Ministers often carry so many ministerial responsibilities that they retain little time to pursue personal leisure. After years of neglecting their leisure goals, many of them give up altogether and cease to pursue any leisure goals. Sometimes they even start believing that a leisure goal represents an immoral activity.

One minister lamented that he never took a day off. He needed a break, but he felt stuck in a culture that ruled out vacations and leisure. The local parishioners and other ministers ridiculed him if he considered taking a vacation. A few board members indicated that they might fire the pastor if he took even one day off. He felt doomed if he did, and doomed if he didn’t.

How do you feel about breaking one of the Ten Commandments?

The commandment regarding the Sabbath Day is the longest and most detailed. The Bible says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Ex 20:8-11, NIV).”

A few ministers take this commandment literally. They work long hours for six days of the week, and then rest on the Sabbath. While this commandment fails to address every detail of implementation, the intent is fairly clear—model God’s behavior by taking a periodic rest.

Was God so worn out that He needed to rest on the Sabbath? I doubt that He ever grows physically tired. If God doesn’t need physical rest, what prompted Him to explain this commandment in such minute detail?  Two possibilities come to mind:

First, God wanted to model healthy behaviors to His followers. The commandment explicitly notes how God models the rhythm of work and rest, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.” By noting that God rested after six days of work, the commandment implies that He wishes for humankind to follow His behavior. A corollary implication is that God avoided modeling burnout and wishes for His creation to do the same.

A friend recently told me, “If I die early from burnout, I simply get to spend one extra day with the Lord.” If we follow a different pattern than what God designed, we choose an imperfect model. Although the commandment never uses the word “burnout,” the commandment specifically encourages rest. Thus behaviors resulting in burnout are ungodly.

Second, the consequence of rest affects so much that God wanted the commandment to include everything within our power and control—sons, daughters, menservants, maidservants, animals, and even the alien on our property. In today’s environment, most of us don’t own farm animals, but we have power and control over many individuals and objects. We can, however, affect our congregation’s expectations about Sabbath rest and the expectations of our colleagues. God gives us much power and control if we choose to exercise it. Reflect for a moment about your span of power and control.

What happens during Sabbath?

For humankind, the commandment states that everything we control should rest during Sabbath. However, we don’t control much in comparison to God. He remains in control even as we rest.

Although we can’t know everything He accomplishes during this time, when we rise the next morning we can easily see that He has continued working. During our Sabbath, God continues to prepare His creation for our interface. For humankind, however, Sabbath means a time of rest. God commands us to rest and to cause everything within our control to rest.

When does Sabbath start?

Although “the Sabbath Day” occurs once every seven days, Sabbath occurs each night when we fall asleep. For instance, Adam and Eve probably went to bed at dusk and awakened at dawn each day. Without the electrical lights of a modern culture, they fell into a normal rhythm of rest (Sabbath) about eight to ten hours each day.

Today, technology enables us to literally “burn the candle at both ends,” working late into the night and rising to start work well before dawn. If God wants us to put aside one full day each week for rest, failure to rest adequately during the intervening nights may also violate the intent of His commandment.

Just like Adam and Eve, God made us in His image. God designed an environment that almost forced Adam and Eve to sleep eight or more hours each night. Because of electricity, we can now choose a significantly different model of rest than the one He provided. While electricity is wonderful, we can use it in a harmful way.

Thus Sabbath means rest during one day, but the intent of the law may also include the natural rhythms of rest throughout the week. If God promotes rest on a Sabbath, it makes little sense to promote a burnout lifestyle during the intervening days.

What does the Bible say about rhythms?

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message) says, “Are you tired? Worn Out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

This passage references God’s numerous “rhythms of grace.” A Sabbath Day rest provides one primary rhythm. Other rhythms include a nightly rest, daily work, socialization, meals, Scripture reading, and prayer; fasting; community with fellow believers; and many more. In this particular passage, Jesus mentions a “rhythm” of rest. Just as the Genesis passage requires us to model our rest and work cycle after God, the Matthew passage reminds us to look toward God (Jesus) as our model.

How does my life compare to His?

We can look at many New Testament passages to see how Jesus modeled the rhythm of rest. For instance:

  • He went up on a mountain side and sat down.
  • He walked beside the Sea of Galilee.
  • He got into the boat.
  • He had dinner at Matthew’s house.
  • He went out and sat by the lake.
  • He left the crowd and went into the house.
  • He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.
  • …and when evening came, he reclined at the table with his friends.
  • Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore.
  • Jesus took with Him, Peter, James, and John.

Thus, we can see that Jesus modeled many rhythms including the rhythms of work and rest. And, He modeled rest at many times other than the Sabbath Day.

How does my life compare to the early church fathers?

Richard Foster (27) states that the early church fathers valued Otium Sanctum (holy leisure). They believed that all activities of the day remained holy, including leisure time. To them, leisure was inherently holy. This included spiritual activities of the soul such as retreat, restoration, and play. For them, the spiritual life integrated (rather than isolated) holy leisure into the daily life of the believer.

May God offer you inspiration as you seek His help in modeling His rhythm of work and rest.


  • What leisure activities would you like to pursue (gardening, camping, fishing, hiking, photography, photo editing, reading, cooking, music lessons, listening to your favorite music)?
  • What SMART goals will help you pursue each of these interests?

For a description of SMART goals, please see What is Balance?

© 2013 Nathan Davis

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