Spiritually Speaking – March 2020

My Greatest Crisis—and God’s Simple Answer
to our Busy and Chaotic Lives

35 minutes into the leadership team meeting, the notice popped up on my laptop: “8 a.m. tomorrow: Robert, take the day off.” 14 years ago, I would have dismissed this reminder, sending it to the trash where my “hopes of rest and recuperation” piled up.

But it wasn’t long before I hit a wall of exhaustion! I pastor a church where we strive to help people. I was 45 years old with a wife of 25 years and 3 kids. I was working 7 days a week, and I was responsible for 350+ employees.

Somewhere along the line, I had made it my mission to say “Yes,” by all means, and “Yes” again to far too many things. These “Yeses” were for noble causes, but they came at a cost. One day it all came to a head! “Out of love, my family and colleagues intervened with one word on my behalf: “NO”! The plan was for me to press pause for 6 weeks by taking a sabbatical to recuperate.

This was really disorienting. I had conditioned myself to go, go, go. Now I found myself saying no, no, no. It was in this unfamiliar space that I found one of the richest treasures: REST

Today, I truly believe our lack of respect for rest is the great silent epidemic of our time, and one we must take seriously. I believe our society has what I call “Sabbath Deficiency Syndrome”.

My Christian perspective of rest is affirmed in the Bible—actually the Ten Commandments. In fact, taking a day off each week is the Fourth Commandment! You may be familiar with Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in the iconic movie, “The Ten Commandments,” which has become a broadcast-staple during the Easter season.

Even through Hollywood’s portrayal, we learned that God’s commands are life principles to live by. “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal” – no problem! But why does it seem we added another “Thou shalt not” before the command to rest?

God explicitly told us that we are to take one dedicated day of rest each week. A Sabbath, He called it. A Sabbath is a period of rest. For some—that may be time with their church community. For others, it may be time on the golf course. For me, it means turn off my phone. Step away from social media. For everyone, it means “Do not work”!

I wrote a book sometime ago about budgeting for your financial health—and how you should be deliberate with managing your money. It’s the difference between knowing where your money goes—and wondering where your money went. The same principle is applied to this idea of rest: Budgeting rest—planning it into your schedule—is the only way you will make sure it happens each week! One day a week, whatever works best according to your calendar and existing obligations. Put it on your calendar and plan it in your weekly schedule…but don’t dismiss it!

According to the Bible, God himself rested after creating the universe. It was so good to relax that He later went on to include rest in The Ten Commandments—His top 10 principles to live by. My experience has told me that rest was not an after-thought or only for other people, but rather it’s essential for survival. My body—my life—was operating out of survival mode until I woke up to one of God’s kindest gifts—Sabbath rest.

At the end of my planned 6-week sabbatical, I still felt drained. I wasn’t feeling any sense of the restoration/renewal I’d expected to feel at that point. Alarmed, I added 2 weeks of unused vacation time to my sabbatical to extend it to 8 full weeks. Then one morning in the middle of that 2-weeks, I woke up; and everything was different! Suddenly I felt a wave of relief! “I’m back! I’m refreshed!” I felt like the person I was before I started the church 5 years earlier. That’s when I realized: The first 52 days made up for 52 Sabbath days I had ignored that year. Finally, on the 53rd day, I felt rested and refreshed.

After my time away, my soul was refreshed in a deeper way than I had ever
experienced. It became clear that my sabbatical had come to a close, and a new
understanding of rest had become a habit, a new way of life.

We’re bombarded with opportunities, information, obligations, stimulations and aggravations. It’s taking an enormous toll on our well-belng. The message “Thou shalt not rest” has become a path that leads to chronic—and sometimes devastating—busy-ness and even illness. The stress load of the average American has been rapidly increasing since the 1970’s. According to one expert on balancing work and life, “Stress is a factor in 5 of 6 leading causes of death—heart disease, cancer, stroke, lower respiratory disease, and accidents of the average.” This neglect of the Sabbath has created a remarkable rest deficiency—now syndrome.

I once heard it said: “You can’t outpace God.” Yet we try every day. Our jam-packed calendars and failure to plan lead us toward soul-deep rest exhaustion. We live in a self-care world, chasing quick fixes to take the busy away. Yet the most sustainable “fix” is to deliberately take the busy away—for one day a week—without compromise. Don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself. But I must caution you—the side effects include growing healthier, happier, mentally sharper, and kinder.

The Fourth Commandment in my Bible turned out to hold the answer to my deficiency all along…right there in plain sight. My overburdened mind and under-rested soul finally landed in the sustainable answer. My hope is that yours falls there too.

The Reverend Robert Morris
Senior Pastor of Gateway Church—Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex