Sabbath Rest for Foothills District Clergy

By Foothills DS Dennis W. Miller

Today is June 21st, the first official day of summer. For many of us it is the time of year for family reunions, camping, cook-outs, riding rollercoasters, eating fresh vegetables from our garden, sitting on the porch a little later into the evening until the mosquitoes chase us inside, and trips to the beach or the mountains. Although summer is often considered a time of slower pace, most would admit we are perfectly capable of being busier this time of year than any other time. It is easy for us to become like the lady who said, “I really like the prayer, ‘Slow me down, Lord, but I haven’t had time to finish reading it!”

Earlier this month at Lakeside, the West Ohio Conference passed a new vacation policy for clergy. In addition to paid vacation time, there is a renewed focus on Sabbath rest and renewal. Growing up in Southeastern Ohio, I was raised with a strong work ethic. I was taught early in life that you work until its quitting time. I was also taught that you really work when you are working—to go at it with your absolute creative best because we were created in the image of God. Since God works, we also should work. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for others.” It honors God when we give an honest day’s work on the job.

But look what it says in Genesis 2:1-3, “So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day, having finished his task, God rested from all His work. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy because it was the day when He rested from the work of his creation.”

God worked hard for six days, but when it was time to rest, he did. Not because God was tired. God never gets exhausted. The Bible says that God never slumbers nor sleeps. God is full of energy all the time. But God rested to establish a pattern for us to follow so that we would quit when it was time to quit. Consider the benefit of rest: The very best starting pitchers in baseball are still given three days of rest because their arm just can't stand the strain every day. A musical composer knows the value of adding rests into the score that he or she is composing. The editor knows there must margins and space in a book in order to make it readable. A good public speaker knows the value of an occasional dramatic pause to keep the listener’s attention.

In Exodus 20:8-10, the Fourth Commandment speaks to this design that God put in us to unplug on occasion, "Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God." God says, "Stop working and rest, keep it holy, keep it set apart. Get everything done that you need to get done and then unplug." When God instituted Sabbath, he wasn't saying keep the Sabbath because it would be a great day to lie around and drink a few beers and watch the Jerusalem Jaguars and the Bethlehem Bears play football. He was saying, "Unplug so you can re-center your life, and so I can refresh you. You can refocus on me, and I'll refresh your spirit, your body, your mind and your soul."

Moses said this about God, describing the Creation story in Exodus 31:17, “On this seventh day God ceased from his labors and was refreshed.” Notice Moses adds the word, “refreshed." God shut off the engine and he refilled his tank. So why if God ceased from his labors that we think we don’t have to do the same? Sure, we might not go into the office seven days a week, but we are thinking about church work. Maybe we’re on Facebook or sending e-mails all the time. Perhaps we’re on call 24/7 or always pondering our next sermon. Are we so arrogant to believe we can do more than God? Honoring Sabbath acknowledges that God is in control. The Church of Jesus Christ belongs to God and any spiritual growth is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 127:1–2 says:

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for the Lord grants sleep to those he loves.

It was a regular practice for Jesus to rest. In the gospel of Mark chapter 1:35, we read: “In the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Simon and his companions hunted for him.” The disciples were looking everywhere for him. When they found him they said, "Everyone is searching for you.” It appears they wanted him to be accessible to them 24 hours a day. This reminds me of the time an angry church member called the pastor one morning, saying, "I phoned you Saturday, but I couldn’t get you!” The pastor explained that it was his day off. "What? A day off? The devil never takes a day off!" exclaimed the member with holier-than-thou attitude. “That’s right,” said the pastor, "and if I didn’t take any ’time out,’ I would be just like him!" Jesus said, “I'm not going to be on the clock 24/7!” Even though he was love itself in human form -- for he was God, Jesus said no to non-stop accessibility, not because he didn't care about his friends, but because he knew that sometimes he would have to say no to people's demands for him so that he could be alone with his Heavenly Father.

Several years ago, the Chicago Sun Times asked the former Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, to write an article about why it's important to take a vacation. He wrote this: “Vacation alters the rhythm of life. Why alter the rhythm of life? To be in touch with things your ordinary life hides from you. Vacations are an escape from the habits of regular life--habits dictated by responsibilities, which we embrace, but which can also be very deadening. I like to go fishing. Not so much to catch fish as to be in the middle of the lake, away from phones, letters, and newspapers.”

Foothills District Clergy - here’s your homework assignment: Over the next three months of summer, you need to make time to get away from the norm. It is doesn’t have to be some expensive trip to Myrtle Beach or the Grand Canyon. Perhaps it’s just finding a quiet place to where you can just “be still and know” that God loves you and is speaking to your heart. Pastor Rick Warren offers this helpful advice to avoid pastoral burnout: 1.) Divert Daily – do something each day for a short amount of time that relaxes. 2.) Withdraw Weekly – take a Sabbath day. 3.) Abandon Annually - disconnect completely for a couple of weeks. Set time apart so God can do some work in your life. Make sacred space where the Spirit of God will meet and speak to your heart. Jesus promised the gift of renewal. He said in Matthew 11, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest."

May God bless you this summer and restore your weary soul.