Balancing “God’s Work” with Family Commitments

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. . . . In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband.

1 Corinthians 7:32-34

I’d like to spend one more day focusing on 1 Corinthians 7:32-34, because I believe it speaks powerfully, and, perhaps, surprisingly, to the challenge of balancing “God’s work” with family commitments. Today’s reflection is relevant to those of us who earn our living in “professional ministry,” but it addresses all of us who serve the Lord, and that includes all of us.

When I was courting my wife, Linda, she worried about the implications of my particular vocation. She knew that I was called to be a pastor, and she supported this direction for my life. But she was concerned about being a “pastor’s wife.” Linda had been a Christian for many years and had watched as many pastors spent themselves in “God’s work,” leaving little time for their families. Linda wondered what would happen if I began to work around the clock as a pastor, claiming that this was what God needed me to do. “How could I ever argue with God?” she asked. As it turned out, Linda trusted me (and God!) enough to marry me. We’ve spent twenty-five years working out a wise, biblically informed balance between my labor as an ordained pastor and my commitment to my family.

In this long-term effort in discernment, I have been strongly influenced by Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35. Here, as we noted yesterday, Paul explains that singleness is preferable because a single person, either man or woman, has greater freedom to please the Lord. “A married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife” (7:33). Ditto with a married woman (7:34). Notice that Paul does not criticize the man or woman who has divided interests. He does not say that a husband should be devoted only to pleasing God, or a wife only to pleasing her husband. Rather, Paul assumes a very high view of marriage, in which it is right for a husband or wife to focus on pleasing a spouse, even as he or she focuses on pleasing the Lord.

Over the years, I’ve faced literally hundreds of decisions about whether to do “God’s work” or to be with my family. I have made an effort to forge a healthy, godly balance between these competing demands on my time. There have been many times when I have failed to live up to my goals. In these cases, my family usually came up the loser. But, for the most part, I have prioritized my wife and children alongside my investment in “God’s work.”

I have put “God’s work” in quotations because, in fact, a pastor or lay minister is serving the Lord, not only when doing church work or a mission trip or leading a Bible study in the workplace. God’s work includes loving our spouse and raising our children. God’s work includes what we do in our jobs, no matter whether we are employed by organized ministries or not. The more we grasp what it means to serve the Lord in every aspect of our lives, the more we will be able to make wise and difficult decisions about how we invest our time for God’s purposes and glory.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When have you felt a tension between family commitments and “God’s work”? What would help you to devote the right amount of time and energy to your family?

PRAYER: Gracious Lord, how I thank you for this little passage in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul’s counsel for the Corinthians has made such a difference in my life. It has helped me to know that you are pleased when I seek to please my wife and children, even if this means I have less time for my official duties as a pastor.

Yet, as you know, Lord, I continue to struggle with my priorities. And I can easily give more time to my work than I should. Usually this means my family gets shortchanged . . . and you too, for that matter. So help me, I pray, to see my life from your perspective. Help me to know that I am honoring you, not only when I do my job, but also when I devote myself to my family.

Of course, pastors are not alone in the struggle to balance work and family. So I pray today for those who serve you in the marketplace, in the academy, in government, and in other forms of “secular” work. May they also find the right balance between work and family.

I pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.