At Work & Theology 101

Feeling Exhausted All the Time? Here’s How the Sabbath Can Rejuvenate You

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The way we’re working isn’t working….you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty.

So begins a recent article in the New York Times suggesting that the experience described above is common for workers, middle managers, and also to top executives.

The authors, in conjunction with the Harvard Business Review, conducted a survey last fall of more than 12,000 employees across a broad range of companies and industries.

The study found that employees are vastly more satisfied and productive when four of their core needs are met:

  • Physical needs, met through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work.
  • Emotional needs, fulfilled by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions.
  • Mental needs, satisfied when people feel they have the opportunity to focus on their most important tasks, and define when – and where – they get their work done.
  • Spiritual needs, met by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

The rest of the article focuses on how employers can get more productivity out of their employees by finding ways to address these four complex needs.

As Christians we recognize that we are not just pawns being manipulated by our bosses and supervisors in order to improve the bottom line (thought it can sometimes feel that way).

Instead, we understand that work is rendered difficult because of the Fall (Genesis 3:17-19). As those who are redeemed by grace, we also understand that God has given us special tools to combat the curse lingering over work.

These tools help us address these four core – and sin-damaged – areas of need in our lives, regardless of whether our employer is or isn’t investing in these core needs on our behalf. Understanding and utilizing these four tools can change the way we view work.

  • In the physical area, God has given us the Sabbath.
  • In the emotional area, God has given us work.
  • In the mental area, God has given us the resurrection.
  • In the spiritual area, God has given us calling.

Each of these tools will be examined individually over the coming weeks, beginning today with the Sabbath.

How does the Sabbath deliver us from always feeling stressed, exhausted, and running on empty?

One of the best explanations of the Sabbath and why it is important to Christians today is found in a sermon Tim Keller gave a number of years ago. Keller suggests that it is not the physical work that exhausts us.

God made us for work (Genesis 2:15). It is what Keller calls “the work under the work” that creates our unshakable weariness.

Today we are taught by culture to find our identity and fulfillment through work. As Keller says,

[If] the very meaning of my life is to maximize success [and/or] money through work, how can I ever relax? Any society that increases the need for rest while undermining the ability to do so is strangling its members.

This constant drive to prove ourselves destroys our ability to find rest. It also cripples our chances of finding true joy and fulfillment in our work.

The only thing that will silence the condemning voices driving so many of us to the brink of exhaustion is the biblical discipline of what Keller calls “Sabbath rest.”

Correctly practicing the Sabbath brings about a new spiritual understanding of both work and the whole of our lives (for more on this, see Keller’s paper Sabbath: Rest and Work).

Keller explains the purpose of the Sabbath in his sermon, saying,

The purpose of Sabbath is not simply to rejuvenate yourself in order to do more production. Nor is it the pursuit of pleasure.

Instead, the purpose of Sabbath is to enjoy:

  • God.
  • Life in general.
  • Your accomplishments, achieved through God’s help.
  • The freedom found in the gospel, freedom from slavery to any material object or human expectation.

Keller sums it all up by stating,

The Sabbath is a sign of the whole future salvation that is coming.

This is why Jesus can tell his disciples,

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

Let Sabbath rest rejuvenate you and your work.

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  • Ultimately, the Sabbath is a gift from God (“made for man” – Mark 2:27) to enjoy in the ways mentioned in the article, but perhaps most importantly, to remind us of our relationship to our Creator. Remembering the Sabbath (as we are instructed to do in the 4th commandment) reminds us of the creation story and how from the beginning God designed us to follow the pattern He demonstrated: 6 days of productive, useful labor and 1 day of restorative, recreational rest. Observing the Sabbath reminds us that all of our labor should be done in perspective, remembering for Whom we ultimately work and to Whom we are ultimately accountable. With such a perspective, both our work and our rest will prove to be enjoyable!

  • Dr. Gordon P. Richards

    The right words at the right time. I have been overwhelmed, and on the Sabbath, my mind has been focused on the week behind me and the week to come and not the Lord at hand. Even the Sabbath was not bringing rest. It is a struggle to let go, to clear my mind of that which weighs me down, so that it could be filled by that which lifts me up.
    I must be intentional about my Sabbath rest and I must endeavor to rest in the Lord and not try to rest in me.

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