Have you ever met someone who works too hard? There are those whose jobs or hobbies consumes too much of their time, and the strain actually makes them less effective at what they do. Some people work too hard at relationships, going well beyond investing in others they care about; instead, they stifle and suppress others with their efforts.
In either case, friends of sound mind who observe this behavior can often counsel the afflicted. Good friends remind workaholics that they have nothing to prove: that they could work a lot less and still enjoy the privileges of their opportunity. Maybe some jobs demand too much (and perhaps some of them should be swapped for other jobs, if and when one has the opportunity to do so). In the realm of human interaction, good friends remind us that there is a critical difference between investing in a relationship to keep it healthy, versus a system of “paying” for friendship.
The following Psalm reminds me that I can’t work enough to fundamentally change God’s blessings:
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.
Psalms 127:2 NASB
We could work really hard to earn a lot of money, and give it away to feed and clothe those who can’t care for themselves. That’s a good thing (see Matthew 25:37-40), but it cannot save their souls (nor our own).
Some of us might be a brilliant artists, designers, or builders who construct amazing works of art or architecture. This may reflect God’s creativity, and make good use of the skills that He has provided to us, but it cannot compare to the majesty and beauty of the earth, nor to the vastness of the universe.
No matter what we do, we cannot out-give or out-bless God. We have the opportunity to serve Him with the skills and resources that He provides, but this is a lot more like someone who sends a “Thank You” card, and a lot less like someone who makes sure to give back a gift of equal value to what he has received.
In the meantime, even while we sleep, God brings other blessings. His design of the earth is causing plants to grow so that we can eat, even as nutrients are brought together and the water cycle prepares rain to feed the earth. He is aligning people, events, and opportunities – whether comfortable or challenging – for us to encounter each day, so that we may engage in specific details of His overarching plan.
Some days, one of the simplest blessings that we may receive (regardless of our labors) is just to wake up in the morning. On top of that, God may have aligned the sun to stream in our window, or for a family of birds to have a conversation right outside (and, more importantly, to have waited to have that conversation until it’s time for us to wake up!).
A teacher that I worked with once, talking about interest earned on money, pointed out that someone with savings in the bank is earning interest even while he is sleeping. In the same way, God is at work even while we sleep.
To be clear, honorable work is still expected of those who are able (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10). However, a couple of things can be inferred from this verse, in the light of the rest of the Bible:
We cannot work enough to earn the favor of God. He loves us greatly, whether we are “pretty good” or “pretty bad”. If His love were contingent on us living up to His expectations for us (His commandments outlined in the Bible), none of us would receive it. Minor differences in the amount of righteousness that any of us achieve (by our own strength of will) have no impact on whether or not God wants us to return to a healthy relationship with Him (see Luke 15:11-32).
We can, however, align our attention, our choices, and our activities to His will (or, said another way, give Him our heart, mind, and strength), and expect to find our purpose. God doesn’t necessarily promise fireworks and fanfares, but He does offer us truth and a part in His plan.
The following verse comes from a larger context, but I believe that it is an important goal for all who serve God:
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
Colossians 3:23-24 NASB
To me, “heartily” suggests a positive attitude and full investment of one’s abilities. So, don’t work begrudgingly, or as if your salvation depends on it. Instead, give your energy towards contributing to God’s kingdom as part of your mission in life, out of the excitement for what God will do with your efforts.
Said another way, work hard for God, but take time to enjoy it, and to thank Him for the opportunity to serve, as well as for His gifts. You get to work for God’s kingdom, which is a privilege, not a punishment.