The “rat race”—that fixation on work and trying to get ahead financially and socially to the neglect of all else—seems like a modern phenomenon. It is not. Jesus himself addresses obsession with money and possessions, storing up treasures, business expansion, and retirement. What does Jesus say about the rat race that can help modern disciples?
The rat race is hollow. Jesus warns us that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”(Luke 12:15). He then tells the story of a farmer whose fields produce so plentifully that he decides to start new construction. Once they are complete, he has plans: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry’”(Luke 12:19). Yet he dies that night and all his “ample goods” go to another. Are our lives merely intended for us to collect a lot of stuff for ourselves, then turn it over to someone else? Solomon is right to declare this “vanity”; Jesus says there is more to life than this.
The rat race is shortsighted. Focusing on work, money, and status means not considering the future after this life. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”(Matt 6:19-21). The problem with focusing on earthly things is that they are subject to earthly problems. They fade or we lose them or we die. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you”(John 6:27). Jesus is not teaching us not to work for physical food; he is challenging us not to focus on food when we will just need to eat again tomorrow. Jesus urges us to look primarily toward eternal purposes.
The rat race breeds anxiety. Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to be anxious: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”(Matt 6:25). It is possible to live in constant anxiety about how we’re going to take care of ourselves and our families. It is possible to obsess about careers and plans and retirements. The problem is that we worry about these things foremost and leave God’s things for our spare time and energy. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”(Matt 6:33). When we must provide for ourselves, we grow anxious; when we seek God first and trust him to provide, we gain peace.
None of this is to say that work is bad. Disciples of Jesus are workers (Eph 4:28, 1 Thess 4:11-12, Acts 20:34). The danger is that we lose context and begin to think that our work is deserving of all of our energy, time, and attention. We define ourselves by it. We think it is the key to validation and success and enjoyment. Jesus calls us back to center: seek God first. Lay up treasure in heaven. Go after the food that will endure.
There is more to our lives than our careers. Look ahead!