How to Prevent Burnout God's Way

You might think the Fourth Commandment is about resting, but you'd be wrong.

Well, half wrong.

The Sabbath commandment is as much (if not more) about work as it is about rest. It admonishes both the sloth and workaholic.

The Ewan (cc)

Throughout my own life I have wavered back and forth through these extremes. I went through pendulum swings of productivity and inaction.

In high school I spent most of my free time playing video games.

As I entered my second semester of college I had transitioned into an almost full-fledged workaholic. I had a couple of part time jobs, was going to school full-time and regularly updated a blog. All the while I was trying to maintain a long distance relationship with my future wife.

After moving back to Oklahoma and getting married, the pendulum swung back to the sloth. Don’t get me wrong, I had a part-time job and a full slate of college courses. If you had asked me during that stage of my life I probably would have said that I was working hard.

But now that I have four kids and a full-time job, I covet my time. I guard it. I try to put every free moment to use.

And it's easy to get worn out in the name of efficiency.

But built into the Fourth Commandment is a regulator that helps prevent this cycle of burnout and stagnation. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but God knew what He was doing when He gave Israel the law.

He created the universe in six days and found it desirable to rest on the seventh.

He didn't need to rest; He is omnipotent.

So if God rested on the Sabbath, how much more should we, with the limitations of the flesh, rest?

But before rest comes work:

 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. . . Exodus 20:9

How inconvenient.

The implication here is that you should work, and you should complete your work within the first six days.

In other words, work is good. It is proper and necessary.

In fact, the first recorded command from God is to “be fruitful” (Genesis 1:28), meaning productive. Both of these words come from the agricultural terms “fruit” and “produce.”

That makes sense considering Adam’s original task was to take care of the garden in Eden. 

Later, Jesus paralleled agricultural work and spiritual work when he said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37).

And Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians that he “who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (3:10).

So if you like eating you better work.

But you can't focus on work all the time. After working you get to rest:

 . . . but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. Exodus 20:10a

Two things stand out to me in this phrase.

The first is that the word sabbath is not capitalized. The passage uses the indefinite article ‘a’ to refer not to ‘the’ Sabbath, the original seventh day, but instead invokes a generic sabbath. 

So what’s going on here?

The word sabbath is derived from the verb shabbath, which is Hebrew for “to rest from labor” (Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary). Therefore a simple change of that verb to a noun yields, “a resting from labor.” So if we substitute that for the word sabbath in the passage we get: “but the seventh day is a resting from labor to the LORD your God.”

So before we saw that it is good to work. Now we see that it is good to rest. 

But there is more to the commandment than just the practical side.

The second thing that stands out is the phrase “to the LORD.” This means that our rest has a purpose. You don't rest simply to rest; you dedicate it to God.

Your rest shouldn't be passive. It should be purposeful and deliberate.

This is the key to avoiding burnout.

You see, you can be clocked out physically but still clocked in mentally. But when you are intentional about rest, you replace that work time with time dedicated to worship, time with family, time relaxing.

These built in intervals help assure you get rest that you need physically. And making that time about God refreshes you spiritually.

The sluggard rests because he is lazy, but God's people rest to honor Him.

Therefore be intentional in work and in rest.

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