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Evangelism and Physical Fitness: When Rest Becomes Laziness

1 Nov

While a little rest is a good thing, too much of it can cause harm both physically and mentally.  Our ability to perform basic tasks can be hindered by the lack of exercise and our minds become less capable of working complex problems as we allow them to think upon “nothing”.

The Scripture is full of warnings about the dangers of resting when we should be laboring (Proverbs 10:26, 12:27, 15:19, and 19:15), yet finding the line between rest and work can be difficult.  Not every one of us is physically capable of performing hard labor or applying our minds to tedious calculations.  Acts which would appear to be laziness if performed by a star athlete may be the height of exertion for someone afflicted by a chronic illness.  So how do we know if we are disguising laziness as “rest”?  Here are three questions worth asking:

  1. Am I resting at the expense of tasks which need to be accomplished?  Taking responsibility is important and a failure to fulfill our obligations can be a sign that we’re growing lazy.  But this isn’t always the case.  It’s just as easy to fail by overscheduling our already packed lives – so it’s up to each of us to know the difference!
  2. Am I physically capable of accomplishing the tasks I’ve committed to?  If we’re capable of fulfilling our obligations, but aren’t, it’s a good guess that we’re growing lazy.  But keep in mind that what our bodies can do varies as we age or progress through cycles of sickness and health.  Just because we were capable of a certain level of physical exertion a week ago, doesn’t mean we’ll be capable today.  Again, it’s our responsibility to determine whether our pace is slackening due to sloth or because of legitimate physical necessity.
  3. Am I mentally capable of performing the tasks before me?  Sometimes, we bite off more than we can chew.  It may be an AP class that requires more study than we have time for or a household renovation which demands math skills we never learned.  Despite this, we need to be careful that we don’t turn mental weakness into an excuse for never trying anything difficult or different.  If we do, laziness lies in wait.

If you’ve noticed that this list is a bit subjective, then you aren’t alone.  One of the things which makes Christianity unique is its ability to recognize that while there are some universal absolutes (like that God is holy, all men are sinners, and salvation comes through Christ alone), the outcome of those absolutes will look a little different for everyone.  It’s up to individuals, moved by the Holy Spirit, to determine whether they are or aren’t living the lives to which they’ve been called.  What’s so great about this?  In the end, the only one that any of us can compare ourselves to is ourselves and to Christ!

This week, spend some time in prayer and introspection.  Ask God to reveal whether you could use more rest or less.  Then, commit to acting upon His revelation.  Only when we do, will we become the light He created us to be!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Hobbies, Rest, and Evangelism

25 Oct

Last week, we discussed the link between “Hobbies and Rest”.  This week, we’re going to look at the connection between hobbies, rest and evangelism – and how the things we do to relax can play an important role in God’s work!

Before we begin, it’s important to note that not every interest or hobby we have is going to show a direct link to sharing God’s message.  And that’s okay.  Each activity we participate in gives us a unique connection to other human beings… and it’s that connection (not the content of the hobby, itself) which yields the opportunity for us to share God’s love.

A perfect example can be found in a friend of mine who used to play his guitar in a bagel shop every Saturday.  He liked to play and the coffee shop enjoyed the free entertainment, so it was a good fit.  It wasn’t a great feat of evangelism by any means and doubtless many Christians would have seen his hobby as a waste of time.  Yet at the end of nearly every session, someone would come up to him and ask why he offered the free entertainment.  His answer always tied into someone (Christ) who had once offered something free to him.  He got to relax and enjoy himself and, in the process, God was glorified.

A number of years ago, I took up the even more obscure hobby of philately (stamp collecting).  The hobby was largely a solo one and my only real contact with the “outside world” was the company through which I placed my orders.  Each time I submitted my payment and a fresh order, I’d slip a gospel tract into the envelope.  Since it was a small company, I’m sure nearly everyone had seen my unique form of payment.  When a serious mistake was made concerning my account, I had the opportunity to live what they already knew I believed as I worked to straighten out the misunderstanding.  I had found a hobby that I enjoyed and God was glorified in its pursuit.

