What everyone wants is the very thing that we need more than we realize.
Rest. True biblical rest. A real break from the weight and pressure of life and work.
It’s interesting, though, that we run from rest, the very thing we want and need so badly. But running from rest will not last. Even the most turbo-charged worker among us needs downtime. Every NASCAR race and every sport on the planet has a start and finish. Sure, some take longer amounts of time (think baseball game vs. golf tournament), but none just go perpetually without ending.
Leaders often think that to rest is a recipe for failing and losing. Mark Twain recognized this in his own generation and advised, “If you have no time to rest, it’s exactly the right time.”
Rest is an unmistakable priority—in Scripture and in my own experience. Work always attempts to invade rest, though, and therefore, rest requires faith. We have to believe that the God who tells us to take a break, the God who made us to need rest, can take care of everything in our stead.
What action(s) should we take to make rest a reality in our lives? Here are four simple suggestions drawn from Scripture:
1.) Break work projects into five- or six-day segments.
There’s a reason why we call it a “break.” You have to break something in order to get a break. Whitney Johnson tells her personal story of learning to take a break here.
Every generation defines the relationship between work and rest differently. Speaking generally, here are the generational opinions on work/rest balance:
- Builders—“Work day in and day out until you turn 65”
- Baby Boomers—“Work like crazy and try to cut out by 55 or 60”
- Gen X—“Work like crazy to nail a project, then crash until the next project comes around”
- Millennials—“Work as long as you believe you’ve got a project worth working for. Then, hang out with your team.”
In contrast, God’s prescription for rest has been constant. Break work into weekly segments that allow 24 hours of rest. It’s like commas in a sentence. One run-on sentence leaves us breathless, but proper punctuation allows us to read an entire book without running out of energy.
Summary: Pause and take a breath in your work weekly. Build your to-do list in terms of what has to get done this week and not just what has to get done ultimately.
2.) Cease and desist from work.
Biblical rest literally means cultivating a lifestyle that includes a day with no work every week. Now look, I understand that work has changed dramatically and there are seasons of intensive work. But it is still imperative that we find a block of time every week to turn it off.
I don’t know what that rest looks like for you. I don’t know what things refresh your soul and recharge your energy tank. But I do know that being perpetually tied to the machine of work will leave you weak, vulnerable, and counterproductive.
The Sabbath is not a consolation prize; it’s a blessed, special day. The great accomplishments of life are not limited to the first six days of the week. If we never pull away from the assembly line, we will never find rest. As Thomas a Kempis said, “I have sought rest everywhere and only found it in corners and books.”
Summary: You have to actually stop working to get rest. In this day and age, that means you’ll need to do something with your phone. Hide it in a drawer, put it on airplane setting, turn off automatic email downloading. Anything to keep it from pulling you back into work.
3.) Reflect on God and cultivate the inner person.
Larry Richards wrote of the ancient Jews, “Each seventh day provided a full-orbed reminder of who God was to His people. He was the source of their life, He was the provider of their freedom, He was the one who ordered their lives and gave them meaning. The Sabbath day provided a rest from the normal activities of life in the world and an opportunity … to contemplate his roots and his identity.”
What do you do when you rest? Ken Wytsma writes that when we fight the tyranny of the urgent, we can best hear God, so listen. Make time to reflect a bit. That includes reflecting on the last week and looking to the next, but it also includes reflecting on the spiritual and the eternal. How are you doing in your “being” and not just in your “doing”? How is your relationship with God? How are you doing with what matters most? If you aren’t assessing that, then who will?
Summary: Spend time on your Sabbath reading, listening, journaling, praying.
4.) Allow Jesus to help accomplish our work.
When we lay down our work one day a week and reflect on what God has done for us, Jesus wants us to ask for His help in completing our work. He is offering us a lifestyle of rest (“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28).
Almost everyone in the United States knows who Chick-fil-A is by now. I first came in contact with them in 1976 when they only had a handful of locations scattered around the Atlanta area. This was six years before their chicken nuggets were introduced. Imagine that! For almost fifty years they have structured a rest day into their corporate formula card. That was not always an easy decision. It carried consequences and impact, but they followed their conscience and it sure seems to have paid off.
It takes active faith and trust that Jesus will not let you lose because you practice sensible and wise rhythms of rest and work.
Summary: Use rest to gain spiritual perspective on your work and ask God to help you in it.
Now, don’t go to the other extreme. I want to be clear that it’s work and rest, not work vs. rest.
Work is often made to look like a villain in discussions about rest, but we need both. Without work, life lacks crucial elements that are impossible to gain in any way besides work. Work actually makes the rest viable and meaningful. If we don’t work, then we are lazy. We don’t provide resources. We can’t fulfill our calling.
If we don’t rest, though, we are shallow. We don’t assess our direction. We can’t worship our God. So take a deep breath and plan some rest.
Steve Graves is a strategist, CEO advisor, and author. At any given time, Steve is working with a handful of remarkable executives leading large global organizations and young hungry entrepreneurs just starting out. He has authored twenty books and worked with thousands of leaders weaving themes of strategy, leadership, and faith hoping to help people flourish in their life and work. When Steve is not steering notable leaders or creating content and frameworks, you might find him back-casting in the cold clear rivers of northwest Arkansas. Read more from Steve at www.stephenrgraves.com.