Reflecting on… Work & Sabbath

“After sin, work that was originally entered into as an act of worship became the thing we worshipped.  I think God knew we would be prone to worship our work, which is why he initiated rest and Sabbath before the fall.  In sin, humans are prone to worship the good things of this world over the Ultimate, the Creator.   We turn good things into ultimate things.  Work is not the problem—it is our replacing God with work that is a problem.  Sabbath is the day that we rest in God’s presence even when our to-do-lists are not even close to being done.  We choose to enter rest before the work is complete.  Why?  Sabbath is not a reward for a job well done.  Sabbath is the result of a world that is oriented toward a good and generous and loving God.” 

A. J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Non-Stop World, pp. 31, 38.

My name is Larry and I am a recovering workaholic.  I enjoy my work . . . sometimes too much.  I’m grateful for the strong work ethic I learned—not always willingly—from my parents.  I’ve been blessed with three vocations in my adult life that I’ve loved—professional accountant/consultant, college professor, pastor-shepherd.  Even so, I’ve flirted with burnout in every vocation.  A book that remains one of the most impactful in my life is Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald.  The chapter on discerning the difference between drivenness (which I can be prone to) and calling (which I have learned) was particularly helpful.  I read MacDonald’s book in seminary.  I can remember clearly the time and exact location where I read the chapter on calling.  I was halfway through my seminary studies and just six years deep into my new life in Christ.  I was juggling my studies with my teaching role at Biola and a part-time role in a local church.  I was newly married.  I was desperately in need of balance.  Balance is illusive.  Has anyone achieved it?  If so, have they stayed there?  MacDonald, and later John Ortberg, argue that in lieu of balance we need a well-ordered heart.  I think they are right!

The key to developing a well-ordered heart is found in the wisdom of the Sabbath.  Personally, cultivating a well-ordered heart through Sabbath has been a long, hard-earned and learned lesson.  I’ve hit a few walls because of my proclivity to make “work” an idol—a source of meaning and validation.  This side of heaven, you never complete shed this battle.  Nonetheless, I have become a persistent Sabbath keeper, building a rhythm of Sabbath in my days, weeks, months and years.  Sabbath keeps me rightly oriented toward my Father in heaven.  It keeps me resting in the gospel, increasingly aware of fear or other deficit motivations for daily living.  I learn in Sabbath to recalibrate my heart to the reality, the utter completeness of God’s love for me in Christ (Romans 8: 38-39; Ephesians 3: 14-19).   From my Sabbath place, my work morphs from the pursuit of my calling to an expression of my calling.  That distinction makes big different in how work looks and feels. 

One other learning from Sabbath keeping about work and calling:  calling works on shorter timelines—not the proverbial “where do you see yourself in ten years” but where is God directing in the next twelve months.  For twenty-six of the last thirty-one years of vocational ministry I’ve worked with God on a series of one-year calls, holding God’s call with an open hand lest I clench it too tightly and it became something I love more than God himself.  Ironically, that loosely held call kept me going in hard seasons when it would have been easier to find “greener grass.”  For the past thirty-one years of glorious and messy ministry, I’ve held two “jobs.”  With God, calling has worked best one year at a time.

My name is Larry.  I am a recovering workaholic that has found freedom through the persistent practice of Sabbath.  Sabbath keeps our work in perspective.  Sabbath offers us a gospel-centered, well-ordered heart.  You will never discover Sabbath by reading about it or reflecting on its virtue. Even great book like A. J. Swoboda’s won’t convince you completely.  You need to take the plunge—especially if your to do list is long.  You need a spiritual friend or coach.  Curious?  Drop me a note!  Seriously!

Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, my reluctance to Sabbath is a reluctance to trust you for all that is completely done on my behalf.  Help us discern the difference between drivenness and calling.  Help us repent of the never ending and vain pursuit of balance and instead let us pursue a well-ordered heart, the headwaters of which are found in Sabbath time with you.  Help us to be open handed with our work so that we might enjoy it more as a gift than an obligation that make “life” possible.  Help bring glory to you this week in all we do!  Amen!