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Who works more: Americans or Germans?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Work Too Hard printed on an eye exam chart viewed through a single eyeglass lens being held by a patient (Credit: Chris Martino via Flickr)

Americans work too much. In the U.S., 85.8 percent of men and 66.5 percent of women work more than 40 hours per week. We work 100 more hours per year than the Japanese, and 250 more hours per year than the British. What about the work-obsessed Germans? We work 500 more hours per year than they do. We take less vacation time than other nations, work longer days, and retire later. If anyone needs a Labor Day to cease from labor, it’s us.

Why do we work so much?

One reason is the so-called Puritan work ethic. Early Protestants taught that hard work is evidence of salvation and brings glory to God. The Puritans especially focused on this principle. According to sociologist Max Weber, this theology helped stimulate the rise of modern capitalism and lies at the heart of our cultural ethos today.

We are what we do, or so we think. We measure success by busyness and its rewards. But what if we could see ourselves as God sees us? In his mind, we are not employees who are validated by our work, but children who are validated by his love. God feels about us as the bride feels about her beloved: “Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (Song of Songs 2:14).

God loves us because he loves us. As a result, we can be people of grace, not grades. We can work because our Father loves us, not so he will. And we can trust his providence to provide for us in ways we cannot provide for ourselves.

It’s easier to relax today when we remember the greatness of the One who is working when we are not. Anne Graham Lotz noted in a recent blog, “Astronomers estimate there are more than 100 billion galaxies. And each galaxy has more than 100 billion stars! And each of those hundreds of billions of stars was personally hung in space by the Creator Who has not only numbered them all but knows each of them by name!”

She’s right: “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4). If your Creator can name each of the innumerable stars, doesn’t he know all about you?

So we can rest on this Labor Day, knowing that our Father never slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). And we can “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4), knowing that we are in his hands and all is well.

In Dangerous Wonder, Mike Yaconelli quotes Will Willimon, the well-known Methodist bishop and theologian: “Just when I get my church all sorted out, sheep from the goats, saved from the damned, hopeless from the hopeful, somebody makes a move, gets out of focus, cuts loose, and I see why Jesus never wrote systematic theology. So you and I can give thanks that the locus of Christian thinking appears to be shifting from North America and northern Europe where people write rules and obey them, to places like Africa and Latin America where people still know how to dance.”

If “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), you can dance in the Lord with a joy that witnesses to our work-obsessed culture. But joy is a fruit the Spirit can manifest only in lives surrendered to him (Galatians 5:22).

Do you measure success by how much you work, or by how much the Spirit works through you? (Tweet this)