Nearly 10 years ago, as a college pastor at the University of Oregon, I toiled nearly 80 hours a week doing the “work of the Lord.” No boundaries. No rhythms. No intention. No rest. Every crisis was my crisis. Every complaint was my problem. Everything and everyone came to me. The long and short of it. I began to burn out. And I knew there was a problem when I started hoping I would burn out. Burnout offered a way out of all the insanity. Though I had never thought it possible, I was, in Paul’s words, beginning to “weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:9). The cost was high. I constantly got sick, my marriage was struggling, and my ministry became misery as I went frantically from crisis to crisis.
by Matthew Sleeth
We live in a culture of fear. In fact, fear is a hot commodity. It sells.
The folks who have the most to gain from fear just happen to be the ones who market it. This may be individuals, but often it’s the media.
Nancy and I don’t have television at home, but I have no control over TVs in public places. There is no escaping them. Whether I want to or not, I’m forced to watch the news in airports and restaurants. And of course there’s plenty of news online. The threat level is always orange or red. Every hour of every day we hear up-to-the-minute news of mass shootings, scandal, stolen identities, impending nuclear threats, and a world in turmoil.
Fear is not all bad. It keeps us from going too near the edge of the cliff. It can lead to an appropriate amount of caution. It lets us know when to act and when to flee.
But living in constant fear is crippling to the human spirit. Fear feeds on itself, and it’s always hungry for more. Fear makes us uncomfortable, and for the most part, people like to avoid uncomfortable stimuli.
For many, escape is the answer. We run to diversions, including entertainment, food, drugs, and alcohol. We escape our lives by living someone else’s in the popular world of reality TV.
There is also an economic link between escape and fear. Many of the entities that market fear are in the entertainment business. This is known as creating your own market and demand. Politicians market fear as well. Mussolini, Hitler, and tyrants throughout history have banked on fear for their own benefit. They create a climate of fear and then present the means of escape: themselves.
You don’t have to read far into the Bible to come across a society based on fear. The book of Exodus documents a Pharaoh’s paranoid imaginings about an uprising of slaves, a war that might happen, and a reaction that could occur. I’m sure that the media back then endlessly hashed and rehashed the possibilities. Coifed, attractive journalists interviewed the former commander of the Pharaoh’s chariots while maps overlaid with possible invading armies flashed on the screen.
The problem with a culture of fear is that people grow used to the fear; as a result, those who are in the fear business must continually up the ante. As the scripture says, “And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.” (Ex 1:12 ESV)
So the Pharaoh upped the ante and said, “let’s kill the most helpless of all–the newborn babies.” Then one of the most beautiful things in the Bible takes place. Two courageous women dealt with fear in the way God wants all of us to. Their names were Beautiful and Splendid, or Shiprah and Puah in Hebrew.
How did these midwives act when confronted with a culture of fear? They lied to the Pharaoh to protect the babies. And you probably remember that “the Lord dealt well” with these two women. But what we may forget is how these women escaped the culture of fear. “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” (Gen 1:17 ESV).
The key: they feared God. Satan wants us to fear everything on earth–except God.
In Matthew 10 we find a record of Jesus sending his disciples out on their first mission. They had been with the Master up until that point, and it must have felt overwhelming for them to step out on their own. Jesus instructed these followers to find a worthy house, give greetings, and let their peace descend on the home (Matthew 10:13).
The implication is that disciples should have a peace that others do not. How? We must fear God, and nothing else.
Jesus warned them–and us–that life will not be easy. There will be persecutions and accusations. There will be wars and rumors of wars. We cannot expect a stress-free life when we follow Jesus.
Our Lord went on to explain that we should not fear men. Others can destroy our body, but ultimately only God has the power of granting eternal life or death (Matthew 10:28). Our souls rest in God’s hands alone. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). When we fear the Lord, all other fears shrink in size and become much more manageable.
Fear God alone, and you’ll find yourself with the courage to take down giants. I promise. But more importantly, God promises. This is God’s Word. And we believe it.
This sermon by Sean Cordell, pastor of Treasuring Christ Church in Raleigh, NC, highlights the significance of coming to Jesus Christ for rest.
*This article was originally published by Relevant Magazine.
I love my work. Like many Americans, I pride myself on a strong work ethic. But sometimes I feel like I’m working all the time.
Instantaneous communications, nonstop connectivity and the option of working from home are all great. But they can also make us feel like we are never fully working or fully resting.
For many of us, TGIF has lost its savor.
We take on second jobs to earn extra bucks, check emails throughout the weekend and use Sunday afternoon to run errands or catch up on work.