These, of course, are only a couple of examples of how God can use our “rest” as an opportunity to accomplish His “work”.  Yet they serve as an important reminder that God created each of us with unique interests and skills which provide us with the opportunity to reach out to those who might not hear God’s message otherwise!  Someone who would immediately turn their back on a missionary or pastor might very well be willing to listen to you – simply because you enjoy the same activities!

In the end, everything we do in life (including our restful hobbies) is an opportunity.  Whether we play racket ball at the athletic club, go ballroom dancing, attend a sewing class, or decide to take up archery, we’re likely to find our path littered with chances to share God’s love.  Don’t pass them up when they come your way!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Hobbies and Rest

18 Oct

Hobbies can be one of the most effective ways to rest our bodies.  They provide us with avenues for developing secondary skills and interests, for maintaining physical fitness and mental acuity, and for cultivating relationships.  Drawing our attention away from present difficulties, they present us with the opportunity to return to the “real world” with a renewed perspective.

That there are many benefits to developing a hobby is undoubted, yet the very activities which help us to rest can also turn against us.  Before you begin integrating hobbies into your rest, take a moment to ask the following questions:

  1. Does this glorify God?  Believers should never turn off their sense of discernment – even when at rest.  1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  This doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything fun, but it does mean that we need to ensure the things we do for fun are in keeping with God’s commands.
  2. Does this hobby boarder on or has it already become an obsession?  Scripture teaches the importance of self-control in all things and this includes our recreational activities.  (1 Corinthians 9:25, Galatians 5:22-23, 2 Peter 1:5-7)  If a side interest begins to crowd out other obligations, it needs to be brought into submission or dropped altogether.
  3. Does this hobby encourage ungodly attitudes in me?  2 Timothy 2:22 advises believers to, “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace…”  If your choice of recreation isn’t encouraging the godly attitudes listed here, it shouldn’t be on your list of pursuits!  (At the same time keep in mind that just because a certain hobby isn’t good for you doesn’t mean that it needs to be avoided by every Christian.  The same soccer game that leads to an abusive and overly competitive spirit in one believer can be genuinely relaxing and God honoring in the hands (or feet) of another!)
  4. Does this hobby actually result in rest?  Truth be told, not every hobby helps us to rejuvenate.  This doesn’t mean that we ought to chuck any hobby that doesn’t, just that we don’t include those activities in the time we’ve already scheduled for rest.

If you ask these questions about your hobby and the answer to each leaves you with a clear conscience, then feel free to include it in you “resting schedule”.

If the answer is “no”, it may be time to look for some other interests worth pursuing.  Ask a friend what they do to relax, take a look through the courses being offered by your local art association or community college, or just wander through a book store until you find a subject that peaks your interest.  You may be surprised at some of the unusual hobbies which present themselves!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Fitting Rest Into Your Schedule

11 Oct

From keeping our minds sharp and at the top of their game to helping us to maintain a positive and gracious attitude towards others, there can be no doubt that rest plays a vital role in our ability to clearly and effectively present the message of Christ.  Yet finding time to relax, enjoy a sunset, or take a nap isn’t always easy.  That’s why, this week, we’re taking a look at some ways to effectively fit time for rest into our schedules.  We’ll start with the most important suggestion:

