Hello. My name is Mike, and I’m a recovering achievement addict.
(This I where you say, “Hi Mike!”)
I know I am not unlike many other leaders in ministry. When we relax, if we are able to relax, we feel guilty. Our math looks like this: doing more = more done. Some will read this will say— “Of course!” The assumption here is that “more” is best. Again—of course!
Fleshly achievement seems to be a permissible sin in ministry. We might even say a reputable sin. This is because no one knows, sometimes not even the sinner, that it is of the flesh. There are subtle ways that we confuse altruistic motivations to build the Kingdom of God with our own inner, self-medicating needs for achievement. At heart, the motivations behind this addiction are comparable to that of greed, lust, and envy.
God’s ingenious command of the Sabbath, along with all its implications, stands as the primary bulwark against incessant preoccupations with productivity and outcomes.
The text of the creation account recorded in Genesis 2:1–3 provides the basis of all decrees for the practice of the Sabbath. No command for us to rest is given in this passage—only the fact that God rested. The word Sabbath is not even used. However, the seventh day is set apart and made holy because it is the day when God rested from his work. It is distinguished and sanctified by God himself.
The first occurrence of the term Sabbath and the first command for Israel to observe it is found in Exodus 16:22–30. Here, Sabbath is mentioned in the context of manna provided by God in the wilderness wanderings. God provided twice as much on the sixth day and commanded his people to rest on the seventh day. Manna was not to be gathered on the seventh day because it was a “Sabbath to the Lord” (vv. 23, 26). Therefore, that which God did at creation is now transferred to his children. They are to rest on the seventh day.
Exodus 20 contains the Ten Commandments given to Moses for the people of Israel. The fourth command (Exodus 20:8–11) crystalizes the desire of God for his children to rest and restore on the seventh day. The command is clear and compelling: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
It is interesting that the Israelites are not called upon to sanctify the Sabbath, but to protect it from becoming unsanctified. It was made holy by God at creation, but the way God’s children conducted themselves on the seventh day could profane it before God.
The main idea for Sabbath is the cessation of work. The all-inclusive language (“you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner”) signifies how important the termination of labor on this day was to God. The rest that was commanded here would eventually make way for worship to occur on the Sabbath (see the religious celebrations commanded in Leviticus and Numbers). In time, worship would become a part of this holy day, made possible because work was absent from it.
Why the correlation between the absence of work and holiness? Though by nature work is difficult in a sin-stained world (Genesis 2:17–19), it can be personally fulfilling as well as an extension of our worship to God. We may be called by God to certain vocations and express those callings through God-given gifts and abilities. These bring the possibility of nobility and godliness to labor. Some love work for these reasons. However, the very qualities that give work such potential for good may also bring harm. Work becomes harmful when love for it is taken to an extreme and when we lose the ability to step away from it. We then work too much, becoming preoccupied with work and what it produces. “There is happiness in the love of labor; there is misery in the love of gain.”[i] Part of Satan’s ploy is to take this good gift from God and pervert it. Here work encroaches on every other dimension of life, not allowing us to separate from it. When this occurs, work (yes even ministry work, i.e. godly work) stands in the way of worship. Working on a day that is set apart for godly rest is the worship of work. In other words, we may worship work or worship God, but not both.
The Sabbath not only gives rest to our bodies, but when practiced properly, it brings restoration to our souls. On the Sabbath, labor ceases. But the Sabbath does not necessarily mean being finished with work. Rarely do we complete all our work in a given week. Instead, the Sabbath means being free from the internal need to work. The idea is to rest as if all your work is done.
The Sabbath separates us from the notion that the world can’t survive without us. It serves as the antidote to the idea that I am indispensable to the world, or maybe more aptly, that the things in the world are indispensable to me.
Partially quoting his father, Abraham Joshua Herschel aptly states,
We need the Sabbath in order to survive civilization: “Gallantly, ceaselessly, quietly man must fight for inner liberty” to remain independent from the enslavement of the material world. “Inner liberty depends upon being exempt from domination of things as well as from domination of people . . . This is our constant problem—how to live with people and remain free—how to live with things and remain independent.[ii]
Time and money are two primary assets of our lives. Other than God and people, nothing is likely more important to us. There are amazing similarities in God’s commands toward the management of our time and the management of our money.
The Sabbath and the tithe stand as clear directives from a loving God in how to steward these precious resources:
Both imitate God. In giving and in resting, I am doing what God himself did. Thus, I am becoming more godly.
Both draw me close to God. As I do what God did, I fellowship with him deeply, understanding his ways and identifying in relationship with him more.
Both are an antidote to the culture. Tithing stands as an antidote to greed and materialism; Sabbath stands as an antidote to addictive work and indispensability.
Both bless me in return. The irony is that though I give away my money in tithing and give away my time in Sabbath, I have enough money and enough time for living. God provides in return so that by giving I receive and my needs are adequately supplied. It is amazing to see how efficient and effective my time becomes on the other six days of the week when I sabbath on the seventh.
Both set my priorities in the proper place. By tithing and keeping the Sabbath, I do not allow my money and time to manage me. I instead manage them. This keeps them in proper perspective for healthy living. The disciplines stop the encroaching power of time and money and the obsession associated with each. Tithing and the Sabbath help keep time and money from becoming idols of worship.
Both are proportional. Sabbath is one-seventh of my week; tithing is one-tenth of my money. While all my time and all my money are his, I practically give to God for a specific purpose in proportion to all he has given me.
Both are systematic. I give from the first of my income and from the last of my week.
Both are sacrificial. Time and money are precious, limited resources and therefore are not easily given to God, which is exactly why God requires them.
Both reveal my level of trust in God. Tithing and Sabbath-keeping are a constant, concrete reminder that God is the owner of all and that I can trust him with the most important portions of my life. They remind me that he is the provider and will make up anything I might lack through giving and keeping the Sabbath. To reject the Sabbath or refuse to tithe means not trusting or believing God in the most practical sense. When I give and when I rest as God prescribed, I show my trust in him, my belief that he knows best, and my dependence upon him for all of life.
The Sabbath, therefore, is an act of faith. It means trusting God with the leadership of our organization in our absence; trusting him with our need for rest (whether we think we need it or not); and trusting him with the need for consistent, weekly worship. The Sabbath is not a suggestion. It is not a nice recommendation from God. It is a clear command. But it is a command from a loving Father who seeks the best for his children and who desires for leaders to experience authentic power and freedom from within.
Thank you God for hardwiring into our week a mandatory day to stop and step away from the incessant need for more.
The above is an excerpt from Mike’s recently released book Power to Lead
[i] Abraham Joshua Herschel, The Sabbath. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux Publishers, 2005. 3.
[ii] Herschel, 77.