A dozen years ago, my husband and I started a creation care ministry. It’s allowed us to meet some of the most intelligent and loving people in the world. It’s offered us ample opportunities to travel. And it’s given us a platform to speak into both the churched and non-churched culture.
And while working with my husband is one of the greatest joys of my life, it also has a dark side: We can easily find ourselves talking shop late into the night and on weekends.
Like all good things, work can become twisted. When we look for our identity in our jobs rather than in God, we can lose sight of the relationships that matter most.
The Bible is filled with admonishments to the lazy. But what does it say to a culture that finds itself working 24/7? Does God want us to enjoy the weekends?
We have only to open the scriptures to find out:
EVERYTHING CREATED BY GOD IS GOOD.
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5).
GOD DOES NOT WANT US TO WORK 24/7.
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:30-31).
GOD INVENTED THE WEEKEND.
The creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.
And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3).
REST. EVERY. WEEK.
God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them (Hebrews 4:1).
EVERYONE DESERVES SOME DOWNTIME (INCLUDING IMMIGRANTS AND MINIMUM WAGE EARNERS).
You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy (Exodus 20:8-11).
EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY.
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).
GET THE PARTY STARTED.
On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the Lord your God” (Numbers 10:10).
SHARE THE JOY.
Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8: 10).
REFRESH YOURSELF IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul (Psalm 23: 2-3).
DON’T FILL YOUR MIND WITH GARBAGE.[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8).
IT’S COOL TO COOL YOUR JETS.
Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). Or the ancient Greek (Septuagint) version: “Have leisure and know that I am God.”
YOU DON’T NEED TO DO IT ALL YOURSELF.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Weekends have a purpose. They let us step back and appreciate the goodness of honest labor. They help us value every day on earth as an undeserved gift. And they put our toil into perspective, reminding us it’s God who keeps the world spinning—not us.
Yes, work hard. Yes, steward your time wisely. And then every Friday afternoon, shout with joy: This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. (Psalm 118:24)
Or as that great oracle of my youth, Dr. Seuss, once said, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me NOW! It’s fun to have fun but you have to know how!”
Nancy Sleeth is the author of Almost Amish and co-founder of Blessed Earth. Recognized by Newsweek and Christianity Today as one of the “50 Evangelical Women to Watch,” lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband Matthew. For more Sabbath resources, visit sabbathliving.org.
This week I’ve been preparing to lead a Lenten day of silence for a nearby church. I know that may sound like an oxymoron: How exactly does one prepare for leading a silent retreat? Well, in this case, the organizers asked me to pick a theme that relates to Lent and then select three meditations, followed by questions that the people attending can contemplate in silence.
The theme I chose is Shabbat Shalom, Sabbath peace. It’s based on a few pages in a book I recently read: The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, by Joseph Telushkin and Dennis Prager. The authors speak briefly about four kinds of shalom that Jews seek on the Sabbath.
The first is peace within ourselves. The Jewish Sabbath laws are designed to bring peace on earth, a foretaste of heaven, one day each week. This peace must begin with the person we see reflected in our mirror each morning. To promote inner peace, religious Jews don’t use machinery and external sources of entertainment on the Sabbath. All week, we engage with (and are often enslaved by) email, television, Facebook, news, chores, and cell phones. In the quiet that descends on Shabbat eve, we re-learn how to be still and rest in God.
The second source of shalom is peace between people. Turning off external, mechanized sources of noise on our Sabbath produces another bonus: we suddenly have ample time to invest in relationships. One of the nearly universal consequences of Sabbath observance is the strengthening of ties among family and friends. In particular, the Sabbath meal allows time for uninterrupted conversation, with no one rushing off to make a call or keep an appointment. Sabbath is a chance for husbands and wives to reconnect, for children to engage with their parents and each other in a relaxed atmosphere, and for friends to have leisurely conversations and share their hearts.
Third, Sabbath also promotes peace between people and nature. Biblically, the injunctions to offer animals a break on the Sabbath, to give the land a rest every seventh year, and to practice Jubilee principles by not squeezing out every possible penny of profit are Sabbath practices that ensure rest for creation. In practical terms, if every Jew and Christian in the world worshipped on the Sabbath and then came home and didn’t buy anything or drive anywhere the remainder of the day, we could save about 14 percent of our carbon footprint. But even more significantly, by filling the emptiness inside with God rather than nonstop consumption, Sabbath peace flows into our habits the other six days of the week and allows us to stop and value our surroundings.
Last is peace between people and God. All week, we run around trying to fulfill immediate needs and desires. Shabbat is God’s day, when we look beyond the tyranny of the urgent and reflect upon the eternal consequences of our actions. Instead of focusing on my needs and desires, we focus on His generosity and goodness. On Sabbath we are invited to walk out onto the bridge between heaven and earth and meet the Creator of the Universe, the living and ever gracious God.
