Making Time for Your Work
About the choice that is asked concerning church, work, and family.
You have just 24 hours each day. If you are called to be an office-bearer, this will take up a significant amount of your time, no matter how you look at it. This double article will deal with the choices you have to make.
First, I hope to explore some principles with you, perhaps somewhat idealistically. After this, Kees van der Boom will fill you in on the practical side, so that together we will arrive at a somewhat balanced presentation.
So first the principal side:
First, I want to reflect together with you on what it is like to know God, to be known by him, to find peace in him (1). On the basis of this I want to think about the cultural mandate given to people (2). From there, I would like to review our own priority list (3). Afterwards, I will finally argue for another approach than we normally take (4).
1. Rest in God
Do you know what I like most about the Christian faith? The best thing about being a Christian? It is the peace and the knowledge that I do not have to prove myself.
That is the power of our faith. The God of the Bible is a God who accepts you as you are. You do not have to rise above yourself, or try to get into his favour. You are already in his good graces. He reveals himself to you personally as a God who loves you, who cares about you and accepts you. He forgives all your sin in advance. You can see this beautifully illustrated in the baptism of a child. That is how God deals with people! He knows what he can expect from a human being: sin, and a focus on me, myself and I. He knows about that child who is being baptized, that he cannot expect much good of it at all. And yet God says: I accept you — in advance already. An infant cannot even respond with anything at the time. Yet God is already there with his Words of life. Before anything else he is there with his compassion for that child: “You belong to me. You are inseparable from me.” Before everything else there is the acceptance of the Father. And that gives you enormous peace. I don’t have to prove myself! I am already acceptable to God.
This rest translates itself, for example, in the Sabbath commandment in Israel. And in the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee the Lord instructs his people to celebrate. You simply have to have the nerve to shut down production for a year as a farmer. And even two years in a row when it is the Year of Jubilee! All right, one day a week, that is still OK. You can handle that. But for a whole year, once every seven years?! Imagine this in your own company, or in your own branch of business. People will have had the same thoughts in the time of the Old Testament. Yet, if you stick to that Sabbath, you indicate by doing so that you find your peace in God — in his care. Also and especially with this command, in material regards. His care extends from before the cradle to beyond the grave. He makes sure that everything works out well. With him, you can count on it.
And if we celebrate the Sunday today, as the first day of the week, then this Sunday sets the tone for the rest. You rest in God: in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Nobody and nothing can separate you from his love. This gives a great opportunity in your life. An opportunity to make good choices: because God cares. That is decisive for your work week.
So you do not have to prove yourself. And you may be assured that God cares. My question is this: What are you trying to prove when you want to make a career? When you want to grow your own company as big as possible? To whom do you want to prove yourself...? What motivates you? Who inspires you when you are so absorbed in your work, as many of us are.
Perhaps that is a crazy question. And you might object: yes, we still have a cultural assignment, do not we? In Genesis we are called to subjugate the earth, right? Manage and rule over creation? And does Jesus not speak along the same lines that we should develop our talents?
That objection comes at just the right time, because that is what I want to talk about in the second place.
2. A Cultural Mandate
Adam and Eve — the people — receive a cultural assignment. Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it, rule over creation. We as Calvinists always translate this very strictly. We develop our talents. We work hard and long. We thus work towards high and good positions; to functions of leadership. That way we can demonstrate our commitment in church and society. We spread our wings and apply our influence. We are not scared to give a hand in the family when we have the time for it. And we think we should — that this is our duty.
And there is nothing wrong with this! But we have to be careful. Because that is how we can easily pour some Christian sauce over our run-around life. We know how to speak in a beautiful Calvinistic way about the choices we make and the things we do. But somehow we lose sight of God’s care. Oh no, not in principle. Maybe... But in practice — that is often a different story, for instance when I see everyone rushing and trotting off like this, especially for work (!!). Because they think that this is being asked of them. Then I am inclined to think that we find little peace in the fact that God cares and that we are losing sight of the basis of our lives.
Because living life to the max, in all areas, is impossible. Then you come back to our subject. The cultural mandate — our calling — covers a broad field. It covers all of life! And we also see that. The exploration and development of God’s world is more than just hard work for your pennies. The church and your family also belong to it — as well as serving society. But how do you give everything the right weight and the right place, without getting caught in imbalances? We let our work weigh heavily, but how to go about this in the right way? And without losing sight of the peace and rest that God gives as a basis? We will think about that in the next part.
3. Do We Make the Right Choices?
Do we make the right choices? That is one of the most difficult questions in a Christian’s life. Precisely in this area. You gave a resounding “I do” when you got married. You gave your “I do” when your children (if God gives these to you) were baptized. And you said “Yes” again when you were called to the office. And you want to fulfill those affirmations. But your signature appears also under a contract from an employer. Or you are responsible for many people who are working under your leadership. Where do you put your priorities? Could God's Word be clear about this? What does he consider as most important?
