One pastor described his life as “a never-ending round of feverish activities.” We were not meant to live this way, much less commend it as an authentic spirituality.
Most of the clergy I meet do not lack devotion; they are deeply committed to Christ and to their call. But they are tired. Many are sleep deprived and others “push” themselves when they are awake. In my denomination stress-related illnesses are costing our insurance system more and more money every year, and as we all know, stress-related illness can quickly deteriorate into actual organic diseases.
In our focal text (Mark 6:30-31), we read that the apostles and Jesus were so busy they didn’t even have time to eat. Jesus’ invitation to them to go on retreat was a direct challenge to that kind of imbalance. He continues to extend the same invitation to us.
The problem is, some of us have only met “half a Jesus.” We know the “Great Commission Jesus” who tells us to win the world, but we have not met the “Retreat Jesus” who tells us to take a break. Until we know the “whole Christ,” many of us will be defined and driven by a spirituality that only allows us to have a “do more” ministry. When we do that, we may call it a spiritual ministry, but it is really nothing other than a religious version of the fallen-world’s belief that “more is better.”
I’ve heard clergy try to justify their excess with these words, “I’d rather burn out for Jesus than rust out for Jesus.” But the fact is, Jesus didn’t ask us to do either one! He asked us to follow him, and when we do, we follow One who knew how to work and rest.
Richard Foster was not kidding the day I heard him say, “Sometimes, the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.” St. Francis was not kidding when he said, “The soul rides on the back of Brother Donkey” and will go no farther than Brother Donkey can take it. Some of us are treating our “donkeys” very badly, and we are paying a high price for it.
Are you tired? If so, remember that Jesus knows it too. And he is willing to do something about it. Are we?
For all of its other failings (and I suspect that could be said for any denomination!), the experience of weekly Sabbath rest enbodied in my Adventist heritage is a practical, life-sustaining gift. . . and I still fight it! The human race has struggled with this issue from the very beginning. I see this tendency to always think we can do more and more and more (without paying a price) as rooted in our very human proclivity to think that we can be more than human, we can be like God. How appropriate then that the sin (“you will be like God”) and the “fix” (Sabbath rest – in Christ our Creator and Redeemer) were both part of our original “Garden story” . . .