Which of these four kinds of shalom are you most drawn toward? For the remaining five Sabbaths until Easter, consider focusing on one of these. Then reflect upon the following questions:
- What practices can you eliminate during your remaining Sabbaths before Easter that will promote peace within yourself? No social media? A television fast? A break from the Internet?
- What practices can you add that will promote peace between people? Consider a Sabbath meal with family or friends, or reading a chapter aloud from an inspiring book and discussing it.
- What practices can you add or eliminate that promote peace with nature? Walking around the block and stopping to admire the spring blooms? Not driving anywhere except church? Abstaining from shopping–in stores or on the Internet?
- What practices can you add that will draw you closer to God? Thirty minutes of prayer on your knees sharing a heart of confession, adoration, and thanksgiving with God? Singing the Psalms? Memorizing a piece of scripture that has always delighted you?
As the Church moves toward the season of Lent, Margaret Kornfield offers us the following reflection in Cultivating Wholeness. Kornfield’s message of meaning-making and remembering who we are especially resonates with us as we live into Lent:
“It is through religious celebration of the liturgical year that most of us stay connected to the cycles of life: to birth, death, and rebirth in human life and in nature, even to our own biorhythms. In recent times there has been a radical change in our relationship to the cycles of nature and to time, itself. Many adults today had grandparents or great-grandparents who worked the land. (In 1850, 60 percent of the working population was employed in agriculture.) Today, many of us only have memories of having visited a farm—we are far from the land. (Now, less than 2.7 percent of the working population is directly engaged in farming.) Today, in any modern supermarket we can buy any food, at any time, from anywhere. In being disconnected from the cycles of the seasons. We forget our creatureliness.
“The relationship of the cycles of religious celebration to our experience of time may have even farther reaching implications to our health and wellbeing. Our sense of the time of the week has been changing. It used to be punctuated by the Sabbath or by Sunday. There was a break in the week for rest and renewal and this break was experienced by us and our neighbors. Now, for many, Sunday is a day almost like any other. Many stores are open for shopping. And because of shifts in work—very much created by technology—machines work full-time, therefore their operators work all the time, too. While most of us have a “day of rest,” it might not correspond with that of our family or friends.
“We still have bodies with biorhythms connected to another time, when we were more in contact with the rhythms of nature. Built into our bodies is a rhythm of activity, rest, renewal. James Ashbrook has noted that this cyclical rhythm, which we experience in waking and sleeping, is also the rhythm of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a time set apart by God for rest and remembering. It is a time for change in activity—from working and making to reflecting and synthesizing the experiences of the week. This is what Dr. Ashbrook calls “meaning-making . . .remembering who we are. ‘ He also sees a parallel between the rhythm of the Sabbath and the rhythm of our deepest “active” sleep, REM (“rapid eye movement”) sleep. Through REM sleep we rest, dream, synthesize the experience of the day, and thereby renewed. Through sleep we are reintegrated. Through keeping Sabbath we experience a similar integration. He says that we can keep the Sabbath by setting aside a “timeless” time to catch our breath and savor life. Sabbathing can be “the way in which we keep body and soul together.
“We are supported, as we support others in their changing lives, by remembering who we are. And as we remember, we will experience the Sabbath cycle of activity, rest, synthesis, renewal.”
Even the season of Lent remembers the Sabbath, and keeps it holy.
Peace and blessings,
Cynthia V. Vaughan
Cynthia V. Vaughan serves as a lead Sabbath Chaplain for Blessed Earth. She is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and a Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor (ACPE, Inc.) of hospital chaplains. Cynthia regularly emails an inspiring Sabbath reflection to a growing list of Sabbath keepers. If you would like to grow in your Sabbath journey, please contact Adam@blessedearth.org and he will add you to Cynthia’s distribution list.
