What Can We Learn From the Originator of Rest?

Part 3 in a series on life-changing habits

I woke up on a school day one spring morning and found my parents packing our camping cooler in the kitchen.

“Hey Eric,” they told me. “We’re going to skip school today and go on a camping trip!”

I couldn’t believe it! Immediately, my mind raced with excitement in anticipation of days of fun-filled activities while everyone else had to go to school. This was going to be the best day ev…“April fools!” They laughed, I didn’t.

As cruel as you may think my parents were, my memories of childhood are filled with laughter. My parents knew how to work hard—and they did—but they also understood how to live in dependence upon God, which gave them the freedom to rest, worship and play well.

There are many areas in which we’ve taken our cues from the expectations of our culture rather than the Word of God.

As a pastor of an EFCA church for several years and now an international leader for ReachGlobal I have, at times, felt pressure to match my work rhythms, expectations and methodologies to that of an American corporate leader. Measuring the work of the church against corporate models of leadership is often the norm of the day, and there is a temptation to justify my existence as a leader by performing and producing results.

American corporate culture brings us many good ideas, but the implementation of these ideas into our life and work—without closely evaluating them through the lens of Scripture—leads to our culture discipling us rather than us discipling our culture.

Consequently, the leadership section of church literature has exploded in the last few decades, while the lives of Christian leaders are imploding. Burnout, moral failure, broken families and deteriorating physical and mental health are at the center of too many stories in Christian leadership today.

While I would not presume to blame all of the ailments of Christian leaders on the American corporate culture, I would venture to say there are many areas in which we’ve taken our cues from the expectations of our culture rather than the Word of God.

This reality—and a desire to lead the ReachGlobal Africa Division through a biblical lens—has led us to add rest to the habits of story and collaboration that we’re working to develop within our division.

Speedboats and sailboats

Looking through a biblical lens at the principles of work and rest causes me to ask the question, “in the end, whose work is it?” Honestly wrestling and reckoning ourselves to this question has defining implications in our lives.

As I abide in Him, He will bear much fruit.

Recently, I met with a mentor who shared an illustration with me that has been very helpful. He told me some leaders live life and minister with a “speedboat mentality” while others minister with a “sailboat mentality.”

A speedboat mentality puts me at the controls. Ultimately, I’m responsible for my successes or failures, depending on how fast I go and how well I drive the boat. Life’s challenges are obstacles to be broken through and overcome. I’m fueled by my willpower and the adrenaline rush that comes with overtaking the next wave. Rest comes when I run out of fuel, which often leaves me stranded in the middle of the lake.

The lesson for me is that I must not lose sight of God as my source. I need to practice the rhythms of rest and worship He has put in place from the beginning of creation. As I abide in Him, He will bear much fruit. This reality leads me toward a different mentality of life and leadership—one that depends upon God and rests and worships in the rhythms of His design.

Our American culture measures return on investment with the yardstick of productivity and results.

A sailboat mentality puts God in control. Ultimately, He’s responsible for my successes or failures, depending on how the winds move and how I respond. My role is to navigate the boat in alignment with the wind the Holy Spirit provides. Life’s challenges are a part of the journey and used by God for His glory and the sanctifying work He’s doing in me and those around me. With a sailboat mentality, I’m fueled by the unlimited power of God, and I can rest in the rhythms of His creative design.

On the surface, living a sailboat life sounds easy and, in our culture, almost a cop-out. In my experience, it’s just the opposite. Peace-filled? Yes. Easy? Not at all. Jesus put it this way: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39). A sailboat life is a life of surrender and trust. It’s a life in which we give up our pride for His glory. Just as we give obediently and generously of our finances—trusting He will provide all that we need—we give of our time in rest and worship, trusting He will bring results in His perfect timing.

The waters in which we live

The harsh reality is that we live in a “speedboat culture” that leaves many leaders burned out and stranded. Our American culture measures return on investment with the yardstick of productivity and results. In ministry, this produces a pressurized system that often sacrifices long-term health and thinking for short-term gains. It fosters feelings of guilt when time is set aside for rest, and consequently, has resulted in higher rates of turnover and burnout among leaders.

