When was the last time you rested? I mean really rested.
Now I’m not talking about sleeping more or watching more Netflix. I’m talking about what the Bible calls Sabbath rest. The kind of rest where we cease striving from all our work and simply rest in the Lord. Where we sit and meditate on his Word. Where we fall on our knees in prayer. Where we enjoy a good meal with our spouse and talk about what the Lord is teaching each of us. Where we enjoy a great cup of coffee along side a great book. Where we turn off our email and cell phones and go wrestle with our kids. This is the kind of rest I’m talking about. The question is, then, do you have this rhythm of rest in your life?
This last fall I had the opportunity to teach an ‘unconference’ for part-time worship leaders at the Austin Stone Worship Conference. I talked about fighting frustrations, setting expectations, communicating clearly, and the rhythms of life. When I asked the attendees how many of them had an established rhythm of rest or sabbath in their weekly or monthly schedule only two people raised their hands. TWO! But if I were to take a poll of any given church staff I’m fairly certain I would get a similar response. But why is this so?
I believe that American Christians, especially those directly involved in ministry, have forsaken the command to rest, to sabbath, and it’s slowing killing us. Left and right I hear of pastors and worship leaders stepping down from their positions due to burnout, exhaustion, or even worse, infidelity and sin. We get so caught up in the mission of God and the work of the ministry that we forget to obey the simple command of the Lord to rest. We don’t trust the Lord to get his work done and therefore feel the burden to do so and avoid rest. Daily we pour ourselves out into our ministry but are never setting time aside to be refilled, leaving us empty and exhausted. For the sake of our hearts, our families, and our ministries we desperately need to establish healthy rhythms of rest.
To help us understand the command to rest, let’s first take a look at the Bible to see what the Lord directly says to us and how he designed the rhythm of sabbath. Then I’ll give you a few practical tools to hopefully help you in creating a new rhythm of rest.
Since the creation of the world we see the Lord setting the example of reserving a day for rest. In the beginning of Genesis 2 we see the Lord finish his work of creation and then he rests. God, the creator and sustainer of all things, the infinite and independent Lord, stopped and rested! If he, who is omnipotent and needs nothing, rested on the 7th day, how much more should we rest?!
Later on we see in Exodus 20 the Lord giving Moses the ten commandments. Among them we find the fourth commandment to be remember the Sabbath day. Here’s what is says in its entirety:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11, ESV)
As we see throughout the Bible, the Ten Commandments aren’t suggestions to follow, they are commands from the Lord to obey. All of the other commandants are still considered sin today: idolatry, lust, murder, disobedience, etc. So why do we simply throw out the one but keep the other nine? I think its because we’ve turned commandment of honoring the Sabbath into simply going to church on Sundays. But for those of us in vocational church ministry, Sunday is anything but sabbath! God commands that we rest not because it’s a good idea but because it’s how he designed us! It’s not a nice suggestions, it’s a requirement. We need rest. We need to be refilled by the Lord. He made us in such a way that ignoring the Sabbath is not only disobedience, but detrimental to our own health and ministry. So let’s stop being disobedient and obey our Father in heaven who designed us and knows what is best for us!
Now I know what you are thinking. Isn’t that the Old Testament and the Law? Didn’t Christ fully fulfill the Law in order to free us from it? The short answer is, no. Jesus even says so in Matthew 5:17 that he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. While he fulfilled the Law perfectly, we are still called to obey it. Jesus goes on to warn us to not relax on these commandments but to continue in following them. The thing we must, then, watch out for is legalism like the Pharisees practiced. Throughout the Gospels we see the Pharisees condemning Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath or even picking grain from the fields (which apparently you weren’t supposed to do on the Sabbath). Remember that we follow the commandments of the Lord out of obedience, not to earn our own holiness like the Pharisees tried. We must be careful that we do not try to find self-righteousness in our obedience of the commandments and become like them.
In another confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus explains in Mark 2:27 that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for Sabbath.” Simply put, the Sabbath is not a day that we serve, but a day that is meant to serve us. It is a gift from the Father that is not only a commandment, but a blessing to us. How gracious a Father we have who makes us rest for our own good and his glory!
Now that we’ve established the Biblical importance and command to rest, let’s look at some practical ways to create some rhythms of rest. While your rhythms of rest will most likely vary from mine, it’s important that you at least begin to establish a rhythm. Are you having a hard time finding an entire day to rest? Start small. Set aside one day a month or one night a week to sabbath. Get into the rhythm of it first then you can grow from there. But make sure you set this expectation with your spouse and family so you don’t simply disappear or appear lazy or disconnected. After all, sabbath rest is not an excuse to escape from your spouse or family. In fact it should be quite the opposite!
Everyone’s sabbath will look different, but I think two things that are essential to sabbathing are time in the word and time in prayer. An easy way to start getting in the Word more is by using a Bible reading plan such as the M’Cheyne plan. The Austin Stone actually has this plan available on our website and our iPhone app for free, but you can also find plans on similar apps or ESV.com. Another very practical tool we have at The Austin Stone is called REAP journals. REAP is an acronym that stands for Read, Exam, Apply, Pray. It’s a simple formula that helps you not only read scripture but apply it to your life. Whatever model you use it’s important to process and apply the Word to your life, not just read and be done.
Alongside reading the word, a healthy rhythm of prayer is pivotal. A prayerless life is a life disconnected from God. Prayer is simply crying out to our Father in heaven, declaring his goodness and asking him to accomplish his will. Go where you can be free from distractions and pray to the Lord. Whether is be a closet in your house or a park bench, find a place to be still and to cry out to your Father. Jesus often got away from his disciples to earnestly seek his Father’s will and to cry out to him (Mark 1:35 & John 26:36-46). If Jesus needed to do this, how much more do we need this?
Another helpful tool that I’ve discovered in the last year is discovering your fills and drains. Everyone has things they do that are either filling or draining on them spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically, but they vary from person to person. I’ve found it highly important to know what my fills and drains are so that I can pursue and avoid them, respectively. Fills may be things you like to do or don’t like to do (like running) that actually fill you up. Drains can be things you don’t like to do or do like to do (like watching movies) that end up draining you. For example, some of my fills include listening to music, a good cup of coffee, a delicious meal with my wife, reading a good book, and exercising. My drains are things like writing music, checking emails & social networks, housework, watching hours of Netflix, and being in large groups. Whatever your fills and drains are I’d encourage you to make a list of your’s so that you are more aware of them.
These are just a few practical ways that I hope are helpful in getting you processing your rhythms of rest and hopefully practicing them too!
May 2014 be a year of rest for us as we pursue the Lord through word and prayer. May we believe the promise of Jesus, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”