from The Temple (1633), by George Herbert
Sunday O Day most calm, most bright, The fruit of this, the next worlds bud, Th’ indorsement of supreme delight, Writ by a friend, and with his bloud; The couch of time; cares balm and bay: The week were dark, but for thy light: Thy torch doth show the way. The other dayes and thou Make up one man; whose face thou art, Knocking at heaven with thy brow: The worky-daies are the back-part; The burden of the week lies there, Making the whole to stoup and bow, Till thy release appeare. Man had straight forward gone To endlesse death: but thou dost pull And turn us round to look on one, Whom, if we were not very dull, We could not choose but look on still; Since there is no place so alone, The which he doth not fill. Sundaies the pillars are, On which heav’ns palace arched lies: The other dayes fill up the spare And hollow room with vanities. They are the fruitfull beds and borders In Gods rich garden: that is bare, Which parts their ranks and orders. The Sundaies of mans life, Thredded together on times string, Make bracelets to adorn the wife Of the eternall glorious King. On Sunday heavens gate stands ope: Blessings are plentifull and rife, More plentifull then hope. This day my Saviour rose, And did inclose this light for his: That, as each beast his manger knows, Man might not of his fodder misse. Christ hath took in this piece of ground, And made a garden there for those Who want herbs for their wound. The rest of our Creation Our great Redeemer did remove With the same shake, which at his passion Did th’ earth and all things with it move. As Sampson bore the doores away, Christs hands, though nail’d, wrought our salvation, And did unhinge that day. The brightnesse of that day We sullied by our foul offence: Wherefore that robe we cast away, Having a new at his expence, Whose drops of bloud paid the full price, That was requir’d to make us gay, And fit for Paradise. Thou art a day of mirth: And where the Week-dayes trail on ground, Thy flight is higher, as thy birth. O let me take thee at the bound, Leaping with thee from sev’n to sev’n, Till that we both, being toss’d from earth, Flie hand in hand to heav’n!
by Guy Brewer
I yearned to pray today but found it very hard to calm my racing thoughts. Like many others, I feel a lot of internal and external pressure to complete my “holiday chores,” whatever that means. I tried making a “to do” list so I would not forget all of the important trivia of the day, but this didn’t help much at all with my inner chaos. And then, I remembered that poetry is the language of the soul. And, I sensed that my soul had something it wanted to say to God and to me. Perhaps the soul poem that emerged will be helpful to some of you as well. It is entitled, “Blown Glass.”
The prayer began more with human worries than divine promises
Like blown glass, molten and fragile
Its shape depending upon the breath of the glass blower who gives life but does not control the masterpiece taking form
Until a sculpture of the soul emerges.
The glass blower cannot tell if the objetd’arte has the right proportions or is a reasonable facsimile of the deep well within.
All the artist can know is that something with life in it lies before him, precious simply because it is.
And so, the prayer moves in the only way possible with no more words or attempts to speak the soul’s deepest longings.
This blown glass prayer lies before God as a thing of beauty that takes His breath away, making God laugh and cry and draw nearer for a closer look.
Guy Brewer is the Sabbath Living Program Director for Blessed Earth. You can read his bio on our staff page.
Nancy Sleeth recently wrote a piece for Relevant Magazine about how the practice of Sabbath can help us avoid the stress that, for many, accompanies the holidays.
In the article, Nancy writes,
According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 85 percent of people report that time pressures increase during the holiday season. In fact, “lack of time” beat money pressures, commercialism, travel, and a host of other factors for the number one spot among holiday stressors. When my husband was a doctor, he’d notice an uptick in Emergency Room visits around Christmastime: the stress, dense foods, and disrupted routines of the season were literally making people sick.
Fortunately, there’s a simple way to reduce holiday stress.
It’s been proven effective for over two thousand years. God thinks it’s important enough to make it one of his top ten commands: Sabbath. The word “sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word sabat, which means “to rest or stop or cease from work.”
You can read the entire article here.
As a new, young pastor in the foothills of North Carolina, Mitchell Boughman began hearing about the importance of Sabbath rest during the training and ordination process. He quickly learned, however, that resting doesn’t just mean taking a day-long nap. That’s when he started to connect his personal interest in woodworking and Sabbath renewal.
Mitchell always had a passion for woodworking, but hasn’t always had the means to pursue his interest. Eight years of school and “living paycheck to paycheck and school loan to school loan” left little room for his hobby.
Once he finished school and began pastoring, things changed. Gratitude for his flexible schedule as a pastor, as well as the space to retreat in his church-provided home, led him to incorporate woodworking in his weekly Sabbath experience.
“A typical Sabbath for me begins with thanking God for a new day—where it’s just going to be Him and me hanging out. I’ve found that woodworking is a great activity for finding God and for generating a spirit of gratitude.”
It should not be surprising that Mitchell connects with Jesus in a carpentry shop. Jesus himself was a carpenter—and the Lord of the Sabbath. Sabbath is the pinnacle of creation, and we are blessed when we can create things of beauty that glorify our Creator.
“The truth is whenever I’m working on a woodworking project, I do not feel as if I am spending time. I feel like I am being given time. Perhaps that’s what Sabbath is all about: at least for a day or for a moment, feeling as if you have moved into eternity.”
Mitchell Boughman pastors two United Methodist churches in Connelly Springs, NC, and serves as Sabbath Chaplain for the Catawba Valley District of the Western North Carolina Conference of the UMC. In addition to woodworking, he enjoys playing golf, bird watching, and gardening on his Sabbath.