In my experience, most pastors get a D- in the rest category. I address this subject with fear and trepidation, hoping my wife doesn’t actually read it. She knows I’m a high-intensity person who struggles with “turning it off.”
I wish I could say that zeal for the glory of God is what drives me, but most days, it’s just flat-out fear of failure. Fear is a powerful emotion and regularly causes leaders to live on adrenaline, rather than the overflow of a life in Jesus. Our Master did say that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
Here are five signs you’ve moved away from rest in Jesus to fear of failure. See if you’re in this mix somewhere.
You pretend you don’t need sleep.
This comes in one of two forms. You either rise ridiculously early to get ahead in the game or you burn the midnight oil, powering through emails or sermons. Living your life like it’s finals week may be necessary sometimes, but the long-term effects are destructive. God designed our batteries to need a full recharge—to get daily rest from the work.
You incessantly scan your email.
Living out of your inbox is no way to go. While it requires incredible discipline, the practice of responding to all your email at once is far more effective than changing gears all day long. In unhealthy seasons of my ministry, I’ve been unable to stop at a traffic light without popping in to see what new messages have arrived. Running to the concessions stand at my kids’ basketball games becomes a stealth way to dial into work for a minute without my wife catching on. This isn’t the life of peace Jesus described.
You obsess over public opinion.
When I’m not resting in the Lord’s power, I’m consumed with constant anxiety that catastrophe is coming in the near future. My critics (and we all have them) are the loudest voices in my ear. This is why Paul tells us: “In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). Faith means we hold to a fierce optimism because God is the author and finisher of our stories. Faith is restful.
You overlook the people right in front of you.
Refusing to find rest in Jesus weakens my connection to others. I become like a bad piece of Velcro, incapable of bonding to anything. It means at home I’m physically present, but emotionally vacant.
For example, while watching television recently with my kids, they collectively erupted in laughter while I sat stone-faced in the chair. I missed the joke because my mind was one room over, in my office. While they were having fun, I was having a meeting in my head. Jesus stated clearly in the Great Commandment that relationships are the most important investment in this life. When we fail to rest in Jesus, we fail to bond with people.
You devalue your marriage.
Sadly, my wife pays the heaviest price when my walk with the Lord is weak. When I’m doing life-giving things with her like praying, reading, spending time outdoors, or hosting friends I’m a fun, outgoing person. When I shift into “Mr. Intensity,” taking on the weight of the world at work, I’m a bear to live with. It pains me to write this but it’s true. And this is not a Lifeway issue. As a pastor, I was equally challenged.
I know this sounds contradictory but resting in the Lord takes work. The writer of Hebrews reminds us: “Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from his. Let us, then, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9).
Ministry is never finished, but there must be edges to what we plan to accomplish. There must be a rhythm of productivity and leisure. Above all, there must be a moment-by-moment commitment to enter into the Sabbath rest that Jesus introduced.
Pastor, what grade would you give yourself in rest? If I’ve gone “from preachin’ to meddlin’” and you know this is an issue for you, allow me to offer a few tips that have helped me along the way.
- Share your burden with your family. Be real with your wife and kids. Let them know you could use their prayers as you’ve gotten off balance and hope to move back to center. Don’t be afraid to be transparent about your struggles. They’ll love you for it.
- Share your burden with a safe person at church. Perhaps it’s a staff member you’re particularly close to, or a confidential leader from the laity. Either way, let someone know that you’re failing to rest in the Lord and you could use their encouragement and prayers.
- Start a journal. The act of writing down your thoughts can be therapeutic. Having your true self staring at you from a page is confronting. Over the years, it has helped me to put my raw, unfiltered thoughts into a journal, and to pray for clarity on what to do with them. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Lord has to change our minds if we want to experience freedom. The process of writing can be transformative.
Pastors and church leaders, we’re no help to the flock when we’re running on empty. Take your rest seriously. The people around you will be so glad you did.