I know many people who consider their work as their main vocation. I can hear them say, “After all, we need bread on the table; and also to be able to realize my other “I do’s.” But is that really what we are working for? For the pantry to be filled...? To be able to take good care of our family and our neighbour? Are many of us not already beyond that stage? We work for all those extras and all that luxury that God seems to throw into our lap. Do we not still work for the satisfaction it gives us? And on Sundays we have headaches...
In practice, most people put their work as their #1 priority. You can already see this in how we plan our agendas. We plan things around our work. Our work is fixed, and then we look at how much time we have left. How much time do we have left for our office, or our family, and for relaxation? That is how it works for me. That is how it works for many in my environment. Our family and our office are practically subservient to our work. I see some extreme examples of this.
In this way I know of a family in which the husband and his wife are hardworking. At a certain moment it was the birthday of the youngest child: on Tuesday. But that did not work at all! Then those parents decided to say nothing about it to their child on the day itself. They would simply pretend that his birthday was on Saturday. True, for the child himself it would not have had any negative consequences. But it does show the mentality. We plan our agendas first around our work, and after that we have time for other things.
“But,” you can argue, “is it wrong to put the priority in our work? Why would family and church be more important?” Good question. Because does it not also say in the Bible. “He who does not work, will not eat”? So you see that work is important! OK, but what does it say about nurture? Whoever is a stumbling block for these little ones “...it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” And in the second commandment, your nurture or your lack of it, has effects up to the third and fourth generation! Yes, it works even further! And you see the consequences in the Bible. Take a look at David, for example, who is so busy with governing. But what becomes of his children?
The church too has a high priority. Just take a look and see what kinds of sanctions there are for not looking after your neighbour. Christ even says in Matthew 25 (just after the parable of the talents!), that you can even lose your salvation an account of it.
I know that some people are now thinking: it does not look all that bad in my situation. My wife manages somehow and my children are doing fine. Yes, that is possible. But I have seen the bombs bursting a number of times after the man thought that his work was the most important thing for many years, day after day. And then it was too late.
Your work has a lower priority. Lower than family and church. I dare to put that statement out here. Especially today, where we are not running short of much. The argument is used, however, that a Christian is called to have an influence in the world. By taking good positions. But is that valid? How does God work in this world? Is he not working through parents to children and so on to subsequent generations? Is it not by giving the church, generation after generation, a place in this world? Much more than through our position at work? Therefore: we need to consider another approach. And so we have arrived at the fourth thought.
4. Another Approach is needed!
I therefore call for another priority: in your life and in mine. Here we can learn from our wives who are working. What do we expect from them: that they plan their agenda the other way than we do. As I just said, we first plan our work. And we leave the time that is left for our family. We expect something different from our wives: they have to be there in the first place for the family. And when the children go to school, they can also take a job during those hours. Often it works that way. Sometimes unfortunately it does not, and then children get a key...
Anyway, I think we can learn something from our wives. Our mentalities should have a different orientation. Family and church — why would we not put these first? And on that basis, we make time for our work. If your child has to go to swimming lessons and your wife has to breastfeed the little one, then you need to be there. The same holds true for the birthday of your son or daughter, or your anniversary day. I see few fathers occasionally bringing their children or picking them up after school. If you cannot make time for all these kinds of things, you might be too tied to your work. And perhaps you made a wrong choice in your career planning and your applications.
And all of this also applies to the church. I once had a conversation with a man who had a very good job, a beautiful house. Money was no concern. At a certain moment he was elected as an office bearer. But he could not take this on, because he had recently been promoted again. And if he did not commit, then he would not be able deploy his talents well — and get frustrated. He needed challenges. I asked him honestly why he did not seek this challenge in the church; in the office. He did not need to work for the sake of his income. Why not let that promotion pass, and use the energy and time for challenges in your family and in the church? And yet that was asking too much.
So what I am pleading for is that you would plan your work, after you have planned your family and the church in your agenda. And then it may well be that you have only 40 hours left for work! But I have heard someone say: “Someone who cannot get his work done in forty hours, well, let us allow fifty for it. Someone who cannot get his work finished in fifty hours, he is sitting in the wrong chair: a chair that does not suit him. He works beyond his abilities.” I fully agree with that. This is an extra responsibility for a manager or an employer. For how do you clearly explain to people that work is not the most important thing, if you yourself do not practice it? And spend almost all your hours of the week at work?
I believe that as a Christian-manager and as a Christian-employer, but also as a Christian-worker you can clearly make your statement for our present time: by radiating that you find peace and rest in God. That you know there are other priorities than your work. And that you also put this in practice.
I am coming to a close. Some things I have written are improperly nuanced. However, there are plenty of things to discuss and think about. And I will stick to this: the most important things in your life are your family and your faith (and that includes your office and the church!). Let us take these into account in positioning our priorities — not only in beautiful words, but also through our actions. And based on this, let us from time to time also make some time for our work.