“Come to me… and I will give your rest.”
Are you tired? Worn down by the pace of life and ministry? Do you feel like the abundant life may not be for ministry leaders? I’ve been there.
Last fall my husband and I experienced an increased level of anxiety. One year prior we left twelve years of pastoral ministry to follow a dream God put in our hearts: to guide the next generation of leaders into encounters with Christ; specifically in the hurting places of their hearts and lives. A big part of fulfilling that dream was to create spaces for deep, inner connection with Christ. And to use those spaces for rest. Ironically, we were only one year into it and we were gasping for breath, for space, for Jesus’ rest ourselves.
Given the reality of learning the ins and outs of our new position, hearing the hurts of Christian leaders, helping our kids adapt to their new school and community, trying to find our place in the church as non-staff, and all the mundane upkeep of a house and daily life, it’s no wonder, really.
In this space God began speaking to us. He offered the same gift he began offering in the first story of the Bible. A gift we had half-heartedly received and lived for most of our Christian lives and ministry. The gift was Sabbath.
The gift of a day to simply be with Jesus and be with one another. He invited us into this gift through several authors’ theological and personal reflections on Sabbath. Two thoughts and spiritual realities compelled us to move from contemplating/dabbling in the Sabbath to a more intentional practice of it:
1. Leaders are free to take time to delight in God’s handiwork
In Genesis 2:1-2 God Himself rests on the seventh day of creation. He is not tired. After all, He is God. He rests to simply delight in all the wonders He has created.
Christian leaders can struggle to delight in God’s work or to receive God’s delight in them. We are too busy working. Whether it’s the constant urgency to write the next sermon, to make decisions about church ministries, to care for people, or to face tough budget questions, circumstances can keep us from delighting in God’s handiwork. It becomes just another task to complete before the weary leader can crash.
Sabbath calls us to receive God’s gift: taking time to delight and be delighted in. Sabbath invites us to linger a bit in our conversations with Him. Sabbath opens a sacred space where we can ponder the wonder of the soul He has given us to share life. It’s a sacred space to play and laugh with our kids. It’s even a sacred space to remember that the ministry He’s called us into is a gift.
When we take one day a week to delight in God’s work we develop eyes that are more likely to delight the rest of the week. The sermon we prepare is food to a hungry person’s soul. The decisions we make create spaces for people to know Jesus’ forgiveness or to offer forgiveness. When we care for people, we are caring for Jesus.
2. Leaders are not ultimately defined by their work
In Deuteronomy the commandments, including the one that calls us to honor the Sabbath day, are preceded with a reason for taking them seriously. This is the reason- “I am the Lord your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.” (Deut. 5:6)
As a slave, all Pharaoh cared about was how many bricks you could produce to make him look good. But God, the True Ruler, delivered you out of slavery. God invites you to a day of rest because His love for you is not dependent upon you earning it. Practicing Sabbath is an act of trust that our worth is ultimately not all wrapped up in our work.
Most leadership-types work hard and impress others with our work. When life and ministry appear to be flourishing we often don’t even notice how much we become dependent on our accomplishments. When life or ministry hits a dry patch however, we can crumble on the inside. Am I still valuable and respectable if my church is small or shrinking? Is God disappointed in my lack of “production?” Do others think I’m wasting my time?
These haunting questions arise out of a production and consumer culture. They are the voice of Pharaoh. His solution is to work harder and make him look great. Instead, God says,
“Stop working and rest.”
“I love you because I love you.”
“This ministry call is too big for you.”
“The work is never done.”
“You don’t choose whether the culture is receptive or hostile to my message.”
“Take a day to remember my love for you is not based on your outer markers of success.”
“This will set you free.”
God invites us to rest on Sabbath as a way of declaring that we are ultimately defined by God’s love for us, not by what we produce.
God values you. He values rest. He values resting so much he engages in it in the very first story of His book to you. Sabbath rest is an opportunity to deepen your life with Him through delighting in what He has made and letting Him delight in you. It’s also an invitation to know we are ultimately defined by being beloved children of God, not God’s workers.
My husband and I noticed a change in our anxiety levels a few months into a more intentional Sabbath rhythm. We didn’t start practicing Sabbath to lower our anxiety, but one day I looked up and asked my husband if his stress had gone down, because mine sure did. He said, “Yes, it is lower.” We’ve had intense seasons where our consistency in practicing Sabbath waned. Yet, our hearts knew what we were missing and by God’s grace we found our way back into a Sabbath rhythm.
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