As Christians, we are all in leadership roles. Some formally and all of us informally as people of influence. We live in a world that is screaming out for (though it often seems like against) truth and looking for answers in the wrong places. How do we respond? Nicholas Marks, CEO of aifc, encounters many Christian leaders who, when faced with a non-stop 24/7 culture, are burnt out, anxious and depressed.
He counsels leaders to rediscover the importance of the Sabbath as a spiritual formation that will help them become counter-cultural in an age marked by unrest and turbulence. In this article, Nicholas will unpack practical tips on how to become an emotionally healthy leader by learning how to keep the Sabbath.
The Frenzy is Killing our Spiritual Vitality
How do we lead in our settings and in the places of influence that the Lord has positioned us? How do we navigate through the uncharted territory and increasingly murky waters of today’s fluid and rapidly changing culture?
Well, these are big questions and there are many potential solutions one could offer whilst at the same time acknowledging there aren’t ‘5 simple steps’ that work like a silver bullet for this. However, as people of the Book we are called and commanded to be different, to walk with God in His ways and will.
As Robert Fryling writes in his book, ‘The Leadership Ellipse, Shaping How We Lead By Who We Are’, who are are, our true identity in Christ and the congruence of our inner and outer lives impacts the quality, integrity and longevity of our leadership. Moreover, our relationship with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is severely damaged if we are not investing in the inner life. Deeply changed people are going to impact the world deeply!
So, in our increasingly frantic culture and where we as Christians have seemingly allowed our lives to become as busy as the rest of the world, how do we slow down to know, relate and be with God? Conversely, the costs of not changing ourselves is proving to be catastrophic for our lives and those around us. American Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton’s words ring true:
Our first goal in life is to be with Jesus. It’s not to be a leader or a pastor. The disconnect between our leadership and our spirituality is what harms ourselves and others. Somewhere in our 24/7 culture where there are no rhythms, we face our shadow and construct this false self we have created over many years to survive and protect ourselves. In new ways, we must become intentional to rediscover anew the ancient rhythms and space for silence and solitude to be with God.
An Ancient Tradition for A Modern People
It’s important to ask, are we leading or is the culture leading us? In our 24/7 world as vocational leaders, we need to rediscover rhythm in each day and in our Sabbath rest. Well today I would like to shine a much needed light on the 4th commandment found in Exodus 20: 8-11 (NIV).
The Sabbath is God’s foundation for our work. It guards us against the powerful idol of making our work the centre of meaning for our lives, protecting us from defining ourselves from our work.
Pete Scazzero has written extensively on this area in his work and writings in ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’, highlighting the importance of taking one day out of the week to rest. He argues:
“Your Sabbath is a resistance to the powers and principalities that enslave people to think ‘You are what you do’. The 4th commandment is also the key to all the other commandments. Every time we Sabbath we to some degree face our death.”
There is no such thing as work-life balance. The opposite of work is not life…It’s rest. Friends, this is so vital for us as believers and as leaders. In case you have been away on a long journey… the world has changed! The need for discipleship in our churches is a lot deeper than it was a generation ago. What young people and the generation coming through are confronting is enormous. Pete Scazzero continues:
We can develop a severe lack of awareness about our feelings, our limits, how the past impacts the present and how others experience us if we do not learn how to properly rest and recover. To put some practical handles on this for you I like what Pete Scazzero has written around 4 key factors of Sabbath: Stop, Rest, Delight and Complete.
Sabbath is a spiritual formation discipline. If you are not sabbathing you are probably too busy because God made us for a rhythm of work and sabbath. Stopping says you know your limits. By stepping away from work which includes no access to emails or receiving work calls, you are putting yourself in a position where you can live the life in Christ you were called to live. It also helps you to take the time and determine priorities for your life. Christian Author, Eugene H.Peterson puts it this way:
When you are too busy to stop, you will eventually lose joy, peace, kindness, intimacy, sustainability, calling- attributes you need to be a leader that changes lives for God’s Kingdom. Failing to rest after six days can also have detrimental impacts on your health, leading to insomnia, autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances and other serious physical and mental ailments. As a Christian leader, if you learn to cultivate a habit of stopping one day in seven, you will find you are in a much better position to lead a healthy life, understanding your core values and living from your priorities. It’s really about knowing your limits and sticking to them.
