I must confess that I am a recovering workaholic. While in the previous seasons of my life, this trait seemed so endearing and many praised me for how much I worked so hard. And I soaked in that glory, what I deceitfully scripturized as burning the midnight oil (shaking my head now) as drawn from the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13.
As I grow deeper in my walk with God while maturing in biological age, I have come to appreciate the difference between diligently going about my Father’s business and being too busy to be effective. My husband and I have shared a favourite Scripture for over a decade now, we call it our rest Scripture in Hebrews 4. It talks about entering into God’s rest and how the Israelites missed out on that. This Scripture has become my anchor. Every time my boat starts to drift farther from the shores of God’s rest, God reminds me of Hebrews 4. We will look further into this later.
However, most recently during family devotions with our kids, my husband brought out yet another Scripture in Ezekiel that made me stop for a while to evaluate and see a deeper meaning to life and what God is actually calling me to do. The chapter starts with God dealing with Israel for idolatry despite the fact that He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt. My attention was drawn to the verses starting at 10.
So I made them leave the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them My statutes and explained My ordinances to them, which, if a man keeps, he will live.
Also, I gave them My Sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know [without any doubt] that I am the Lord who sanctifies them (separates and sets them apart). But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness. They did not walk in My statutes and they despised and rejected My ordinances, which, if a man keeps, he will live; and they greatly profaned My Sabbaths.
Then I decided to pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them. But I acted for My Name’s sake, that it would not be profaned in the sight of the [pagan] nations in whose sight I had brought them out [of slavery].
I also swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, [a land of plenty] flowing with milk and honey, which is the ornament and glory of all lands, because they rejected My ordinances, and as for My statutes, they did not walk in them; they even profaned My Sabbaths, for their heart continually went after their [worthless] idols.
Yet My eye [looked on them with compassion and] spared them instead of destroying them, and I did not annihilate them in the wilderness. “But I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers nor observe their ordinances nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am the Lord your God; walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and observe them.
Sanctify My Sabbaths and keep them holy; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know [without any doubt] that I am the Lord your God.’ Yet the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, nor were they careful to observe My ordinances, which, if a man keeps, he will live; they profaned My Sabbaths.
Then I decided to pour out My wrath on them and finish My anger against them in the wilderness. Yet I withdrew My hand and acted for My Name’s sake, that it would not be profaned in the sight of the [pagan] nations in whose sight I had brought them out [of slavery]. Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the [Gentile] nations and disperse them among the countries, because they had not observed My ordinances, but had [dishonored and] rejected My statutes and had profaned My Sabbaths, and set their eyes on the [man-made] idols of their fathers…
“Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Again in this your fathers have blasphemed Me, in that they acted faithlessly and treacherously against Me. For when I had brought them into the land which I swore to give to them, they saw every high hill and every dark and leafy tree [as a place for idol worship], and there they offered their sacrifices and there they presented their offering that provoked My anger; there also they made their sweet-smelling aroma and there poured out their drink offerings.
What strikes me most in this Scripture is when God says that He gave them His Sabbaths to be a sign between Him and the people, that they might know (without any doubt) that He is the Lord who sanctifies them (separates and sets them apart). I could literally hear God saying to me that His rest is supposed to sanctify and set me apart.
As we continued the devotions, God was seriously working on my workaholism. He was teaching me to trust in Him and in His provision and avoid setting up my work, yes my God-given purpose (a gift He has given me) to become a high place where I practice idolatry.
Sometimes I feel that it was easier to know which Israelites were into idol worship because you would see the idols literally cast in wood and stone. Maybe it was easier to get rid of the idols by just throwing them away. In my (and our case), the idols are not physical for the most part – they are thoughts and things that are exalted in our lives above the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5). These, God detests so much that in the Old Testament, He scattered Israel among the Gentile nations.
I hope that you and I can take a journey to explore why God really valued the Sabbath for His people. Why He would not allow them to prostitute themselves to other gods. Why His wrath was kindled against the people He had chosen. What this Sabbath means to us in the dispensation of Grace and Truth. Why being too busy is a form of idol worship. What is the relationship between busy-ness and idolatry?
I reckon these are many questions to ask and also to answer. My intention is that we can learn to trust in the Lord of the Sabbath and allow Him to lead us in green pastures and beside still waters (Psalm 23) to a full life that’s enjoyable.
