4182875He was 29. He worked for one of the Big Four accounting firms. He was successful. And he was leaving work past midnight most nights.

With limited time for his wife and his church community he knew that something was wrong. But he was too tired to reflect as to what he should do. Increasingly his story is the story of many of my friends working in the professions. Welcome to the brave new world of the global economy.

Gordon T. Smith had already warned us that “People have a remarkable capacity to live overworked and confusing lives, caught up in hectic activity that in itself seems to have little meaning of purpose, but that is made up of so many things ‘that have to be done.’ This is one of the sins of modernity and of life and work in urban, industrialized societies.” (Courage & Calling, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999, p.19)

More enlightened management literature calls for a respect for the work-life balance but these voices are being challenged by the paranoia of global competition. In a recent article in Fortune, Geoff Colvin quotes Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric:

“General Electric chief Jeff Immelt put it bluntly while recalling a trip to Beijing last year, when he got a big order from the Transport Ministry: ‘The whole ministry was working all day on a Sunday. I believe in quality of life, work-life balance, all that stuff. But that’s the competition. So unless we’re willing to compete…'”
(“Couch-Potato Nation” Fortune Asia, September 3, 2007, p.24)

What should be our response to this growing time crunch? I believe our response should first and foremost be a theological one. The church is a community that lives under the authority of God’s Word and God’s Word has clear commands for our lives. They include (all from the TNIV):

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
(Exodus 20:8-11)

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
(Ephesians 5:25 – 28)

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
(Ephesians 6:4)

However you interpret the Sabbath Commandment for New Testament saints, there is clearly a divine pattern of work and rest. And a reminder that our lives revolve around God and not around our work.
And surely if we are to be good spouses and parents, we need to give adequate time to nurture those relationships.

Therefore when Christians approach the issue of work-life balance, they must first begin with biblical revelation, not business pragmatics. Our first question is not “if we respect and encourage work-life balance does it help or hinder our competitiveness?” Our first question must be “what wisdom does the Word of God give on the issue?”

On one level is the issue of authority. If Jesus is Lord he must be Lord over the whole of our lives and that must include our lives at work since that takes up such a large portion of our lives. At another level is the issue of trust. Do we really believe that God loves us and that the things that He commands of us are for our good?

In his book The Status Syndrome, Michael Marmot quotes a study by Sheldon Cohen on “the factors that influences host resistance to viruses responsible for the common cold.” (New York: Owl Books, 2004, p 159). After extensive studies, Cohen found that “people with few social ties… had three times the incidence of a cold compared to those with a diverse set of social relationships…” (p.160)

Cohen’s study is but one of many that shows a direct linkage between creativity, health and mortality — and healthy relationships and adequate rest. God’s Word is true. But it is also true to life.

Attempting to follow God’s Word in a fallen world however is never simple. Therefore the last thing that the church should do is to give guilt trips to those struggling to survive in today’s work world. Instead we should walk along side our people and help them to both grow in their faith and in their ability to apply the Word of God to the realities of their lives.
And we will have to accept that different people will respond differently.

One friend accepts that the work that God has called him to do will necessitate his coming home late most nights. He religiously protects his weekends for his family and his faith community. And he takes long family vacations every year.

Another friend said no to a promotion that would have meant more money and status because it would have meant more travel and unacceptable loss of time with family and for his ministries outside of the office. (He sees his work as ministry too.)

And my friend that worked for one of the Big Four left his firm and went to work for a bank. His present employer actively tries to get their people out of the office by 6.30pm. My friend is happier, his wife is happier, their faith is stronger, all timely developments because they now have a baby on the way.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan