need to understand they will get no gold stars from heaven because of it. Being in relationship with God should result in blessing and refreshment. God isn’t looking for people to wear themselves out in His service. that’s not too far removed from being a very slow suicide bomber. You may think that’s extreme, but I’ve seen too many people who totally burned themselves out for God’s glory, but no one got any glory from their burnout.
Diligence assumes that you not only focus on a task, but that you also will take care of yourself in the process, both physically, and spiritually. This is what is spoken of in Psalm 23:2-3 “He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” This should be the result of a relationship with God. Not burnout, bad attitudes, and frustration. God isn’t looking for people to fizzle out for his Glory. He wants us to be refreshed and strengthened. In Isaiah 40:31, the prophet wrote, “But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” This is supposed to be the result of walking with God; it’s the goal. God doesn’t treat us like a vehicle and refills us just so we can continue to burn ourselves out. He wants us to serve him, but serving God is more a matter of attitude. I can be God serving, or self-serving. God does want us to be serving Him, doing things He wants us to do, treating one another as He wants us to treat them. He is not like a vampire looking to suck out our life blood and leaving us worn out and empty. If we are really serving God, we need to take care for ourselves, and rest. On the other hand, if all you are doing is resting, Tuchas Auffen Tish! ….. but that’s another issue.
also posted in Riverton Mussar: A Wellspring For Ethical Change