“9-9-6” or “Let It Rot”
What is work? In my own life, work includes the domestic duties of caring for and instructing children and bringing order to the home, as well as the more modern task of bringing order to the written word while sitting at a computer. There are many types of work, but most of it involves creation, restoration, or a mixture of both.
In June, China Partnership prayed through the psalms with a specific focus on praying for Chinese in the workplace. In order to pray for Chinese workers, we need to consider the Chinese mentality toward work. How do Chinese Christians believe work relates to the kingdom? How do they struggle? What do they hope the fruits of their labor will be?
Several writers of this month’s reflections mentioned how easily the idols of success and busyness rule the heart. In China, many workers struggle in a “9-9-6” work culture, where professionals are expected to man their posts from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week – a 72-hour work week. Pressure and competition is fierce, wages are relatively low, and the only way to survive is to make work the entirety of your life.
In opposition to this, recently young people have advocated tang ping or “lying flat.” This is a call to opt out of the rat race, to lie back and take things easy instead of killing oneself to get ahead. Perhaps more disturbingly, this year disillusioned youth have decided to go even further and bai lan, or “let it rot.” Since meeting the standards of their culture seems impossible, a frustrated generation has decided to embrace hopelessness, apathy, and watch the world burn.
When I look at my own culture and world, I am struck how we face the same work problems as Chinese, and how our societal response mirrors that of China. At the same time, in the U.S. our population is smaller and there are more potential paths to success, so it seems we are a few years behind China in openly embracing attitudes like tang ping or bai lan.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
A Biblical View of Labor
Christians in both hemispheres can be encouraged, because the biblical attitude toward work does not call us to find our identity in how much we work, or in how much we rebel against a culture of over-work. All of us must pray for grace and look to Jesus for our answers. Nathanael, a young church planter, prayed for Chinese to find rest from their labors in Christ: “Remove our idolatrous worship of material vanity; remove from us the bondage of comfort and ease so the good news of true rest proclaimed in the gospel may be spread. We pray for the blessing and encouragement of those who work diligently, but we also pray they may understand that while it is their duty to be diligent, only in the hands of the Lord are they built up and made whole.”
God does not ask us to find our meaning in our work. At the same time, he also does not ask us to mindlessly pursue meaningless work. It is easy for exhausted workers to question their reasons for pressing on. Ding Baogong reminded us that God allows us to question him and even welcomes our expressions of frustration with the success of the wicked. God, though, gently reminds us that true success is found in knowing him. Ding prayed: “Thank you that, in love, you allow us space to doubt. Thank you that, in love, you meet us there and allow our wandering hearts to return home…. in an upside-down, broken, and unjust world, we need you more than ever. As Psalm 73 says, ‘for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.’”
Finally, when we pray for Chinese and their work, we ought to remember that human time on earth is limited. Life is short, and the best use of this fleeting existence is using our days to worship and follow God. Shu Cao, a pastoral intern at a heavily persecuted church, reminded us that even though life can be painful, we do not need to spend them in mourning. Shu wrote: “Christians today need a correct understanding of faith and life in order to know how to spend their time on earth and not waste their precious years of life. We need not fear the inevitability of death, nor lament life’s shortness. We know we are in the hands of the living God. He is full of love, mercy, grace, and glory. Through his forgiving love, he will purify and establish all that our hands have done.”
There is much to consider as we pray for Chinese Christians struggling to honor and glorify God in their work. God is teaching them to honestly bring their difficulties to him, to struggle with God in their doubts, and to trust him to make good of their uncertain labors. As we pray for Chinese believers, I myself am also also blessed in my own faith and struggles. The God of the ages walked with Moses, accompanies Chinese Christians, and is with me as well. What joy and comfort his good news brings.
E.F. Gregory is a mom of three young children. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley on the border of East Los Angeles, where her husband is a P.C.A. church planter.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese believers to bring all their difficulties and frustrations regarding work to God.