  1. Actually schedule time for rest.  “To do’s” get lost.  Appointments don’t.  If you block out a few minutes on your calendar, you’re far more likely to fulfill the goal of resting than if you simply add “rest” to the interminably long list of things you need to accomplish each day.  Select the times which work best for you and follow through.
  2. Let others know about your schedule.  While issuing an “informational bulletin” doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be left alone, it does lessen the chances of your being interrupted once you’ve settled in with a cup of coffee and a good book.
  3. Find a place to hide.  While we don’t recommend becoming a hermit, it can be worth your while to find a place to retreat for your “resting appointments”.  By minimizing your availability to others and changing the scenery a bit, you’ll be maximizing the chances that your time of rest will be… well, restful.
  4. Plan your rest.  Blocking out an hour to listen to Rachmaninoff, go for a meandering walk, or watch the birds at your feeder can add the kind of structure that makes that “scheduled rest” feel more like a “must-keep appointment”.  The result?  You’re more likely to keep your commitment.
  5. Don’t plan what to do during your rest.  While planning rest works for some folks, it doesn’t work for everyone.  Sometimes a glorious hour of “nothing” is more effective than a well thought out plan.  Do whatever works best for you – even if it’s a bit of both!
  6. Determine when to quit.  There’s no end to our revolving “to do” lists, so it isn’t a surprise that they appear at both the beginning and the end of our “resting” advice.  Quite frankly, we can run ourselves ragged trying to keep up with all of the tasks which need to be accomplished.  Determine a time each evening when you’re going to call it quits then stick to it.  Put the “to do” list away, change into your jammies, and just relax.  You’ll find yourself sleeping better and waking fresher as you reap the full benefits of rest.

These, of course, are only a few ideas to help you make rest a regular part of your life and it may take time to fully implement them.  Schedules change as do the demands presented by family, church, school, and work.  The blocks of time available for rest this week may not be the same next week.  That’s okay.  The idea is to make resting a priority in our lives.

Next week, we’ll be concluding our series with a look at how hobbies help or hinder our attempts to relax.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your own tips for scheduling rest in the comment box below!

 

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Respecting Others’ Right to Rest

4 Oct

Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken the time to look at a few techniques to help us get the rest we need to serve God at our best.  This week, we’re flipping the coin as we examine the importance of allowing others to get the rest that they need.

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  While Jesus wasn’t the originator of this phrase, it does summarize a great deal of His teaching.  (That is, of course, presuming that you generally like others to approach you with grace, mercy, generosity, etc.)  It’s an important phrase to remember when we discuss the value of rest.  After all, everyone needs some time to relax… and helping others get away, even just for a moment, can be a powerful presentation of our Christian faith!

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  Notice He doesn’t qualify His “all”.  He doesn’t say, “Come to Me, you Jews who are weary” or “Come to Me you slaves who are weary” or even “Come to Me you temple-goers who are weary”, but “Come to Me, all who are weary.” He doesn’t seem concerned with the sex or social status of those who approach Him for rest and shows no interest in their career choice or political affiliation – His only concern is that people need rest.  Perhaps the appeal of this phrase is that in seeking to have a physical need met, a spiritual one is met as well.  And if having the one met by Christ leads to the other being met in a more important, eternal sense, then we who are “imitators”(Ephesians 5:1) of Christ ought to do all we can to help those around us experience rest.

So what does this look like in application?  To begin with, we need to be alert to the needs of others.  Stop talking and start listening.  It’s likely that you’ll begin to recognize the signs of exhaustion in the words of your siblings, the tone of your boss, or the actions of your professor.  When you do, this alertness ought to lead us to action.  Here are a few examples of the form that action might take:

