Seven Marks of a Workaholic

Workaholism is probably the most respectable sin in the Christian community, and maybe especially among pastors. In this Harvard Business Review podcast (and transcript) Nancy Rothbard, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, “draws a distinction between workaholism and working long hours. She explains the health consequences of being addicted to your work. She also gives practical advice for managing work addiction, whether it’s you who’s suffering, your direct report, boss, peer, or partner.”

Rothbard provides seven statements and says we should be worried if we often or always do at least four of them.

1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.

2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.

3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, and depression.

4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.

5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

6. You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.

7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

She makes a helpful distinction between working long hours and being a workaholic. Here’s how she puts it.

Bascially, long hours are 50 hours a week or more. So, there are some people who work a lot but they can turn off. They might even work once they get home, but if something is demanding their attention at home or if they, you know, need to go to the gym or they want to hang out with friends, they’re able to do that without ruminating on their work.

[Workaholism is more about] our attitude towards our work: how we think about our work, whether we dwell on it, whether we feel guilty when we’re not working. When you’re a workaholic, the work really looms large in your mind, and it can be really difficult to turn it off, even when you’re not actually working….There’s a strong correlation between working long hours and being a workaholic. So, I mean, you can be a workaholic without working long hours, but typically if you’re a workaholic, you are also working long hours.

See also Rothbard’s article  “How Being a Workaholic Differs from Working Long Hours — and Why That Matters for Your Health.” It has a fascinating section on the how the chronic stress levels associated with workaholism create a whole lot of  health dangers.

Here’s a quick explanation of why: To cope with stress, the body activates several systems (e.g., cardiovascular, neuroendocrine). So say you’re facing an important deadline. As you approach it, your stress hormones (e.g., cortisol), pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines (e.g., interleukin-6), and blood pressure would likely go up. But after the deadline, these would return to their original levels, known as the “set points.” When you’re working an excessive workload and continually pushing your system beyond its range, you may re-set your set points. Elevated blood pressure may become chronic, and cortisol levels stay elevated. When your biological systems keep working around elevated set points, you have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and even death.

In short, the body gets stuck in “fight-or-flight” mode which is ultimately exhausting and unsustainable and often leads to depression.

“But I love my job!”

Well, the researchers found that while loving your job does protect from some of the health risks, you are still at significantly increased risk of ill-health:

We wanted to see if enjoying the work mitigates the negative health effects of workaholism. Looking at the data from our study, we differentiated between workaholics who reported being highly engaged with their work — meaning they enjoyed their work, felt vigorous at work, and got easily absorbed in their work — and workaholics who reported low work engagement. We found that both types of workaholics reported more psychosomatic health complaints (e.g., headache, stomach problems) and mental health complaints (e.g., sleep problems, depressive feelings) than non-workaholics. However, non-engaged workaholics had higher RMS [Risk for Metabolic syndrome] — a 4.2% higher risk — than engaged workaholics.

Rothbard’s solutions?

1. Acknowledge when a relationship to work is unhealthy — when it feels out of control and is undermining outside relationships.

2. Regain control over your work behavior by setting clear rules for how many hours you will work each day.

3. Stop working two or three hours before bed.

4. Take up enjoyable non-work activities, such as seeing friends, watching a movie, reading a book, or learning a new skill, can also help you psychologically detach from work.

5. Reflect on the reasons why you work excessively and compulsively.

On this last point, the two most common reasons I’ve come across (also in my own heart), are idolatry and identity. By identity, I mean finding one’s significance in one’s work rather than in one’s spiritual status as justified and adopted by God through Christ.

To test yourself on this, what’s the first answer that comes to mind when you ask yourself “Who am I?” If your first and loudest answer is anything other than “I am a Christian” then someone has stolen your true identity and substituted a false one.

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This Week, Speak the Name of Andrew Brunson, A Persecuted Brother in Turkey
The most important post of the week. “Please join us in standing with Brunson’s family and home church in lifting the name of Andrew Brunson to the God he serves.”

Social Media and Sin
“Theology recognizes that human hearts are curved inward, inclined to boast, and always looking for opportunities to prove their own self-righteousness. Human-computer interaction, UX, and user-centered design recognize that social media platforms should be designed to meet the wants and needs of real human users. Putting these two concepts in conversation with one another reveals why Facebook can be so dangerous. Facebook’s technology is designed to accommodate, encourage, and exploit human depravity. The “Like” button on Facebook is not there by chance; the “Like” button was created to satisfy our deep longing to be liked by others, lauded for our accomplishments, and acknowledged for our righteousness.”

I Used This Simple Chart To Prioritize My Crazy Busy Work Life
“This former media executive hated saying “no,” so she created a system that forced her to set boundaries.”

What Happens to Your Body on No Sleep
“In short, nothing good—and just one bad night can trigger a cascade of scary side effects.”

Mariah Carey Beat Stigma. You Can Too
Not recommending Mariah Carey as a model in anything other than her openness about mental illness.

“This week, singing star Mariah Carey made an announcement that was a long time in the making: back in 2001, she was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. She has recently made the decision to treat it and to share her story. Carey is not the first celebrity to acknowledge a struggle with mental illness, but she is one of the most high-profile people to do so. And she has struck a major blow in the fight against the crippling stigma that keeps so many people trapped behind fences of shame, fear, and isolating silence.”

Starting from zero
“Iraq’s Nineveh churches are retaking their towns from years of ISIS control, without guarantees of money, safety, or a future.

