Talk to most believers and you will find their lives are marked by busyness. After all, time is short, and there’s much to do to build the kingdom, right?
But, work for the kingdom might be one of the excuses believers use for not making room in their schedules for rest and silence. A failure to slow down, get still, and get quiet seems to be a human problem, more than just a problem for those who serve God.
It’s no doubt we, as a culture, operate on less margin in our schedules and refuse to say “no” to added work and opportunities. When we overload, we can fail to do what should be most important to us—rest, nurture relationships, and revere God.
Pastors are burning out at an alarming rate. Church leaders, whether paid or volunteer, constantly feel overscheduled, if not burdened, with the demands of ministry. And Americans take more pills now that at any other time in recent history—due to high-blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, physical ailments, aching muscles, and so on.
Could it be attributed to our inability to rest and be still?
God’s Word encourages rest and stillness.
God’s Word never instructs that we “Hurry up,” “Move faster” or “Work harder.” Rather, the Holy (not harried) One instructs us to “Wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14), “Be still” (Psalm 46:10), and “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus even turned down an opportunity for more ministry by telling His followers, who were tired from a full day’s work of serving, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31).
As believers, we are not to conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2), yet we talk, live, and even view our spiritual lives as if we were constantly-running devices that never need to recharge. For instance, how many times have you said or heard these words:
-“I need to unplug for a while and revisit this issue later.”
-“It’s time to defrag after all that input from Sunday’s message.”
-“I’m fried. I just need to recharge my battery.
-Let’s reconnect when you get a chance.
-I received a download from God this morning.
You are more than a device that needs to defrag or unplug.
You were created to love God and enjoy Him forever. But if you’re constantly monitoring your productivity and output, and operating like a machine —taking only minimal hours to recharge—how will you learn to enjoy God’s presence, grow more intimate with your Creator, and produce eternal results for His kingdom?
And if you think that being busy in ministry is godly, or an excuse for being over-scheduled, consider this: God is a God of relationship, not a taskmaster, and He would rather have us spend time with Him, than do a bunch of things for Him.
God gives to satisfy, not to stress you.
If you find yourself complaining that you “don’t have enough time in the day” or you’re “burning the candle at both ends,” you are clearly attempting to do more than God has called you to do. God has given us the exact number of hours in a day that we need to eat, sleep, work, rest, and enjoy life with Him and one another. If you find yourself running short on hours in the day, you’ve overused—or misused—what you’ve been given.
Recent studies have found the more people work (and the less time off they take) the less productive and creative they tend to be. In Scandinavia, many companies are urging their employees, who already get four weeks a year of legally-protected paid summer vacations, to take even more time off, and they are urging managers to set the example by doing the same.
If rest helps a person’s overall work ability, how much more will it impact our relationship with the living God?
Here are five reasons it’s so difficult to make room for rest and silence – and what to do about each one:
1. We don’t trust God enough to rest.
When we rest, we stop doing and we have to start trusting that God will keep working on our behalf as we obey His command, as expressed many times in Scripture, to rest.
God established and modeled a rhythm and cycle for us in six days of work and one day of rest (Genesis 2:2, Exodus 20:8-11) . We inherently don’t trust that rhythm and cycle because we think our way is better to work all seven days. We get the idea that we have to earn more, work harder, be more productive. Yet, Psalm 1271-2 exhorts:
“Unless the Lord builds the house [or the business, or home, or project], they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city [or whatever it is you’re concerned about], the watchmen keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep” (NASB).
As you rest and trust, God provides. It’s a principle as old as tithing, and one in which God always comes through.
You can build your trust in God by establishing margin and boundaries into your daily and weekly schedule that allow for rhythms of rest and silence. Even better, write into your calendar 30-60 minutes each day (when you first rise, during your lunch break, at the end of your work day?) when you will spend time with God in rest and silence. It is good practice to trust Him that you’ll still get enough done after having carved out time for Him to breathe rest into your day.
