Leadership Lifter: How to Keep Your Profession From Becoming an Obsession

by Rick Warren

The Bible honors hard work. But it condemns workaholism as foolishness. Oddly enough, those in ministry are often among the worst of workaholics. Proverbs 23:4 tells us, Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint (NIV). Be smart. Be wise. Don’t wear yourself out at your work.

Below is a quiz to determine if you are a workaholic or not.

1. Are you always in a hurry?
2. Does your “To Do” list have more in it than you can accomplish in a single day?
3. Does doing nothing drive you up a wall?
4. Do you find it difficult to say “No” to opportunities?
5. Do you feel guilty when you relax?
6. Do you frequently find it difficult to turn your mind off at night when you go to bed?
7. Do people around you tell you, you ought to slow down?
8. Do you procrastinate about taking vacations?
9. Do you have to get sick to slow down?
10. Do you ever take business related reading material into the bathroom?

If you answered “yes” to five or more of these questions, you are probably a workaholic!

WHY DO PEOPLE BECOME “WORKAHOLICS”? There are many different reasons. Let me suggest three to you.

1. Insecurity

We often have an inner voice telling us, “You’re a nobody. Prove yourself.” It won’t let you rest. You must constantly be doing something to prove your worth. You want to be worthwhile and accepted and significant. You’re always working to prove your value. When you do accomplish something, your little voice says, “That’s good but it’s not good enough.” So you’ve got to work more.

2. Worry

Psalm 55:2b tells us, My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught (NIV). Your thoughts can be a constant source of stress and if allowed to run wild, it will prevent you from getting any rest. You tell yourself that you cannot afford to take any time off. The fear of failure and worry overwhelms you and you continue working and become even more stressed out.

3. Greed

Ecclesiastes 4:4 tells us, Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind (NLT). Keeping up with the Jones’ is impossible. Just about the time you catch up with them, they refinance. If you are trying to outdo your neighbors, it is not a matter of need. It’s a matter of greed. You get so busy making a living, you forget to make a life.

Recent statistics by the U.S. Department of Labor said that 25% of the people in America would prefer longer hours if they were paid more. We are working more and relaxing less. Life in the fast lane. What is the cure? God’s Word gives us five cures for fighting destructive workaholic behavior. They spell out the acronym: R-E-L‑ A-X.


You need to accept what God says about you. You matter to God. No one is insignificant in God’s eyes. You are somebody. 1 John 3:1a tells us, See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (NLT). You are one of His children. You are significant. You are important. When you fully grasp this, it will make all the difference in your life. All of a sudden you stop having to prove yourself.

Key question – What are you trying to prove?


If I’m going to learn to relax I must learn to enjoy what I already have. This is contentment. Sometimes we are so busy getting more we can’t enjoy what we already have. In Saddleback Valley we have beautiful houses and nobody’s home because they are all out working in order to buy a bigger and newer home. Just about the time you get something paid for, you immediately go back to work to afford the next model up. You don’t enjoy it.

Ecclesiastes 3:13, And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from Go (NLT). It’s a gift. Enjoy what you have when you have it.

Learn to be content because you didn’t bring anything into the world and you’re not going to take anything out. You never see a hearse with a U-Haul attached to it.

Key question – How much is enough?


You need to make time for other things in life besides your ministry. This is a conscious act of the will. It is a decision that you make. Put it down on paper. Schedule it. Decide how many hours a week you are going to work. Set a schedule and stick with it. You might even ask your wife or husband or a friend to hold you accountable to the schedule.

Exodus 20:9-10a is explicit in its instruction to take a day of rest. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work… (NIV). That is the fourth commandment. God said every seven days you need to take a day off. If you’re not taking a day off every week, you are breaking one of the Ten Commandments. It is as simple as that.

Workaholics will say, “I feel so guilty when I take a day off.” Jesus didn’t feel guilty, and He had a lot more to do that you do. Look at what Jesus said in Mark 6:31, Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. Jesus and His disciples rested.

Psalm 127:2 instructs us, It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones. Our best requires rest. You’re not very good if you’re not taking any time off. If you don’t take time off, your body will make time off! A person who never takes time off ends up in the hospital and makes up for it anyway. Your body says, “I will get rest!”

Psalm 23 tells us how God makes us lie down in green pastures. Has God ever had to make you lie down because you wouldn’t on your own? He had to make you lie down so your body could restore itself.

You need to schedule three things in your life if you want to be a good Christian: Rest, Recreation, Relationships. Those are the three things that workaholics tend to ignore. For a workaholic, nothing is as difficult as doing nothing and resting.

If you are a workaholic, when you choose recreation, choose recreation that is relaxing to you. Do not choose recreation that is competitive. The last thing you need to do is compete when you are trying to relax.

You also need to schedule time for relationships. You need to get close to those you love. You need to have a date with your spouse once a week. Kay and I have a date every Saturday night after the service. That’s our date night.

Key question: How often do you really relax?


If you’re going to relax, you must have a change in your thinking. This is so important. Workaholics think differently. They have different values. You must begin to ask yourself, “What is really important?” Not what is important to the world, or to your neighbors, but what is most important to you. Look at your values because your life is driven by your values.

Jesus asked what I consider the two most penetrating questions in the New Testament in Mark 8:36 & 37. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? I’d like to put that on a banner on the freeway! What does it profit a man if he becomes the leader of a huge ministry, and yet loses his family due to neglect or his health due to overwork?

In verse 37 Jesus asks, What can a man give in exchange for his soul? What are you giving in exchange for your soul? You have 168 hours a week. What are you exchanging it for? Something. You are giving your life for something. Is it worth it?

