By Mark Dance
I had been called as pastor of Second Baptist Church of Conway, Ark., in 2001. We began a period of rapid — and unexpected — growth. We bought 50 acres of property to expand our footprint. I was busy!
For an extended season, I was meeting with planning teams, consultants, potential donors, small groups, staff, etc. I justified my schedule — and my ambition — to myself, my family and the church staff as a temporary seasonal burst. “Like a sprint,” I said. I rationalized that CPAs do it every year during tax season, athletes do it before offseason, politicians do it before an election … blah, blah, blah.
But, just like when my car gets low on gas, my warning light came on.
So I did what most terminally driven people do when they get close to running out of gas. I began to go faster! While I thought I could leap (or build) tall buildings in a single bound, I came to realize I was a man of flesh, not steel. I paid the price for that stupidity. So did my family, staff and church.
I had nothing left to give. There were no scandalous train wrecks, no suicidal thoughts or immoral actions, but the erosion had clearly crept into my relationships.
I reached out to my doctor and learned I was clinically depressed. A week later a licensed psychotherapist confirmed it. They helped me understand how to get out of it with the help of God and other people on my “Dance Team.”
Fortunately my depression was temporary and treatable since it was diagnosed early. But, I also believe it could have been avoided.
I am healthy now and want to use my experience to help other people. A good plan for staying healthy is to apply the Sabbath to your life.
1. The Sabbath is a gift.
Humans have been hard-wired to both work and rest. If we stop doing either, we stop living full and abundant lives. Each of God’s commands was given to be a blessing, not a burden.
The Sabbath originally was a gift to freshly emancipated slaves. Slaves don’t usually get gifts, much less days off. Yahweh wanted them to know that they were no longer slaves, but His sons and daughters.
He not only provided deliverance, but rest and food, as well. God provided twice the amount of daily manna they needed on the day before Sabbath, so they would not have to collect it during their only day of rest. What a generous God! He enjoys blessing us, if only we will let Him.
“If you keep from desecrating the Sabbath, from doing whatever you want on My holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it not going your own ways, seeking your own pleasure, or talking too much; then you will delight yourself in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13).
You would expect high-fives all around, but the Israelites were awkward with the new normal.
The people of God were not yet used to life without their Egyptian taskmasters. Some even wanted to go back to that awful life of slavery. Embracing a new lifestyle on God’s terms took a considerable amount of courage. Many resisted and rejected His gift, which also was a significant sign of their new covenant with Yahweh.
We still resist and reject His Sabbath gift, don’t we? I sometimes marvel at how quickly I slip back into my chains of slavery. A terminally driven life has the lure of Egyptian bondage, yet the pressure to succeed still draws me back there. But there is a better way to live.
I personally have experienced the pleasures of this wonderful gift and passionately want you to, also. I’m not saying I have perfected the art of Sabbath keeping, because I still struggle every single week. But I am not going back to Egypt without a fight! I have found the rest of God right where He left it for us, in the open pages of His Word.
God not only blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy, He blesses those who courageously and consistently observe it. He wants to bless you as you explore and apply Sabbath principles to your busy life. You will find those closest to you also will be blessed when you consistently receive God’s gift of rest. At first, you may want to resist these practical Sabbath principles, as the Israelites did. Your courage will be tested, but the payoff is worth the effort, I assure you.
The Sabbath is a practical gift, as well. It stops you for short periods for rest and refueling. Work six days, then take the seventh day off. Rest is refueling for another week to accelerate.
2. The Sabbath is a command to obey.
Rejecting or neglecting this gift is nothing short of open rebellion. It wasn’t optional and initially was enforced with a death penalty. While those desert rules were intense (and fortunately temporary), they do give us glimpse into the seriousness of the Sabbath to God.
No. 4 on God’s top 10 list is a 24-hour cease and desist order! Sabbath rest is not a punishment, just a reminder that we were created to work hard and then rest easy. We do not need to choose between the two.
We pastors are among the worst at ignoring the Sabbath command. Motivated people like us don’t comply because we don’t want to, don’t think we need to or, frankly, don’t know how to stop. Many of us are conservative in what we believe about the Sabbath, but are liberal in our practice of it.
As a pastor, I work hard on Sundays, so it is not even close to a Sabbath rest for me. But does that get me off the hook?
Like others who work on Sundays, I must find a way to disengage from my occupation for a full day every week. God won’t let your job and family and ministry fall apart because you obeyed Him and unplugged for a day.
3. The Sabbath is an example to follow.
“So the heavens, the earth and everything in them were completed. By the seventh day God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation” (Genesis 2:1-3).
Balance is an illusion for driven people. Life is too unpredictable to balance. A better biblical goal is to live a life in rhythm. Athletes understand the need for a pre-season, season and off-season. So do accountants and politicians. Even nature’s seasons and cycles remind us of God’s rhythm.
Jesus demonstrated how our lives can be in a healthy rhythm between life and vocation. We see Him oscillating between work and rest. Sometimes He would encourage the crowds to stay and eat, heal one more person or pray all night. Other times He would retreat to the lakes, mountains or wilderness for rest and renewal. One time Jesus even slept through a life-threatening storm. Why? Because He was tired!
A healthy Sabbath lifestyle includes seasons of intense work, followed by periods of intentional rest. Rhythm is a series of sprints and recoveries. A life of work and rest and worship is an abundant life. Jesus wants and expects us to live abundantly and fully.
4. The Sabbath is a person to love.
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
In Matthew 12 we see a Sabbath showdown between Jesus and the Pharisees. These Sabbath saboteurs tried unsuccessfully six times to place their rabbinic restrictive yoke of man-made rules on Him. Telling the Lord of the Sabbath how to observe it was almost laughable. But we do the same thing; we make up our own rules and ignore His.
The application is flexible, but the command is not. One day a week, disconnect from work and connect through worship and rest.
Mark Dance is the pastor of Second Baptist Church, Conway, Ark. This article first appeared in Facts and Trends, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.