There’s a lie floating around out there that goes something like this: getting older will automatically make you closer to Jesus. Just the mere passing of days doesn’t do that. I sure wish it were that easy.
In the book In the Name of Jesus Henri Nouwen says this, “‘Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?’ After 25 years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues. Everyone was saying I was doing really well, but something inside was telling me that my success was putting my soul in danger.”
Our soul is in greater danger each week than we think. Sabbath is a tool God has designed to refresh our souls, bodies and relationships. Everyone should take a sabbath, especially those in what we call “full-time ministry”. We simply can’t go without a sabbath for long without believing that God’s work is dependent on us to keep all the plates spinning. Sabbath reminds us who we are, who we are not and whose we are.
Here are some questions that have helped me clarify my life during sabbath rest.
Why don’t I want to rest? It’s important to start by understanding why you are trying to avoid God’s gift of sabbath. If you can identify the resistance to it, you can pray for that area of your life. Most people have an overwhelming fear of committing to taking a sabbath, and it is almost always linked to feeling a lack of value when we cease to produce. Sabbath is where many cracks in our lives become painfully evident.
Does this person refresh or drain me? When someone texts you and wants to spend time with you on your sabbath, you need to ask this question. Maybe watching a football game with them is what you need or maybe they’re the kind of person who dumps heavy issues on you every time you meet. Determining the “who” of sabbath greatly feeds the “how” of sabbath.
Is it REALLY an emergency? Many people will believe they are experiencing an emergency and simply must meet with you immediately. When someone calls with urgency, I often find it’s a perceived emergency and it would be just as effective to meet with them on Tuesday. Schedule a meeting with them a few days out and assure them the sky won’t fall before then. Occasionally there are true emergencies that warrant giving up a piece of your sabbath to care for them.
What are you trying to avoid? This question is crucial. Maybe you hate silence, because you don’t want to feel convicted about an issue in your life. Maybe you are spending too many hours in the office to avoid the chaos your young kids create at home. Maybe you are avoiding restful times with your wife because you have unresolved conflict with her.
Why am I exhausted? We talk a fair bit in ministry about time management, but not about energy management. You only have so much energy to expend in your life. If you are limping into every sabbath, you need to identify what is draining the life from you during the week. Sometimes those drains are happening at home, which makes refreshment during sabbath nearly impossible. If you can identify the drain, your chances of coming back from sabbath refreshed increase greatly.
How is technology holding you back from resting? Sometimes I choose to put my phone and computer away completely during sabbath. At the very least, I don’t answer any phone calls I don’t recognize. If we are wired all week and connected to pressing needs, concerns and tasks that might arise, we need to get away from our leash on the weekend. Let me remind you that we’ve never been more connected as we are in our society today, yet people have never been so lonely.
Sabbath rest won’t happen by accident. It takes great intention to harness one of God’s greatest gifts. It’s something every spiritual leader simply must invest in. It’s also a gift God has given us.