One year ago, I spoke at a conference overseas. The people and the event were wonderful, but on the long overnight journey home, two babies wailed intermittently. My seatmate watched movies all night, waving her arms and bumping me whenever she got excited.
My tracker said I didn’t sleep at all, but I thought I’d napped for 30 minutes, so I didn’t change my regular schedule for the next day. As I drove to seminary for an early class, I was so foggy, I sailed past the exit I take every day.
So it goes with conscientious folk, who suspect the universe will disintegrate if they skip a duty. And such are some of you, particularly if you are a pastor or work in some other sort of ministry.
We know the coronavirus pandemic has deprived more than 30 million workers of their jobs. Many of the employed work far less than before as businesses stay open, but only marginally. On the other hand, millions work far longer or under tougher conditions. Consider the drivers, IT experts, teachers, nurses, pastors, and counselors who work harder than ever before: you need to rest, especially if you are the type—like many pastors—who acts as if rest were for other people.
Many, including pastors, act as if rest were for other people.
Time to Rest Now
No doubt, the people who depend on you are glad you toiled ceaselessly through the opening phase of the pandemic. Churches and their leaders had never faced this challenge before. The ox was in a ditch. But oxen don’t fall into ditches every day. After weeks of unstinting toil, it’s time to re-establish healthy, God-given patterns, including a day of rest.
Remember, the Christian calendar is like no other. Certain ancient calendars had no day of rest. The West typically follows a five-plus-two calendar: work five days, then enjoy a two-day weekend. The Jewish calendar is similar, with a six-plus-one pattern: “Six days you shall labor,” then Israel rested. By contrast, the Christian calendar is one plus six. We start each week with rest and worship. Reclining in the finished work of Christ is the starting point for each week. It’s an idea we need recapture today.
Consider this: after God created the universe, he paused to review it and called it “very good” (Gen. 1:1–2:3). Since God created us in his image, we should follow the same pattern: work, then pause to reflect on our labor. When the Lord created the universe, Ronald Wallace said, he lavished “boundless skill, energy, and inventiveness” on it. Yet God did not wholly immerse himself in his work.
He held something back.
Because God detached himself from creation, we can distinguish God’s work from God himself. There’s more to God than his work product. Therefore, at the end of each day of creation, Wallace wrote, he “pauses, stands back, collects himself” and judges his accomplishment “good.” The labor of creation did not “exhaust him or bind him” to the world. After his towering achievement, God chose to rest and assess.
We should as well, for we too are more than our work.
Jesus adopted a similar pattern. He worked until he was exhausted enough to sleep through a life-threatening storm (Matt. 8:23–27). Another time, when his disciples urged him to eat, he replied: “I have food that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:31–34). That is, Jesus loved his work so much it fed his spirit. Just before he gave up his spirit on the cross, he cried, “It is finished,” for he was pleased with his work (John 19:30; cf. Isa. 53:11).
Nonetheless, Jesus also stopped working to pray, sleep, share meals, enter into dialogue, and worship in local synagogues (Luke 4). We should do the same. No matter how much we like our work, we are more than laborers. We need to know when to stop.
No matter how much we like our work, we are more than laborers. We need to know when to stop.
Zealous types, by contrast, are prone to work, then work more. We work late to make amends for wasted time earlier in the day. We work every day because we fear that we didn’t accomplish enough in prior days. At present, most of us have lost our normal schedule. We indulge distractions; some of them, like playing outdoors with children, are good. But when we return we feel guilty, and if we do this most days, we may choose to work on the day of rest to compensate for it.
Rest Is Part of the Cure
We all see signs of weariness, anxiety, and disorientation in ourselves. We forget words, names, and appointments. We struggle with impatience or anger and dump our tensions on our families. Rest is not the whole cure, but it’s part of it.
It is tempting to think, I’ll rest soon, when life returns to normal. But normal may not return quickly. The economy will recover slowly, with setbacks. Historically, it takes 10-plus years to create produce a safe, effective vaccine. So far, no one has produced one in less than 50 months—and there’s no vaccine for an array of diseases, including other coronaviruses, so the turmoil may endure.
Therefore, if we hope to endure without a burden of guilt or bad temper, we should rest. We need this God-given rhythm.