Rediscovering Sabbath Rest
By Jo Watson

How do you respond when someone asks, “How are you?

The standard answer used to be “Fine”, but it’s now more likely to be “Busy.” It seems that busyness has become the new normal.

In recent years, I have been picking up busyness as a badge of distinction and proudly pinning it to my lapel. Busyness tells me I’m in demand. It creates an illusion of importance. It makes me feel productive.

But God didn’t design me to be busy.

When I caught an infection on the plane home from a work trip to Kenya, late last year, I thought it would be short-lived, so I pushed on through the pain. In the weeks that followed, I found myself fending off various viruses, infections and ailments, while my immune system struggled to cope. My body was trying to tell me it had reached its limits. I had to stop and rest.

The origin of the word ‘Sabbath’ means ‘to stop’ or ‘to cease’. Its meaning is rooted in the rest that God took, following the six days of creation. It’s the one day a week reserved for rest, worship and community. It’s the part of God’s design that gives us permission to press pause on the normal routine of life – and not feel guilty.

Yet, how many of us are ‘too busy’ to take a Sabbath?

Our world is increasingly fast-paced, inter-connected, and over-saturated with technology. Many leaders are expected to be available 24/7. But we are doing a dis-service to the people we’re leading when we burn the candle at both ends, regularly run on empty, and fail to take a weekly Sabbath.

If God took time to stop and rest, how much more should we?

During my prolonged period of enforced rest, I learnt some valuable lessons about the need for a regular Sabbath. I share them with you here, in case they are helpful:

• Accept God is in control: When you take time off, you learn to let go and affirm that God can handle the busyness of your life – without your help.
• Be aware of your limitations: Having finite capacity is not a character flaw. God designed you that way to realise your need for Him.
• Choose to take regular rest: Intentionally schedule one day a week when you set aside your everyday routine and take a Sabbath. Guard it at all costs.
• Don’t ignore the warning signs: Recognise and mitigate your stress triggers. Learn to listen to your body – illness can be an indication that change is needed.
• Expect to hear God’s voice: When you press pause, you will be still enough to hear God’s gentle whisper, showing you things you wouldn’t normally notice.
• Find freedom in saying ‘no’: Being busy is a choice. When you choose to say ‘no’, your time opens up for the things that matter most.
• Get your priorities in order: Be intentional about who and what you want to invest in. Put boundaries around these relationships and activities.

When we purposefully plan a regular Sabbath, it reminds us, and those we lead, that there is more to life than being busy. It’s a completely counter-cultural statement: Six days’ work each week is enough.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11: 28-29, NIV)

Will we accept this offer that Jesus extends to each of us? Will we intentionally integrate a Sabbath rest day into our weekly rhythm of life and leadership?

About the author

Jo Watson

Jo has a deep commitment and calling to serve the worldwide church. With a background in law, education in human rights, and a God-given passion for justice, she has over 17 years‘ experience in the NGO sector. She is a powerful and persuasive advocate, with a particular ability to equip, empower, train, mentor and raise others up to become advocates in their own right.

Jo is Partner Advocacy Lead for Tearfund, an international Christian relief and development organisation. She leads a diverse team, based in ten strategic countries. Together, they support local church-based organisations to hold their governments accountable for delivering basic services (such as water, sanitation and healthcare) to people living in poverty. Having lived and worked in various countries, she is currently based in the UK but travels regularly.

She is author of Tearfund’s Advocacy toolkit, and co-author of Tearfund‘s ‘Church & Community Mobilisation Advocacy Guide‘ and the Institute of Development Studies‘ ‘Faith, Empowerment, Church & Community Mobilisation Advocacy Practice Paper‘. She is an inspirational speaker, and regularly preaches and teaches in churches and at conferences around the world. She also blogs from time to time, but not for work, at Light Through The Cracks.