Here is something I wrote for Crossway which was published on September 5th 2021.
This article is part of the Help! series.
In the fast-paced, constantly changing, totally chaotic culture surrounding us, with no time to catch our breath, we’ve got a problem. The problem we all deal with to some degree is that we have forgotten how to honor the concept of Sabbath.
From creation forward, the Lord has commanded and admonished us to build good work and rest rhythms. For starters, he has asked us to work six days and rest on the seventh. The constant connectivity of our tech toys coupled with the pressure to perform faster and better in order to keep our jobs has made it so we’ve forgotten how to rest.
I believe it’s still best to take a day off and totally divorce ourselves from work, which admittedly is becoming harder and harder to do. But even harder than that is to learn how to practice the principle of Sabbath every day—not just one day a week.
It’s flat out not a good idea to work 12–15 hours a day, killing ourselves, and then take one day off. The key is to establish daily work/rest rhythms so that we have some energy left on our days off.
Jesus speaks to this issue in Matthew 11:28–30:
Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
In The Message Paraphrase it reads,
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.
I love the idea of unforced rhythms of grace. That’s what I want to grow into. I think all of us would affirm that we desire this for our lives and the lives of those we love.
Most of the people we know are overwhelmed and over committed. When I encounter a person whom I haven’t seen in a while and ask them how they’re doing, I often hear:
- I’m so tired.
- I’m so exhausted.
- I’m so burned out.
It would be nice when I ask someone how he/she is doing, to instead hear:
- I’m doing great.
- I’m having lots of time for family.
- I’m doing well at practicing Sabbath times.
- I’m getting adequate, refreshing sleep.
Be honest with yourself. Are you perhaps traveling too fast and trying to do too much—thereby violating the concept of Sabbath on a weekly and daily basis?
One verse that genuinely speaks to my heart on the issue of being overwhelmed is Psalm 139:3:
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Years ago, I memorized this verse in the Living Bible, which puts it this way,
You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment, you know where I am.
As I am traveling down the highway of life, God has rest stops he wants me to take. He calls this practicing Sabbath—not just as a day, but also as a principle of life. But in my desire to get more and more done, I blow on past the rest stops, keeping the peddle to the metal, and ultimately will suffer the consequences. And I did!
When I was 25 I was working 60 hours a week and had something going on just about every night. I was experiencing a constant upset stomach and was popping Tums all day long. I thought I had a serious illness of some kind (bleeding ulcers or stomach cancer). After some tests, I had a sit-down with my doctor and he told me I needed to slow down or else. I didn’t even want to think about what “or else” might mean. By God’s grace, I’ve been able to address this issue in my life and see some real change!
Is being overwhelmed and Leading on Empty1 the new norm? I certainly hope not!
How about you? Are you (most of the time or much of the time) feeling overwhelmed, over committed, overworked? How about people close to you. Are they feeling overwhelmed?
Root Causes of Exhaustion
What causes this sort of epidemic of bone-deep tiredness? Here are a few things that come to mind:
You’re not taking sufficient time to sit at the feet of Jesus.
A good place to start is to carve out time on a daily basis to read, study, memorize and meditate on God’s word as you couple this with time to worship and pray. Do you have a plan on how to do this? Is Jesus getting your leftovers or the first fruits of your best time?
You’re having a difficult time saying no.
Christians are servants at heart. They feel called to help people and to try to meet their needs, which are endless and inexhaustible. We have limited capacity, time, and gifts. We need to learn to set boundaries, recognize our limits, and create margin in our lives. We cannot—and should not—be at the beck and call of every person with a need. Even Jesus, at times, left people who were in need and disappeared to be by himself (See Luke 5:15,16).
You’re traveling too fast and can’t seem to slow down.
Too many of us move at an insane pace and work too many hours. We love to work and, in many cases, get our sense of self-worth through our work. In John Grisham’s novel The Broker, one of the characters says something along the lines of, I’ve been there (Washington ,DC). I’ve never seen so many people racing around, going nowhere. I don’t understand the desire for such a hectic life. Everything has to be so fast—work, food, sex. That describes many Americans—going at breakneck speed and not always sure why. One of the results is that we are slowly, but surely, becoming addicted to speed and busyness, and sometimes we’re not even capable of slowing down.
You’re not taking adequate time to think strategically.
Frankly, I meet very few Christians who are strategic in how they allocate their time and energy. Most are reactive rather than proactive. We are all composed of a few themes and need to stick with our unique contribution.
You don’t know exactly how to simplify and minimize.
The Father’s Agenda
Recently, I’ve been meditating on I Timothy 2:1–2:
First of all, then, I urge that supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Charles Swindoll observed a distinction in our supreme example, Jesus. Somehow Jesus mastered the art of maintaining a clear perspective while accomplishing every single one of his objectives (John 17:4). A major reason for his being able to say he finished all the Father had in mind for him is that he simplified his life.
He calls this practicing Sabbath . . . not just as a day, but also as a principle of life.
He followed the Father’s agenda instead of everyone else’s. He also set predetermined limits. He chose twelve (not twelve hundred) whom he trained to carry on in his absence. He stayed with his set of priorities without apology, which means he must have said no a score of times every month.
He balanced work and rest, accomplishment and refreshment, never feeling the need to ask permission for spending time in quietness and solitude. He refused to get sidetracked by tempting opportunities that drained energy and time. He was a servant of his Father, not a slave of the people. Even though he was misunderstood, maligned, misquoted, and opposed by numerous enemies and even a few friends, he stayed at it. His simplicity kept him balanced.
What do you need to start doing, stop doing, or do differently as you consider what it means to build a practice of Sabbath into your life?