“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8–11, NKJV). Understanding the Sabbath begins with these verses.
Understanding the Sabbath: Permission to Rest
Pentecostal ministers must confront the mythical expectation that it is unspiritual to rest. I have yet to call a preacher late at night, early in the morning, or during the afternoon nap hour and actually hear them admit that my call woke them up. I have heard all kinds of elaborate excuses why their voice cracked and sounded like they were asleep (dry throat, sore throat, allergies are acting up, just preached an extended revival, or fasting). Preacher, let me walk into your life and give you permission to rest. In fact, if you do not rest, you may be deceiving yourself of a biblical principle.
Contained within God’s command to honor the Sabbath is also the concept of the sabbatical year. God appointed both a day of rest and a year of rest. Scripture references His people observing the day of rest, but there is no record that they ever observed the year of rest. For 490 years Israel failed to let the land rest to allow the earth to recover after six years of production. They felt it was a waste of time and a reduction of their earning potentialThe purpose of Sabbath was to demonstrate honor to God as well as the human need for physical and spiritual renewal. Click To Tweet
Despite God’s promise to deliver a bumper crop during that sixth harvest season (to last them through the sabbatical year and the growing season of the next year), they chose to ignore their appointed rest in order to reap more profit. Predictably, they were sent into captivity for seventy years as God exacted the seventy sabbaticals they had refused to observe by faith (thus proving that everyone pays tithes, whether intentionally or unintentionally).
God’s Design for Healthy and Proper Function
God likes first things, not leftovers.
God likes first things, not leftovers. The purpose of Sabbath was to demonstrate honor to God as well as the human need for physical and spiritual renewal. Observing Sabbath also deemphasized acquisitiveness along with the constant human drive to achieve. Sabbath was as much a part of God’s design for the healthy and proper function of His people as was His creation of the respiratory, digestive, or circulatory systems of the body. These systems must all function properly in order to maintain a healthy, well-balanced life. Refusing to honor God by failing to rest and renew will reap tragic results, both physically and spiritually.
When God rested on the seventh day from His work of creation, He was modeling how to commemorate a completed task. Too many of us have not learned to rest when the work is over, and our unwillingness to rest generates the tensions of our occupational hazard. We all understand that our work will actually never be done, but the hard reality is that one day death will force all of us to rest from our labor (Revelation 14:13). When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” while hanging on the cross, He was not celebrating that there was nothing more He could have done on this earth. But is it possible that hidden deep within this theological utterance is the implication that there will never be enough time to do everything we want to do, but there will always be enough time to do what God wants us to do?
I have heard preachers publicly celebrate that they never took a vacation. Is this healthy?
Refusing to honor God by failing to rest and renew will reap tragic results, both physically and spiritually.
Does it earn points with God or somehow make us appear to be spiritual? I wonder how many ministers could have avoided burnout, stress-related symptoms or illnesses, or marriage and/or family disasters had they simply realized their need for rest by observing the sacredness of Sabbath. In H. B. London Jr. and Neil B. Wisemans’ work Pastors at Greater Risk, the authors report, among other numerous troubling revelations, that 80 percent of ministers believe their work negatively affects their family, 90 percent perceive themselves to be inadequately trained to cope with the demands of ministry, and 33 percent agree that ministry is a hazard to their family life. Forty-five percent of spouses say their greatest danger is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
If we knew that our vehicle needed major repairs, we would not hesitate to get it in the shop. If we were aware that our body was afflicted, we would hasten to the doctor and strictly follow his prescription for recovery. When we begin to notice signals that we are suffering from burnout (sudden change in sleeping habits, simple ministry-related tasks becoming more difficult, avoiding favored people, failing to be energized by vision, or experiencing chronic fatigue) it is time to recharge our spiritual batteries. In his work Leading on Empty, author Wayne Cordeiro quoted an observation of Dr. Archibald Hart: “Your system has to recharge, but it requires a trickle charge, one that restores you with a sustained low-amperage.” Apparently a sabbatical (not a day off but weeks to months) is the only way to restore the depleted resources within our bodies.
I know the argument(s) against such an extended time away from our pulpits: the church won’t survive; I can’t afford to be gone or to bring in a substitute; fellow ministers will think I’m backsliding or just partying; my hard-working saints won’t understand. Yet if you continue to convince yourself that all of these reasons are legitimate, continuing without rest may take you to the doctor’s office, hospital, divorce court, illicit relationship, family counseling, or some similar unwanted end. To be sure, the cost of a sabbatical may be high, but the alternatives to resting are not promising or cheap.
Vacating the Pulpit for a Short Season
[A] true sabbatical is not just a random vacation but an intentional journey toward recovery.
May I suggest one solution to vacating your pulpit for a short season? Every district superintendent is aware of seasoned and/or elderly ministers within their district who are retired and looking for a place to serve or preach. These men are not looking to pastor again and could be trusted, even highly valued, to step in and serve a congregation while their pastor is recharging his/her spiritual batteries. They may not require a great honorarium while serving, but they certainly are worthy of something. A healthy, informed congregation would understand the need for their pastor to disengage for a prescribed time to decompress ministerial frustrations, rest, have daily personal devotions, deep reflection, and development of ministerial vision or project. The point is a true sabbatical is not just a random vacation but an intentional journey toward recovery.
As a final thought, Cordeiro cited an action taken in 2006 by the Federal Aviation Administration to ground all DC-10s because an engine fell off during a flight, resulting in the death of 213 passengers. This fatal flaw did not occur overnight but was the result of successive missions with ignored maintenance. How many ministers and their families could have been saved and how many congregations could have been spared trauma had someone recognized the sacredness of the Sabbath?
Stan Gleason pastors The Life Church, Kansas City, Missouri, and is an assistant general superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International.
Resources and Links
A version of this content originally appeared in Forward. For more by Stan Gleason, click here.