Our methods and standards for success are instrumental in defining a culture in which we lead. Unfortunately, the hidden expectations within our measures, that are often defined by our culture, can hinder the ability to thrive in ministry. We begin to perform for, and personally own, the expected results rather than trusting God to bear fruit as we abide in Christ, work hard, rest well and trust Him for results.

True “success” is not found in our capacity, but in God alone, and our willingness to surrender to His design.

From my perspective, this has led to the minimization of the reality of how God has created and designed us and replaced that reality with a quest for productivity and results. And let’s face it, rest does not fit well within the context of a culture in which we are defined by our productivity rather than our being.

True “success” is not found in our capacity, but in God alone, and our willingness to surrender to His design. If we honestly consider God’s work in Scripture and in our lives, we will have to admit His design is seldom expedient or focused on our personal success. It’s not until we submit to Him that we experience life as He intended.

As we take the yoke of Jesus upon ourselves, we will find His burden is light. As we abide in him, we will bear much fruit. We must be careful not to ignore the wind of the Spirit of God in our lives and replace it with reliance upon human will to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

In the last article, I shared with you my belief that one of the greatest gifts that I can give those whom I’ve been called to steward is a culture in which they can thrive. A significant element within that culture is a habit of rest.

Lessons from the Originator of rest

God is the “Originator of Rest,” specifically Sabbath rest. We were created by God with a need for renewal. Every breath we inhale renews and sustains our life. If we do not eat, drink or sleep, we will eventually die. We understand this physically, but less tangible is our need for spiritual renewal. This need for renewal is ongoing, moment by moment. Thus, Paul instructs us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thess. 5), but God has also created us with the need for a deeper rhythm of renewal that touches all of our being—spiritual, physical and emotional. Sabbath.

For many, the word Sabbath conjures up thoughts of Old Testament law and practices of parentally enforced nap times on Sunday afternoons. God’s view is different. Sabbath is a day He has blessed and called holy (Gen 2, emphasis mine). A sacred space that is different from the rest of the week. A time in which we worship and celebrate our God, enjoy the fruit of our labor, and rest our weary bodies. We act differently, but also have the space to think differently, worship intentionally, relate more intimately, celebrate more fully and enjoy the beauty and wonder of all that God has created. It’s a gift God has given us that is often unopened and discarded.

For the religious leaders, it was law, but as the Lord and originator of the Sabbath, Jesus renewed the vision of God’s intent that "Sabbath was made for man."

Why don’t we open this gift of Sabbath rest? In my own experience, it’s often a matter of trust and values. Therefore, I need to always ask myself two questions.

First, do I trust that God will accomplish all that He desires through me in six days of work? Mark Buchanan, in his book, The Rest of God, says, “Real Sabbath, the kind that empties and fills, depends on…complete confidence and trust. And confidence and trust like that are rooted in a deep conviction that God is good, and God is sovereign.”

We do not build God’s Kingdom, He does. We have the privilege to participate as his stewards in that process. Buchanan goes on to say, “Either God’s always at work building the city, building the house, or you need to try harder.”

The second question is related to value. Do I value the gift God has given me of Sabbath rest as essential, blessed and holy? Within the conflicts that are recorded in the Gospels between the religious leaders and Jesus regarding the Sabbath, Jesus never devalued the Sabbath, but directed his listeners to the heart of the Sabbath. For the religious leaders, it was law, but as the Lord and originator of the Sabbath, Jesus renewed the vision of God’s intent that “Sabbath was made for man” (Matt 12, Mark 2).

It’s challenging to live a “sailboat life” in a “speedboat” culture, but the benefits of living within God’s design and trusting Him to bear fruit through me as I abide in Christ gives me life and peace. And, yes, I’m more productive and fruitful.

The habits we build into our lives are instrumental in establishing the culture we choose for our lives. As leaders, the habits we steward into the realm of influence that God has given us will either hinder people or give them space in which they can thrive within God’s design. As leaders of the ReachGlobal Africa Division, we believe that the habits of story, collaboration and rest are keys to the long-term health and success of our division and the people working within it.

So, what about you? What are the key habits that you need to develop in your life or realm of influence as a leader? How do you lead in a way that helps people to swim against the current of the lies within their culture?

As Jesus put it in John 10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

For the first part in this series, read “What Can We Learn From the Storyteller?” For the second part, read “What Can We Learn From the Collaborator?

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