September 17, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Mark 6:31 (NIV)
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Constant work not only exhausts us, but it exhausts the world around us. It is consumptive. When we choose to build in rhythms of rest and delight, we give those around us and the earth itself a break from our demands.
“I’m really busy,” I told a colleague. I proceeded to run through a litany of all the things I was doing. I said it like a complaint—and in a sense it was—but it was also an excuse for why I wasn’t doing other things like exercising or reading more books. In many ways, it was also a boast. It’s easy to get caught up in the competition for who is the busiest. (Have you overheard any of those competitions recently? Or perhaps taken part in one?) Over-busyness is a significant problem among my friends and colleagues. I suspect it is for many of the readers of this devotion. In complaining about my own busyness, I was adding to a chorus of voices that normalize and idolize busyness. (If you grew up with the VeggieTales videos, or—like me—you raised kids on them, you might be thinking about the song “Busy, Busy” from the video “Are You My Neighbor.” The song connects our sense of importance with how busy we are.)
I’d like to say that the conversation described above is something that happened only once when I was thirty years younger. But I confess it’s a summary of numerous conversations I’ve had, some more recently than I’d like to admit. Certainly, I’ve had a few seasons of prolonged busyness during my life that stemmed from situations outside my control. In 2020 I experienced a sudden increase in my work responsibilities resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, I became a fulltime caregiver for a father with Alzheimer’s. I had commitments and responsibilities I couldn’t immediately abandon, and so I entered a longer season of exhausting labor. The reality, however, is that most times I have found myself overly busy have been a result of my own choices to work more, or to take on more responsibility, and to rest less.
As I noted in yesterday’s devotion, God points us in a different direction. While giving us work as a good thing, God also calls us to rest. He calls us to daily periods of rest including sleep, mealtimes, and times of quiet reflection. He also calls us to a weekly day of rest: a built-in Sabbath that we are instructed to honor and keep holy. Interestingly, those scriptural reminders sometimes come in the very passages that tell us that work is a good thing. Genesis 2:2 describes God’s creative activity as “work.” As beings created in God’s image, we are also intended to do meaningful work. But the passage then tells us that God himself rested: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” If God himself rests, we can be assured that rest, like work, is a good and holy thing. Taking a break from our labors is not something to be ashamed of, but a way of following and trusting God. We should not be “keeping busy”. Indeed, I think even Genesis 1 shows in the progression of evening and morning of each yom a regular daily rhythm of rest followed by work. Something of this is suggested in Psalm 127:2 which we reflected on yesterday: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” The Psalmist reminds us that while work itself is not a bad thing, working too hard and too long is not good; we need rest, too.
And just as we sometimes have seasons that prove busier than others, God also leads us to much-needed seasons of rest when we lay aside our labors for longer periods. For the ancient Israelites, these included seasons of celebrations and festivals. God even commanded the Israelites to give their land an entire year of rest every seventh year: a Sabbath year when they were not to till or plant their fields. Constant work not only exhausts us, but it exhausts the world around us. It is consumptive. When we choose to build in rhythms of rest and delight, we give those around us and the earth itself a break from our demands.
If you have any doubts about the need for rest, consider the passage for today’s devotion. When God the Son is incarnate in the person of Jesus, he not only provides an example of choosing times of quiet for himself away from the busyness of his labors (see Mark 1:35, for example), but he calls his disciples to do the same thing. Mark 6:31 tells of a time when Jesus and his disciples were really busy doing good, important work, and Jesus called his disciples to rest: to take a break from their labors even though that meant taking a break from serving the important needs of others: “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”
I mentioned that 2020 was a tough year for me in terms of busyness. In order to fulfill the responsibilities laid on me by the pandemic, I had to temporarily give up some things I would rather not have given up. But even in the midst of what would have been unsustainable busyness, God gave me some periods of rest. One was a week in a wilderness lodge without phone or internet to rest, pray, reflect—and on several occasions to stand out in a cold river casting flies for trout. As with the beautiful poetic descriptions of God as shepherd in Psalm 23, He made me lie down in green pastures, and led me beside quiet waters, giving me a desperately needed period of rest even in the midst of a longer season of work. In doing so, he restored my soul.
As with so many other areas where cultural values conflict with God’s plan, I need regular reminders of how God calls me to live. I also need God’s transforming work in my life so that I live by His pattern and values, rather than conforming to the world’s model. Turning away from the idol of busyness is one of those areas. We all need to heed the call that Jesus gave to his disciples: Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.
Take time to assess where you are right now. How busy are you daily, weekly, monthly? When do you find times in a day for rest? What does your sabbath rest look like? Have you had any longer season of rest?
Whose lives are impacted by your decisions? (Relatives? Employees? Colleagues?) How do your decisions or policies impact how others are able to experience rest?
What might it look like for you to follow Jesus’ invitation to come with him to a quiet place and get some rest?
Be intentional this week about making times for rest from your labors. Accept the invitation to go with Jesus to a quiet place and get some rest. Build it into your schedule. Be mindful during those times to seek someplace quiet where work won’t distract you. Pray and listen to God.
Thank you, Lord, for the times and ways you have blessed me with rest, and through that rest have restored my soul. Forgive me for ways that I have spurned your gifts of rest.
Even as I seek to practice rest, and to see the goodness of work without idolizing busyness, help me also to speak and act in ways that value rest as well as work, and which lead others to the freedom to experience rest from labors as a good gift. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Take Time for Retreat
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Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear and The Voices of Rivers: Reflections on Places Wild and Almost Wild. He was a 2017 artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park. He lives in Vermont with his wife, dog, and cat, not far from three married sons, and is an active member of Memorial Baptist Church. Matthew is also a professor of computer science at Middlebury College in Vermont.