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Work, ministry and family - juggling time

by Jacob Ninan

In this struggle for balancing the time and effort required for meeting commitments to work, ministry and family, the usual victim is the family. People rationalise work by saying that in any case they are working only for the family and that it is a matter of survival in these days of rat race, unemployment and recession. On the other hand, ministry is for the Lord and His kingdom and that cannot be neglected. Of course, ultimately the family is taken for granted and expected to make adjustments to cope with the increasing demands of work and ministry.

In trying to arrive at a solution to this problem one thing we have to avoid is taking an idealistic position on this issue saying that everything else should be secondary to family. That is to be unrealistic. The practical fact is that all these areas of responsibility are important, and we have to share our time among them wisely depending on the immediate priority. When we are at work, we cannot be with our families at the same time, and when we are with our family, we are not able to devote ourselves to ministry. All these have to take their turn. It may happen sometimes that family needs are so much that we are not able to attend to work properly. At another time it may happen that there is some urgency to meet some deadline at work and as a result family time gets reduced temporarily. These are temporary adjustments we all have to make. In addition to these three major areas, there could be other urgent demands on our time from time to time, such as when we have to attend to the death of a relative, help out a neighbour in a practical situation, attend a social function, etc. So what happens is that when we are spending our time and effort on some responsibility, all other responsibilities have to wait for that duration of time. This does not mean that we are neglecting them. What we need to check is whether our priorities are right in an overall sense and on a long term basis.

Our priorities. As Christians we should be clear in our mind that our topmost priority is to obey God and fulfil His plans for our life. Since God's specific plans for us may be different from those for someone else, we need to seek Him and find out what He wants us to do. In general we can say that He would want us to work and earn our livelihood, raise a family and also fulfil some spiritual ministry for which He has gifted us. Can we place these three areas in an order of priority? We are tempted to do that, and many may come up to say, "Family first, work second and ministry third," some others may say, "Family first, ministry second and work third," and others for whom ministry is work may say, "Family first and ministry second." But I would say that this approach is rather simplistic because we cannot constantly maintain this kind of a priority in practical life. What we can do, on the other hand, is to consider a set of principles that can guide our life.

Question 1. Are we neglecting any of our responsibilities to fulfil others? Of course on the short term basis we may have to 'neglect' some areas in order to carry out some emergency responsibility in another area. Only when we ask this question to ourselves on a long term basis we can see if we are going wrong. Are we spending so much of time on our job that we hardly spend time with the family? Are communications breaking down between husband and wife because they hardly see each other or are too tired to spend time talking? Are children growing up without any control or guidance, having their own way? Are we travelling around or spending time so much time on our ministry that family life gets neglected?

Question 2. Are we spending our time on what we enjoy rather than what we need to do? It can be that our work or ministry gives us a sense of accomplishment and we are irritated with the problems that we have to face at home. If so we naturally tend to spend less time with the family where it is actually required. But we need to recognise that we have responsibilities that we cannot neglect.

Question 3. Are we constantly asking ourselves if we are doing everything right? If we examine ourselves regularly and we want to make changes wherever we find ourselves lacking, we are safe. We should be always seeking to maintain a balance in our life.

Question 4. Are we allowing ourselves to be manipulated by others? Wherever people find those who are willing to work sincerely and even sacrificially, they pile more work on them, whether it is at the workplace or ministry. We are the ones who should decide what God wants us to do, how much we should do, etc.

Question 5. Are we driven by greed or a desire to be great? These are things that drive the people in this world who are never satisfied with what they have. They seek to have more, and more than what their neighbour has. This will only cause us to sacrifice the important things in life in order to satisfy our desires.

Question 6. Are we compromising our values or principles in order to become bigger in the world? We need to make up our mind on this once for all, because when temptations come values and principles may become dim in our eyes.

Question 7. Are we willing to be different from the crowd? Certainly the values in God's kingdom are different from those in the world, and so we are likely to stand out in our place of work as those who are different. If we are not prepared to face the ridicule, jealousy, seclusion and unjust treatment that might come as a result, we are likely to end up in compromise.

If we are always willing to learn, admit when we make mistakes, and make necessary changes to our attitudes, approach and lifestyle, we will be safe.

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