Finding Our Rhythm of Rest

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Busyness.  It’s everywhere.  With the Christmas season upon us, our calendars are likely overpopulated with events, meals, worship services, family gatherings, and more.  We regularly verbalize frustration with our ever-increasing busyness, but we fail to act to reverse the trend.  For those in ministry, there can exist an added pressure of seizing every free moment available to plan an event, adding to the busyness. Increase in activity may give the appearance of success, but if the product of our effort is physical exhaustion and vocational burnout, then maybe we should consider whether we are failing to succeed in that which truly matters.  

According to a 2021 Barna research poll, 38% of American pastors have considered quitting full-time ministry in the past year.

One of the more alarming findings is that 46 percent of pastors under the age of 45 say they are considering quitting full-time ministry, compared to 34 percent of pastors 45 and older. Keeping the right younger leaders encouraged and in their ministry roles will be crucial to the next decade of congregational vitality in the U.S. [1]

The Barna findings reveal some surprising details about the overall wellbeing of American pastors.  As shocking as the numbers may appear, you are likely not surprised that burnout is a growing issue amongst those in vocational ministry.  American culture is quickly departing from the devotion to “church” that was evident in previous generations.  The pressures of leading a congregation, mixed with the uncertainty of COVID (and more), have reasonably fed into the crisis of busyness and burnout that plagues the Church today. 

Seeing these statistics causes us to wonder what we can do to avoid becoming a statistic.  But maybe our gut reaction to DO MORE, is the exact reason to DO LESS. What if our BUSYNESS is actually a sinful means of ignoring the REST we were created to experience in Christ?  Consider how Christ appeals to our stress-filled, overly busy lives.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[2]

Christ invites all who labor, are stressed, etc. into relationship with Him. He offers REST.  He offers a pause from our weariness and toil.  He offers us all a refresher as we abide in His presence.  The problem is we don’t REST WELL.  We do not value REST as a society; we don’t even value REST in the CHURCH. To be clear, we must not misinterpret REST for LAZINESS.  It’s not about avoiding work. Christ Himself stated that the “harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”[3] He desires “workers.” But as culture increasingly places its identity in WORK, Christ reminds us to desire His REST. He values and offers REST for the weary because He knows we were designed for REST.  If we briefly look back to the start, we will see three truths made evident by God’s intended design. Then hopefully we will be convicted to allow proper REST in Christ to become a regular rhythm in our lives.

TRUTH #1:  WE ARE BUILT FROM A PATTERN 

When God created humanity, He did so from a blueprint of sorts.  God designed mankind after His own image.  This idea of being in God’s image means more than mere physical appearance.  We do not only LOOK like God, but we are designed to LIVE like God. For mankind to correctly image God, we would need to be instructed by God in how to live.  Notice the example of rest that God established, “[God] rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.”  Since man was created at the close of the sixth day, the seventh day, on which God rested, can also be viewed as mankind’s first full day.  So God rested from His work, but mankind was designed to work out of our rest.  Mike Breen offers an interesting take on this concept:

Rest is God’s healthy starting point for us.  We are human beings, not human doings. This is the order God has established for us: rest, then work. But we have it backward. We pride ourselves on our strong work ethic, even using it as a sign of godliness. The true sign of godliness—imitating God—is to pattern our lives after Him. And for God, rest is vitally important… Rest is not an option if we are to walk in the lifestyle of a disciple.[4]

In God’s rest, he was not lazy, but He chose to deepen the relationship He established with mankind.  If God valued rest enough to not only model it in mankind’s first day of existence but to mandate it later in the Mosaic Law (Ten Commandments, sabbath), then we should make the effort to value rest and relationship with God, placing it as primary in our rhythms of life. 

TRUTH #2:  WE ARE BLESSED WITH A PURPOSE

God provided mankind with the blessing of purposeful work. Originally, work was not a burden but blessing meant to allow mankind to cultivate God’s creation.  Note that the true blessing is found not in the EFFORT of work but in its EFFECT.  Mere busyness alone is not how we correctly image God.  Busyness about the right pursuits, however, leads to fruitfulness, which is God’s design for those in covenant relationship with Him. 

As part of bearing God’s image, mankind was given dominion “over every living thing that moves on the earth” and was tasked to oversee the Garden that God Himself planted.  The assigned work purposed to glorify God.  Along with the physical toil, however, came the promise of reward.  So long as mankind remained obedient to God’s design, God would cause His creation to yield itself fruitfully to man’s efforts, and God would provide access to the Tree of Life, the source of man’s ability to “eat, and live forever” (Gen. 3:22).  To “live forever” was not merely a promise to perpetually exist, avoiding physical death, but it was a promise that man would have a special, intimate relationship with God forever.  Disobedience, however, would disqualify mankind from that privileged relationship and from access to the Tree of Life, resulting in death.  When working in a manner that honored God’s desires and design, the man and the woman were able to experience the rest God exemplified on the seventh day of creation.  But the option of obedience or disobedience was a factor.

TRUTH #3:  WE BATTLE WITH PRIORITIES

We all know how the story progressed.  All was well until it wasn’t.  The tempter caused the man and woman to doubt God’s goodness which led to the first act of human rebellion. One particular evening, God walked through the Garden to spend time with the man and the woman.  This must have been a regular occurrence since they recognized “the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden.”  This time things were different.  Instead of welcoming God joyfully, they shamefully hid from Him.  Earlier that day, they pridefully decided it was better to BE their own “God” than to SERVE the One True God. In that instant, their priorities shifted.  Rather than continue to experience the rest God offered and to correctly image and glorify their Creator, the desire for self-advancement took center stage. 

Our modern addiction to busyness is a direct reflection of the original sin that occurred in the Garden.  Like Adam and Eve, we so often seize on the opportunity to promote our own agendas above that of God.  Our busyness has time and again proven fruitless, whereas, our time spent with the LORD has always proven fruitful.  It seems backward, but that’s precisely how the Kingdom of God operates.  Kingdom living is not lazy.  But in the Kingdom, Christ offers us rest in relationship with Him that redeems our life from the fruitless efforts with which we would otherwise busy ourselves. Christ offers greater productivity FOR HIM when we establish a healthy rhythm of resting in Him and working out of that rest.  Our work is not our identity.  We do not work our way into the Kingdom.  Rather, we enter the Kingdom based on the finished work of Christ. The Kingdom values BEING over DOING.  Therefore our identity in Christ blesses our work.

So when it comes to rhythms of life and priorities in the holiday season and in the new year to follow, how are you winning or losing the battle?  The holidays often allow greater time away from the office, regular rhythm of work. Are you taking opportunity to rest in Christ?  Take stock of your typical 24-hour day (or even your 7-day week), and decide whether your regular activities reflect a rhythm of proper REST in Christ lending to fruitful labor for the Kingdom or busyness which leads to burnout.  Find identity in BEING over DOING during the season of rest, so that when the season for work arrives, you can win the battle of priorities and be even more effective for the Kingdom of God. 


[1]  https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being/

[2] Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

[3] Matthew 9:37 (ESV)

[4] Breen, Mike.  Building a Discipling Culture: How to Release a Missional Movement by Discipling People Like Jesus

Did, 3rd Edition.  3DM Publishing, 2016.  pg.129  

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