“All of us are haunted by the work under the work—that need to prove and save ourselves, to gain a sense of worth and identity,” Tim Keller writes. “But if we can experience gospel-rest in our hearts . . . we will have a deep reservoir of refreshment that continually rejuvenates us, restores our perspective, and renews our passion.”
Do you know what its like to experience a “deep reservoir of refreshment that continually rejuvenates you”? Or (like me) do you too often feel hurried and distracted? Could it be that our frequent neglect of Sabbath rest reflects a gap in our trust in the gospel?
To learn more about Sabbath rest, and its roots in the gospel, I corresponded with Justin Buzzard, lead pastor at Garden City Church in Silicon Valley, California, and author of books like The Big Story, Date Your Wife, and Why Cities Matter.
What does Sabbath rest look like in your own life?
Keeping a weekly Sabbath is a pivotal part of my walk with Jesus and staying healthy. In my late 20s I felt the fringes of burnout as a pastor and young dad. That forced me to see that I’d spent years neglecting the Sabbath and that it was hurting myself and others. I was in a big new job that overwhelmed me, and I thought the only way to handle the responsibility was to work harder and longer. I was wrong. And, more than that, I was filled with pride to think I didn’t need rest.
Nine or so years later, I can’t imagine my life without the Sabbath. It’s become the deep rhythm of our family to practice Sabbath rest from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The word Sabbath means “to stop.” I stop all of my usual work from the week—pastoring people, creating sermons and other content, leading things/navigating challenges/handling emergencies. And my wife puts aside her work.
Sabbath is 24 hours of rest and play, a time when we remember that God is in control, that he has lavished our lives with his grace, that he is at work while we are at rest, and that we glorify God through our rest—through 24 hours of being absolutely unproductive.
How have you seen taking Sabbath rest affect your ability to be a husband and father? How has it affected your ministry?
I’m a big believer in the need to practice Sabbath rest not only weekly, but also daily and annually. Our marriage and family life is stronger because of our rhythm of daily Sabbath (with a few exceptions, I stop working every day at 6 p.m. as we sit down for a family dinner), a weekly Sabbath (described above), and an annual Sabbath (we take most of July off every year to disappear from work, recharge, and for me to just be a Christian, husband, and dad, not a pastor). I told my wife years ago that if we ever planted a church I would work harder than I ever had before, but that I’d also find a way for us to take a month off every summer so we could stay healthy for the long haul.
Because of how my family models Sabbath and how often I talk about the joy and necessity of Sabbath here in overworked Silicon Valley, I think our church family has grown to value the Sabbath. I actually require that our entire staff Sabbath on Saturday. That means that they aren’t allowed to do any work related to the church. Over the last couple of years we’ve created a staff culture where we are all healthier and full of more energy because we all take Sabbath rest.
A few months ago I preached a sermon on the Sabbath where I explore these ideas in greater depth. You can listen to it here.
What tends to happen, in your observation, to pastors who consistently neglect Sabbath rest? Are there any “warning signs” when burnout is near?
I have found, 100 percent of the time, that pastors (or people of any profession) who are unable to take 24 hours off a week to rest have their identity rooted in their work/performance rather than in the grace of God. As the months and years pass by, you see the following warning signs: loss of enthusiasm for the job, less creativity, less energy, more irritability, less effectiveness in the role, and an overall decrease in their joy and how fun they are to be around.
Suppose a pastor is burned out and knows he needs more Sabbath rest but doesn’t know how to begin. How would you coach him to get started in carving out time for Sabbath rest?
Stop! Just stop working and start resting. Put it on your calendar right now, that this week you will take 24 hours off to completely rest from your work. Stop cold turkey. Don’t try to ease into this, just do it. Other professions can Sabbath on Sundays, but pastors/church leaders are generally wise to take Sabbath on Saturday because Sunday is a big work day when we serve our church and city.
Repentance is a big part of this process as well. Repent of how you’ve made an idol out of work/your ministry. And ask God to help you learn how to rest. Most people actually don’t know how to rest. They’ve never been taught the value and necessity of the Sabbath, so they need to educate themselves about it.
Mark Buchanan talks about how Sabbath rest enables us to be more “fully present, wholly awake, in each moment.” Have you experienced this to be true? What does that look like?
Yes, I’ve experienced this. When I take time for Sabbath rest, I don’t open my email, I’m not powering through a to-do list, I’m not navigating stress and emergencies. This means I’m fully occupied with noticing the grace of God all around me. I work really hard all week, and then I rest and play really hard on Saturdays. Now that our church plant is almost three years old and I have a little more room to breathe, I’ve extended my weekly Sabbath. Instead of taking just 24 hours off a week, I now start resting (most weeks) on Friday at 2 p.m., and I keep this going until I wake up on Sunday morning.
In what ways can taking Sabbath rest express trust in God?
Most people are afraid to rest. We’re afraid to rest because we don't trust God and instead trust ourselves to hold the world together. Sabbath is one big way to say: “God, I trust you. While I rest I trust that you are at work.” I’ve found that I do better work because of keeping the Sabbath. After the Sabbath I’ve often discovered that the problems that were giving me so much stress solved themselves while I was busy playing with my three sons, watching a movie, or enjoying laughter with friends.