The spiritual power of habits: Sabbath

For twelve months, I met with a wildly creative leader who wanted to plant a church. He was confident, talented and charismatic. I got to peek behind the curtain of his life while eating terrible Asian-American cuisine. Every Monday, he was tired and unfulfilled from the weekend.

One day, I asked him, What would a perfect weekend look like to you?” He looked stunned, as if I had talked to him in an African dialect. Rest was an idea to him, not a reality. He never let himself rest. He never truly took a day off. He didn’t realize his limits, so he started every week on empty. Creativity and charisma waned. Eventually, he crashed.

This story is too common. Most church leaders don’t take a regular Sabbath.

Let me guess, you’ve got excuses about Sabbath. I’ve heard them all. I’ve used most of them. You think you can’t afford to take a Sabbath every week, but really you can’t afford to avoid Sabbath. Perhaps, you’re playing hide-and-seek with God, dodging one of His greatest gifts. The joke is on you.

I hate to break it to you, but youre only human. You have needs and limits. If you neglect your needs and violate your limits, your creativity will dissipate. Your heart for people will fade. Your health will fall apart. You will come face-to-face with “the B word” we all fear: burnout.

Want to beat the odds and stay in ministry for the long haul? You’ll have to embrace these paradoxes of Sabbath.

Your weakness highlights God’s power. When you come to the end of your capacity others can see God more clearly through you. When you’ve reached your limit God is just getting started. In Sabbath as Resistance Walter Bruggemann says, Sabbath becomes a decisive, concrete, visible way of opting for and aligning with the God of rest. After a week of labor we are out of alignment like a car after battle with a barrage of potholes. The rest God gives us in Sabbath realigns us to cultivate for another week.

To produce more, find contentment doing less. Rest and play actually help you produce…over the long haul. Resting one day a week might provide more fuel for creativity than striving the other six. You need to find a rhythm of work and rest. You can’t effectively continue creating without ceasing. Exercise the muscle of saying “no” to work and “yes” to rest and play.

The busiest pastors are the least productive. Busyness is a strange culturally-reinforced badge we all try to pin on ourselves. Leaders often pride themselves on being busy. Some church leaders even brag about how many weeks they’ve worked without a day off. Busyness doesn’t equate to impact. In fact, the most productive leaders I know live within a healthy rhythm. Busy is the new lazy.

We’re designed to work from rest, not rest from work. The difference is subtle at first, but it’s life-altering. If you hope to lead for the long haul you must learn to work from a place of freshness. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you’re laboring from a calm heart instead of a frantic heart.

Take a look at the creation narrative. God set this example of intentional rest for us to follow.

“On the seventh day he rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done” Genesis 2:2-3, The Message.

Want to cultivate beautiful things? Let your heart be cultivated. Want to shape healthy ministries? Get healthy yourself. Want to get ahead next week? Sabbath this week. Want ministry to feel more natural? Embrace the paradoxes of Sabbath.

Published June 8, 2017