Taking a Power-Sabbath
Springtime is winding down, and the smell of apple blossoms is almost gone. Birds are singing, the sun is shining, love is in the air, and life is relatively stress-free—in a perfect world. But we live in the world of youth ministry, which somehow always seems to kick into high gear toward the close of this season.
You know how it works: you've just come off that winter retreat bandwagon, and now you're finalizing your summer ministry plans. Details regarding camps, missions projects, funding, staffing, forms, programming, and service opportunities are bulldozing their way into your life at warp speed.
Kids go into emotional trauma brought on by the love bug (or lack of it). Families start stressing over vacation plans. Even the climate of your church seems to be tense. During these times we need time away most—a Sabbath. But, realistically we often can't take it. Yet there's a way that rest can come. Jesus speaks of rest, he models rest, and he values it. Rest restores the soul of a youth worker.
Recently a friend came into my office and verbalized that this stressful period was just a season in his life that he had to endure until he could get time away once things settled down. We'd arranged to meet for about an hour, so I decided it was a good time to model rest for my friend. The rest my friend needed was kind of like a power-nap, only without the sleep. He needed a power-Sabbath.
I asked my friend a simple question: “What would Jesus do for you if he sat down right here next to you?” Without hesitation Greg told me that Jesus would tell him to rest.
I said, “Okay, then. Rest.”
Ministry is hard work! While the hard work can be fulfilling, it can also be draining. After a while, ministry can take its toll on us. The mental anguish and emotional gymnastics begin by eroding our physical stamina. This fatigue is counteracted when we slow down and break the routine.
Power-Sabbath begins with a brief time of physical rest. After Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, he personally puts to death close to 950 of them, and then he outruns King Ahab's chariot to Jezreel. Even under the power of the Holy Spirit, that has to be fatiguing. Elijah is in need of rest, among other things. God starts the Sabbath process by making Elijah sit under a tree and then lie down to sleep. An angel only wakes him up to feed him. You known the end of the story—God is going to meet Elijah in a still, small voice. But the process started with physical rest.
Greg first needed to experience a literal physical rest too. He was so keyed up he could hardly sit still. We both sat on the couch in my office—well, actually I sat on the couch and he just fidgeted around as if he were about to miss an audience with the President. “Okay, Greg. Rest.” He looked at me and smiled; I didn't say a word.
After a few moments, I invited him to rest as he would if Jesus were sitting there next to him. He thought for a moment and then kicked his shoes off, slumped back into the couch, put his feet on the coffee table, closed his eyes, and leaned back into the overstuffed cushion behind him. I did the same. Now we could start our hour-long conversation in a physical posture of rest.
After a couple of minutes of silence, I invited Greg to experience the next level of this power-Sabbath. Greg's mind was racing through all the details of life. He spoke of how difficult it was to turn off his brain and just chill. Greg didn't need to turn off his brain; he just needed to have it refocused. The pressures of life often become the consuming and dominating voices in our minds. We become so focused on the details that we forget the promises of God.
This parallels Elijah's experience: Elijah's mind races; Jezebel puts a hit out on the prophet; Elijah does what any smart thinking, intelligent, highly rational, problemsolving person would do—he runs! Then he tries to regroup mentally and emotionally but continues to hit a dead end because he's consumed by the events of his life. Elijah's mind can't stop assessing the present situation and the labor of his ministry past, making him discouraged and depressed. Elijah knows of God's faithfulness, but those promises are getting crowded out of his mind.
In the quietness, I reminded Greg of the truth he already knew. If his mind was truly going to experience rest, he needed to hear God's words. Jesus would tell him that he gives a peace that the world cannot give. He would remind Greg that God was constantly renewing Greg's mind. Jesus would also assure Greg that God had all the details of life under control and that all Greg needed to do was to trust.
I quietly talked through those promises with Greg. Softly I whispered to my friend that Jesus would remind him of the great love that God had for him and would say, “Greg, I will keep you in perfect peace when your mind is stayed on me because you trust in me” (see Isaiah 26:3). With his eyes still closed, in his place of silence, Greg heard those words and smiled with relief.
Continuing with Elijah's story, we see that the prophet is also in need of heart relief. He feels like he's all alone. He works hard to be faithful to the Lord. But his heart is lonely and fatigued to the point that he says, “It's enough.” His heart is spent. Elijah is fatigued to the point of depression, so much so that he wants to die. Ministry has a way of taking its toll on our hearts. Heart fatigue is exhausting. Slowly we lose the life and vibrancy we desire. The weight on us is crushing and suffocating. Heart rest is healing and brings freedom from the burdens of ministry.
I knew that Greg's heart was in need of rest, too. He was carrying the weight of concern for the wellbeing of many kids. Again I invited Greg to hear Jesus. Christ's voice would beckon to Greg's exhausted and hurting heart, and he would say, “Greg, my invitation always stands; come to me if you are weary, weighed down, burdened, and I'll give you rest…come to me.” (from Matthew 11:28).
Coming to Jesus means to fall into his arms, to be upheld by him, or to be lost in his embrace. I asked Greg to envision being cocooned in Christ's embrace. He imagined Jesus' strong arms around his chest where the weight of his cares resided. Greg took a deep breath and exhaled a sigh of equally deep relief. It was as if he could breathe again.
We weren't quite finished with the power- Sabbath. Greg's soul needed to rest, be restored, and be refreshed. All our lives we're told to keep things under control. We train ourselves in ministry to keep non-vulnerable souls. Even Elijah has this control thing going.
God takes Elijah to a cave. Elijah steps into the cave just beyond the light looking into the mouth of this dark cavern. Suddenly, the walls of the cave quake, and the ground all around Elijah gives way. He isn't fazed by it. Then, the Lord causes fire to appear from nowhere. It flares up out of the cracks in the earth all around Elijah. Elijah has a déjà vu of the prophets of Baal and knows the fire is from God. But Elijah stands unshaken, still in control. God then sends a strong wind. It extinguishes the fire and probably lifts Elijah slightly off his feet. I imagine that it took all of Elijah's energy to hold everything together. Suddenly, the world goes quiet. The quiet is heavy. Then God whispers in Elijah's ear. God is in the whisper, and Elijah rests his soul in sheer exhaustion. Soul rest is where we meet Jesus most powerfully.
As Greg sat there with his eyes closed, I coached him to quit wrestling; to stop struggling; quit trying; let go of his strong grip; cease striving—to be still. All of those phrases can be an accurate translation for the Hebrewharpu found in Psalm 46:10. The Father invites us to let go of our fears, quit holding our souls in tension, and “know that I am God.” Greg listened to those words with his eyes closed; he was in a physical posture of rest. His mind was refocused. And he smiled.
His heart was relieved, and he breathed deeply. When I lovingly challenged my friend to quit striving and know God, tears of relief, refreshment, rejoicing, and rest streamed down his face. We both sat there quietly overwhelmed and reenergized by being in God's presence through our power-Sabbath.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.