According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.
Why is it that my first response when asked how it's going, I am always tempted to say, “Busy”?
According to the National Sleep Foundation in 2009, Americans’ average hours of sleep per night has decreased steadily to about 6.7 hours a night on a weeknight. Let the debate rage over what is a "healthy" amount.
Caught up in all of this cultural hard working and no sleeping is the issue of trust. Yes, trust. What you trust changes your hours of work, your sleep, your stress levels in the midst of good and bad economies. Those who work too little and those who work too much can both suffer from trust issues: The former trusting in others to do their work for them, and the latter in themselves. Trust changes the demeanor of your work and rest, as well. Calling it quits and not fretting on your way home is a useful tonic for our well-being.
Standing out in the Old Testament regarding God’s issue with Israel is their treatment of the Sabbath:
Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.
Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction. (Jeremiah 17:21-23)
In these and other passages, God equates breaking the Sabbath rest once a week as "evil" and "stiffening their neck." Those are usually words we equate with those "other" sins that people commit.
A New Testament believer will be quick to share about Jesus being Lord of the Sabbath, and that the Pharisees were condemned for their overprotective stance toward the Sabbath, not even allowing people to be helped on the Sabbath. Paul himself spent many Sabbaths "reasoning" and "trying to persuade" Jews in their faith, with the assumption that he was "working" as a minister. And they are correct.
I would answer by saying that in America, in 2012, this culture is not one where people are ridiculed and chastised for breaking the Sabbath, as the Pharisees were guilty of in Israel in Jesus’ day. Rather, people are thought of as lazy and not "engaged" when they do keep some sort of rest schedule. I am not saying that the ritualistic and moral task of taking one day off where you do absolutely no work, no gathering of food, or even helping a pet that’s lost is where we should go. I’m simply hoping the question could be asked, “In all of our sleepless nights, our busy weeks, what are we trusting? Do we trust that God will fill our bank accounts for what we need if we seek first His kingdom and righteousness?”
Woven into our American fabric is independence, not wanting to admit that we need help, not admitting we are weak and frail humans. We long to be the sufficient one, who can get two hours of sleep, work 60 hours a week, and still hold life together. Continual lifestyles like this show we don’t trust that in our resting we are honoring the One who causes any work get done eternally. To trust in God in our resting is humbling for our American souls. Will our economy get better if we work harder? We want to say yes, but the reality is that the right answer is “Maybe," based on what God wills. At some point we have to admit that we’re actually human, and not sovereign in the ordering and efficiency of our lives. In both our resting and working, Jesus is Lord. As Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”
The sad part is that our "resting" is often not restful. Weekends can be even more stress-filled than our weekdays. Perhaps reading my Bible or other books for a few hours, going on a prayer walk around town, catching a nap, or having friends over to chat would leave us more encouraged and willing to work hard than watching that next flick that comes out. Another way to put it is to ask, “What can I do in my resting that shows Jesus that I’m trusting him? What will refresh not only my body, but my heart and soul?”
I just want to finish with some verses about trust, and realize this topic is multi-faceted and dynamic, and there are certainly times where “You need to work harder” is the correct instruction. Providing for one’s family is a Biblical mandate, and there are times that means working long, hard hours. These issues have to be teased out of our hearts in discussion with other believers, following the Word and the Spirit. For most of us, though, we have a hard time ceasing and desisting from our striving and working.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13-17)
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.