“Cease from that which is necessary, and embrace that which brings life.” Seems like a pretty simple formula right? This idea was presented to me in a book I read recently called “The Rest of God,” by Mark Buchanan. In this book he paints a beautiful picture of what Sabbath rest can and should look like.
For years I have struggled tremendously with the idea and practice of Sabbath. There is something deep within me that truly struggles to ever shut down and the idea of taking a day to do exactly that, was not overly appealing for a long time. Then in 2010, I began my work in pastoral ministry and this became even more difficult to comprehend. How am I supposed to take a Sabbath when Sunday is my most important workday? And isn’t the Sabbath on Saturday anyhow? Does watching Louisville play football on a Saturday morning violate my Sabbath rest? So many questions and so little peace about this topic made this book incredibly liberating for me. Right from the introduction, I was locked in by gems like this:
“I want to convince you, in part, that setting apart an entire day, one out of seven, for feasting and resting and worship and play is a gift and not a burden, and neglecting the gift too long will make your soul, like soil never left fallow, hard and dry and spent.”
If I’m allowed to be honest with you, I’ve been there. I’ve had seasons of life and ministry where I felt hardened to others, spiritually dry, and completely spent emotionally and physically. This is a difficult place to be for a hyperactive and extroverted shepherd who feels called to equip the saints for the work of ministry. How can I equip the saints if I’m too exhausted to be around them? Or worse yet, what if I’m around them and have nothing meaningful to share because I’m as dry as Arizona in July? How am I supposed to find rest when I struggle to take days off?
Over the past two years I’ve spent a lot of time, read a lot of books, listened to a lot of sermons, and dialogued with dozens of people about the theology of work and how important it is in our understanding of our place in God’s story. Another gem from Mark was this: “Without a rich theology of labor, we’ll have an impoverished theology of rest. We’ll find that both are hectic, sporadic, chaotic. We’ll find no joy in either.” We need to understand that we were created to work and for the works that are set before us (Ephesians 2:10). In addition to that, we need to recognize we were also created with a need to rest.
So how do we get there? Well, the quote I shared in the beginning is an easy two-step plan to help you get started. First, cease from that which is necessary. What do you spend your working hours doing? For me, it is a lot of reading, writing, counseling, emails, texts, sermon preparation, and finances. Each of these things is a necessary part of the work that I do here at Shiloh but if I’m going to find rest, I need to shut those things down for a day and realize the world will keep spinning. If someone gets upset with me for not replying to an email in 1 day, rather than 2-3 because I was spending time with my wife and kids, I’m ok with that. If I’m preparing discipleship material and run short of time during the week, I can’t borrow that from my Sabbath. I need to cease.
One of my favorite verses is Psalm 46:10 that says in part “Be still and know that I am God.” In the original Hebrew the translation reads: “cease striving and know that I am God.” It’s a good reminder for me each time I want to check one item off my to-do list on a Sabbath, I need to cease striving. Now this doesn’t mean be still and do nothing. That was the trap of the Pharisees. So what about our second step in our two-step process?
Embrace that which brings life! As you can imagine when I’m in front of a computer for 40-50 hours per week it can be pretty liberating to shut the lid and walk away. But if I don’t intentionally think through how to spend my time it is very easy to pull out my phone and answer one more text or jot down a few ideas for a sermon. So as I began to think about what brings me life, I came up with the following: being outside, spending time with my wife and daughters, running, hiking, watching sports, eating delicious food, nights by the fire with my wife, reading my Bible, praying for others, and sitting still long enough to listen for the voice of God. Even writing that list out relieved tension from my shoulders and put a smile on my face. Some of those things might sound like work to some of you, but you’re not me. Your list will look very different, but I encourage you to make one.
God desires for us to find this rest in Him. We can enjoy and appreciate so much of Him in His creation, His people, and His Word. This is part of the reason God gave us the gift of the Church. We are able to find rest in Him by worshipping Him through song, the teaching of His Word, and the fellowship of believers. For those not in church ministry, I would hope this is the cornerstone of your Sabbath rest. As you think through what you need to cease striving after, and what you need to embrace, try to plan those things out. Unless we break the cycle of “busyness” that naturally gobbles so many of us up, we will wind up in the same rhythms for years of our lives and miss incredible intimacy with God and others.
I’ll finish with one last quote from Buchanan’s book that I think is so powerful: “Get this straight: The rest of God- the rest God gladly gives so that we might discover that part of God we’re missing- is not a reward for finishing. It’s not a bonus for work well done. It’s sheer gift. It is a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. Sabbath is not the break we’re allotted at the tail end of completing all our tasks and chores, the fulfillment of all our obligations. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of them, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.”