Americans, including ministry leaders, are addicted to work.
In January 2018, the United States Bureau of Labor statistics reported the average productivity of the American worker has increased 400% since 1950 (1)! Seventy years ago, we worked less, spent more time raising our children, played more and rested more (2). That's no longer the case - both in the secular job setting or in ministry.
The idea of surrendering or letting go of busyness and a full calendar is not something highly valued in our post-modern world, including those working in ministry. In fact, one could argue the case, that there's a perception that those working in ministry should work harder, longer hours than those working traditional 9 to 5 jobs, as their work holds an eternal value. This may not be true, but may feel true due to unspoken assumptions, expectations and mis-understandings among ministry leaders and those who support them.
"Ministry Success" is often measured in activity - numbers and statistics. When was the last time someone looked at your calendar and suggested you stop doing so many activities? It's probably never happened, as a full ministry calendar often equates "success." Ministry life is constantly bombarded with messages that encourage us to over-commit precious time, money, and energy to "God's work" - leaving little time to rest, strengthen our souls, enjoy family, or enjoy a hobby. Life is simply too full and hurried to find space for such endeavors.
But should it be? Is this what Jesus modeled for his followers?
Over and over again, Jesus modeled a valuable lesson for his followers - which we must translate to ourselves: practicing spiritual disciplines and retreating with God creates flourishing and fruit! If Jesus needed to withdraw, to get away from ministry demands, and to be by himself for a time, then it’s a safe assumption that you and I need it too.
The definition of retreat is to move back or withdraw (often in terms of fighting in battle to care for the wounded and strategize for a new advance). It would seem that the strategic focus that Jesus modeled for us, to withdraw from the battles of ministry will benefit us in the long run.
Practicing rest in solitude, silence, worship and prayer shouldn't be reserved for once-a-year getaways. We can practice being in God's presence each day if we purposely make an attempt to add it to our routines. Here's a few ideas of how to to make retreat a routine:
- Get up early each morning or stay up late in the evening while your family sleeps. Gather a blanket, grab a cup of coffee, and grab your Bible, pen and journal. Read a passage of the Psalms or Proverbs. Sit in silence. Listen. Pray. Journal.
- Take a walk to a park, sit on a bench by a lake, or stroll through your neighborhood with your dog. Observe the world around you and ask God to speak to your heart about what you see.
- Go to a local coffee shop and pull up a comfortable chair. Sip coffee while watching patrons come and go. Taste, smell, listen, see and touch - allow your senses to take note of the wonder of God in all things.
- Shut your phone off, tuck your laptop away, find a place in the warm sunshine to sit or lay down. Close your eyes. Listen.
- Get creative. Pull out some paper, pencils, and draw. Write a poem or a song. Pull out your old camera and take a few snapshots of flowers, mountains, rivers. Encounter creation and think of God's remarkable imagination. Read Psalm 139.
“Rest is a decision we make. Rest is choosing to do nothing when we have too much to do, slowing down when we feel pressure to go faster, stopping instead of starting. Rest is listening to our weariness and responding to our tiredness, not to what is making us tired. Rest is what happens when we say one simple word: "No!" Rest is the ultimate humiliation because in order to rest, we must admit we are not necessary, that the world can get along without us, that God's work does not depend on us. Once we understand how unnecessary we are, only then might we find the right reasons to say yes. Only then might we find the right reasons to decide to be with Jesus instead of working for him. Only then might we have the courage to take a nap with Jesus.”
― Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality