the most important ministry lesson I’ve ever learned:

hurried man.jpgSlow down.

Seriously.

Now, take a deep breath, count to 10, and let that sit for a few.

Was that hard? Oh, it’s hard for us too, but it’s getting easier.

I’ve blogged about Sabbath a few times before (here and here, for instance), but a weekly period of rest is not particularly the focus of this post.

I want to talk about what happens the rest of the week.

When I look around me, I see people bent on productivity, busyness, full day planners, and schedule-making. And that’s just the Christians. Many of us have bought the lie that the faster we go, the busier we are — the better. We have bought the old American lie of productivity.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

We’ve all heard it a jillion times. It’s half of “the Law boiled down,” according to Jesus. But how often do we remember to love ourselves? I mean “love” in the deepest sense of the term, in the same way that we are loving others? Do we believe that the second part (as yourself) of this commandment of Jesus is as important as the first (love your neighbor)?

Since we’ve been in Boston, Chrissy and I have covenented with each other and some of our friends that if we were going to be in the “loving others” business, we would make sure we loved ourselves first. This includes eating right, exercise, and all that, but it also includes avoiding the franetic pace of life known by so many American Christians. We purposefully limit the number of nights per week that we are out of the house. We don’t work “overtime” at work and school. We use the weekend to rest. We set aside an entire day (Sundays for us) where we do nothing.

Several reasons exist for why this is important to us:

First, it opens us up for more spontaneous movements of God in and through us. If every second of our week is planned out in advance, can we really expect random “God moments” to happen through and to us on a regular basis? For instance, we stayed in on Monday night. As a result, Chrissy spent more than an hour in our downstairs neighbor’s home encouraging her about the job she just got (and in essence, showing the love of Christ!). This wasn’t planned or programmed, but it happened because Chrissy was available for a spontaneous “God moment.”

Second, it conveys the kingdom principle that Christ’s “yoke is easy and his burden light.” Let me explain: We want to “pass along” a faith to our neighbors and co-workers that is not fast-paced, hurried, frenzied, stressed-out, programmed, scheduled… So many Christian families are so busy with “church stuff,” running from one Bible Study and pizza party to the next. What are we communicating to the pre-Christians with whom we come in contact? Would anyone want to sign on to such a gospel? We believe that the gospel makes claims on how we spend our time, and that these claims are refreshing to a go-go-go world.

Third, we need it. Jesus told some of his critics this one time that the Sabbath wasn’t created for God, but for man. Somewhere toward the beginning of the human race, God realized that humanity that works and plays hard needs adequate rest as well. We cannot run on fumes and be effective in the kingdom of God — not for long, at least. Rhythms of slowness and rest were built into the original plan of our Creator. That should count for something!

(there are certainly not just three reasons for a sane rhythm of life … I would welcome anyone’s additions to this partial list)

If you haven’t noticed, I’m talking about more than just observing a weekly Sabbath here. A prolonged period of rest each week is important (and has blessed Chrissy and me immensely), but I’m talking more about what my friend Adam Kirkland calls “Sabbathizing” your life. It’s more of a “rhythm of rest” that permeates the entire life of a Christ-follower. Sanity, if you will. This is in part a recognition that in God’s ideal world, we’re never anxious, out-of-control or stretched thin. Seeking a sane rhythm of life is sort of like grasping for another deposit of God’s in-breaking kingdom — the way of Jesus — in this world, starting with me.

This is counter-intuitive to us, so I know it’s not something that one perfects overnight. It’s really a spiritual discipline, and one that takes intentionality and a heckuva lot of work. I have seen so many Christians run out of gas because in an attempt to love as many people as they possibly can, they have ignored Jesus’ command to love themselves first. Slowing down is one crucial way that we can do this, and it has been our experience that divine things take place when God’s people obey.

Is there a more important ministry practice than this?

Be blessed today. (and slow down, for Pete’s sake!)

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