Honoring and Guarding Our Sabbath: A Devotional and Prayer for Ministry Leaders (and Workaholics in General)

“So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath-rest reserved for the [true] people of God; For he who has once entered [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own. Let us therefore be zealous and exert ourselves and strive diligently to enter that rest [of God, to know and experience it for ourselves], that no one may fall or perish by the same kind of unbelief and disobedience [into which those in the wilderness fell].” (Hebrews 4:9-11, Amplified Bible, Classic Edition)

I remember once hearing Joyce Meyer say something to the tune of, “The Lord’s the author and finisher of our faith, but He’s not obligated to finish what He didn’t author.” The following paragraphs are not intended to make you bail on your calling, lie down on the job, or abandon your work ethic or loyalty; but rather, to compel you to work smarter instead of harder, and to actually consult the Holy Spirit before you start filling up your daily planner with what God may not have told you to fill it with! And you guessed it. I’m talking to me here…

Take care, friends, that you begin to respect your bodies and minds and start cutting ties with what God didn’t author, even what appears to be good or productive. Some of us are addicted to busy-ness and we gauge our stock value in the Kingdom (and everywhere else) by how far we can push the envelope abusing our bodies. Sometimes we feel a little more important, pious, “martyr-ish,” and yes, even prideful when people are fawning over our dedication with, “Wow, I don’t know how you do all you do.”

Let me lovingly submit to you that God doesn’t violate His own precepts! If you are not allowing yourself a Sabbath–on whatever day you choose to celebrate it–you are walking contrary to the system He Himself set in place and was the first observer thereof! God doesn’t need downtime…the God who never slumbers or sleeps doesn’t actually need to recharge; but He set the example for us by resting on the seventh day. Now, I realize that a “Sabbath” looks different for everyone–folks have work shifts, assigned workdays, etc., that are set for us without negotiation; but the point is, there must be designated downtime; set-aside blocks of time. For someone whose job mandates unreasonable 7-day schedules, I can’t tell you that you must leave that job, but I will tell you to make yourself a Sabbath block of time. That block may be hours instead of a full day; but I urge you, set aside your block large or small and guard it as sacred! For those of you who have the luxury of a 5 or occasionally 6 day workweek, you don’t get to fudge in this, either. Start establishing a Sabbath in your life instead of treating your quiet time with God like a power nap.

And full-time ministry leaders who aren’t under secular workplace mandates, this applies to you, too–perhaps especially to you. Start setting a better example for those in your circle of influence! Even a 3-shift coal mine sets scheduled downtime for maintenance on its equipment, if it wants to stay in business! Keep running that machine without greasing and regularly changing hoses, etc., and see how costly it gets when things start burning out, locking up, and falling apart… In Exodus, when God established the Sabbath, He did it not just for that head of a household and his family, but also for the sake of the animals and hired servants/slaves…He even designated Sabbath years for the sake of the land, which could be overworked out of zeal, greed, or a variety of motivating factors. Relentless leaders not only abuse their own bodies, they wear out anyone or anything who’s close to them or under their authority!

So why do we people in leadership feel compelled to give the “do as I say, not as I do” excuse for abusing our bodies? We reference Scriptures like “work while it is day because night comes when no man can work” to justify never, ever taking a break? And we tune out the voice of reason who urges letting go of a few things so that the remaining works we do are done more effectively. Are we letting the enemy guilt us into walking in rebellion, deceiving ourselves into thinking that because we are in the last days, we must override common sense (and the Word) to be as busy as we possibly can be? Can we do so and expect to be exempt from the health and emotional consequences of priding ourselves in being workaholics?

I submit to you as well, we as spiritual leaders have a moral obligation to live in balance, for the sake of those who emulate our example. If we don’t respect our own body/soul/spirit, we must, MUST think of our families, our constituents, and a lost world around us–all of whom look to us for at least a reference point of guidance. Hebrews 4 doesn’t beat around the bush here…suggests that we can actually be a spiritual liability to ourselves and others if we disobey God’s directive on right balance. It’s not legalism to suggest that we treat the rest-time He has given us as a holy thing. God engineered all of creation to flow with that same protocol. You aren’t too important to observe some form of a Sabbath, and neither am I! Let’s start re-drawing the boundaries in our lives so that we can be healthy and strong–emotionally, physically, and spiritually–for these last exciting days before our Lord returns!Pray with me…

Lord, I sincerely appeal to You first for mercy, as a person who is guilty of making myself busier than I should be. My spirit man suffers and my words tell on me when I have spent myself beyond reason. While I don’t like the stress and aggravation of no downtime, I confess and repent before You that I’m a recovering addict of work. I drive myself to be busy while making others miserable, because I make sure they’re busy too. I’m working twice as hard for half the impact, because I’m breaking Your rules and expecting You to bless my dismissal of common sense and Your example.

I’m sorry for thinking that You make special exceptions for me because I carry a heavier responsibility. Yes, to whom much is given, much is required–but the “much” is in terms of a closer walk with You and a deeper level of consecration. And even if it were much more required in the physical realm of activity, there are a lot of things on my plate that You didn’t give, Father. Oh, I like to think of all these responsibilities as given by You, but some of them are of my own doing. Some of them are just because I won’t say no to people who can’t wait for me to get even busier doing things THEY want me to be doing! And I say yes and pencil it into my bloated calendar, knowing all the while that I need sleep, I need study time, and just a break from having to think and run so much.

Forgive me, Lord! You gave me a healthy body meant to carry me well-into old age; and I live like I intend to wear it out in half its life expectancy. I pass up sleep and exercise; and I rationalize that if I’m spending that time doing good works, it will never catch up with me.

I repent and I appeal to You for mercy on all others, too, who have become the work adrenaline-and-approval junkie I’ve allowed myself to become. We don’t know how to change except by submitting ourselves to You and listening for Your counsel. We will have to hear from You because we can no longer hear the appeals from our own bodies. We shush our compromised adrenal glands by pumping them full of caffeine. We have a pill for everything. You in turn have a Scripture for everything and a word MODERATION that we ignore because we convince ourselves that we must be always working 24/7 because of who we are.

I will find a way to be less busy, Lord, with Your grace. I will respect this body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and stop giving You an efficiency apartment with worn-out furniture and tired, cloudy windows to look out of. I will make not just room for You, but the best room. I won’t be merely shooting You a copy of my to-do list after I’ve filled it and crammed more into the margins and started on a new sheet. No, I will say, “Here, Father. Take Your eraser and start removing the sacred cows of a busy addict.” In fact, wad up my to-do list and just start me a new one. Put only Your agenda on my list, in Jesus’ name I ask. And I’ll start asking Your permission before I make all those plans that leach the life right out of me and anyone else who has to tag along.

What? You just wrote in a full night’s sleep and a Sabbath! More time with relationships with real people and less time on computers and electronic devices? And even orders to put healthier foods into my body and more time walking and moving! Wow, You are ordering me to get my act together so that You can get maximum return on Your investment in me. I thought maximum return meant how many items were on my list.

You’re after quality. You are after a ten-ring shot and not a broader spray pattern. Most of all, You are after my heart. You want me chasing after You, walking with You in the cool of the day for RELATIONSHIP, not for my sales pitch to You of all the things I did in Your name (or rather, in the name of “ministry”) which You may or may not have instructed me to do! You want me to know You. Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light? Wow. I guess I wasn’t listening to that (even though it was…written in red).

And Your way of governing balance will help me be first a better daughter to You, and then to be a better leader and better family and society member, too?



(Adapted from a Facebook post I made 03/31/17)

Secondhand Smoke

smokeCan fire be carried in the bosom without burning one’s clothes?  (Proverbs 6:27 NRSV)

I think I just now realized that the expression “hot under the collar” came from this verse of Proverbs!  Oh the challenges we face in the Twenty-First Century Church, with our 24/7 news and social media.  We have become absolutely saturated with information until it’s coming out our ears.  The Word said it would be this way in the end times…Daniel’s age-old prophecy declared that knowledge would increase.  Interesting, isn’t it, that only knowledge seems to have increased.  Our world is just as unwise as it ever was; in fact, we’ve gotten pretty stupid to have become so smart.

