“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”
(Mark 2:27; 6:31)
If you’ve ever driven a go-cart, you’ll know that the buggy will only go so fast. It’s frustrating for Jimmy Johnson wannabes, but:
With the pedal
To the metal,
At that speed
You’ll have to settle.
The reason for this speed limitation is that the engine is rigged with a speed governor; a device regulating how much fuel gets in, in order to limit acceleration. That governor means that there’s nothing you can do about it. Go-cart #48 is not going to go any faster no matter how hard you press it to the floor.
God has given me a speed governor. I have had a constant 24/7/365 headache (due to nerve damage from a vicious bout with viral meningitis) for the last 32 years. My discomfort stays at a constant 6-8 level on the 0-10 pain Richter scale. Functioning as my speed governor, this inescapable pain regulates (and depletes) energy flow in my body, keeping me from exceeding a healthy speed in life.
With my headache, if I race and chase without rest, I crash and burn. Excessive ministry labor for even 36-48 hours comes with a pain and exhaustion price tag that I simply cannot afford. Add to it some severe back pain in more recent time—due to three herniated discs and six bulging ones—and one can only assume that in the Father’s mind, my need for a speed governor has not passed.
As many would know—and contrary to how people joke—faithful pastors don’t work just one day a week. They have to exert an almost superhuman will to keep from working seven days a week. Through 38 years of ministry, I’ve averaged around 55-57 hours of ministry per week. But even with that, I still end each week with a list of ministry and people needs easily as long as the list I just completed. My temptation is not laziness. It is the idolatry of busyness and self-importance, the vanity of trying to be omnipresent and omni-competent for everybody.
Many pastors are like me in this. They mistake busyness for faithfulness; when one is definitely not the other. Commitment and compulsiveness are not the same. Failure to realize this has caused many gospel ministers to kill their souls and damage their families by over-work. Preachers’ kids grow up to hate the church because their dads were there for the church more than for their families. Children, wives, and spiritual health all become collateral damage. Spiritual burnout and relational devastation are so common as to no longer surprise.
Such would have been me if not for my headache. I’ve come to see that my pain is a merciful gift from God to help me stay faithful over the long haul. It does for me what I believe that I—with my very strong work ethic and a pretty strong sense of commitment and spiritual urgency—would not have been able to do for myself. I sincerely doubt that I would’ve been willing or able to maintain proper speed without God rigging my engine.
I thank God for my speed governor since it has forced me to pace and rest. I’ve had no choice but to keep a carefully guarded schedule that includes rest and replenishment time, something that I’m convinced has preserved me from burn-out and from being an absentee husband and dad.
Truth is, our Creator has given us all a speed governor. It’s called Sabbath rest. When God rested on the seventh day, it wasn’t because He was tired and needed a break. It was because He knew we’d get tired and would need a break. He established restful pacing and Sabbath spacing to limit our frantic racing and endless chasing. He gave us one day a week to go slower and gaze higher.
I do not view Sabbath as, primarily, a day for taboos, a day when I cannot do the things I want or think I need to do. What is needed is not so much Sabbath policing as Sabbath practice. I view Sabbath (or spiritual) observance as a gift; as God giving me/us permission to rest and replenish. One-day-in-seven rest is a life rhythm dating all the way back to creation that is still worth keeping today.
In my case, for the good of body, soul, and family, the Lord installed a back-up plan. He gave me an ever-present pain-activated speed governor because He knew that I was all too likely to disconnect the Sabbath one. Brothers in ministry: practice rest or He might need to give you one as well. More importantly: if you want to be faithful for the duration—and for your soul, body, and family to endure to the end—get some constant, steady rhythmic rest.
*This article is based on an excerpt from the author’s devotional work called 30/30 Hindsight: 30 Reflections on a 30-Year Headache, 2019.