2. Our culture drives and pushes us to be more successful and productive.
Busyness is our badge of success today. We enjoy telling people we’re busy because it translates to “I’m valuable, productive, and in-demand.” We tend to covet these affirmations of self-worth in a society that values over-achievement and outpacing the competition.
Again, our trust in God is the issue. Do we fear God (and His command to rest) more than we fear pressure from bosses who drive us too hard, or the young hotshot employees who might take our jobs if we don’t outwork them?
Make conscious decisions to cut the “electronic noise” and have a more peaceful mindset by unplugging your mobile devices and only checking email at set times during the day. Don’t just put your phone on vibrate. You have been conditioned to respond at a moment’s notice to anyone who needs you, but very few people need you to drop everything and immediately be at their beck and call. In fact, don’t train people to expect an immediate response from you.
Two decades ago, when you weren’t available, someone got a voice-mail message and if you were on the phone, they received a “busy’ signal. Train people to patiently wait for you so you’re not giving them permission to dictate your actions and responses.
Only God deserves your immediate attention and response.
3. We don’t feel comfortable in the stillness.
We often overwork and avoid silence as a way of suppressing internal issues. Once the music stops, the schedule slows, and the workload falls off, we are forced to get quiet and look at who we are before God, with all the titles, and achievements stripped away.
Getting quiet allows us to let God examine —and convict —our hearts. Quiet reflection also helps us grow and mature if we are willing to learn from it.
When we are alone with our thoughts, in the quiet, it is then that we often have to deal with pain, untended wounds, conviction of sin, or whatever else keeps us from coming to God, openheartedly, and pleading with Him, as David did: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:22-23, ESV).
To feel more comfortable with stillness and silence, be willing to ask yourself the honest questions:
Am I a type-A overachiever who feels I must do certain things for my sense of affirmation or worth?
Am I refusing to slow down because I’m afraid of the thoughts I’ll have when I get still?
Why do I have to have background noise at all times?
What can I do to become more comfortable in the silence when it’s just me and God?
Pray about your reluctance to get quiet and seek the help of a spiritual mentor or a close friend who can keep you accountable when it comes to getting rest and spending quiet time with God.
4. People-pleasing won’t allow us to rest.
Some people, because of their upbringing or personality, seek to please others, so they’re constantly trying to do more. Maybe you were told as a child that you’d never amount to anything, so you have become driven to prove that prophesy wrong.
Or, maybe you have always felt in competition with a sibling, or you longed for a parent’s—or someone else’s—approval. Rest and stillness put you in a place to take that unhealed wound to God and have Him give you the affirmation you need because of who you are in Christ, not what you have done or will do in your flesh.
Eliminate your people-pleasing habit by learning to say (and be okay with saying) ‘no’ to demands and requests of your time that cut into or threaten your planned times of rest and silence. You cannot please all the people all the time.
And it’s best to choose whom you will disappoint each day based upon their priority in your life. Priority people are best defined by who will mourn the most at your funeral.
Also, choose to define yourself not by how much you produce at work, or your level of success, or who is pleased with you, but by who you are in Christ and how He sees and accepts you. If you need a refresher course in your identity in Christ, read Ephesians 1 daily until it sinks in.
5. We don’t know how to shut out the noise.
Shutting out the noise is more simple than you realize. Turn off the radio when you’re driving in your car and use that time to silently prepare for or reflect on your day. Turn off the television or the loop of music on your device and rediscover the quiet of reading and sitting in the stillness with God.
Or, take a walk with God without your earbuds or headphones—no music, no podcasts, no sermons. Let God speak to you in the silence and teach you what it means to really be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).
Cindi McMenamin is a pastor’s wife, mother, and national speaker with more than 30 years experience helping women and couples find a more intimate relationship with God. She is the author of 17 books, including the best-selling When Women Walk Alone (more than 140,000 copies sold), When God Sees Your Tears, and her books to help you overcome burnout and make room for rest and silence: When Women Long for Rest, and When You’re Running on Empty. For more on her speaking, books, or resources to strengthen your soul, marriage, or parenting, see her website www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.
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