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Rest is not a four-letter word

By Richard Exley

If you are tired of the mind-numbing pace of contemporary life, you can do something about it. With God's help you can take control of your life.

Despite what you may have been conditioned to believe, "rest" isn’t a four-letter word. It’s not in the same category as "lazy" or "idle," nor is it a synonym for "sloth." Rest is a gift from God to be received with thanksgiving and enjoyed without shame.

Most of us will have to overcome at least two hindrances in order to enjoy God’s gift of rest. The first is psychological and the second is lifestyle. Psychologically, at least on a subconscious level, many of us feel guilty when we rest. That’s a big hurdle to get over in a society that emphasizes physical prowess and the bottom line. No one wants to be seen as a nonproductive malingerer.

If the truth were known, most of us are too busy because we have chosen to be, our protests to the contrary not-withstanding. While there are certain responsibilities that we cannot leave unattended without serious consequences, these required activities — jobs, marriage, child rearing and worship — are seldom the source of our frantic busyness. It is usually the "extracurricular" events that push us over the edge.

Consider the analogy of finances. It is usually not the "necessities" that break our budgets, but the extras. Most of us can afford to provide adequate housing, reliable transportation, nourishing food and warm clothes for our families without overextending ourselves. The trouble comes when we add the extras — a second car, a bigger house, a big screen TV, a new computer, a cell phone, a boat, a motorcycle, etc. These are not necessarily bad things, but they can create serious financial problems. When they do, adjustments have to be made and made quickly.

Now apply this same principle to your busy life. Almost without realizing it you have been adding to your schedule.

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You have enrolled your children in a host of activities designed to make them productive, well-rounded people. Being a conscientious parent, you spend significant time taking them to and from their various activities, not to mention your commitment to attend every game, concert, recital, etc.

Being a committed Christian you sing in the choir, teach a Sunday school class, serve on the Women’s Ministries board and lead a weekly Bible study. In addition to your busy life your husband has also added to his responsibilities by volunteering to coach your daughter’s soccer team and to help coach your son’s football team. Did I mention that he serves as an usher at church and helps lead a home fellowship group?

How, you may be wondering, did you allow yourself to become so over-committed? You can be sure it did not happen all at once. Most likely it is the result of a combination of factors — a sincere desire to make a difference in the lives of others combined with a need to feel important. Most of us equate busyness with importance. The busier we are the more important we feel, hence our tendency to live beyond our means physically and emotionally. Given our limited resources, it is only a matter of time until something has to give. It may be our health, or our marriage or even our relationship with God, but be assured some part of our life will come unraveled if we continue to overextend ourselves.

Thankfully more and more of us are coming to grips with our compulsive busyness. With God’s help we are breaking through the psychological barrier, the mindset that considers rest a weakness or, worse yet, a waste. Out of necessity we are rediscovering the Sabbath principle, and as we do we are making the appropriate adjustments in both our thinking and our lifestyles.

The courage to cut
While serving as a senior pastor I had a brush with burnout. As a result, I was motivated to make some tough decisions about how I was going to manage my life. I had to admit that I wasn’t superman, that I couldn’t do it all. Then I had to decide what to do, what to delegate and what to let go undone.

Step one: realizing my limitations
All my life I had been taught that I could "… do everything through him [Christ] who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13, NIV). Now I was being forced to acknowledge my limitations. How could I reconcile this apparent contradiction? Then it hit me. I can do everything God calls me to do because He will give me the strength to do it, but if I add to my God-given responsibilities then I am on my own.

Step two: deciding what to do
I had to discern what my divine assignments were — those non-negotiable responsibilities. Some of them were readily obvious. Of utmost importance was my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If I did not maintain a vibrant spiritual walk, nothing else would work, not my ministry or my marriage. Being the husband and father God had called me to be was also mandatory. No one else could fill that role. As a senior pastor there were certain God-given responsibilities that no one else could do. I could not delegate the preaching or teaching responsibilities. I could share them, but as long as I served as senior pastor I would be the primary person through whom God spoke to our body. Neither could I abdicate my responsibility as the pastoral intercessor. God had given me a charge to pray for His people and I would answer to Him. Everything else on my plate, however, was negotiable.

Step three: deciding what to delegate
After careful consideration I decided to delegate the day-to-day administration of the church to my senior associate. Next we called a minister of pastoral care and gave her the primary responsibility for pastoral care and the counseling center. Trained volunteers were brought in to help with the preparation and editing of tapes for the daily radio broadcasts. Finally each elder was given an area of responsibility with a written portfolio. Although the ultimate responsibility for the administration of the church and its ministries rested with me as senior pastor, I now had a capable group to help me do the work of the ministry.

Step four: deciding what to let go undone
While almost everyone applauded my attempt to establish rhythm in my life, no one thought it should be at his or her expense. I will never forget the board meeting where the elders unanimously agreed that I needed to restructure my workload, especially where it involved counseling and other time-consuming one-on-one ministry situations. Following the meeting one of the elders pulled me aside. With no little urgency he said, "I need to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss a pressing family matter."

No sooner had he gone than a second elder shared a similar request. Neither man saw anything incongruous about requesting personal ministry only minutes after urging me to cut back in that very area. To their way of thinking the boundaries they urged for others did not apply to them. Unfortunately they were not alone in their thinking. Almost everyone thought I should guard my time, but no one thought I should do so at his or her inconvenience. In order to maintain the rhythm of rest in my life I had to resist the temptation to allow the expectations of others to structure my life and ministry.

Like Jesus said, you have to lose your life in order to find it (Matthew 10:39). You have to have the courage to cut out many good things in order to experience the abundant life He promised.


Selected and condensed from Straight from the Heart, a weekly e-mail address distributed by Richard Exley ministries. E-mail the author at pe@ag.org.

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