THE VALUE OF WORK VERSUS THE CURSE OF TOILING
We know that God is a worker because we see Him working for six days. Therefore, to work is godliness, and this is why Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, whoever does not work should not eat.”
As children of God, we must work and value work just as God does. He is also the worker of work because He is the one who gave Adam the work.
Throughout the Bible we see that there is profit in labour and mere talk leads to poverty (Proverbs 14:23) and that if you sleep too much, poverty will ambush you like an armed robber (Proverbs 24:33-34). In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty.
But from the story of the fall (Genesis 3:1-7, we see that Adam and Eve were not satisfied with what their Father had given them and deemed it necessary to follow their own interests. They chose to look outside of their relationship with God for fulfillment, instead of trusting that He would satisfy their every need. In doing so, they broke relationship with Him.
More than the pain in childbirth and toil in labour, the curse is also in our desire to find satisfaction, identity and meaning in other things rather than our relationship with God.
To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth; In pain you will give birth to children; Yet your desire and longing will be for your husband, and he will rule [with authority] over you and be responsible for you.”
Then to Adam the Lord God said, “Because you have listened [attentively] to the voice of your wife, and have eaten [fruit] from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’;
The ground is [now] under a curse because of you; in sorrow and toil you shall eat [the fruit] of it all the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field. “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, For from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
We are endlessly striving to make a name for ourselves, whether that would be in reaching the top of the corporate ladder, or parenting the next Albert Einstein. When you take a look at the shelves of your local or online bookstore, you’ll find countless resources on how to become a more effective, successful person in the workplace as well as how to best meet the physical and emotional needs of your child, even before birth. The creators of these resources appeal to our deepest insecurities and try to convince us into believing that if we can somehow find the secret formula, our success will be guaranteed.
People typically aspire to be the absolute best at what they do, which in and of itself is a noble pursuit. Our problems begin to arise when we seek to measure our intrinsic value by our successes and failures. Contrary to what we’ve been told, we are not what we do. It has never defined the essence of who we are, and it never can. We have been created by a loving God to bring glory to His name in all the circumstances of our lives. And often the very circumstances that bring Him the most glory are the times of our greatest failure, times when we give up trying to work in our own power and instead allow His power to be made perfect in our weakness.
We often find ourselves dissatisfied with the path that God has ordained for us, which leads us to pursue our own agenda. Instead of taking our confusion and dissatisfaction to the one who knows us best, we are tempted to look outside of our relationship with God to find answers to our failures and disappointments. We toil, not against actual thorns and thistles, but against “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things [that] come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19 NIV). We seek the forbidden fruit of this world that will never satisfy, while God waits for us to come and walk with Him in the cool of the day. He can meet our every need, if only we would let Him.
When we try to live life through our efforts, it leads to overexertion. Overexertion is defined as to strain or put too much pressure on oneself. An example of overexerting is to try to run 10 miles when the body is only used to running five. God is not looking for perfect men and women to use. On the contrary, God knows our human limitations and all He is seeking is an obedient heart and kindred spirit.
The Bible did not hide the flaws of the great men (and women) that God used throughout the history of mankind. The father of faith, Abraham, faltered off the path one too many times. He got impatient to wait for the promised son and tried to help God bring the promise to pass by siring Ishmael with Sarah’s Egyptian maid, Hagar. David, a man after God’s own heart took Urriah’s wife and organized for Uriah the Hittite, an elite soldier in the army of David to be murdered during the battle between Israel and Ammonites. The men God used were never perfect but God used them anyway because they were willing and obedient and very quick to repent of their sins.
Anytime we start to overexert ourselves, we should know that we are not in God’s rest. This is because God’s rest encourages us to cease from our own works and enter into God’s works. When we put too much pressure on ourselves, we are denying God’s working in and through us. Our confidence shifts from God’s power, promises and ability to our own abilities.
In exercising, overexertion can lead to injury or even chronic health conditions. Hence, it is important to watch out for warning signs from the body and recognize when your workout is causing more harm than good. Some of the physical signs that you are overexerting include dehydration, fatigue, chest pains, difficulty in breathing, wheezing, persistent coughing, and tightening of the chest that could mean you are having a heart attack.
“Are you overexerting yourself? Are you working or just going through the curse of toiling? “