I was terrible at this for years. Rest was for people who just couldn’t handle a real workload. If you went home at 4 p.m., it was because you really weren’t committed to the cause.
There was a strange justification that happened in the back of my mind that told me the harder I worked, the more pleased God would be with me. After all – I was doing his work. And if you were working for God, why wouldn’t you give it everything you had plus an extra 30%.
People would tell me all the time: your pace is unsustainable. You’re going to burn out. I just ignored them. I thought I was stronger than that, and the strange thing is, for the most part, I was. I could sense burn out and pull back from the edge just in time. And for years I just ran in overdrive.
But I’ve come to realize some things:
- Just because you don’t burn out, doesn’t mean you don’t miss out. I told my oldest son (who’s 18) the other day that if I could get one thing back in life it would be some of those hours when he was in elementary school. He’s heading off the university this fall, and we’ve had some great times together over the last few years (as we did when he was very young), but I can’t get his formative years back. God redeems time, but I’d love to get some of those hours back.
- Rest is a gift. It’s also great strategy. We all know that God rested on the seventh day. But life was also designed with regular pauses scripted in. There was to be no work done once every seven days. And if you’ve ever read the Old Testament, you might realize God loves a party. There were regular holidays, festivals, and even mandated celebration in Old Testament life. For us A types, remember – God wants us to enjoy life. As the creators of our bodies and souls, he also realized that we function best when we’re rested and full of good things. Most of us realize that we’re not nearly as productive on hour 12 of a day as we are on hour one. Pay attention to that. Rest is also a strategy. We’re so much better at work when we’ve rested.
- You’ll actually get the rest you’re ignoring one way or another. Even though God mandated regular rest, there’s little evidence the Israelites took him up on his advice. The Sabbath was probably broken more than it was observed. And most people believe that the Sabbath of Sabbaths – (the year of Jubilee, where work was shut down for a full year every 50th year) was never actually celebrated. Well, that’s not exactly true. Consider this:
So the message of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said. (2 Chronicles 36:21)
Did you hear that? I mean, seriously… Did you actually see what God is saying there? He’s basically pointing out that if you don’t take the rest, the rest will take you. Israel never celebrated the Jubilee, so God said "I’ll make you take it – you’ll be invaded, and against your will, you’ll be in exile for seventy years. There’s your Sabbath. There’s your Jubilee."
I wonder if burn out and stress leave are the modern equivalents of exile.
Over the last number of years I’ve had to work a rhythm of rest and refuelling into my life. It’s meant huge changes. In fact, we’ve programmed Connexus so that staff and volunteers are home most nights. I actually take my vacation now. I have work from my home Mondays and Fridays because I write best when I’m alone out of the office. I’m only good with people about 50% of my work week. Being home Monday means I can pour into staff and volunteers Tuesday – Thursday with enthusiasm. That might not be your rhythm, but it’s mine.
This principle is not a blank cheque for laziness. This isn’t about counting your 37.58 hours down the minute to make sure you’ve got what’s coming to you. Not at all. But it is about realizing that ministry happens deepest and most profoundly when you pursue God’s work using God’s ways and not your own. You end up accomplishing more in every sphere of your life.
When I started, I wanted to run this marathon like it was a sprint. I still sprint in seasons, but I’ve come squarely to terms with the truth that this is a marathon. A marathon God actually even intends us to enjoy.
In what ways are you tempted to cheat rest? Why? What rhythm of rest and refuel works best for you?