As believers, we must guard our souls from toxic overload, truly.  At the time Ecclesiastes was penned, the only sources of information were books (well, scrolls and tablets to be more precise) and direct word of mouth.  Yet this totally relevant-to-our-day word was given to us all those centuries ago: The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.  Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.  (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12 NIV)  Imagine the author’s awe had he a glimpse into the age of technology!  Now, it can be fittingly added, “of being bombarded with information true and false, there is no end…and overexposure is exhausting and unhealthy!”

A couple of decades back, I remember Nettie Neace teaching in Sunday School how that the Lord had delivered her from an addiction to watching the news.  Just a young adult at the time, I couldn’t really grasp the idea of keeping news channels on all day long; but that was before the Internet!  Now all we have to do is click open our social media just to say hello to friends and family, and it’s on!  Why, we can rabbit-trail all day long, following links to a million different opinions about our world’s debauched condition.  We can shake our heads in disapproval, rant a while, and then click “share!”  It goes on and on and on, and to what end?  At the end of the day, we probably haven’t actually prayed about the people and conditions who’ve shocked us so…but we sure have been drawn in by the stories and pictures!

God spoke the words “secondhand smoke” into my spirit this morning as I pondered these things.  Just as you can become sick from breathing someone else’s cigarette smoke, you can also become physically and spiritually sick from taking in the sinful, appalling stories about others’ lifestyles.   Are you absorbing the toxins just because you won’t distance yourself from what’s polluting your soul?  Many times we don’t even realize we’re doing it…if you’ve lived with a smoker or worked in a place where you have to breathe it all day, you can begin to tune it out to where you don’t even notice it anymore.  Your lungs do, however.  When we make it a daily routine to tune in to the next episode of “As the World Churns,” we are drawing fire into our bosom; we are filling our lungs with the fumes of sin.  Proverbs warns that it will burn us!  In our own covert ways, the world’s reveling can even become a form of entertainment as we take it all in.  It may not have immediate effects, but when you allow yourself to become glued to screen, letting commentary anger you and raise your blood pressure, it is going to do cumulative damage.  I made a comparison yesterday on my Facebook status that all of this is like poking your finger in your eye, yelling “ouch!” and then poking your finger right back in your eye again!  We can make ourselves victims of these whether our views lean to the left or lean to the right–there are plenty of ploys to anger us by “the other side” or to, as my grandma would say, “get our goat!”  And there are people who sure know how to push our buttons.  We can walk right into the smoke and hang out there, or we can recognize what it’s doing to us and walk away.

Does this mean we are to be like ostriches with our heads in the sand?  No, not at all.  We need to advocate and practice balance.  Jesus told His disciples to watch and pray, lest they enter into temptation.  We should limit our time around tv, newspapers, and social media to reasonable amounts.  What you read, stop and pray about it before just going on to another and another.  The true litmus test of whether it’s worthy of your attention is this:  1.  Does it move you to pray and intercede, or does it instead cause you to rant and rave?  2. Does it have the ability to enrich your life in any way, or is it just more “fluff?”  3.  Does it rob you of peace, or does it instead give you peace?  4.  Do you read it because you are seeking answers, or do you read it because you are addicted to the rush of another shock?   5.  Does knowing about it in any way stand to benefit you?  6.  Would Jesus post it to His status if He had a social media account?  Would He share, forward, bookmark, comment on, or consider it to be worth sacrificing time spent doing good?  7.  Can you actually do anything about what you’re watching, or are you just another spectator with an opinion?

I need work, too.  I’m not that into television, but I can easily get drawn into news stories online.  I have a big heart, I can come pretty unglued by all the sinful, unjust, hateful things going on.  Most of them don’t put me in a prayerful state, I must confess.  They depress me, discourage me, disillusion me.  If that’s all I fill my soul with all day long, how can I do anything more than wallow in misery?  I have to apply the Word to what I see, and pray for the people who are so full of hurt and deception; but I also have to know when I’ve ventured beyond praying and now I’m just loitering.  The Apostle Paul gave us a great guideline to follow about what we breathe in, and there’s nothing smoggy, smoky, fumey, stinky, or dirty in a bit of it:  Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.”  (Philippians 4:8 NCV)  If ever there were a time we need to apply some First Century godly wisdom, it’s now.