I’ll never forget driving from Massachusetts to Iowa to return my car to the college I was attending (in the mid-70’s), and then hopping on a plane to connect with four of my buddies in Montana to drive to our friend’s wedding in northwest Washington state. I had allotted three days to get to Iowa, including a stop for another friend’s wedding in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Then, an additional three days to camp and drive to the Pacific Northwest.
When I left home my mother cautioned me, “Stephen, I’m concerned that you haven’t left any time for an emergency.” I responded, “Don’t worry, mom, I’ll be fine.”
She was right. No time for an emergency. On our way to wedding #1 in Grand Rapids, we were in a car accident. When I woke up from the trauma I had a gash in my forehead, stitches, and a mild concussion. I insisted I was capable of driving alone from Michigan to Iowa. Despite the massive headache, I was determined to catch that airplane in less than two days. By God’s grace – and my sheer will power – I made it in the nick of time.
It’s been several years since I last recalled that frenetic cross-country road trip.
There’s something rather powerful about the human will to fill each waking moment with activity, work until we drop, and leave very little room for margin. Never room for rest or a slow down. We want to be masters of our universe, overseers of our domain, and filled to overflowing with packed-calendar experiences.
Sabbath is in juxtaposition to such a lifestyle and is primarily designed as a reminder that we are not God. We may have all the best intentions in the world to rest along the way, and stop to smell the roses, but if destined by our will to work ourselves to death, we will undoubtedly fulfill that intention. And forget that we are not God.
The plight of today’s leader is “all work and no rest” and so we jam every waking moment with what we consider meaningful work and activities. But, when we neglect the invitation to rest we eventually discover that a full life rarely equals a fulfilling life.
After all, we live under the conviction of the “Protestant work ethic” we were raised to honor. As a result, we fill all our waking moments with something (anything!) akin to productivity. After all, hard work, discipline, frugality and success are implanted in our Protestant blood stream… so, isn’t it better to risk than rust? How else will we be a benefit to society?
In today’s driven culture, and we don’t have to worry about burning the candle at both ends. We can simply keep the lights on and work all hours of the day and night. It’s what “the successful do” (or so we think) and as a result it’s what we do.
Our driven culture is filled with driven people. And just because we’re Christian doesn’t mean we automatically know or do anything differently. In groups of pastors and leaders, it’s rare to find a small handful of those who believe in Sabbath any longer and rarer still to find one or two who actually practice Sabbath rest.
Why? Several responses come quickly to mind:
- There is a scarcity of role model leaders who practice Sabbath…quite the opposite, as we emulate those who work hard and long and expect the same.
- There are deeply held convictions within us that espouse productivity, big goals, and a desire for more, better, faster, stronger, and greater. Business acumen, measuring and growing the “bottom line,” have infected the Christian community without much critical objectivity about where such principles belong in God’s discernment-based economy.
- Technology hasn’t created margin and freed us up, as was projected 50 years ago, but the opposite has occurred and we now live faster, crammed, and overly distracted lives. We are constantly “on” and never “off” or even “paused” long enough to slow down, stop, and rest a while.
- The expectations of our congregations and ministry participants grow with each new season, keeping leaders on the never-ending hamster wheel of people pleasing (and rarely reflecting on the more obvious incentive: God pleasing).
- We dread what will happen when we finally slow to a standstill and have to face the flood of fears that rise up within us in our rest.
- We frankly value productivity and the wants, haves and dos of life more than restfulness and the “being” side of becoming well-rounded people who know and love God deeply and intimately.
- We live frenetically paced lives which have little room for rest. And, we live in a land and time of plenty with an abundance of choice, all of which curtail our deepest desires for living a truly abundant life filled with restfulness and wholeness… a life that actually includes things like hobbies, recreation, beauty and joy.
Worse yet, we justify a Sabbathless life as simply ok…no one else is practicing it, so why should we? We rationalize Sabbathlessness as the only alternative in this hyper-active world-that-never-sleeps so that we can keep up and not be left behind. And, we simply disregard the biblical invitation…yes, even commandment (the 4th of ten, the one God himself practiced at creation, and the most descriptive of them all) – to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.
We’ve discovered in our ministry with leaders and teams that the turn-key to the deeper life is Sabbath rest. Not just a day of the week, but a lifestyle. Isn’t it time you reconsidered Sabbath rest for yourself? All work and no rest does not have to be your mantra…take a step of faith and watch how Sabbath rest will transform your life from the inside out.
Reflect today on the following passages and ask the Lord to lead you into a deeper sense of his Sabbath priorities for you: Genesis 2: 1-3; Exodus 20: 8-11; Deut. 5: 12-15; Hebrews 4:9-11
Stephen A. Macchia, D.Min., is the Founder and President of Leadership Transformations, Inc. (www.LeadershipTransformations.org); Director of the Pierce Center, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; Author of several books, including Crafting A Rule of Life (IVP) and Becoming A Healthy Church (Baker) and lives in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. Steve and his wife, Ruth, have two children, Nathan and Rebekah, and make their home in Lexington, MA.