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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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Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Work I Enjoy

13 Sep

If you sometimes have difficulty finding the line between work and play, you aren’t alone!  Engaged in a form of employment that allows me to explore my passion and utilize my creativity, it’s sometimes difficult to see where rest ends and work begins.  Unfortunately, this pleasant blur doesn’t change the fact that rest is still essential if I’m going to effectively share God’s love with others.

Unlike the cranky Christian discussed in “Resting One Moment at a Time”, those who love their work run the risk of becoming an obsessed Christian.  Instead of grumping about everything, obsessed Christians often find their ability to relate to others limited by the things which they feel most passionate about.  The result is that they are often incapable of sharing God’s love outside of the very limited circle of people who share those passions.  I probably don’t need to point out that this isn’t the best profile for anyone seeking to follow Christ’s Matthew 28 commission!

To avoid becoming obsessed Christians, we need to learn to rest… and cultivate interests beyond the sphere of our employment (no matter how thrilling that employment may be).  To do this requires effort, so here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Set aside time to avoid work.  It may be a full day or just a few hours, but applying your brain to something other than what you do for a living or the subject that you’re studying in school is a healthy habit.  A good rule of thumb is to avoid any activity that may even appear to be related to either of these venues.  (If you aren’t sure whether an activity fits, ask a friend or family member.  Their observations are usually spot-on.)  If you’re studying for a degree in horticulture, don’t spend your “rest time” reading books on plants.  If you’re a graphics designer, set the sketch pad aside.  I may be tempting to cheat, but don’t!  You need this time away.
  2. Explore other people’s passions.  You aren’t the only one completely in love with your vocation!  Take some time to find out more about the hobbies and occupations of your friends and family, then participate with them as they indulge their passion.  Even if it’s work for them, it’ll be a break for you!
  3. Try something new.  The world is full of interesting things to do.  Never picked up a brush?  Why not check out a local painting class?  Wonder why martial artists yell when they attack?  Take a  Karate class!  Never read a fantasy novel?  Ask your local librarian to recommend a good one.  There are plenty of things to explore, so use your rest time to do just that!
  4. Cultivate relationships.  Most Americans don’t have many close friends… so why not fill that gap for someone else?  Take a break from the things that consume you to get to know those within your family, church, or community.  A few hours and a cup of coffee may be all it takes to make a new friend.  If all goes well, you’ll both walk away feeling rested!
  5. Deepen your connection with God.  It’s amazing how quickly He can get sidelined in our lives… even though He’s the One who gave us our passion to begin with!  Why not rekindle that connection?  Instead of doing a quick devotional every day, set aside a larger chunk of time for Bible study and/or prayer.  You may be surprised at just how refreshing this time can become… and how odd your day will feel without it!
  6. Finally, surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart.  More than once, it’s been my family that has intervened to let me know that I need to slow down a bit.  From the outside, they can see the lines between work and rest quite clearly… even when I can’t.  Find yourself some close friends who are willing to keep an eye on you and who are strong enough to tell you when it’s time to quit.

These are, of course, just a few ideas to get you started.  Apply yourself and you’re sure to come up with a few more!

Next week, we’ll be exploring the tension which often exists between our need for rest and the needs of Christian ministry.  Meanwhile, feel free to share how you escape from becoming an “obsessed Christian” in the comment box below!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Resting One Moment at a Time

6 Sep

Last week in “Setting Boundaries between Rest and Employment”, we took a look at a few of the employment-related obstacles which stand in the way of our setting aside a scheduled time for rest.  We examined the difficulties encountered by those who live paycheck-to-paycheck and considered the reality that “taking a stand” for our “right” to time off isn’t always prudent or wise (at least not if we want to eat our next meal).  And we discussed the importance of recognizing that God’s provision for us doesn’t always result in our having a great deal of control over our circumstances.

How we react when confronted with such obstacles can make a big difference in both our lives and the lives of others.  Will we give up and simply accept that getting enough rest just isn’t possible?  Will we become the cranky Christian no one wants to be around?  Or will we find a way to navigate the obstacles, find the time to relax, and put ourselves in a position that will help us better demonstrate God’s love?  Those of us who want to fulfill Christ’s commission in Matthew 28:19-20 chose the latter and learn the fine art of resting one moment at a time.

This can be a difficult skill to acquire.  To begin with, we need to throw away the notion that real rest takes real time.  If you’ve ever seen someone return to work looking worn out after spending an entire week just relaxing on the beach, then you know this isn’t true.  What is true is that “a change is as good as a rest”.  And if we are to become skilled at acquiring rest through moments rather than hours or days, that’s where we need to begin.

