When I lived in Indiana I was surrounded by fields and farmers. From spring planting to fall harvesting, these men and women worked hard to bring fruit from the soil. As Paul indicates in 2 Timothy 2:6, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” In Paul’s day, like ours, farmers are known for their hard work. The same is true for those who sow and water with the word of God. Like the farmer, early mornings, long nights, and constant concern for the Lord’s harvest are a heavy burden.
Fortunately, God gives seasons to farmers. In the winter months, hard-working farmers receive a time of rest and recovery. But at the same time, these hard-working farmers take time to plan for the next year, for the increase of the harvest. I remember talking to them in the winter months as they would be making their seed orders, learning more about new techniques, and equipping themselves with the latest machinery. Sure, there were trips to the beach, holiday celebrations, and the ability to take an afternoon nap. But far more, these men and women spent their time preparing for the upcoming harvest.
This imagery is helpful when we think about a sabbatical. In the Old Testament, Israel was commanded to take a sabbatical from the land every seven years (Exodus 23:10–11). Following in the footsteps of their heavenly father (Genesis 2:1–3), they were called to rest. Rest in the Bible is never a time of inactivity or lethargy. Rather it is a time when God and his people enjoy one another. Such is the background for ministers of the gospel who occasionally take a season of rest and refreshment. The goal is not to pull away from the church, the Lord, or his work. But rather, it is a time of reflection, rest, and refreshment for future ministry.
Indeed, Charles Spurgeon spoke of the necessity for “holy inaction and consecrated leisure.” In his Lectures to My Students, the London pastor said,
It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less. On, on, on for ever, without recreation may suit spirits emancipated from this ‘heavy clay’, but while we are in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt, and serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure. Let no tender conscience doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for a while.” (161)
This principle of rest is true for all Christians, and especially those who labor to feed and tend the flock.
Personally, rest is a difficult practice for me. That being said I am growing to see my need to schedule “holy inaction” and “consecrated leisure.” Though my go-go-go mentality fights against it, taking time to periodically unstring the bow and sharpen the axe does not steal away from productivity. It actually does the opposite—it ensures that I trust in God to give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7), even as I labor in the strength he provides (Colossians 1:28–29). Yes, he gives spiritual strength, but such grace is not divorced from our responsibility to care for our physical body’s.
While the work of the ministry is a spiritual endeavor, it is not immaterial. Lest we deny our own created-ness or become neo-Platonists who pit the spirit against the flesh, we must learn how to pace ourselves as we run God’s race. This includes scheduling physical rest, sometimes even a prolonged sabbatical like we recently gave to one of the pastors at our church. Because we are vessels of clay, we must establish a rhythm of work and rest, lest we invite physical exhaustion and spiritual/emotional collapse.
Therefore, as we strive to abide in his rest (Hebrews 4:11), may God grant us strength through the appointed means of holy inaction and the spiritual discipline of consecrated rest. May we find Sabbath rest in Christ (Hebrews 3–4) and take time to let our physical bodies recover for more fruitful service.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds