It’s built right there into the cycle of creation, isn’t it – one day in seven is a day of rest. And it’s built into the cycle of salvation too – we rest from our work, because God saves us through his work. I was reminded of that yesterday when someone reminded me that when God told the Israelites at Sinai, ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself’ (Ex. 19:4), that meant that God did all the heavy lifting.
And those two cycles are built into the 10 Commandments: the reason for the Sabbath in Ex. 20:4 is creation (‘For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy’), and in Deut. 5:15 it is salvation (‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day’)
Park the issue of whether Sunday is the Sabbath – what is clear is that we should have a weekly rest from our daily work, and that it is good for us physically (that’s the creation point) and spiritually (that’s the salvation point).
Pastors in particular need to remember that they are not the Lord of the church, nor its Messiah – and he can work perfectly well while we take a day off. And, on a practical point, Monday is the worst possible day to have off. I’m quite often in a slight daze on Monday morning, and for several years I would wake up, realise it was my day off and – as a single bloke – I had made no plans, and no-one to do anything with. Then my pastor said that if I was going to be like a bear with a sore head, I might as well be one on the church’s time, since it was the church which gave me the sore head anyway. A clever, and kind, boss.
So, we need rest. What needs to go in there?
Does that sound obvious? We need to stop. One point of the Sabbath was to remind Israel’s farmers that the corn grew even when they didn’t watch it, and they could trust God with their businesses if they took their hands off it.
So with our work – and especially if we are pastors, with our churches. The discipline reminds us that Jesus is working in people’s hearts, that he is praying for his people, that he is watching over them. Now, that is not to encourage us to be lazy – Paul reminds us to be hard working famers, after all. (2 Tim. 2:6). But we need a right perspective.
And, yes, that should include sleep. Sleep is a good gift from our loving Lord, so enjoy it (Ps. 127:2)- but not too much (Prov. 6:10-11). Once again, overwork and idleness are both dangers for us.
God has given us meals to enjoy, and landscapes to look at. When Jesus said, ‘Consider the birds’, or ‘Consider the lilies’ (Lk. 12) he gave us lessons that become stronger as we redirect our gaze to look in that direction.
The fast pace we live at means we do not realise that some of God’s best gifts are not given instantly. Friendships take time to grow. So does a love of music, or literature, or art. Impatient people never take the time to dig deep wells, and so they never find the coolest water.
When I was a young pastor an older friend, ‘Take your day off – but don’t take a day off being a Christian.’ That’s wise advice too, and if we feel that temptation it’s a sure sign that our Christianity has become a matter of work, a job, a routine. Never forget how to read the Bible for yourself.
There’s a place for finding those things we enjoy, which seem to help our brains to switch off. It’s difficult to explain, but I know that when I paint something I no longer think in words while I do it: a different part of my mind engages, and I hardly notice time flowing. For you it might be what happens ten minutes into a run, or while you’re fishing, or gardening, or knocking back bread dough, or throwing snowballs with your kids, or planing wood, or listening to jazz, or – you know it. It is, as God said repeatedly over his perfect creation, ‘good.’
And when you come out of it, your mind is clearer and calmer. A problem has been solved, an idea made sharper, a fact recalled. Somehow, you’ve been re-created.
We need to remember that we are the first generation of Christians to live at our frantic pace. I can still recall when the mail came once a day – you didn’t keep checking the inbox to see if someone had sent to a letter in the last ten minutes. Once a day. If someone phoned you and you were out – tough. If was important, they’d call again. Go back a couple of hundred years and imagine how slowly people travelled. Wesley preached thousands of sermons – but he spent hours on horseback, reading, writing, praying. We would do that journey in a car, quickly, and pack in a dozen other engagements. We would do many more things, but without the depth Yes, Whitfield traveled the Atlantic many times to preach, but each of those crossings took weeks, not hours. I was told recently of someone who traveled from London to Sydney and back for a lunchtime meeting.
We need to slow down, and stop. And some of us need to climb off our little thrones as if we were necessary for the flourishing of the gospel. We plant. We water. But God gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6)
That was what was missing on my days off – other people. Of course years later, and marriage and children changes the whole panorama, except that it’s really the same lesson. People are good for us.
And they take time, too.
But, but, but…
The lawn needs mowing, the chores tackled, the bank statement filed… Yes, they do. But when did Jesus ever tell us to ‘Consider the bank statement’?
- Have you a day off planned this week?