“Summertime and the living is easy.”
The first line of this aria penned by George Gershwin for the musical “Porgy and Bess” seems to epitomize how a lot of us feel when our schedules seem to slow down and vacations take a priority during the summer months. As busy women, we soak in the longer days of sunshine and uninterrupted stretches of time.
Even so, rest and living doesn’t always come “easy” for many of us, especially leaders who are more like Maverick in the first Top Gun movie when Charlie told him, “You’re not going to be happy unless you’re going Mach 2 with your hair on fire.” Sound familiar?
If the concept of rest is difficult for you or it seems impossible, maybe it’s time to consider some things the Bible says about rest and our need for these rhythms in our lives. Whether it’s something you need daily as you go to bed, weekly as you observe the Sabbath, or for longer periods of time to reset and recharge not just your physical body, but your soul, here are some reasons why rest should be a priority in your life.
Rest is found in creation and in the Ten Commandments. Genesis 1 and 2 outlines the details of creation, and we find that on the seventh day, God completed His work, declared the day holy, and rested. God didn’t just take a nap. He set this day apart for the purpose of remembering His provision and worship. Observing a Sabbath helps us reflect on how we are created, and it’s a way to remember our limitations. And when you consider the Ten Commandments, don’t forget what the Hebrews had just experienced coming out of Egypt. The work and slavery was hard and never-ending. They had not experienced rest for many years and in the most detailed commandment, the call to rest and Sabbath gives thanks to God who freed them from captivity.
When you and I observe a Sabbath and begin to rest, it is a spiritual act of worship that is a reminder of our limitations and the freedom we have experienced through the blood of Christ.
Rest helps you develop trust in God and not yourself. As leaders, it’s very easy to become self-sufficient in our work. At times I can easily buy into the lie that I’m indispensable or my work is so important that it needs my attention every day of the week. Yet, when we learn to experience rest, we are letting go of our self-centeredness and putting our trust in God’s character. Again, this is seen as the Israelites find themselves wandering in a wilderness and in need of food. God gives them instructions in Exodus 16 to collect enough manna for each day, but on the sixth day, they were to gather enough for two days. This ensured they would have enough for the Sabbath and wouldn’t have to gather manna on that day. Day after day the manna came, and if any was left at the end of the day, it would spoil. On the sixth day, they would gather enough for two days, and miraculously it was enough to last through the Sabbath! This was a weekly exercise in trusting God and putting faith in His provision.
I don’t know about you, but if I knew that my manna would spoil each day, I might be a little leery of whether it would last. I don’t like to go hungry. But, God, in His wisdom, provided what they needed in order to rest, and it was a reminder that He is trustworthy. We, too, put our trust in God when we set aside a day to rest and trust in His provision for our needs.
Rest helps you connect more deeply with the Lord and gives you strength to serve others. Just as I mentioned that Sabbath is a cause for worship, we connect our rest to true worship. If you serve on a church staff, Sunday may not seem like Sabbath rest for you. But for most of us, Sunday is a Sabbath day when we can turn our focus and our time to the One who is worthy of our worship. As New Testament believers, we set aside Sunday, or the Lord’s Day—the day of resurrection—as a time to celebrate what He has done in our lives and to give praise back to Him for the things He has done. If you work on Sundays, consider setting aside another day for rest and worship. Find time to pull back and connect with the Lord in a unique and special way that reminds you of who He is and what He has done for you.
When we truly experience rest for our souls, we are given the strength to serve others who are in need. There are weary souls all around us, and we have the answer of salvation and abundance in life that can be found in Christ. Even Jesus modeled this when He healed on the Sabbath in Matthew 12. Jesus had compassion on the man who had a shriveled hand; He healed him, telling the leaders of the synagogue in verses 11-12, “He replied to them, ‘Who among you, if he had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn’t take hold of it and lift it out? A person is worth far more than a sheep; so it is lawful to do what is good on the Sabbath.’” Even in the midst of ceasing from constant activity, we should set aside our rest to look for opportunities to care for someone in need.
If these are some theological reasons for rest, what are some practical ways to observe rest? Here are a few ways you can plan and prepare to truly experience rest, whether it’s for a day or even a week this season.
- Plan for it. Commit to observing a Sabbath or rest one day a week. If you’re looking for a longer period of time, schedule a vacation or time away from work.
- Learn the practice of stillness and silence for 15 minutes each day. Last fall I was in a Spiritual Formation class, and one of the practices I instilled in my life is the practice of silence and stillness each morning. When I’m at my house and the weather is pleasant, I go outside and I sit for 15 minutes without any distractions. I look into my backyard and watch for deer or the occasional turkey that crosses into our property. I find myself listening for the Lord to speak to my heart instead of me laying out the day’s agenda and requests before Him. It has become a holy habit and one I miss if I don’t observe it.
- Take some of the stress out of your normal routine. Consider how you can prepare for food, have household chores complete, or make reservations ahead of time. The more you plan ahead, the more you can actually enjoy the time you have set aside.
- Plan activities that are life-giving. Do you enjoy physical activities like taking a hike or swimming? Do you enjoy playing games with family members? Do you have a favorite book you want to read that will feed your soul? Can you eliminate or put away electronic devices and set aside emails and distractions that pull you back into work? It may take some discipline, but I’ve realized that when I don’t look at emails on Sundays, my stress levels tend to go down.
As Ruth Haley Barton says in her book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, “All of these rhythms create space for God, fostering an ability to bring something truer to the world than all of our doing. All of these rhythms put us in touch with something more real in ourselves and others than what we are all able to produce.”1 Be a leader who learns to rest, not just for ceasing your activity but to bring you closer to the Creator who gives the gift of Sabbath.
Kelly is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She holds a Master of Theology degree from Gateway Seminary and was previously an adjunct professor at Oklahoma Baptist University while serving as the Women’s Specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. She continues to serve in local church ministry as a women’s ministry volunteer and small group leader for high school girls. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide to Leading Women in the Local Church.
- Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008).