Work/life balance. Our generation is obsessed with it. We would love to have a magic answer to the question: where should we invest the sixteen hours of our waking life so that we are completely happy with the results these investments yield?
As Christians, very often this is the approach we take to the way we make decisions about our church life. We spend eight hours a day at our work and then we have eight hours to play with. And here comes our church/life balancing act. How much church is enough church? How many hours of Bible reading, praying, how many small groups, events...
Somehow we are trying to make sure we also get to have a personal life or a rest alongside our church activities. But in this we are constantly plagued by a deep sense of guilt of not doing enough, driving ourselves to do more and more for God until we feel we have done enough.
I feel like we often treat church as work. I have even heard people say: “Serving as a small group leader feels like having a second full time job.” The Bible calls Christians workers at the harvest field so thinking of your ministry (whatever it is) as your work must be the right biblical view of it, right?
The question is: what are those workers in the harvest field meant to do? What is the work? People having conversations with Jesus in John’s gospel were curious about this too:
Then they said to him, “What must we DO, to be doing the WORKS of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
Jesus has just told his disciples to seek God and eternal life. But the disciples want to know - what shall we do? How do we do the work God wants us to do? Jesus’s answer is that the work God wants them to do, God’s work in this world, is that people would believe in Jesus and what he does.
Later in John’s gospel we see why God is helping us believe. It is because knowing him is what life is all about. No, actually knowing him is what life IS: And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
Eternal life here is therefore not just about your life lasting eternally but about the quality of this life too. The earthly life is a life of separation from God. Eternal life is gained through knowing Jesus and his sacrifice on our behalf that achieves the end of this separation from God created by our sin. We no longer face the penalty of sin which is death.
Perhaps Jesus is saying that there is no work to do at all then? Again John’s gospel addresses this question too:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do. (John 14:12a)
So do we have any work to do? Yes, but the only work we have is the same work that God is doing, namely, to help us and others believe in him and know him.
But how can knowing something be work? Work seems like something involving actions and achievement , and knowing seems like a static mental thing. And even if some of our actions seem directly related to spreading knowledge like telling people about God and forgiving and living in obedience to God - what about all the other actions we do in our lives? Are they separate or less important? Is there a good enough balance between them, you might say?
We’ve seen in John’s gospel that knowing Jesus means that we have eternal life, and that therefore we WILL do God’s work - that we would know him and help others know him. It doesn’t say that sometimes you will be engaged in God’s work and sometimes not. By believing in Jesus and receiving the Spirit of God in your life, God makes all of your life work for his glory, because he uses all of it to spread knowledge of Jesus to you and others and to keep all of his people going until the last day when the church will be gathered in person.
Knowing God is not just something that happens within the walls of church buildings and during solely organised church activities. We come to church, we read the Bible, pray and talk to our Christian friends to learn about God, but the truth is that God is using everything in your life for you and the church to know him better.
Everything we do includes all of our activities and thoughts, in all times, all places. Whether we speak about Jesus or whether we fail to speak, we know better why he had to die and why it’s good to talk about it. We know him better.
Whether we care for our neighbour or whether we don’t, we learn about our selfishness and his compassion that is greater than any of ours could ever be. We know him better.
In fact, all of our obedience or disobedience helps us know God better. Whether we are productive or not, whether we are at church or not. Whether we work hard or whether we are lazy. Whether we read the Bible or we don’t. Whether we pray a lot or whether we fail to pray at all. We know him better.
Moreover, we now know God when we feel joyful about good things or when we feel empty in this world. When we weep because of loss and pain and when we rejoice because of love and hope. We know him better.
All the things in our lives tell us of what God has done for us because they show us what we do because of him and they also show us that we need forgiveness for the many things we fail to do. Everything in our lives helps us know God better because we learn about what he has given us already, things like hope and forgiveness, and about the things we are still waiting for, like the freedom from sin and pain.
There is then no church/life balance, because there is no time of work and no work, church or not church, doing God’s work and not doing God’s work. When you know Jesus and how he has died and risen again to give you eternal life, then by grace you will do God’s work in this world. You will know him more and you will help others to know. Your actions, your labour, your work in this world will proclaim that in fact God is the one who is doing everything for us through Jesus.