ReForming Our Rest: Ten Principles for Sabbath

In light of Pastor Dusty’s important sermon this morning on “ReForming Our Rest,” I’m re-posting this essay I wrote last year on “ten principles for work and rest.” Hopefully this helps to answer the “how” of making space in your life for rest and Sabbath.

1. Proactive Scheduling: either you run your life, or your life runs you. Most of the “burned out” people I talk to got that way because they started reacting to their life instead of being proactive about it.

2. Hours Worked: you should aim for a 40-50 hour work week. I realize some jobs (first-year lawyers, medical residents, political campaign operatives, etc.) and some seasons in life require more than this – and if that’s the case, you must “do all things without grumbling” (Phil 2:14). But many people work more than 50 hours because they’re people-pleasers who are living for the boss’s approval, or because they’re achievement junkies who love their work more than their family or their health. Legally and historically, a 40-hour-per-week job has always been considered “full-time.” Most unions and tradesmen are vigilant about this, and workers get paid overtime if they exceed 40 hours. In the white-collar world, studies have shown that working more hours actually leads to less productivity. The human body can only work so much. It needs rest, refueling, and exercise. (This is part of the reason why most union drywallers are healthier, happier, and saner than most executives. And poorer – but what is your health worth?)

3. Days Off: You should take two full days off. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8-9). In agrarian cultures, home and work merged together so that a full six-day week of “work” included tasks in the home and tasks in the field. In our culture, work and home are usually separate. After you’ve put in your 40 or 50 hours on the job, there is still a lawn to be mowed, groceries to be purchased, a house to be cleaned and maintained, and errands to be run. All of this should be “sixth day” work, leaving one full day of true Sabbath rest. A balanced weekly rhythm should include five 8-10 hour days on the job; one day of work around the home; and one day of rest, worship, and recreation.

4. Productivity: As you are able, you should structure your schedule to maximize your productivity. For example: I am at my creative best in the mornings. So I arrange my week to do all my writing, strategizing, and thinking work in the mornings. I save the afternoons for meetings and appointments. Obviously some people don’t yet have the luxury to adjust their schedule this way. But if you do, you should.

5. Sleep: The human body needs 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Make sure you plan for that. Don’t stay up late. Most poor sleep patterns are the result of bad personal discipline (staying up late watching TV, eating late at night, etc).

6. Exercise: Take care of your body. Set aside 3 hours each week to exercise.

7. Family Night and Date Night (if applicable): Keep 1-2 nights consistently where your spouse and/or kids know that they have you fully to themselves. Protect these nights assertively.

8. Ministry Nights: Use 2-3 nights of your week for missional ministry (hosting a missional community, receiving training, practicing hospitality, meeting with people for discipleship, etc). If you do well protecting the 1-2 nights of family time, the 2-3 nights of ministry won’t seem burdensome or overwhelming.

9. Sabbath Rest: The whole point of Sabbath is that it’s worshipful rest. It’s resting in God’s provision and enjoying the life He’s given. It’s not posting on Facebook, checking your email, calling your grandma, or running errands. Attend church. Read a book. Take a nap. Walk the dog. Take your kids to the park. Hang out with good friends without looking at the clock. Serve others. Share the gospel. Turn your cell phone off and don’t check your email.

10. Entertainment: Your culture has sold you a lie that entertainment is rest. It’s not. Sure, watching a movie with your spouse or good friends once a week can be a great way to unwind and rest. But if your TV is perpetually on, if you’re always receiving text-messages, if you’re constantly checking Facebook, if your e-mail alerts you anytime a new message comes in – you’re cultivating a life pattern of habitual distraction. This KILLS any ability to rest meaningfully.

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