Christians often end up being overachievers. Excited about our faith, we want to serve God and others– and before we know it, our schedules are overly full, filled with groups and ministries and new church programs.
Being involved in church and serving God and others is important– in fact, it’s one of the aspects of life Christian minimalists aim to focus on. But often when we become busy and our schedule is overly full, we start to tie in our self-worth with what we produce and our results. We work harder and harder, wanting to do more and see more results because we ultimately don’t know who we are without what we produce.
Consumer society encourages this mindset and takes advantage of our time, energy, and effort in order to make more profit. Our value in a consumer society is how much we can produce; this is why older people who are retired in the U.S. are typically undervalued. We reward those who work harder and longer than they have to with raises, promotions, and prestige– and the vicious cycle of overwork and self-worth based on production continues.Consumer society tells us: you are what you produce. But God tells us a different story. We were created for work/rest balance– and love. Click To Tweet
Productivity and Quotas in Egypt
At the beginning of the Book of Exodus in the Bible, we read the story of the Israelites in Egypt. As the Israelite numbers grew, Pharaoh became scared of a coup and ordered that all Israelites would become slaves.
Slavery under the Egyptians meant a life of hard labor, and it just kept getting harder:
Therefore [the Egyptians] set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.Exodus 1:11-14
As slaves, the Israelites were only worth what they produced. If they did not produce the established quota for the day, they were beaten and punished. They worked every day of the week, with no rest or time off.
After Moses receives his call from God to bring his oppressed people out of Egypt, he and his brother Aaron go to Pharaoh to ask that the Israelites be released from work for a few days to go worship in the wilderness. This does not go well. In fact, Pharaoh’s reaction is to stop providing the slaves their straw to make bricks, and instead require them to gather their own straw– while expecting the same quota of bricks to be produced every day.
So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.’” So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw. The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, the same daily assignment as when you were given straw.” And the supervisors of the Israelites, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and were asked, “Why did you not finish the required quantity of bricks yesterday and today, as you did before?”Exodus 5:10-14
This is not a sustainable model for work. It is oppressive and damaging– and deadly. We are not made to be worked to death. This is what it looks like when production is the basis of worth for people in our world.
God Creates the Sabbath
God delivers the Israelites out of slavery and out of Egypt. In contrast to the Israelites’ previous slavery work experience, God institutes the Sabbath:
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.Exodus 20:8-11
God’s creation of the Sabbath was the complete opposite of what the Israelites had experienced. Rather than mistreatment and beatings when they were unable to attain unrealistic 7 days a week work quotas, God throws all that out the window and gives the gift of rest and renewal.
You are Not What You Produce
With God’s institution of the Sabbath, we now know that our worth is not wrapped up in what we produce. We are not our work.
God knew that there would always be more to do– always more work that can be done. But because we are not our work, God invites us to periodically rest, recharge, and realize that the point of our lives is not constant work and production.
God gave us the gift of life because we are beloved children of God. That’s it. In a consumer culture that bases our worth on what we produce, God bases our worth on how loved we are by God. God created us to be loved, completely and unconditionally.
You are invited by God to throw away unrealistic expectations and unrealistic work quotas; to rid ourselves of the constant urge to produce and the mistreatment and oppression of our consumer culture in which money is more important than people.
Instead, base your worth on God loving you as God’s own child. Take some time to rest and renew yourself in mind, body, and soul. Know that you are loved, and you are not what you produce.