Life can be C-R-A-Z-Y and it can get B-U-S-Y! We hear this all the time from people, even out of our own mouths. But we've just come to accept it as the norm. We’re told when life is rushed and we’re pressured we've just got to, "keep on keeping on" (I never liked that phrase).
No, no we don't.
Resting, or sabbath, is a nonnegotiable with God. It's not because He loves rules, rather, it’s because He loves us! Since He cares deeply about us and He craves the very best for us, He desires that we rest.
Over the passed few weeks I've experienced the absolute essentiality of resting, ceasing, "sabbath-ing". So, I want to share what I've discovered. Although I might not know you, I care about you. That's one of the reasons why I write these posts and especially why I'm writing this one.
I've come to believe, with all my heart, that it's completely wrong to remain "plugged in" to our work and busy living, without regular and consistent breaks throughout the year. There must be times when we disconnect - shut off phones and TV, stop texting, stop emails, get off of FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter and the like - so that we can experience the recuperative time God designated specifically with us in mind. It’s not to be legalistic, but for our own wellbeing. This also must happen for longer periods of time seasonally and for greater, extended periods of time every several years. It's about reNEWing and reFRESHing ourselves in God.
I write this as I'm hitting the midpoint of a 3-month sabbatical. I've never taken one before. Sure, I've had vacations, but this is nothing like a vacation. At the beginning of this year I put together a proposal for a 3-month sabbatical. I didn't know what to expect, but I knew I needed one. Thankfully, it was overwhelmingly approved! Perhaps others saw my need for it, too (that's a scary thought). But in the midst of preparing for my rest, there were a lot of questions. This wasn't normal practice where I work. I was breaking new ground, blazing a trail. I tend to do that. This was unfamiliar territory for my bosses, my staff and myself. So, with a little guidance and planning, I wandered into my sabbatical time.*
Here's my backstory. In late 2011, sometime in November when the leaves had shifted from bright colors to various browns, I was coming out of a tremendously rigorous season. Retreats, camping trips, the launching of new programs, adding of volunteers, managing current ones - some very difficult - and the influx of new participants had me pulled in several different directions. To top it off, I'm the kind of person who loves to dream, implement and get things running and then hand them off to capable people. I'm always thinking, planning, visioning. I don't shut off very well. Anyway, one day I was reading a magazine, I don't recall which one but it was a major news mag. There was an article that stated, "The number one answer that people today give when asked, 'How are you?' is: 'Busy.'" I thought to myself, "What a shame that people are running around, wearing themselves thin with all this busyness." Then it hit me, like a 4x4 across the back, I'm busy! I'd fallen into the trap!
I was immediately convicted and a passage from the Bible came racing to my thoughts:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2a).
I hung my head in shame, embarrassment and repentance. I made a decision, in that moment, to cease the craziness. But you know the problem...we get sucked back in!
Just for a moment, examine the world around you. In your personal life, your greater circle of acquaintances or the world at large, there's a pattern present, isn't there? In fact, there are many patterns we would notice if we just stopped and really took a good look at the crushing pace and content of living. This pattern is molding you, unless you intentionally act. Just like a clump of clay in your hand, the slight pressure will leave, at least, a fingerprint! The world, society and people are leaving - in the very least - subtle fingerprints...on you! I believe there are more than just fingerprints, but deep impressions! This is why the early church leader, Paul, said,
Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33).
He knew that even casual interaction with the world will leave subtle imprints. Are you aware of this? It's happening, of this I'm sure. But the way of escape isn't an equal and opposite reactive thrust back. Nope. The answer is a bit odd, actually. You don't fight harder against it, rather, you rest, you Sabbath! It's counter-intuitive, but it works. I know this firsthand. Now. Jesus gave us this blueprint answer in the Gospel of Matthew 11:28-29,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
You see, the reason why the way of Jesus “works” is because He knows how we’re designed to function. He knows how we’re supposed to operate because He created us. He also knows how deeply infected we are and how much help we need.
You see, there's a Fingerprint on us from birth but it's not our own. The Creator places it on each of us. He imparts His own image in us. In Latin it's, Imago Dei, Image of God. We're all born with it, but it's fuzzy, almost indecipherable because we have a toxic spirit and we're being imprinted and molded by everything but God. The phrase I've used for years in referring to our God-image is, "It's defaced but not erased.” It's there but not as well defined as it should be, not even close. Many things cause this defacing. Simply ignoring that we have His Fingerprint has severe, detrimental affects. But there's a way to bring it back and make it even more discernible than ever, if you have the courage.
