Today we returned from a two-week vacation over Christmas and New Year.  It’s the first time in about six years we’ve been back to North Carolina during the holidays.  For the past four years, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed celebrating Christmas at home in Cayman.  The times in Cayman are peaceful, relaxed, and filled with church family.  The time in North Carolina was peaceful, relaxed, and filled with our biological families.  Both experiences have been, in a word, refreshing.

While on this particular break, I’ve read two things that have reminded me of the necessity of rest for a pastor’s soul.  The first was a plea from Kevin DeYoung to churches to grant their leaders rest.  I couldn’t agree more with Kevin’s words about the necessity of rest, and I couldn’t agree more with him about the joy of leading a church that already gives generously to care for me and my family in this area.

The second piece I read moments ago.  It’s a brief synopsis of John Piper’s 8-month leave in 2010.  Read the piece and you’ll see an illustration of how rest and reflection nourish a pastor’s soul–and not just his soul, but his family, ministry, and health.  It’s encouraging to see how God works in our rest, not just in our activity.  As pastors, we’re accustomed to thinking that unless we’re “doing something” then we’re not doing anything.  Yet, the Lord rested from His labors on the seventh day and left that pattern of rest in the very pattern of creation itself.  Rest is an act of faith and gratitude, and whenever we live by faith and thanksgiving to God our souls receive nourishment and grace.

Ministry veterans like Piper and John Stott among others have come to see the value of regular periods of rest.  I’m freshly grateful to God for a church family that supports my pastoral labors as well as rest from those labors.  I’m deeply thankful for a church family that understands that the church belongs to the Lord and His reign is not threatened when His under-shepherds rest.  When I’m not rested, it’s usually my fault.  I’m either over-extending myself or I’m not being effective with my time.  There are periods where the load is really heavy, but with the encouragement and support I receive I should be rested and fresh most days.

Here’s some things I’m learning that I hope will be a help in the year ahead:

1.  Rest before I’m tired.  I learned that from Matt Schmucker at 9Marks.  Sometimes even our vacations and breaks don’t help us because we’re too far in the hole.  Our rest only partially fills the depletion we’ve been experiencing for long periods.  So, I need to rest even when I don’t think I need the rest so that I don’t end up in the ditch.  Here’s a hint: If you finish the year with any amount of accrued vacation you’re probably not resting enough or resting before you’re tired.  Most employers don’t give you too much vacation.  So if you finish with some left over, you’re depriving yourself of necessary rest.

2.  Rest at regular intervals.  I’m a bit of a binge worker.  I hit periods, for example, where I write constantly.  On some level, it’s the way I’m wired.  But in other ways, absent a plan for getting rest, it simply deepens the lows and extends the periods of fatigue.  Most things in my schedule are planned.  I need to put rest in the schedule, too.  There ought to be a regular interval (every couple months?) for getting at least a few extra days off from work and the normal routine.  In fact, I think I’ll spend some time tomorrow identifying the next window for vacation.

3.  Rest weekly. At least fulfill a sabbath principle.  The Lord’s Day is a day of rest, a market day for the soul.  Even if you’re not a strict sabbatarian, you should have a weekly 24-hour period where you cease from your labors, repose and repair with God.

4.  Rest daily.  How do you do that?  Most people call it “lunch.”  Few people outside manufacturing settings take the 15-minute morning and afternoon breaks any more.  We tend to keep our eyes glued to the pixels before us, or our minds busy during the umpteenth meeting.  Our breaks become times where we hurriedly “get one more thing done” or “check on one thing.”  In the ministry, lunches become prime opportunities for shepherding.  There’s a place for that.  But if we never allow ourselves short breaks, or if we never have an unhurried lunch, we’re missing daily opportunities to silence the world, to turn off the engines, and rest.  Most of us are probably too busy, too frenetic.  We need more soothing respites sprinkled in the course of the day.

Does rest make your list of resolutions or priorities for the New Year?I hope you’ve come to see the value of rest in your life, too.  Whether you’re in full-time Christian ministry or facing the demands of work, school, family and a host of other valuable gifts, you need rest.  In 2011, stay rested so that you may stay fruitful.