How Does the Minister Rest?
By Dan Mitchell
“I am so busy.” Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath, wrote, “We say this to one another with no small degree of pride, as if our exhaustion were a trophy, our ability to withstand stress a mark of real character.” In fact, in maintaining our frenzied schedules and continual connectedness we have lost the necessary rhythm of life; we have sacrificed the vital balance between work and rest. Our addiction to cell phones, iPads,
Facebook, and Twitter along with other devices and forms of social media have made us so accessible that our body, mind, and spirit get very little true rest. We find it almost impossible to stop, to unplug, and to be silent. Instead, we have become “multitasking connoisseurs-experts in crowding, pressing, packing, and overlapping distinct activities in our all-too-finite moments,” writes Christine Rosen, a public policy researcher. Our lack of rest, coupled with the absence of silence, negatively impacts our health, job performance, and relationships causing us to become exhausted, irritable, and myopic. We are so focused on the immediate that we are blind to the long view. Our hectic lives set us up to ultimately experience burnout, martyrdom, and a sense of entitlement as we “sacrifice” ourselves for the work of the Kingdom. As ministers, we may develop an attitude of impatience, intolerance, and, if we are not careful, become taskmasters rather than shepherds.
In contrast, the principle of Sabbath, which is derived from shin-beit-tav, a Hebrew term meaning “to cease, to end, to rest,” was initiated by God at the Creation and later reiterated in the Ten Commandments. Sabbath establishes an oasis of quiet, a sacred time within a life of unceasing labor. It is an opportunity to refresh our bodies and minds, restore our creativity, and regain our sense of balance by choosing to pause from our frenetic activity. Even Jesus modeled Sabbath by escaping from the press of the masses to a place of solitude for rest and restoration.
In error, we have convinced ourselves that busyness will result in revival. Will a twelve-hour day produce greater growth than a ten-hour day? Although having a vibrant, growing church certainly requires hard work, in reality, revival is truly the product of fervent prayer. When the apostles were faced with the dilemma of having to choose between giving themselves “continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4) or yielding to the pressure to become busier in ministry, they chose to reproduce themselves in others and returned their focus to prayer with the result that “the word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly” (Acts 6:7). Now
I personally experienced the power of Sabbath when the church I pastor afforded us the privilege of a month-long sabbatical to acknowledge our thirty years of pastoral service. I purchased a newer automobile, a handful of new CDs of my favorite music, and began the 2,400-mile journey from Indiana to California. Being aware that I had a deep need for solitude, I embarked on the three-day drive alone, knowing that my wife, JoAnn, would fly out and meet me at our destination a few days later. After driving about 150 miles, I reached out to turn on my much-anticipated music, and as I did, I felt a very strong nudge from the Lord that said, “No” -almost as if He had given my hand a gentle tap. Continuing west through Missouri a few hours later, I picked up my phone to make a couple of calls and that same voice again said, “No.” As I drove in stunned silence, I realized God wanted to speak to me without the competition of distracting voices. It was not until the evening of the second day of my trek on a desolate stretch of Arizona highway that a very strong unction from God filled my automobile saying, “O ye my preachers, ye desire the wisdom and the power of the prophets, but reject the silence.” After thirty-six hours of quiet seclusion, the voice of the Lord finally spoke to me explaining His insistence for silence.
With my face awash in tears, I recalled how often in Scripture that a two- or three-day journey was required to locate a prophet. Prophets were not always instantly accessible, and their remote location was frequently a matter of real inconvenience. I now understand that their choice of remoteness gave them the opportunity to be alone with God.
During the next thirty days of a sabbatical filled with reading, praying, resting, meditating, and relaxing with my wife, the voice of God poured into my spirit from the pages of many books, including the scripture. Although I was on a quest for church growth, the silence took me on a discovery of personal growth. God revealed to me the many ways that my lifestyle had caused me to ignore my needs, especially my need for solitude. While my thirst for solitude had always been present, I had chosen to fill my life with noise-I thought that if everyone else was happy, I could be happy. The result of this time was a true rest and rehabilitation of my mind, my body, and my spirit. A great peace suffused me, and when I returned to the people I love, my church family, I ministered with clear direction and fiery revelation. As a result, our leadership urged that I take a sabbatical more often. This tremendous anointing and power was the product of silence and rest. My idea of pastoral service was realigned with His concept of pastoring, and five years later, our congregation is in a better place than it has ever been.
How profitable it would be for the kingdom of God if, while in the process of installing new pastors, our district officials would strongly recommend churches to provide their shepherd a thirty-day sabbatical every five years as well as encouraging the church to invest weekly in a pastoral retirement fund. The sabbatical would include elements of education, adventure, and relaxation, Consider the impact that a J-term at UGST could have if coupled with three to four weeks of rest and adventure!
I have concluded that the wisdom, peace, and power of God does not come through constant static or perpetual motion, but rather through silence as we attentively listen and learn at Jesus’ feet.
“Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with
travail and vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 4: 6).
Dan Mitchell is pastor of The World of Pentecost in Columbus, Indiana.