Think back over your day, paying special attention to “free moments” you may have had while walking to school, taking a break at the water cooler, or even performing some mundane chore like dusting the living room.  “Free moments?” you ask.  Indeed.  While you were physically occupied during these tasks, it’s doubtful that your mind was very deeply engaged.  And it’s from this “free time” that we can sculpt opportunities for rest.  Consider the following tips for turning this time into a mini-vacation:

  1. Read or listen to a devotional.  This activity often takes just a few minutes, but it has the power to draw you closer to God, reset your brain, and influence your outlook for an entire day.
  2. Block out the break room chatter.  Few things are as toxic and non-restful as the gossip which goes on in company break rooms.  Instead of increasing your tension by listening in, plug in a set of headphones and listen to something else: a great podcast, some energizing music, or soothing nature sounds.
  3. Step it up.  Believe it or not, exercise often heightens our ability to rest.  If you’re in a physical job, challenge yourself to step up the intensity… not so much that you hurt yourself, but enough to leave you with a feeling of pleasant soreness when you’ve finished.  If your job isn’t physical, take advantage of your break time and take a stroll around the parking lot.  The change of scenery will do you good!
  4. Take a cat-nap.  Set an alarm, then take a snooze on your lunch break.  Even fifteen minutes of extra sleep has the power to reenergize your day.  If you’re afraid of missing the alarm, then just sit quietly with your eyes closed.  Breathe deeply and enjoy some time on an imaginary beach somewhere with a frosty glass of lemonade.
  5. Work a puzzle.  Instead of stuffing your face with a candy bar during your break, try working a puzzle instead.  Crosswords, Sudoku, chess puzzlers, and other mind-benders take you out of the world around you while helping to sharpen your cognitive abilities.
  6. Explore new ideas.  Grab a book or magazine and disappear into another world for a while.  Like a vacation on a paper, the printed word can take us to places we’ve only dreamed of!

Next week, we’ll take a look at the difficulties that confront us as we try to set boundaries between rest and work that we enjoy.  Meanwhile, feel free to share some of your own relaxation tips in the comment box below!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries between Rest and Employment

30 Aug

Life is a balancing act and, if you’re at all like me, you’ve probably struggled at times to maintain that balance: especially when it comes to rest and work.  We live in a high-paced society filled with schedules, deadlines, and difficult-to-meet expectations from bosses, professors, family members, and friends. Our lives are dominated by activities ranging from mundane chores like doing our laundry and cooking dinner to tasks which (seemingly) have the ability to make or break our future job prospects.  And the Church has its demands as well!

With all of this going on around us, it isn’t surprising finding a spare moment to sit down and relax can sometimes seem like an impossible dream!  Indeed, setting and maintaining boundaries between the tasks we must accomplish and the relaxation our bodies and minds so ardently desire can be quite a challenge.  That’s why, over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at some simple ways to set boundaries between work and play.  We’ll explore three types of work/rest boundaries that confront each of us, along with some tips for overcoming the impossible and actually getting the rest that we need.  We’ll be exploring the delicate balance that exists between rest and employment, what to do when the line between work and rest gets blurred, and how to handle the tangible tension which often exists between rest and ministry.

We’ll get started this week with the trickiest of these three: the balance between rest and employment.  Unless you happen to be independently wealthy, you have to have a job.  It is through your employment that you are able to pay your electric bill, cover the cost of your groceries, and ensure that you aren’t running around in just a loin cloth.  If you’re amongst the richest 25% of world population (those who make over $3,706 a year), you probably also have the ability to occasionally see a movie or buy a candy bar.  But even those who are among the “richest” aren’t always rolling in the dough and a loss of hours can lead to serious financial hardship.

That this can lead to conflict when it comes to scheduling time for rest is undoubted.  For example, what do we do when we really have to work that extra day this week or risk losing our employment?  What should we do when the boss says we can have the extra hours we need to pay off our student loan, but we haven’t had a day off in over a month?  And how do we handle it when those who control our time on the clock feel they have the right to control our time off the clock?

While some might be tempted to argue that those facing these circumstances ought to “take a stand”, say no, and trust God, those who have lived through similar situations know that doing so isn’t always wise… or even possible.  We recognize that God’s provision for our needs doesn’t always come in a way that is comfortable or appealing and that sometimes we’re called to do something which doesn’t permit us a great deal of freedom or control.  We aren’t necessarily allowing ourselves to be used as doormats (though it may appear that way to others), but we are submitting ourselves to authority in order to achieve the end that God has put before us – in this case, earning a living.

The result is that some of us have to learn the delicate art of “resting one moment at a time”.  Unlike the full day off we discussed in our series on the Sabbath, this art demands that we learn to look for the little breaks in our day that allow us even just a few minutes to “escape” from the world surrounding us and into fellowship with God.  It requires that we learn to make the best of the time we have, investing it in the activities and relationships that really matter.  And it can make the difference between our being Spirit-filled representations of God’s love for humanity or just another cranky Christian.  It isn’t always an easy skill to pick up, so next week, we’ll be taking a look at a few tips to help you on your way!

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