August 17, 2015

Rethinking the Rat Race: Five Reasons for Overwork

by Clint Archer

There is no Workaholics Anonymous. Why would there be? Overwork isn’t a hamartia in our society’s currency-lubed, prestige based, multitasking rat race.

Gambling, pornography, cocaine, booze, and most other addictions carry a stigma of shame associated with weakness or dysfunction. But for some reason the caffeinated crew of interns at work broadcast their exhaustion with feigned self deprecating whines of “Sorry I’m so spaced today. It’s because I pulled three all-nighters and haven’t had a day off since the Blackberry was invented.”

Everyone in a cubicle thinks he’s Jack Bauer. Is it possible your job isn’t important enough to global stability to warrant the hours you put in? If that suggestion prickles your pride, then perhaps your dedication to the corporate fiefdom isn’t as noble as you make it out to be.jack_bauer_productivity

I don’t have a definition for what constitutes too much work, but we all know people whose lives are affected detrimentally by their workload. If, thanks to work, your family is disintegrating, your health is deteriorating, and time for God’s priorities (e.g. attending and serving in church) is disappearing then your schedule is unbalanced.

One of the reasons God made Sabbath for mankind is so that we will rest from our labor regularly enough to worship him devotedly, and recuperate sufficiently to sustain a long, productive, God-centered life.

And the hubris of an overstuffed day planner isn’t limited to Silicon Valley Microserfs, Wall Street moneygrubbers, or medical residents. Students, housewives, and pastors all glory in the shame of their limitless spirit being more willing than their sleep deprived flesh.

As a seminoid I loved that the strong coffee for sale in the break room was labeled “Lazarus Blend.” We sported dark rings under our puffy eyes and disheveled clothing (who has time to iron), and if someone remarked, “You look like death!” that was a compliment.


Here are five possible reasons for overworking:


  1. Necessity

It is important to realize that two thirds of the world survives on under $2 a day.  Their daily routine includes waiting in line for water, which they then have to haul back home each day. They work sixteen hour days, seven days a week without vacation, and they do it to survive. This sad reality is a burden akin to slavery.Candle at both ends

Work is a good, God-ordained means to meet needs. And it’s an admirable act of worship to labor to feed your family and meet necessary financial commitments including education, medical needs, and supporting those who cannot work.

1 Tim 5:8  But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

2 Thess 3:10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.


  1. Exploitation 

Many workaholics have had the drug involuntarily slipped into their work culture. Some corporate environments border on abuse the way harsh performance reviews and enticing “incentives” (e.g. you get to keep your job) are dangled like carrots and sticks over the head of a browbeaten serf.

lego slavesThe New York Times’ article on the work culture at Amazon was more frightening than any National Geographic special on the violence in the Amazon jungle. “When you’re not able to give your absolute all, 80 hours a week, they see it as a major weakness,” said one member of the Kindle team. Workers are chided for not immediately replying to e-mails received at midnight, and vacationing is considered to be letting down the team. Workers are ruthlessly driven to produce more than is reasonable in ridiculously narrow timeframes.

Sounds a bit like Pharaoh’s ploy to keep the Israelites from worshipping God.

Exodus 5:13-14, 17 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?” … But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’


  1. Dedication

Some people do not need to work as much as they do, but they want to. They are devoted to their work beyond what is expected and sacrifice more than is necessary. Usually this is done to pursue an particular personal objective like more money, a promotion, or eventual retirement.

Many people crave recognition from their colleagues or superiors, they long for the status and prestige that comes from a lofty job title or power, and they sacrifice balance in the present for opulence in the future.

Jesus called these folks fools:

Luke 12:19-20 And I [the rich man with bigger barns] will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

Or some people just love money and are willing to work themselves to death to get more of it. But Paul says this is nuts… and dangerous.

1 Tim 6:8-9 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.


  1. Avoidance

Some people simply like working more than they like not working. Usually this is an indication that there is something missing in their lives they are trying to fill with work, or that they prefer working over their other responsibilities.

midnight oilAn example of this would be the man who stays at work later than he needs to so that his noisy brood of kids is already fed and bathed by their mother by the time he gets home. A five minute bedtime story is all the parenting he signed up for.

Vacationing with the family just reminds him of how much fun it is to be at work where he is the boss and has leverage over his minions, so everything revolves around his wishes. He can’t fire his kids or dock his wife’s pay.

But the Bible says that we need to balance work with rest so that we learn to enjoy God’s gifts.

Eccl 4:6 Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.

Eccl 9:9-10  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.


  1. Disorganization

Disorganization and procrastination can lead to squandered time at work, which then floods its banks into what could have been free time. Paradoxically, laziness leads to overwork.

You are constantly stressed, burning the candle at both ends, and forfeiting your weekends to catch-up work that could have been done or delegated during work time. The time you spent at work on productivity sapping diversions like Facebook, rearranging your desktop, or reading theology blogs (yup), is no substitute for actual rest. So by the time you get home you have done no work, but you still feel drained and in need of rest.

Proverbs 15:19 The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.


I’d be interested to hear your view, just don’t work too hard on coming up with a comment.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Johnny

    Wow, Amazon sounds like a nightmare of a place to work.

    • I know, right? That article is scary.

  • Jack Shaffer

    There actually is a Workaholics Anonymous. No one ever attends, however, since they can’t seem to fit it into their schedule.

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    I could never explain it, but despite raising two kids, having two jobs from home and teaching weekly classes at church, I never felt overwhelmed as long as I spent quiet time with God before the day began. I guess I simply came to believe that God invented time and He could either give it or take it away dependent on whether or not I would seek Him first. He has been very faithful to me in that regard and I am grateful.

    • Super(natural) Mom.

  • His Alone

    #5 “productive sapping diversions”! There are plenty of those in all our lives vying for our time. I agree, it is amazing how fast time can slip away while checking emails, or Facebook, or while reading good articles. If I fail to set a timer, the time is gone before I realize it and it’s time to start dinner! Even a good book or the latest World or Answers in Genesis, or even a phone call. It’s a balance that easily tips and your time drips off the end.
    I also love the Jack Bower reference. Sometimes it’s easy to put too high a value on the work being done. If it’s not of eternal significance, it can probably wait until the next 9-5 shift.

  • Michael

    I’m just wondering if Eccl 9:9-10 is really advice for the believer. Isn’t that the under-the-sun view?

    • I take Ecclesiastes as the musings of the wisest man in history, and his views and counsel to all people.

      • Michael

        Really? So you believe that every line he wrote in Ecclesiastes is godly wisdom that the believer should take to heart? That he is not using this book to show two contrasting views of life. 1) when he was young, 2) after he had gained godly wisdom? You believe that the following verses represent the godly view of life that one should follow?:
        “A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. 5 Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— 6 even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?”

  • Michael

    Please understand, Clint. I’m not disagreeing with your thesis on over-working. I’m just saying your verses from Ecclesiastes are poor proof texts for the point you are trying to make. The only things Solomon’s youthful world view prove are how blessed by God he was to gain godly wisdom later in life. Wisdom he shares in parts of Ecclesiastes and in Proverbs.

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