In an over 60-hour week, after 11 consecutive days of work at the church without a day off, while fitting in seminary classes, I looked at my wife and said, “it’s just for a season, right?” Somehow in Christian circles, calling it a “season” makes the trial acceptable and being a workaholic is excused. I felt exhausted. I had brushed off my wife and our three kids, all in the name of ministry. I had sacrificed the lives of my family on the altar of work. Repentance came with difficulty, but I found abounding joy in obedience.
James 1:14-15 helps us work backward from “overworking” to find its source. James writes, “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.” If not resting is the sin, the desire is productivity or achievement. James also says that temptation is the lure of our own desires. When fighting sin, we say no to our own desires, so when we do give into sin, we’re buying into some lie somewhere that we need to figure out.
Satan is a one-trick pony. He lies. He’s the deceiver, he lied to Eve in the garden, he lied to Jesus in the wilderness, and he lies to us every day. He serves us deception, and sometimes we eat it right up. His lies take many forms, and this overworking issue is no different. He might tell us:
“You’re a pastor, you always need to be found doing the work of the Lord.”
“If you’re not active with all your being, trying to make this church plant succeed, then you’re not trying hard enough.”
“If there’s an empty spot in your schedule, you need to redeem it with godly work.”
“As a minister of the gospel, your vocation (by nature) violates the Fourth Commandment so you’re somehow exempt and have no choice but to work all the time.”
I could believe thousands of lies that would lead me to give in to the desires of the flesh. The good news is that there is one truth that trumps all these lies:
Only God is good.
With this one truth, I’m reminded that all my righteous deeds are like filthy rags. They are worthless. There is no good in my flesh, and any good I have is Christ working through me. As a minister of the gospel, I need to be setting an example for the believers in my conduct, and this includes my work patterns.
Since rest is part of God’s good plan for us, I want to be obedient in an overflow of my love for Him. After all, he’s already lived the life I can’t live and paid the price I couldn’t pay for my sin. The culture around us says, “go work, gain merit, and prove yourself worthy.” The gospel, though, says, “rest in Christ.” He has already done it all. There is no more work to be done for salvation. All that is left for me to do is believe, and God already gives me the faith I need to believe in the first place.
Helpful tips for pacing yourself:
1. Schedule Breaks
If it isn’t on my calendar, I’m probably going to forget about it. Monday is my day off, but often something will come up that needs my attention before I get into the office on Tuesday. When I finish with the last service on Sunday night, I begin a solid 24-hour block of rest. Whatever work issues that may come up will have to wait until Monday night to get handled unless it is an absolute emergency. I need to schedule it out, even making the appointment on my calendar, recurring if possible, Restblocked off, specifically for rest. If someone wants to meet during that time, I have to discipline myself to tell them I already have an appointment scheduled. I’m going to be a better resource for everyone when I’m refreshed and rested than when I am worn out and tired.
2. Unplug (For Real)
Every time my iPhone dings, I am reminded that I have things to do. I don’t need this continual harassment. I turned off mail notifications on my devices. Mail will get dealt with in its scheduled time. When I’m in the midst of that scheduled rest time, the best thing to do might be to turn the phone off entirely or to enable the do not disturb mode at the very least.
Say no to something, so you can say yes to a better thing. Every time I take on one more thing, not only am I encroaching on my family time and my rest schedule, but I also might be shutting out a ministry opportunity for someone else. Let the body of Christ do its job and care for one another, there might be someone who is looking for a way to serve, and that thing I added to my already full plate might be their specialty.
3. Build In Some Buffers
I like to make buffers in my schedule whenever possible. I’m not going to walk out of a 2pm meeting and into a 3pm meeting if I can help it. I need to process and prepare. Process the meeting I was just in, and prepare and pray about the one I’m getting ready to go into.
4. Don't Worship at the Idol of Ministry
The temptation is to displace God from the throne of my heart by making other good things the primary thing. I can easily turn my achievements into the object of my worship when in reality everything on this planet will end in ash and rust. I have to remind myself there are no merit badges in heaven for working myself to death at the office.
Even Jesus asked for help. Our human condition is not lost on our omniscient God. “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). Jesus spoke to Paul, saying, “…My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). If these things are true, let’s pray for help to set a pace for ourselves that makes us a blessing to the church and to our families.