  1. Respect for break times and off-work hours.  We’ve all been there:  We’re lounging in the break room enjoying our lunch when someone comes in and asks our opinion on a problem they’re facing out on the sales floor.  It isn’t that we mind weighing in, but we’d prefer to do it on the clock.  Though it may seem surprising, we aren’t alone in this sentiment.  If you see your math professor headed into the baseball stadium or your employer relaxing with a magazine, now isn’t the time to approach them for comment!  Let them enjoy their time off and wait to approach them until they’re back on the clock.
  2. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because your boss is salaried, they don’t have a right to enjoy lunch undisturbed.  Unless it’s a real emergency (like the store is burning down), leave them alone and address the issue once they’ve packed away their munchies.  Many employees won’t afford them this kind of basic human decency, so you can bet they’ll notice if you do!
  3. Don’t assume that you know what everyone else’s life is like.  It’s easy to rationalize pressuring a high performance out of someone who we feel isn’t justified in their weariness.  Unfortunately we don’t always know the full story behind why our co-worker always shows up yawning or a particular church member never seems to have the time to serve.  That exhaustion could be from a party that went on until the wee hours of the morning… or it could be from an unavoidable late-night study session.  Give the benefit of a doubt and cut others some slack when it comes to adding to their burden.  Respect their boundaries when they say they just can’t work the overtime or tend the nursery.
  4. Head off the tension at the pass.  Romans 12:18 tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” I probably don’t need to say it, but conflict isn’t conducive to rest, so do your best to avoid it.  Even when you’re justified in your frustration, approaching your pastor employer, parents, or coworkers with a tone of sympathy and an expectation that they’re man or woman enough to resolve the problem can go a long way towards creating a restful environment and actually fixing the situation.
  5. Do the unexpected.  Go out of your way to teach an extra class and give another Sunday School teacher a break or sneak your boss a candy bar and keep watch for a few minutes while they consume it.  You may be surprised at how much impact an unexpected, rest-inducing act can have!

While these ideas just scratch the surface, you’re likely starting to get the picture.  We live in a stressful world and, when we take the time to relieve the stress of others and afford them an opportunity to rest, our actions get noticed.  If we take these actions in the right way, they point observers straight to the One who can give them rest not just now, but for all eternity!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Ministry Part II

27 Sep

Last week in “Setting Boundaries between Rest and Ministry Part I”, we discussed some of the dangers that we encounter when we fall prey to the false belief that the only way to serve God is through the doors of the church.  We considered the importance of taking the time to prayerfully consider opportunities to serve and determining whether we have the time and energy to do so.  This week, we’ll be looking at the tension which sometimes exists between our need for rest and our prior commitments to serve.

If you’ve been in any form of ministry for long, you already recognize that the energy you can commit to service isn’t a constant.  Some days go better than others and, while we always want to give our best, it isn’t always possible to do so.  An overlong day at work, a grumpy customer, or an irritating classmate can put a crimp in our day… and in our physical reserve.  When this happens, our best bet is to pray and press through, allowing God to handle our energy deficit and enable us to accomplish His will.

Other times, however, the pressure which pits rest against service comes from within the congregation.  There’s an old statistic (I’ll let you decide whether or not it’s true) that claims that 90% of the work is performed by 10% of the church.  Once you’ve accepted one position of service, don’t be surprised if someone approaches you about another.  This isn’t always a bad thing, but it isn’t always a good thing either.  If you’re going to keep your sanity and get enough time for the relaxation that your body so desperately needs, you’ll need to learn to set a few boundaries.  Here are a few top-notch ways of doing just that:

  1. Make a habit of considering each offer to serve on an individual basis.  Just because you’ve helped out in a capacity before doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to do it again… nor does it mean that you may not be willing to do so in the future.  If, after prayerful consideration (I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough), you determine that you can’t serve and get the sleep you need, feel free to say no.  But don’t forget to let the party (or parties) asking that you may be willing to reconsider the situation in the future.
  2. If you have to decline an offer to serve, don’t feel obligated to explain why.  In our overworked world, it isn’t that uncommon for people to have trouble understanding why someone else won’t overwork themselves.  A full-blown explanation of the factors you considered while making the decision can sometimes lead to an argument… and may lead to your being cowed into doing something God didn’t call you to do.
  3. If you’re asked for an explanation, there’s no sin in keeping it vague.  A simple “I had other obligations” is usually sufficient to stave off further enquiry and often goes much further than a statement that you failed to feel God calling you (even if the latter is more precisely the case).  Your obligation is to God first and is expressed in obedience to His Word – even when that Word indicates that you need some time to yourself!
  4. Don’t feel compelled to answer every ministry-related call or e-mail immediately.  Set specific hours during which you pick up the phone (though you may want to keep them to yourself) and let calls outside of these hours go to voicemail.  If there is an emergency, the caller will leave a message.  Don’t feel pressured to pick up just because the person on the other end happens to be your pastor or a particularly needy member of your Sunday School class.  And don’t feel compelled to break your hours if the caller is persistent!  They need their space and you need yours.
  5. Just because there is an event related to your ministry doesn’t mean you need to be there.  This can be a particularly difficult boundary for others to accept, but a failure to set it may lead to exhaustion.  If you teach a Sunday School class and everyone decides to get together once a week for dinner, you are under no obligation to show up.  Weigh your commitments, then prayerfully make a decision.
  6. Don’t show up just because the ministry event will be “fun”.  I admit to struggling with this.  Truth be told, I really enjoy the ministries in which I’m involved… and I find it difficult not to jump at every chance to fellowship with certain members of my congregation.  But just because an activity is “fun” doesn’t mean it’s also “restful”… and sometimes that means that I don’t need to be there.

