Feb 05, 2024

A PK’s Story About Rest and Sabbath

 “The people who are willing to take a sabbatical are usually the ones who love Jesus the most.”

As I read this in one of my journal entries, I was filled with confusion. My husband and I were in full-time ministry, and I was burnt out. I knew that taking time off was probably necessary for healing, but I wasn’t willing to let go of it. In my mind were fears of where my identity would come from and how I would survive without feeling the “purpose” of who I was and what I was doing.

One day, a friend said to me, “Are you regularly practicing sabbath?” I wonder if I would have been regularly practicing this discipline of rest if I hadn’t struggled so much with the above statement in my journal. What I needed was space and time to really rest—not just rest to pray about ministry, but to turn my phone off, turn the requests off, and remind myself that my worth and identity do not come from what I do or what others expect of me. There is something powerful about taking a day to rest.

If a savior complex is a recipe for burnout, practicing the sabbath is a remedy for renewal and healing. Speaking from experience, there are times and situations where many of us experience burnout and identify it as depression and anxiety. We have the weight of the world placed on our shoulders and the yoke of Jesus feels heavy to us—not because He asked us to carry those heavy yokes but because we are convinced we have to. We are convinced He wants us to literally be Him to everyone, and that does not allow us to stop for even a moment. We are not able to experience rest in Christ when we cannot even take one day to say no to the demands of the world.

Rather than losing heart altogether for the chaos we have brought into our lives often by our own doing, we must start small. How are we training our minds and hearts to acknowledge that God is in control and remind ourselves that we are not? How are we slowing ourselves down to intentionally open our hands to God? Sabbath is an act of surrender. It is opening our arms where we are tempted to take control and acknowledging that we do not derive our worth and identity from what we do.

In the story of the disciples being famished with hunger and picking heads of grain on the sabbath, Jesus famously claimed that “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” His intention was not to say that now on the sabbath we can do whatever we want and do whatever we please. His point was that the sabbath is FOR our good. It is not a legalistic commandment to show us our lack of spiritual discipline and spiritual success.

It is for the good and refreshment of our bodies and souls. Could it be that the reason we do not celebrate the sabbath is that we actually don’t know what our souls need? We think if we can just get a little more work done and another task checked off the list, our stress will lighten. What we don’t realize is that accomplishing everything we think we need to is as satisfying as we believe it to be. Our satisfaction does not come from our work, because the work will never end.

While living in a Muslim nation overseas I experienced the beauty of what sabbath and rest means. On Fridays, everyone goes to the mosque for their holy day. This day was given to us as well for rest. We had no work on those days, no one was available to do anything, no stores were open, and we were forced to just stop. At first, it was a shock to the system, but I began to look forward to those quiet mornings with anticipation, knowing with the intensity of life there, how badly I needed it. Upon coming back home and continuing to work cross-culturally here, the boundaries changed and were no longer set out for me. It was more difficult when I was the one who needed to say “no” to people and things in order to find rest.

In my season of burnout, a verse that came to my mind quite regularly was “If salt loses its saltiness what good is it? It is thrown into the garbage never to gain its saltiness back again” (Matthew 5:13-14). Saltiness is not trained up in us but comes as a natural outpouring of our time with God. If we never have solid, consistent time with him, it will not be produced in us.

So, what does practicing the sabbath actually, practically look like?

  • Pick a day that can work for your schedule consistently. It doesn’t have to be Sundays. If you are involved in a lot of church ministry, it probably shouldn’t be a Sunday.
  • Make a plan. What will you do? How will you spend your time with Jesus? What’s a life-giving activity you can do that is not just entertainment but refreshing for your mind, body, and soul?
  • What do you need to get rid of that day? What do you need to have a boundary to NOT do? Can you turn technology off entirely? In our culture the hardest part about sabbath rest is that we are constantly getting information, requests and stimulation from our phones. Sometimes we rest our bodies, but we don’t very often rest our minds. Can you leave your phone off for an entire day? Or at least part of the day? This might be the biggest joy for our generation; learning to sabbath from the technology that enslaves us.
  • Can you say no? It’s much too easy for us who are used to being so involved in ministry to say no to legitimate concerns and requests. Can we say no?  Can we trust that we are not the saviors, and they will be alright without us? Can we trust that maybe what we actually need is not always what our insatiable desires really want? Can we trust that often what we think we really want is maybe not what our souls really need?

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly”  Matthew 11: 28-30 MESSAGE

Other resources to learn about the Sabbath:

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

Practicing the Way by John Mark Comer

Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster

By <a href="https://pastorskids.org/author/shay-t/" target="_self">Shay T.</a>

By Shay T.