Solomon had everything that most of us spend our lives trying to get. Power, prestige, possessions, and pleasure. Look at his evaluation of this in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure, My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. That’s what I call a midlife crisis. Are there other things in your life besides work that are of equal importance or of greater importance? Are you balancing your personal life and professional life? Are the people in your life suffering from your workaholism?

Key question – Is it worth it?


Expect Him to care for you. Matthew 6:31-32 deals with this issue, So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. God knows what your needs are. Expect God’s care.

We work so hard, thinking, “If I just get a big enough nest egg then I will have financial security.'” No matter how much money you make in your life, you will never have complete security because it can be taken from you in an instant in many ways that you have no control over. The economy could collapse, earthquakes, devastation… your health, before you even get a chance to spend it. Security must be placed in something that cannot be taken from you. Don’t put it in a bank account. You should save. The Bible says to save. But your ultimate security must be in something that cannot be taken from you and there’s only one thing that cannot be taken from you. That is your relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s security.

When you have that kind of attitude, notice the benefit. Proverbs 14:30 (Living Bible) is one of my life verses. A relaxed attitude lengthens a man’s life. If you want to live longer, relax.

Key question – Am I really trusting God?

If you are caught up in a frantic pursuit of trying to make your ministry a success, are you really “trying” more than you are trusting? Are you trusting God in your life?

When you think about it, resistance to rest is a mark of immaturity. Kids hate to go to bed. I remember taking my kids to Disneyland when they were little and they would be absolutely exhausted at the end of the day. But when we got home they still argued about going to bed. You know you have to force them into bed or they’re going to be worthless the next day. You find yourself saying to immature children, “Just trust me. You’ll feel better. You’ll feel better if you get some rest.”

I think God wants to say that to a lot of us. “Just trust me. You’ll feel better. You’ll feel a whole lot better if you just trust Me and get some rest.” The fact is, some of you are running on empty. You are emotionally drained. You are out of gas. You have worked so hard that you don’t know how to stop working. You don’t know how to get off the treadmill. If you were silent for a moment, what would happen? All of those feelings would rise to the surface that you’re afraid of. Those feelings are scary because traditionally workaholics are more comfortable with facts than feelings. You’re running scared. You’re hiding in your ministry. It’s become a real problem. You’re dead tired but you can’t stop working.

Does Jesus Christ have anything to say to you? You bet He does. Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke and learn from me and you will find rest for your souls.” God says, I want to give you rest. You’re overburdened, you’re stressed out, you don’t know how to quit working. He says, Come to Me and I’ll teach you how to rest.

I know because I’m a reformed workaholic. I know from personal experience what it will do to your life. At the end of the first year of founding Saddleback Church, I physically collapsed – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I was burned out. I had been working 18-20 hour days starting the church. I loved it. It was so much fun. Eventually, though, I just collapsed. I took an entire month off and took my family out to Phoenix to where my in-laws lived and dropped them off. I spent some time walking in that desert atmosphere. I kept saying to myself, “What is it that’s driving me? What makes me work until I just collapse? Who am I trying to impress? What am I trying to prove?”

It took me a while, and a great deal of contemplation, but when I realized that God really loved me, accepted me, and I was successful in His eyes, regardless of what I did, it was like a mountain off my back. I suddenly remembered the verse in the Bible where Jesus said, “I will build my church.”

I said, “Ok, Jesus, You build the church. It’s Your church. You’re the pastor.” I mentally resigned from the church. “Jesus Christ, You sit in the pastor’s chair. You’re it.”

God said, “Rick, you work on building people. And I’ll build the church.”

I said, “God, You’ve got a deal!”

It was a terrible experience but it was also the most relaxing experience in my life. When I realized that my value as a person had absolutely nothing to do with Saddleback Church, whether it gets bigger or smaller or whatever happens, whether He leaves me here the rest of my life or I resign tomorrow, it doesn’t matter. My life value is not built on work God has called me to. My life value consists in my relationship with Christ. What a revelation that was in my life! I am not a driven person any more. I used to be. I am very much at peace with myself regardless of the direction of my ministry.

Some of you need to ask those closest to you a very important question: Am I a workaholic?

And you need to be prepared for the answer. Work can become an addiction. It’s a fix. It’s a narcotic. You’ve got to have it to stay high and you’re so afraid if you don’t get it, you’re going to feel bad. So you cannot slow down. Like any addiction, you can become so addicted that you ignore your family, you ignore your spiritual development, you even ignore your health.

The Bible says you already matter to God. You don’t have to prove yourself to anybody and you don’t need anybody’s approval. Relax.

Would you pray this in your heart? “Jesus Christ, help me to realize that I already am somebody significant in Your eyes, that You love me, that You approve of me, that I don’t have to prove it or perform to earn it. Help me to relax and trust You with every area of my life. Help me to realize how much You love me. Teach me how to relax. Help me to feel loved by You. I give You all my life — the past, the present and the future.”


Rick Warren is the Founding Pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of The Purpose Driven Life.

2 Responses to Leadership Lifter: How to Keep Your Profession From Becoming an Obsession

  1. Bill Page says:

    Good stuff.

  2. Rev Leon says:

    Hola Rick
    Thanks for the encouraging words like always, I am currently a mssion developer in San Jose Ca, for the past 5 yrs. It has been a struggle working with the Latino community, but God continues to trasform peoples lives in my midst despite of my short comings. Thank you for your resources and encouraging words.


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