We are not saved by Bible study, we are not saved by prayer but if you are not praying or reading Scripture you are probably not growing much in your walk with the Lord. A consistent and sustainable rhythm of life with God requires keeping a Sabbath. In more honest moments, we often admit that our cup with God is half empty or half full, not overflowing with joy to other people. A spiritual deficit occurs when we are giving out more in our work for God than we are receiving from Him. According to Pete Scazzero:
That deeper kind of rest can be defined as a deliberate and intentional rest. When you take time out on a Sabbath, you should be asking God to help you find ways so your rest results in renewal. It’s a very slow process to recover from a working week because it requires contemplation and reflection, not just switching off. If we don’t stop and rest for a Sabbath so that we find deep replenishment, we will not find the strengthening needed to work with a good rhythm for the other six days of our week.
Learning to stop one day and not work, gives your spirit, soul and body time and space to become aware of God’s goodness. It’s not about relaxing, it’s about renewing and delighting in God and His creation. But it’s also about enjoying God so you become more aware of who you are in Him. According to Geri Scazzero, author of “The Emotionally Healthy Woman”:
“Christians recognise God has lots of revelation for us in our work, in our suffering, in our sacrifice. But there is so much revelation of God in delight.”
The Church will miss a whole lot of revelation in delight if we do not give God the space through Sabbath, allowing His presence to form and shape us into the image of Christ. As we commit to one day of rest from our work, we will also learn that we are not in charge. We can be reminded afresh it is not us that causes spiritual growth in others- it is God (see 1 Corinthians 3:7). It will free us from over-functioning and helps us to confront our duel fears of control and that God will not come through for us unless we ‘work, work, work’.
When we delight in God, we grow in our identity as His children. It makes sense doesn’t it? If you spend more time with your Heavenly Father, you are more likely to become fixed in Him and firmly rooted as a son and daughter. This is a wonderful anecdote to the pulls of the world, that can often try to put external markers of validation based on outward ministry or business success. Sabbath is a reorientation of how we live in- a learning to delight in Him alone and not our performance or reputation.
When we Sabbath, we enter into God’s love, God’s gifts of creation. If our identity is deeply grounded in God’s love, if we realise that we are good enough in Him, then we can live out of that place of wholeness. It’s really about coming into a deeper, personal relationship with God and to learn of His ways. When Moses asked God to teach him His ways and to help him become a godly leader, the Book of Exodus states:
To know God’s presence is to know His love and to know his love is to know His rest. If we are not anchored in God’s love, then we must borrow our love from others. How do you know that your identity is anchored in Christ alone? The deeper you are in God, the more free you are from people’s approval of you as a leader and the more able you are to lead your ministry or business in God’s ways so that it builds His Kingdom on earth. It’s a wonderful invitation to partner with God as you lead others in your organisation and serve the world around you.
Where to From Here?
Are you ready to enter into the Lord’s rest?
We have lived in times of great material prosperity and technological advancement but signs of institutional and individual decay are all around us. As a society, we have turned away from the Lord Jesus, the Giver of Living Waters, and now are spiritually parched and desperately needing replenishment. We have not learned of the yoke of Christ which gives us rest (Matthew 11:28-30).
It is not unlike the situation of the Jews who were warned by the Prophet Jeremiah that they would be sent to exile because the need for the land to rest. Our souls need rest. If we do not embrace the Sabbath, the Sabbath will come to us. We read in 2 Chronicles, describing the land of Israel during the period of the Babylonian Exile:
Defining reality is important in a culture of overwork and busyness. Where are you at ? What needs to change, stop or start in your life so that you can ‘be’ with God and not just ‘do’ for Him? He is far more interested in you than He is in what you do.
Only building on the finished work of Christ Jesus on the Cross and relying on the power of His resurrection will ensure that our people find their delight and completeness in Him. They will be able to rest from their works (Hebrews 4:10). As the Apostle Paul warns:
The practice of Sabbath rest is a process rather than an event. Learn more about it and start building it into the fabric of your life. Talk with a pastor or those whom you know who are ahead of you in this journey. There are also some great practical resources available to help you grow if you want to go deeper in knowledge and practice of a flourishing life, including:
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero
God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu
Sabbath by Wayne Muller
Images via Shutterstock.com