Episode 1. Setting Boundaries at Your Work
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Work is one of the most important things that we do. It brings dignity to who we are, it gives us the chance to use our God–given gifts and abilities, and of course, it puts food on the table. BUT …
Work is one of the most important things that we do. It brings dignity to who we are, it gives us the chance to use our God–given gifts and abilities, and of course, it puts food on the table. BUT … work, if we don’t set some boundaries around it, can end up robbing us of everything that we hold dear in life.
I have a confession to make, I love my work, I really do. This very program; I was up one morning a few weeks ago at about 3.00am and I started working on this message around 4.15am. A chance to pray first, spend some time with the Lord in the cool of the morning, first cup of tea with lemon and no milk the way I like it, followed a little later by a cup of decaf coffee.
As something happens when I sit down at my desk before the rest of the world is awake it’s special. I open my Bible, I seek out what I think God’s wanting me to say today and off I go at my computer preparing this message. There’s nothing better than doing what God’s made you to do, but there was a time in my life when I had my work completely out of balance. There was a time in my life where I spent so much time at work, labouring under this yoke of expectation, that it pretty much tore everything that mattered to me apart.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Well Berni, what’s changed? You were there at 3.00am, I mean that’s ridiculous, you’re still a workaholic.” Yeah I’ll tell you what’s changed. On that day I was preparing this and quite a few other messages, I finished my work day with a telephone conference at 1.00pm and then went off to the gym for some solid exercise, back to have a shower, a quick nap, off to do a few errands and fresh as a daisy when my wife came home at 5.00pm.
Okay it’s not quite your conventional working day but you know what? It works brilliantly for me. I’m at my sharpest, my most creative early in the morning. I work generally a ten to twelve hour day and yet I fit in the things that matter. I get the rest I need, and I don’t spend my whole time working anymore.
Why am I sharing this blow-by-blow description of a typical working day of mine with you? Because I want to show you that you can be creative in setting boundaries around your work. Even if you have to work some long hours like I do, I suspect that if you think about it, you can always find ways of working that work for you, rather than ways of working that grind you into the ground.
The title of this series of messages is ‘Learning To Set Boundaries’. So this week we’re going to look at some relationship boundaries, real ‘rubber hits the road’ stuff to help you get the right boundaries happening in your life, because not all boundaries are good boundaries. Set them too tight and you’ll end up living a constricted lonely life, set them too loose and you end up being run ragged and your life plundered of the most important things.
And nowhere is that more true than in your work. Most, not all, but most of the organisations we work for will suck you dry. They create cultures of long working hours, of hanging around work until the boss goes home just to be seen doing the right thing, of taking work home at night, being expected to answer emails at all hours, including on the weekends.
In fact the more connected we’ve become the more demands work places on us. And I know there are a good many people listening to this today and you’re sleep deprived. The stresses and burdens of work never seem to leave you and you just don’t know what to do to set the boundaries.
Listen to what God has to say to you today through His Word, Psalm 127 verses 1 and 2:
Unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city the guard keeps watch 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 sleep to those whom he loves.
So if you’re allowing work to plunder your life rather than to fulfil you by enabling you to use your God given gifts, then it’s time to draw a line in the sand, it’s time to set up some boundaries.
For years the environmentalists have been talking about sustainable development and, whilst I’m no greenie, clearly sustainable development makes sense. So I would like to introduce you to the idea of sustainable work practices, an approach to work that says, “yep it’s right to work hard but no, it’s not right for me to work myself into the ground, or to allow my boss or my company, or yes, even the ministry I work in, to work me into the ground.”
Listen up, if your workplace is sucking you dry you have every right and you should carve out some boundaries. Boundaries that close work out of your private life, boundaries that protect you and your family from interruptions, boundaries that give you some rest and some solitude, boundaries that allow you to switch off, boundaries that allow you to take some holidays at times that matter to you.
Okay it will never be a perfect world but you weren’t made by God to be run into the ground. Now I know, I know, you’re throwing your hands up in the air and you’re saying, “Berni that’s a great theory but that’s not just possible in my work place.”
Well you know what; if it isn’t maybe you need to think about changing jobs. Find a job closer to home that pays a little bit less but buys you back an extra hour or two by a shorter commute. Find a job that’s a better fit with your natural skills and God given gifts so that your stress levels go down. Find a job with a boss who, sure has high standards, but who is realistic about what he or she can expect of you.
Even when things are hectic you need to rest. The Bible makes that very point, Exodus chapter 34 verse 21:
Six days you shall work but on the seventh day you shall rest. In ploughing time and in harvest you shall rest.
That, by the way, isn’t a suggestion from God, it’s a command. Even during the peak periods, during ploughing time, during the harvest time when people were expected to work hard God said, “Rest”. So what are you going to do, are you going to continue being ground into the ground, continuing to risk your family and your health and everything that is important to you or are you going to set some boundaries? I mean some real boundaries around your work, so that you’re working to live, not living to work.
See, the reason that I’m being so direct, so blunt about this is that you’re hearing from a man here who twenty years ago pretty much lost all that was important to him because he worked too hard. We men are very good at trading diamonds for stones when it comes to work and there are quite a few women who are in that boat too.
Listen to me, I don’t care how much you enjoy your work, don’t let it plunder your life. I don’t care how much you’re locked into the paradigm of having to work like an idiot, to carve out a career, to provide for your family, to get ahead, to protect your job, to get that promotion, to earn just that little bit more money, listen to someone who’s been there. It simply isn’t worth it, it just isn’t.
Let me come back to where I started. Yes, I still work longer than normal hours, yep, running a global ministry is a tough gig some days, the amount of work that needs doing always seems to exceed the available resources, time, money, people. I still have enough work to keep me going seven days a week, twenty four hours a day. But after I decided to put some boundaries around my work, you know something? It didn’t fall apart, because unless the Lord builds the house, the one who builds it labours in vain. Remember God’s in this with you, He never sleeps, He never rests, He doesn’t have to. He is working behind the scenes with you and for you. And a prayer of faith to Him can achieve so much more than you working another three hours every day.
In fact a key part of me setting up my boundaries around work has been prayer. The more I pray the less I fret, the more God actually does for me, in fact He does things I couldn’t possibly do no matter how long or how hard I worked.
God will satisfy your weary soul, every languishing soul He will replenish.
Jeremiah chapter 31 verse 35.
And you know something, that includes you.