I’ve been a pastor for nearly two decades now, and for nearly two decades I’ve been the product of on-the-job training. Maybe every job is this way. Do you know any good doctors or lawyers or teachers or artists who quit learning years ago? I don’t either. Nor do I know any good pastors who aren’t continually refining their craft. So, while I’m not opposed to having to learn as I go, having to fight to stay a half-step ahead of the congregation I’ve been tasked with leading, having to study and read and re-study and re-read so that I can provide something worthwhile come Sunday morning, there are a handful of things I wish somebody had told me before I got started, things I didn’t have to learn the hard way.
If you’re a less-stubborn person (or even a stubborn one who happens to be in a teachable mood), then this is for you. The three things I wish I’d known long ago but didn’t might help you avoid a pitfall or two, along the path to living a rhythmic life.
1. Rest is Opposed
The first rhythmic-life lesson I learned the hard way is this: our rest is opposed. During the early days of my marriage, when I was running too fast and pushing too hard, I found it incredibly difficult to “come down.” I feared rest. I feared the loneliness and boredom I knew rest would usher in. And so I kept the pedal to the metal, upping my RPMs higher and higher, while praying each and every moment that I’d somehow avoid a crash.
But the reality is that we always have to come down. We can’t stay up forever. And because I refused to learn how to slow myself in a healthy manner, I was forced to walk an unhealthy path, a path paved with Internet porn. From a place of deep humility, I have shared with my congregation how challenging it was to untangle myself from the grip of pornography across the span of several years in my twenties, but by God’s grace, I did get free.
For quite a while, I looked back on that stretch of sinfulness with disbelief; how could I stoop to that level? I was in ministry. I was supposedly living for God. I adored and admired my wife. And yet, still, I’d find myself sitting in front of a computer screen, long after Pam had gone to bed, staring at stuff I had no business staring at, regretting the minutes even as they ticked by.
Things make more sense to me now. When you and I don’t say yes to God’s form of rest, we will say yes to a fraudulent form of rest, cooked up by the enemy of our souls. We will say yes to porn, or to booze, or to drugs, or to gambling, or to idle chatter, or to extravagant spending—all in the name of “unwinding.” This is what we’ll declare, anyway, when pressed to justify our sinful ways. It’s all proof that real rest is opposed, that rest without God is not “rest” at all. My friend John Eldredge likes to say, “Caring for your heart is the first blow against the Enemy’s schemes,” and he’s absolutely right. Satan hates it when we truly “come down”—in a good and godly way—because that’s when spiritual transformation happens. That’s when soulish growth takes place. That’s when we become like God.
2. Ruthlessness is Required
A second lesson I wish I hadn’t had to learn the hard way is that when it comes to rest, ruthlessness is required. Living rhythmically may sound like a breezy proposition, but to execute it well, we have to stand our ground.
About eighteen months ago, I called together the senior-most leaders of New Life Church. These are the men and women who report directly to me, the ones who oversee every ministry within our church. It’s a great group of people—visionary minds, expansive hearts, hands ever ready to serve. But due to a string of crises and personnel changes—not to mention the nation’s economic downturn that affected every church across this land—our shared working relationship had fallen off-track.
As a leader, I’m a big fan of delegation, of trusting the team, of giving away all the control I don’t actually need—all things my senior staff is well aware of. But situations beyond our control had forced us to up the ante on our communications for more than three years’ time. I asked to be part of decisions I normally wouldn’t need to weigh in on, because our circumstances demanded that I did. A founding-pastor scandal, a fatal shooting on your campus, and a fast and furious financial downturn can do that to a group.
But then that three-year period came to a close, and the stress level let up a bit. This would have been terrific news, except that I completely missed the cue that we had clawed our way out of the woods, and so my senior staff kept bringing me what I now instinctively believed were junior-level questions, and my frustration level only went up. Unwittingly, I’d neglected to inform them that we had shifted from “crisis mode” to “normal, everyday mode,” and all of us were suffering mightily as a result. They were trying to include me in their minutia, and I was expending precious energy fending off their incessant requests.
They were the woodpeckers, and I was the tree. A guy could die from being needed this much! I called the meeting for the purpose of informing them that if they preferred a pastor who was alive, then they would resume handling their own affairs. To which they said, “Um, all due respect, Pastor Brady, but you created this madness you now despise.”
They were right, and all of us knew it. We had the discussion about how we’d come through the various crises and now could resume normal operations but not before applauding Pastor Brady for not needing to be needed anymore. Not every day, anyway.
....In hindsight, I recognize that living by healthy rhythms requires a ruthlessness many people aren’t willing to let play out. We’re worried about what others will think. We’re afraid we’ll come across as unfeeling and cold. We’re concerned that if we don’t keep needing to be needed, someday we really won’t be needed—at all! But really, these fears don’t prove warranted in the end. In reality, when we are ruthless about protecting our rest, we free up ourselves to be healthy and free up those around us live rhythmically too.
3. The Reward is the Presence of God
There’s a third lesson I’ve learned along the way, which is that the reward I’m constantly seeking is the persistent presence of God.
In Matthew chapter six, Jesus tells his disciples that when they give to the poor, or when they pray, or when they fast, they should not do these things to be seen by other people, but only to be seen by God. He says that if those who love God announce their giving with trumpets or shout their prayers from the street corners or wear a somber look on their faces while fasting, then they “have received their reward in full” (vv. 2, 5, 16). Their reward, in other words, is the fleeting praise of man.
What he does suggest is doing all these things in secret, thereby trusting God to dole out the rewards (see Matthew 6:4, 6, 18).
But what does all this have to do with rest?
I think of the words of Matthew 5: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (v. 8). And I wonder if Jesus’ exhortations in Matthew 6 were intended to form an exhaustive list, or whether—I happen to think this is the case—they were simply examples of righteous acts. I wonder if what Jesus was really saying was, “Whenever you practice any discipline of obscurity, let my Father’s praise be enough.”
We observe the sacrament of communion most every weekend at New Life Church. It hasn’t always been this way, but for the past year or so, we have made it a priority to remind ourselves of God’s presence and power in this way every time we gather to worship. I’ve noticed something during the past twelve months, which is that it’s hard to hustle through the wine and the bread. It’s nearly impossible to still the soul when the body is still rushing around. And that’s a very good thing. We need to stop. We need to savor. We need to consider his presence enough.
Excerpted from Addicted to Busy: Recovery for the Rushed Soul by Brady Boyd