I try to achieve a work-life balance by being equally overwhelmed at home and work.
- Adam Burns, Man With A Plan
For many of us, achieving any sort of balance between our personal and professional lives can seem like a cruel joke.
In my ministry, I work with healthcare students and professionals. No matter how hard they try, it's an endless struggle to keep their training and work in its place.
But the fight for work-life balance doesn't stop with those of us who get paid for our work. Stay-at-home parents, for example, have one of the toughest jobs on the planet, and often feel like they've lost touch with the rest of their lives.
I'm not going to tell you there's a silver bullet, or tell you there's 'three easy steps to work-life balance'. That ended when Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit, and life under the sun descended into chaos (see Genesis 3).
At the same time, the despair we often feel around this area of balance and margin is not from God. It's a trick of the enemy, who wants us to think that our lives aren't under God's control, and, that there's no hope.
While perfect work-life balance isn't possible in this life, and many things are outside of our control, God is with us. Let's take a closer look at Jesus' life, and consider how we can head toward more sanity and balance for our own.
What Work-Life Balance Doesn't Mean
Before we look at ways we can recapture balance in our lives, let's get one thing clear. I'm not saying Christians shouldn't work hard. Or, that God promises that life will feel balanced all the time.
The bible never promises that.
Jesus had days that weren’t ‘balanced’. See Mark 1, for example, where Jesus gives the morning sermon (21), casts out an unclean spirit (25-26), heals Peter’s mother-in-law (31), and then - as night falls - heals everyone in town who was sick or demon-possessed (32-34).
As he looked toward retirement, a seminary professor was looking forward to slowing down. Instead, God called him unexpectedly to the missions field and he wound up working 70 hour weeks.
So, we can't demand something God never promises. His 'best life' for us might be a hard, exhausting one.
At the same time, alongside the exhaustion and hard work, the bible offers us deep rest. Like a weekly Sabbath (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5), the freedom of forgiveness from our sins, and the direct access we have to our father through Christ (see Hebrews 4:1-16).
I've added short application questions throughout the post to help you apply it to your life.
7 Ways To Achieve Work-Life Balance Like Jesus
#1 Have some fun
For his first miracle, Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding that probably lasted a week. He was literally the life of the party.
Application: Do you need to be more intentional about making room for fun, hobbies or leisure in your life? In John 2, Jesus gives you clear permission.
#2 View your life as a whole (don’t compartmentalize it)
Jesus never ‘went to work’, so he never set it aside, either. For example, in John 2, was Jesus working or partying?
Weddings were huge celebrations in Jesus' day, and there’s no doubt he had a good time. On the other hand, his disciples were there, too (as usual), so we can assume he was pouring into them. That takes thought, effort and intentionality... which is tiring.
When he turned the water into wine, it ‘manifested (revealed) his glory. And his disciples believed in him.’ At least in this case, there was no distinction between Jesus having fun and his work of discipling his closest followers.
But, reading the gospels, you never get the sense that Jesus thought of his life in distinct buckets or silos. Instead, whatever he did was only - and always - in response to what his Father showed him (John 5:19; 8:29).
Application: How would following Jesus’ example of simply doing the Father’s work change the way you feel about the different 'buckets' in your life? Also, here's a 9-day bible reading devotional from YouVersion on the topic of work-life balance.
#3 Be intentional
Just because Jesus didn’t carve up his life into ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ doesn’t mean he never took a breather. Right after this crazy day of overwork, Jesus recalibrates in Mark 1:35-39.
It doesn’t just happen, though. Jesus gets up early while it’s still dark and everyone else is still catching some z’s (Mark 1:35).
Application: Where do you need to become more proactive and intentional about injecting margin into your life?
#4 Get away
Jesus goes to a ‘desolate place’. He’s alone (35) where there’s no wifi or mobile service. No one can find him there.
Application: Are there times where you make yourself truly inaccessible? How can you build this into your day, week, or month? (Putting it on your calendar, and setting a notification/reminder, will help you follow through.)
#5 Talk with God (pray)
Mark simply states that ‘there he prayed’ (35). Making prayer a priority was one of Jesus' secrets for maintaining perspective, margin and balance.
Application: Has your prayer life become boring and routine in the midst of a frenetic life? Carve out an extended time to have an honest conversation with the Father, and expect to receive the help you need for a new beginning.
#6 Let others come to you
Jesus is the only truly indispensable person who ever lived. His teaching, grace and ability to heal put him in constant demand. And yet, he was fine with letting Peter and ‘everyone’ expend some real effort to track him down. In love and in the right situations, it’s fine to make ourselves hard to find. If people really need you, they’ll track you down like Peter did here.
Application: How (and when) can you make yourself harder to find?
Jesus had a clear sense of his calling. This bigger ‘yes’ allowed him to say ‘no’ to good, but lesser, things.
#7 Leave things undone
When they finally caught up with Jesus, he said, ‘ “Everyone is looking for you.” And [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out (38).” ’ It’s implied that everyone was searching for Jesus because they had other needs they were hoping he’d meet.
So what does he do? He jumps on the next train and leaves town, allowing those needs to remain. This wasn’t cruel or uncaring because he had a clear sense of his calling to preach to other towns. This bigger ‘yes’ allowed him to say ‘no’ to good, but lesser, things.
- Ask yourself honestly if you may be overworking. Ask others who are close to you, too.
- Make a quick list of things that overwhelm you, and could be left undone. Pick one, and stop doing it today. Choose two more, and stop doing them within two weeks. Talk to others if your choices will impact them.
#8 Bonus: Don't look to work to do what only Jesus can do
Okay, this last one doesn't quite fit with the others because you won't find it in Mark 1. But, it's foundational and worth mentioning.
In his 'Wednesday Word', Paul Tripp puts it like this:
'Your work is your calling, but it is not your life. Work gives you dignity, but it is not your hope. You are created to work with diligence, but work is not the ultimate reward.
Your work is not the final word on who you are, and it surely should not define what your life is all about.
Paralyzing disappointment and consuming addiction are the results of an improper work balance. Imbalance happens when we look to our work for that deep and abiding peace and rest that every human being seeks...
In a world that idolizes power, position, fame, and material wealth, we continually need to clarify and reorient our sense of what is important. The things of this earth are meant to point to Jesus, not become the things that replace Jesus.
Jesus warned, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions … the one who lays up treasure for himself is not rich toward God.” ' (Luke 12:15, 21)
In other words, if we're going to keep work in its proper place and leave margin for other things that matter, we have to remember that only Jesus can give us life in the ultimate sense. Holding onto that foundational truth will allow us to put our doing down and embrace the full-orbed life Christ has set before us.
The key to finding more work-life balance (and most things), is not getting everything right. It's taking small, concrete steps that add up over time. So...
- Which one idea will you put into practice? Pick one today, and choose a time in the next 3 days you’ll start trying it out.
- Bonus: put a reminder on your calendar or phone so you don't forget.