Steve Lawson on Preaching Without Notes

Kindle Books

Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies $2.99.

Exploring Grace Together: 40 Devotionals for the Family by Jessica Thompson $2.99.

Expedition 15: A Rebuilt Nation

Here’s the video to show your kids at the end of Expedition 15 of Exploring the BibleIf you want to bookmark a page where all the videos will eventually appear, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

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Just a few articles, a number of books, and one conference.


Yes, You Can Say ‘No’ in Ministry
“I found I’d been treating every need I encountered as an assignment from God. I never paused, questioned, or prayed about any of it; I just did and did and did some more. I felt broken and crushed by the weight of all the needs around me, and I often served out of compulsion, bitterness, or my own waning strength, never believing I could say ”no” in ministry and trust God as provider.”

Why Email Is So Stressful, Even Though It’s Not Actually That Time-Consuming
Three important practical lessons from a two week email audit.

How the church can make mental illness a topic of conversation
“LifeWay Research’s “Study of Acute Mental Illness and Christian Faith” observed that when family members were asked what local churches should do to assist them in supporting loved ones with mental illness, their number one response was, “Talk about it openly so that the topic is not so taboo.”"

Kindle Books

The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept by Mark Dever $4.99.

Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World by John Macarthur $4.99.

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by John Piper $4.99.

When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy by John Piper $2.99.

Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ by J. Todd Billings $1.99.


If you’re in the Grand Rapids area and looking for something to do in what looks like a miserable weekend of weather, why not check out the PCRT Conference on the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of the Age. More details here. You can walk in and register.

The One Boast that God Approves Of

I recently posted a tongue-in-cheek article about how to boast more effectively. It’s purpose was really to highlight how subtle, deceitful, and varied our boasting can be. But it was also to contrast with the Apostle Paul’s determination.

God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14).

Paul saw all the boasting that was going on in the world, especially in the religious world, and exclaimed “God forbid that I should ever boast. God prevent it, stop it, end it. May it never be.

But then there’s one exception. He introduces the only boast that God approves of: the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His exclamation and exception are linked. He knows that boasting obscures the cross of Christ and the Christ of the cross. But he also knows that boasting in the cross is the best safeguard against every other kind of boasting. If we’re boasting in the cross, we cannot boast about ourselves. If we’re boasting about ourselves, we’re not really boasting in the cross.

What is it to boast in the cross and why does Paul commend it. He commends boasting in the cross not only because it shrinks his ego, but because it magnifies God in all his glorious attributes.

It magnifies God’s truthfulness. Think of the multiple Old Testament promises that were fulfilled at the cross. Somebody counted between 50-60 in one day. The cross says, “God keeps his promises.”

It magnifies God’s patience. When we see how God punishes sin at the cross, we marvel at his long-suffering with the world up until that point and the world since that point.

It magnifies God’s generosity. In giving his Son he gave us himself.

It magnifies God’s wisdom in that God found a way to remain just yet justify the ungodly.

It magnifies God’s holiness by demonstrating that he will not close his eyes to sin, no matter where he sees it.

It magnifies God’s justice as he punishes Christ without mercy – exactly and perfectly and satisfyingly.

It magnifies God’s anger. There we see God’s terrifying anger as we see it in no other place.

It magnifies God’s power. We see it in the earthquake, the eclipse, and the resurrections of the saints. But we see it most of all in  his conquering of sin, death, and the devil, and in his delivery of sinners from his judgment.

It magnifies God’s love and grace. As Moses said, God loved us because he loved us (Deut. 7:7-8). That is all.

No wonder, Paul says, God forbid that I should boast in anything else other than the cross of Christ. Let it never, ever be!

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“The Pleasure of Boredom”
“Boredom has been described as one of the major spiritual problems of our time.  The hyper-stimulation that comes from our technology and our constant-entertainment mentality actually makes us more bored, since we become jaded and weary of it all, as stimulation eventually fails to stimulate.  But there is another sense in which a carefully-cultivated boredom can be an antidote to our harried minds.”

40 Questions to Help Discern Factors Contributing to Depression
A list of questions which might be helpful to ask the person who is struggling with depression. “As you will quickly realize, the questions are applicable to a multitude of struggles beyond depression.”

Five Lessons Learned from Counseling those with Anxiety
“Fear…Anxiety…Worry.  In the cursed world in which we live as fallen image bearers, this pattern can often be a part of the human experience.  Many times, it is caused by sinful unbelief or idolatry.  At other times, it is a physiological response and at other times, it’s a mixture of both.  Having spent years walking alongside many for whom anxiety is a reality, there are many lessons I have begun to glean.  Here are five of those lessons learned from counseling those with anxiety.”

What Made Paul Washer’s “Shocking Message” So Very Shocking?
Here’s an insightful analysis of a memorable sermon.

7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes
This is a bit overstated, and might discourage some men who just can’t preach without notes, no matter how much they want to. But hopefully it will at least encourage you to try to become less dependent on notes that you do use.

New Books

15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me by 15 ex-Seminarians. My commendation:

“I’ve come to realize that no matter how much seminary teaches us, there remain some massive lessons that no number of degrees can impart. Since the first step to learning is finding out what we do not know, open this book and begin a ministry-long educational journey in fifteen of the most important subjects of your life.”

Help for the New Pastor: Practical Advice for Your First Year of Ministry by Charles Malcolm Wingard. My commendation:

“This book will prove uniquely useful to new pastors. It cuts through the fog and confusion of the early days in a new church and lasers in on what simply must be done and how to do it well.”

Kindle Books