Six years ago, while I was in college, I attended a discussion of a Christian music producer who shared his keys to success. One of them was the will to work tirelessly in order to move up to the top of the ladder. This included working sleepless nights, even at the expense of family and friends.
As a 22-year-old Christian college student, ready to graduate and change the world, it bothered me to hear a successful Christian brag about his successes while preaching the gospel of prosperity, especially at the expense of neglecting family and community. I couldn’t believe a Christian had the guts to make that statement to a room of Christian students at a Christian university. What I failed to realize was that this producer’s advice mirrored the hustle culture that inspired many Americans through self-help literature and social media, which teaches people that success and fame come with a price-tag, much of which includes being dedicated and ambitious at the expense of others.
In a social media age, the desire for fame and success seems more prominent and appears to be more easily accessible. Through branding, marketing, hard work and dedication, anyone can move up the ladder to achieve wealth beyond measure regardless of the cost.
The challenge is regardless how much someone hustles to achieve success, including working multiple jobs, making difficult sacrifices and branding themselves, it is unlikely that most people will achieve the fame they are hoping for, which is why so many talented athletes never make the pros or exceptional musicians never sell records.
Ultimately, the culture of hustling in our society is inconsistent with Christian values. While work is necessary and we have the freedom the earn and enjoy the good fruits of labor, hustle culture creates a system where overworking is necessary and essential for material success and where the ultimate goal in life is to achieve wealth and prosperity, by any means necessary. This being an end goal is toxic to Christians.
Here are two reasons overworking can be damaging:
Overworking is unsustainable goal.
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, Jesus talks about treasures on Earth vs treasures in heaven. In this well-known passage, Jesus makes the point that the treasures and investments we make on Earth are unsustainable, while treasures made in heaven are eternal and will never be destroyed. He concludes the passage by saying where we invest our time, energy and commitments to is a clear representation and image of our true hearts and concerns.
Our hustle culture has taught us that hard work and ambition will lead us to the American dream, which includes great wealth and prosperity. This promise has led so many of us Christians to abandon our heavenly investments in the kingdom of God to pursue material success and fame despite the reality of unsustainable and unfulfilled rewards from this Earth.
We have seen countless people who have attained the American dream only to be unsatisfied.
Shifting our focus away from worldly investments and toward heavenly ones is much more sustainable and life-giving because our connection with Christ above all will weather the inevitable storms of our lives and will provide a much richer and deeper meaning than any reward overworking will give.
What good is it to work ourselves to death to receive a prize we may never enjoy because of the toil our overwork will have on our bodies and minds? We cannot preach the importance of physical and mental health while at the same time evangelizing the gospel of hustling and overworking. They’re incompatible with each other.
Overworking is toxic to relationships.
The spiritual discipline of fellowship is taught throughout Scripture as a key component of the Christian life. Fellowship is important because it allows us to grow closer to God through our relationships and provides us with accountability and support throughout our lives.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer argues that community or fellowship, along with solitude, are equally important and necessary and one should not be neglected for the sake of the other. Without fellowship or community, one’s faith will be incomplete and unfulfilled. Unfortunately, the need to overwork and hustle for the purpose of building wealth and success makes it nearly impossible to leave room for relationships.
Those who subscribe to the philosophy of workaholism have even less time to invest in relationships and as a result, will lead incomplete and unfulfilled lives due to the lack of time for community. Furthermore, overworking can result in neglecting essential commitments made to God and others through marriage and parenthood.
Ultimately, the question is not whether we should work hard and desire to be successful and wealthy. Those things are neutral. The question is how much value do we place in worldly successes that will at some point fade away. Our secular self-help culture teaches us that our personal success reigns supreme over all, so fully subscribing to the secular doctrine of self-help and prosperity will result in us neglecting our spiritual nature in Christ.
As the great teacher Solomon writes in the book of Ecclesiastes, those material successes of wealth and pleasure are meaningless, and pursuing such things is merely chasing after the wind.