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Saturday, April 21, 2007
Sabbath Keeping Encouragement

In the early 1980’s, when the cold war was raging hot, the Soviet Empire seemed a formidable place. Red Square, with all its pompous splendor, was the symbolic center of the Russian Nuclear SuperPower. It was an impeccable fortress, or so we thought. On an ordinary day, a sixteen year old German student named Matthias Rust, piloted a small single engine rental airplane from Denmark into Soviet airspace. Despite one of the most advanced anti-aircraft radar systems in the world, the German student “buzzed” the Kremlin and landed the aircraft in the center of Moscow’s Red Square.

On the outside, everything seemed to be in order. But on the inside, something entirely different was taking place. An internal collapse had been underway for who knows how long. Chernobyl was next, the most devastating nuclear reactor accident in world history. Soon the walls would come tumbling down and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sadly, Red Square and the collapse that ensued, is an apt metaphor for all too many ministry leaders and pastors in our day. On the outside, all seems to be in order. But on the inside, something entirely different is taking place. A high energy schedule and break-neck pace cloak the rising tide of burnout. The desire to do something great for God. . . . . to make the grade. . . . . to be successful in our mission disguise fame-hungry ambitions. Derailing moral breakdowns loom perilously behind a self assured sense of invincibility.

There is no shortage of data concerning the well being of pastors in ministry. Take this data from a recent survey, which was funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc., by Dean Hodge and Jacqueline Wenger:

How important was each of the following possible reasons why you left your position in local church ministry?

I felt drained by the demands on me = 58%
I felt lonely or isolated = 51%
I felt bored or constrained in the position = 43%
I was not supported by denominational officials = 43%
I found a better job outside of congregational work = 38%
I had marital or personal relationship problems = 27%

I love the way our late friend, Sam Eden, used to frame his most emphatic sentences: "Note well." Note well: people aren't leaving ministry because they haven't read enough books. As important as scholastic devotion may be, apart from the disciplines and dispositions of a Spirit filled heart, it will mean little to nothing in the long term sustenance of servanthood.

In the midst of the chaotic stress of our post-modern lives comes the ancient cry of God, Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor but the seventh is a Sabbath to the Lord. For centuries, Sabbath Keeping has provided the people of God with a sword of protection and shield of refuge from the subtle enemies of the soul.

Sabbath keeping forges deep channels of reflection navigating us beyond the shallows of our coffee-break prayer lives. Gordon McDonald, in his book Ordering Your Private World, says Sabbath keeping is a "fine tuning of my inner navigational instruments so that I can make my way through the world for another week." Sabbath, through the sheer will to keep showing up, has a way of restoring our radar almost effortlessly. It does so by bringing us back to true North, over and over and over again. . . . . week after week after week. . . . . . taking our focus off of "the next thing" and re-establishing our view of the horizon.

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy = 24 hour day that begins at night once per week + Ritual entry and exit + (ceasing x resting x feasting x embracing).

photo: John Deere--The Early Years. Artist: Sandra Partridge


posted by John David Walt | at 4/21/2007 06:31:00 AM



Blogger Jackson said...

Powerful metaphor and post JD. I wonder if Sabbath keeping is especially hard for the minister precisely because the "official Christian" Sabbath is his or her day of work. The answer is of course that Sabbath can be kept on another day, but part of the point, in my opinion, is the historic significance of keeping Sabbath on the day that Christ resurrected.

I recently asked a student pastor friend of mine how his Easter weekend was and he said: "Terrible. I hate Easter." When I expressed my incredulity, he qualified and said: "As a pastor, I hate Easter." The qualification did not do much for me. His point was that he "had to preach four sermons." My thought is that this guy is on the way to burn out if not already there.

How do you encourage pastors who neglect Sabbath keeping precisely because the traditional Sabbath is their most intense day of ministry?

12:33 PM EDT  
Blogger Michel said...

Awesome JD. Lovely reflection.

12:10 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is well written, and deeply encouraging to me.

Your Friend

Mark B.

3:22 AM EDT  

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