My wife sleeps nearby. My kids too. I’ve risen before the sun with Hugo and Springsteen. When I poured my coffee a full moon lit the kitchen well enough, no other light was needed. Now the sun hides that mirror and day arrives. Eponine has just told Marius she does not want money for the address. The Boss sings, “I work all day out in the hot sun.”
When I started my new positions as teacher and pastor back in August, for the first time in my life I began to observe a day of rest. No work for 24 hours. This resolve came from reading Eugene Peterson. I pretty much swore to myself if I ever went back to ministry, I would observe a day of rest every week. No work for 24 hours. And since August, I have only failed to do this once. Maybe twice. And even then it was Sunday School prep for which I at one time was not paid. But still, it was work. I felt the pressure of teaching…preaching really to 100 men and women in my Sunday School class. That day showed me the rest was worth more to my teaching than my preparation. The next week showed me this even more when I did rest.
That lesson seemed to be more effective and powerful showing me that I am not in control and my smarts are not the end all be all.
You may have noticed that I have been using the word “rest” and not “Sabbath.” I just noticed that too. There are probably two reasons for this choice of words – my history and a new book I’m reading
When I was a youth pastor in Greenwood, Mississippi, I was enjoying what could only be called a successful ministry in a small PCA church. The lead pastor encouraged me to get ordained with the full approbation of the Elders. I had not been all that interested because a previous pastor I worked with at another church had encouraged ordination so as to reap the tax benefits. That turned me off to ordination for a time but the encouragement of these men with whom I served softened my heart. So I studied and wrote my papers.
It has now been over 10 years since I sought ordination so the process is a bit hazy. I know all the papers I had to write were accepted and were seen as very well done. I was examined in committees and that went well. But before ordination can happen, you have to preach and then be examined on the floor of a presbytery meeting. This examination consists of being asked theological questions, which I answered without any problem. All was going perfectly till they asked me if I had any exceptions to the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Now there are two things you need to know about this whole process. First, there are differing opinions within the PCA on whether you should be able to take exception to any part of the WCF. Some Presbyteries will allow you to take an exception on certain issues. Some Presbyteries will allow none. Second, you need to know this was one of those presbyteries that allowed no exceptions.
I let them know that I did take exception to the Confession’s teaching on the Sabbath. I did not believe that the Sabbath laws of the Mosaic Covenant were still in force. That did not go well. That whole event is a blur but I can remember a few things. One is an old man pointing at me and calling me an “antinomian” meaning that I am anti-law. The word heresy might have been used. A few men shaking their heads in disapproval. Anger. I had done my homework and was able to quote stalwarts throughout Presbyterian history and leaders within our denomination. All for nothing. My ordination was indefinitely tabled.
Since I was not a Sabbatarian in confession, I had no hope of being ordained in that presbytery. I not only felt defeated, I was angry. And my anger grew as I learned that I only needed to say that I was wrong in my conviction. My practice did not matter. Actually, I was told by one pastor that I only needed to rescind my exception and I could keep my private conviction. Knowing most other presbyteries would not have even blinked did not help.
Needless to say, I not only soured on Sabbatarians, I soured on Presbyterians. I soon left and went back to my Baptist roots.
Earlier this week, I listened to an interview of A.J. Swoboda about his new book, Subversive Sabbath. Before the interview was over I had ordered the book.
How did I get from drowning in the floor of that Presbytery meeting to swimming further out into what feels increasingly like refreshing pools of teaching on Sabbath rest? Swoboda points to it in that interview and his book which I have just begun. Taking a Sabbath is God’s gift of rest. Rest we were made for. Rest that reminds me that I am not God. And neither is the world with all its demands.
I would like to resume this blog with a few posts as I read through this book. My hope is that I will find rest and those of you still interested in reading this nearly abandoned space will find some hope in rest also.
Springsteen just sang, “The way the winds rush through the trees.” Marius is waiting. The sun waits along with the day. My kids stir in the next room waiting for breakfast. And I have already felt the pull of work and how hard it is to say, “no, not today.”
Thanks for your thoughts Matt. Looking forward to reading more. Your words resonate. Rest has been a vital part of the new life we entered into 8 years ago after leaving a busy season of ministry.
Matt, good for you.
I instilled ‘rest ‘ /sabbath when raising our kids.. they needed it, well, we all do, and my thought was, God set the example from the beginning—good enough for me.
I still practice it…because it simply reminds me, as you stated, I’m not God.
Also, it was part of my process and journey into practicing being still or silent before the Lord.
It’s not easy..you are probably more strict in your practice than I…but then , I don’t work (for a paycheck), but obligations, family (extended), volunteerism, Church, mentoring, relationships, are all time consuming and wonderful and God given…but can be exhausting…thus: rest!
Believers don’t understand it for the most part…but I’ve pretty much found myself on the outside of evangelicalism in the last 10yrs…and that’s ok.
Yes, keep the blog up!!
Glad you will be blogging on this topic. I look forward to it. I have missed your posts, but have been sure you are happier vocationally than you’ve been in a long time, probably ever. Somehow I missed that you are pastoring as well as teaching, but I know that teaching has rescued your soul. It would surely have shriveled to nothing in that dreadful ungodly banking environment. Praise God for releasing you from that dungeon—and because I believe in his sovereignty, for whatever his purpose was in having you there in the first place.
Matt – thank you and welcome back. Please do continue as so many of us need these reminders desperately. You and I have talked before and you have always been an encouragement and blessing. In any form of ministry it is so easy to say yes to everything because who wants to be seen as “saying no to God”. Thank you for your blog and this great reminder.
So happy to hear from you again. I look forward to your posts – on any subject .
Thanks Matt. I’ve always found your thoughts here helpful and insightful. Wishing you the best in your faith story work life and family.
I am finding myself back in the familiar place of stress and burn-out as it relates to church and ministry. It seems like the only trick I know… Watch Eric burn out and hate the church he used to love. It is my own fault really. I have this delusion that God will love me more or there will be more acceptance or respect if I keep saying, “yes” to the myriad of things that need to be done at church. I feel guilty for saying, “No”. I feel like I am letting God and others down. Burned out as a youth pastor… burned out as an Executive pastor… Quit church for over 5 years because of PTSD, broken relationships, false accusations, etc. that 20 years of church ministry caused. Now I am 3 years into becoming Eastern Orthodox and the burnout and stress have started. I will take the blame because of my eagerness and desire to help. but really it is more about wanting God’s love and acceptance and wanting the admiration and respect of other people. Just a simple act of asking my priest, “Can I help” has turned into Reading/Chanting/Alter Working multiple services, extra services, leading choir, learning music, taking seminary classes… on top of working 50 hours per week and trying to prioritize my physical, mental, and spiritual health. My wife and my best friend see the damage and issues it is causing me… I have reached the breaking point and have started putting the breaks on as fast as I can. I feel like a quitter. I look back on all the failures in ministry and the Christian walk. I am not sure how people handle all the business and all the responsibility. I am not made for it… but I keep trying and I keep hitting the wall. I want to go back to standing in the back of the church, praying and worshipping without the need or obligation of having to “serve” or feeling like I am not worthy or loved unless I am “Busy for Jesus”.
Eric, I would love to talk about this with you more. Can you shoot me an email at email@example.com?