Next week, we’ll be looking at the importance of respecting the boundaries of others when it comes to getting rest.  Meanwhile, you can probably think of a few more good ideas to tack on to this week’s post.  If you do, please feel free to share them in the comment box below!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Ministry Part I

20 Sep

Rushing home from work, I crammed my dinner down my throat.  Taking a quick glance at the clock, I hopped in for a three minute shower, then out of the tub, back into my clothes, out the door, and to the church.  A long day at the office resulted in my leaving late and everything between that and the time I walked through the doors of the sanctuary was just a blur.  I was exhausted, but the night was still young.  Inside were kids (lots of them) waiting for my attention.  “Did I even eat dinner?” I asked myself, truly wondering whether I had as I plopped my Bible on the music stand.

We’ve all been there.  School and work can be tiring and sometimes overly so.  We look forward to our time off, but before we reach that blessed relief, we find another demand or two knocking on our door.  Unlike the demand for an education or the money to pay our bills, these demands are more persistent: they come from the church.  Often wrapped in the sentiments of “will you please pray about God’s call regarding your service” or “could you do this just once… no one else will”, it can be hard to see these demands as “optional”.  After all, if we love God, we should be about His work.  Right?

While it’s true that those who belong to God will serve Him (John 12:26), we are severely mistaken if we believe that the only way to do so is through the doors of the church.  After all, Jesus’ commission to us was to “Go into the world…” (Matthew 28:18), not to ask it to come to us!  The result is that, while service within the church is important, a good deal of our work as believers ought to take place outside it… in the halls of academia, in supermarket aisles, and even in the company break room.  It is in these places that our ability to shine the light of Christ matters most because here, the darkness is greatest.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that we ought never to serve in our local body of believers.  Scripture is pretty clear about the importance of service within the body of Christ.  (Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 4:10)  What it does mean is that we ought never to serve simply because we (or others) feel that service is somehow more “godly” if it is done from a pulpit or the front of a classroom.  There are plenty of ways to be a useful member of the body of Christ and each of them is important to the health of the whole!  (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 7:7 and 12:4-31)

How does this relate to rest?  Quite honestly, it means that whenever we are given an opportunity to serve, we need to prayerfully consider the whole equation.  Has God gifted you for a particular task?  If He has, doesn’t always mean that He’s calling you to exercise that gift right now.  Take the time to consider whether you have the resources in both time and energy to do the job well.  If not, there’s a good chance this isn’t the right time for you to commit to being the church organist or teaching a preschool class.

While some would argue that those whom God calls, God equips, there are others who equally rightly point out that there is a time and a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).  Take some time to pray about the opportunity.  If you receive peace and the pieces fall into place, say yes.  If you don’t, bow out gracefully.  You may disappoint others, but I can guarantee that you’ll disappoint them more if you show up grumpy and unprepared because you really did need some rest!

What about those who are already in regular ministry?  We’ll take a look at that next week, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

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