Which one of the Ten Commandments do you give yourself permission to break? Strange question? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? I know – it does me, too, but think it through before you disregard it. For you theologians who will quickly bark back that we who are in Christ are under grace, not the law, I get it; yet, the principles God gave in the Ten Commandments still hold great value for us to revere and apply. Therefore, I ask you again, which of the Ten Commandments do you give yourself permission to break?
I cannot even begin rationalizing the idea of intentionally committing such acts as adultery, stealing from someone, murder or getting involved in idol worship; however, I do find myself often guilty of only keeping nine of the commandments and consistently breaking one. Which one? The fourth commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8, NASB).
I confess I have often used the excuse that a pastor is on the clock 24/7 to justify my wacky schedule. Now, you may not be a pastor, but you have probably found some way to defend your unbalanced schedule. The danger here is that if we allow ourselves to go unchecked, before long we buy into the lie that doing more is better, and that God expects us to be laboring around the clock, every day, every week, and every year until we have nothing left to give. That perspective is not only unhealthy, but it is unholy.
This may seem unspiritual to you, but proper rest is a spiritual matter. God designed all of creation to work in relation to the cycles of action and rest. Think about it. In a twenty-four hour period, the earth experiences day and night, light and dark. Nature has seasons – spring, summer, fall and winter. Vegetation has times for seeding, fertilization, growth, harvest and withering. All living things go through “life cycles.” In Exodus Chapter 23, we even find that God instructed the Hebrews to plant crops for six years but let the earth rest on the seventh year.
The Sabbath was given as a command and not as a suggestion because God knew what we needed, and, that left up to ourselves, we would work ourselves to exhaustion.
“If we do not rest, we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we. Jesus said, ‘Come apart and rest awhile’. If you don’t rest awhile, you’ll soon come apart.” – Charles Spurgeon
In Mark 2:27, we read the words of Jesus as He explains the purpose for the Sabbath. He taught, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (NASB).
Give Yourself Permission to Rest – Jesus Did
We have no better model to follow than that of our Lord Jesus Himself. When reading the four gospels, you will notice a pattern. Jesus consistently balanced between ministry activity and rest. Mark Chapter 6, records a very busy and emotional time in the life of Jesus that demonstrates the pattern for us.
Jesus empowered and employed the disciples to go in His Name. He paired them up and told them to go preach, touch and heal. When they came back, they were rejoicing! The anointing of God was evident in every city the disciples went. Hearts were converted to Christ and lives were changed. In the midst of these mini revivals, Herod was being seduced by his step-daughter with the end result being the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
Isn’t it interesting to note that the hardest trials seem to always follow the seasons of blessings? We can imagine the emotional rollercoaster Jesus experienced that day. His disciples surrounded Him in awe of what they had just seen God do through them. While they are celebrating, news comes that John the Baptist is dead. In a matter of seconds, they go from the heights of jubilation to the depths of despair. How did Jesus respond?
Mark 6:31-32 says, “Because so many people were coming and going that they didn’t even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, `Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (NIV).
Did you get that? Jesus knew the secret to staying consistent and healthy with all the demands of people and the emotional highs and lows of life and ministry was to get away and rest. So Jesus took the disciples on a leisure boat ride. The disciples were about to learn that needs and demands will follow you wherever you go, so when you can, find a time to rest. By the time the boat arrived at the shore of the other side of the sea, the multitudes were waiting for them.
Watch what happens next.
Mark 6: 35-37, “By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. ‘This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’ 37 But he answered, ‘You give them something to eat.’” (NIV)
The disciples were tired and probably a little peeved that their boat ride ended with a multitude of new demands, yet Jesus looked on the crowd with compassion. There are some important truths to take from this. First, when you are tired, it’s easy to see the people in your life and their needs as a nuisance. When that happens, you need to allow the Holy Spirit to sound an alarm in your soul and tell you it’s time to take a break. Second, the path to facing the demands of life with a clear mind and a compassionate heart is to give yourself permission to rest.
Practice these 7 Practical Steps to Rest
- Take control of your schedule.
No one will schedule rest for you. You have to take control. We all are slaves to our appointments, so make an appointment to rest. Block it out. Write it down in ink, then when someone asks to meet with you during that time slot, unless it is an emergency, simply reply, “I’m sorry, I already have something on my schedule for then.”
- Take a break daily.
I’m always trying to learn from pastors who have a special anointing on their lives. It may sound strange, but one of the best pieces of information I ever learned came from a very prominent pastor of one of the largest churches in America. Every day after lunch he has a 30 minute appointment with the couch he has in his office, and his secretary has been instructed to allow no interruptions. After a heavy morning of study, sermon preparation and dealing with church matters, this pastor has learned the rejuvenating power of a short nap. I bet you can guess what I have in my office now!
- Take a day off weekly.
Surely, I’ve made this point by now.
- Take an extended break annually.
A few years ago. I began taking at least two consecutive weeks off. I have to admit, I felt guilty about doing that at first. Then I noticed something – it would take me a whole week just to decompress from all the pressures of ministry and allow my mind and body to start relaxing. I found that I never allowed myself to truly relax when I went back to the ministry after only one week. In fact, I’m writing this blog post while on my summer break because God reminded me of the importance of giving myself permission to rest. So, be creative and find a way to take an extended break.
- Get enough sleep.
Research suggests we need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. I recently purchased a smart watch to help me keep track of my exercise and sleep patterns. Part of taking control of our schedule is to ensure that we are getting to bed early enough to get a good night’s sleep.
- Exercise regularly.
Sounds like the opposite of rest doesn’t it? However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise actually helps your body to rest. Exercising 3 to 4 times per week has been proven to help increase blood and oxygen flow resulting in greater creativity, more energy and better sleep. It also helps with your mood, and no one wants to be around you when you are moody, trust me!
- Remember to reflect and worship.
One aspect of rest, suggestively the most important aspect of rest, is to reflect on God and His blessings. One cannot help but feel the power of intimacy with God when reading the Psalms. In my mind I can see the psalmist looking out over the sheep under the light of the moon and declaring, “The Lord is my Shepherd!” Get away from the noise and find a place of solitude to just be in the presence of God. No agenda. No tasks. No demands. Just be still and know the God who called you.
“Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10, NIV).
Consider this passage from Psalm 127:
“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat for he grants sleep to those he loves,” (vs. 1-2, NIV).