Reflecting on… Sabbath and Peace of Mind

“Whenever I preach, I have an interesting sensation:  my body gets tense, my hands sweat, and I lose any sense of hunger.  Then, after preaching, I crave food and get incredibly tired.  These are signs of adrenaline letdown or even adrenaline addiction.  Over time, an addiction to adrenaline can have devastating effects on our well-being.  Addiction to adrenaline can create what is called anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure.  Anhedonia is what Archibald Hart has described a no longer having anything in your life that ‘moves your heart.’   For me the desire for sin and proclivity to temptation seem to be greatly heightened on Sunday evenings after preaching.  For many pastors, Sunday night may be the darkest night of the week.  The Sabbath gives our minds a chance to rest.  So much of our work is mind work.  Most of our tiredness is mental exhaustion.  The silence of the Sabbath allows our mind time to kick up its feet and rest . . . in that silence we will find a kind of freedom that gives us space to apply our minds to the goodness and glories of the living God.” 

A. J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Non-Stop World, pp. 54-55.

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power.”  In an information age, knowledge is leadership capital.  If you don’t have it, you don’t have a seat at the table.  This has never been truer in the local church than today.  Want proof?  Do a Google search on the cottage industry of Christian conferences?  You can find one per week almost every week of the calendar year.  The “experts” that supply conferences with cutting edge content make a living on the conference circuit.  To make their own schedules sustainable, these experts launch You Tube channels and podcasts with even more breakthrough content.  Pastors—like the leaders populating their leadership boards–are under tremendous pressure to keep up.  My observation is that with knowledge and resources at an unprecedented high, execution and fruitfulness in critical areas like disciple making, leadership development and evangelism are low.  We know more, attempt much and enjoy it less.    The anhedonia that A. J. Swoboda speaks of—the inability to feel pleasure—is a problem in and outside the ministry.  As I see it, there are just two responses on the table: push ourselves past our mental and physical limits to keep up or make the hard choice to hit the pause button and observe a Sabbath so that we can hear the voice of our Shepherd.

Need to be convinced?  Let’s reflect on this question:  How does the Sabbath bring us peace of mind?  For starters, a rhythm of Sabbath is a regular reminder of our identity.  Knowledge and learning are important, but we are more than what we know.  Our identity is rooted in who we know and who knows us and calls us beloved.  In contrast to the world’s paradigm, our identity is bestowed and not earned.  The gospel offers us that freedom.  Sabbath is space to remember and rest in our identity in Christ.

Sabbath helps us with much needed discernment.  This discernment comes at two levels.  Sabbath helps us get clear on what we need to know.  If we take every source at their word, what they are attempting to communicate is of highest importance.  We know this is simply not true.  In the flood of information, some is valuable and even less is valuable RIGHT NOW.  This is best discerned not amidst the noise of life on the fly, but after I’ve quieted my heart and listened well to the word and Spirit.  A second and perhaps more critical area of discernment comes through being attuned to the forces at play in my heart about why I need to know something.  Perhaps an unhealthy spirit of comparison or competition is in play.  Perhaps hard experiences or critics from the past are pushing the “need to know” button.   

Last, Sabbath helps us set clear priorities.  Settled in our gospel identity and with a discerning heart, we can return to the work of ministry with a clear sense of what is most important.  We give ourselves to the work of articulating God’s word more clearly, not cleverly.  I listen to a lot of preaching both in churches and via podcasts.  It doesn’t take long to discern where a preacher’s confidence lies . . . how he’s handling the pressure of keeping up and staying relevant.  Sabbath frees pastors from the vain pursuit of being “that” leader to find satisfaction in simply being faithful as a shepherd.

Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, grant us the courage to give our minds and hearts a rest in You.   Deepen the reality of our fully justified, validated and loved self.  May we give your Spirit permission to probe the “why” of wanting to know so that what we learn is motivated by love for others and your glory above all else.  May we—in our anhedonia—neither forsake learning nor make an idol it.  Refresh our calling so that we find our deepest satisfaction in simple, faithful work of shepherding your flock and our family.  Amen!