I’ve been working my way through a half marathon training plan for a race in May. The plan has me running a few days a week with a longer run on the weekends. Once or twice a week, it calls for me to rest. No running. No walking. Just rest.
Rest days are weird days. I feel like I need to be active in some way, shape, or form. The benefits of rest, however, are enormous. If I take a day off, I’m stronger the next time I run. If I take two days off, I feel like a superhero.
Much like rest in a marathon training plan, resting from the work of ministry can produce massive results. We burn out quickly if we push too hard. Once we start catching our stride — feeling youthful and strong — the temptation to push harder and gain ground is always enticing. Don’t fall into the mindset that downtime is wasted time. It is not. You will go further faster if you slow down and rest.
God built rest into the creative order for our benefit, not his. He does not grow weary (Isaiah 40:28). He is never fatigued. We, on the other hand, are prone to weariness. It can happen in an instant; when we least expect it.
Jesus modeled rest for us during his ministry on earth. Several times in the gospel accounts, Jesus is seen retreating to a mountain by himself to pray (Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12). These moments were sacred. They were restful. Jesus was not only consulting his Father for direction, he was receiving strength for his ministry by being in his Father’s presence. Jesus knew without the Father’s consolation, comfort, and care, he would not properly complete the mission he was called to fulfill.
Rest may look different for us all. The important thing is that we are finding time to recharge. Here are a few practices I have found helpful.
First, retreating for a time and leaving technology behind can prove extremely restful. A weekend retreat may be impossible for some of you, but a morning or evening retreat may be doable. For years, the needs of my growing family and responsibilities therein made doing anything apart from them daunting, even burdensome. To be sure, challenges still exist, however, I can’t afford not to rest. I owe it to my family and those I’m leading.
Working a retreat of any size into your schedule will be great for your spiritual stamina. Try leaving devices such as phones or tablets behind and practicing silence and the reading of Scripture. Lots of us fail to hear the Lord’s voice because we’re not in the habit of listening for it. We often let the cares of life distract us from the heart of God. If you get away for a weekend and plan nothing but silence and Scripture reading, I guarantee God will show up.
Second, some of us need to take a nap. Seriously. Our attention to the demands of life is wearing us thin. Jesus was found napping once on a boat with his disciples during the midst of a tumultuous storm (Mark 4:35-38). He trusted his Father through the highs and devastating lows of life. Your boat may feel like it’s about to capsize. How about taking a nap? Your Heavenly Father knows your needs and is working everything together for good. So, relax. You can sleep.
Lastly, some of us need to stop doing the ministry we are doing, at least for a season. Please hear me clearly. I’m not suggesting you punt on the call God has placed on your life, but I do think moments of unplugging from the call is needed. Stopping the tasks of ministry can be challenging because a lot of our activity is positive and God is working through it. In most cases, pausing from ministry feels impossible. In that case, find a capable person who can carry on the work while you take a break. Your soul needs it and your people will benefit from your time away.
In short, don’t underestimate the value of rest. Find ways to recharge in the presence of God for the health of your soul. Like training for a marathon, rest from ministry will produce great results. It will keep you from burning out or getting injured. You need rest, perhaps especially when you’re feeling strong.