Unless we are intentional about resting and being refreshed to the core, we’ll always slide back to the pattern of this world. It's our default position. The scary thing is we can never truly be who we were designed to be without resting. And we cannot know what God's plan is for our lives if we don’t take intentional steps towards restoring the Fingerprint. The second part of that Romans 12 passage goes like this,
...be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — His good, pleasing and perfect will.
Are you struggling with what you should do in life? Is there a particular circumstance that you're at a standstill with and you just can't seem to make a decision? My first question is, "Are you resting?" The only question I used to ask and be asked was, "Are you praying?" I ask both now, but with a keener ear towards the former. I've known many good and Godly people who just couldn't come to a conclusion on something and they were praying - in overdrive! They had all sorts of people praying for them, too. Some even tried to appease God with religious performance, misguided as that was. Perhaps our abandonment of God's 4th Commandment has something to do with our lack of direction in life? I think so.
Breaking out of the pattern of this world and embracing the LORD will result in a renewed mind – we’ll actually discern the way God thinks – which will help us know God’s will, both for our own lives and for the good of others. It's a promise of God! Pretty cool, huh?
Because God loves us, He actually commands us to rest (Exodus 20:8-11). Without rest we spiral downward. In fact, we’re told that the entire nation of Israel was taken into captivity for 70 years simply because they failed to honor the Sabbath, a time of rest (2 Chronicles 36:20-21). God is that serious about us keeping Sabbath. It's because He loves us!
Now, to further solidify this, Jesus made it crystal clear that the reason for the commandment was loving not legalistic or sadistic. In Mark 2:27, Jesus said the Sabbath is for the benefit of mankind. He knew that without a RESTorative Sabbath and focusing on the One whose Fingerprint we are marked with we would descend into dysfunction.
There are several passages where Jesus healed people on the Sabbath. Think about it. Jesus broke the law of His own people in order to heal people! Here are two suggestions. 1) One of the primary reasons the LORD rested after His creation work in Genesis 2 was to set the example for us to do like wise. 2) The reason why there are so many references to Jesus healing on the Sabbath is for us to more deeply understand one purpose of the Sabbath – for our healing. It wasn’t about keeping the law but for us to enter the healing presence of God! If that isn't an expression of love, I'm not sure what is.
What does this "resting" or "sabbath" look like?
- Put the cell phone away. I know people who go on vacation with their family and they're Tweeting and texting all the time. That is NOT resting! You have to fully disengage from “the pattern” to rest.
- Get off of email and any other social media. Send your phone calls to another person in the office or direct them to voicemail. You are not available.
- Stop making excuses that you're needed or no one else can do it. Baloney! If you're doing your job correctly, you should have backup in place. Perhaps you think you're too important? Double baloney with a slice of ham! I used to feel that way - not any longer. But that topic is for another post.
- This is not a time to take on different work, rationally thinking, "Well, I'm 'resting' from my other work". You might think this rest will kill you, but you have to have courage!
Times of resting:
- Keep it weekly. There must be a time, each week, where you unplug. No excuses! But don't be legalistic about it, let there be some flex (Romans 14:5). It's not just for Friday nights and Sunday mornings! This will take time to develop.
- Keep it seasonally. Every few months take some intentional time to disconnect from all the busyness of living. This should be more than one day, when possible.
- Keep it long term. If you can't take a sabbatical from work every 7-9 years, try to plan for a longer “vacation”. Lump as many weeks together as you can and disconnect. Your family, your job and you NEED to do this. Great benefits and blessings will be experienced as you take intentional time to remove yourself from the crushing pressures of living.
Keys to resting:
- It has to be with Jesus. This is where it takes courage. You can't muscle this into submission and you can’t simply meditate your way into wholeness. Sure, you'll gain some benefits, but without a focus on Jesus and what He's done for us you won't receive all He has for you.
- Evaluate what things, internally or externally, suck you into the form-fitting pattern of this world. Once you get a grip on these, you may need some help readjusting. That's okay!
- Take steps to change what you do, how you do them and most importantly, why you do them! We can't dump all of our obligations, but some things just aren't what we're called to do (see my blog on "Calling", Can I Hear Me Now? The truth about "Calling").
Each of these resting times should be personal. For me they're, "wandering times"; no planning, no forecasting. This will take intentionality. It will require understanding on the part of others around you. They may not "get it", but that's okay. You NEED it! And remember, “me time” always includes God!
May you rest well. May the LORD be the restorer of your life, mind and soul as you Sabbath in Him!
*If you'd like some help planning a time of rest, whether it's weekly or an extended period, please shoot me an email. I'd be glad to go over a few things with you. I just scratched the surface of this topic. I'll be writing more in the weeks to come.