Foreword by Max Lucado
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In Take the Day Off, Pastor Morris explains why rest is central to your wellbeing, how to do it, and how helpful it can be. You will be inspired to experience true rest and make it a priority in the rhythm of your weekly schedule. Don’t wait and delay God’s blessings in your life. Start implementing the principle of rest in your life and you will see eternal benefits.
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FOREWORD BY MAX LUCADO
Sheep can’t sleep. Perhaps the reason we count sheep to help us sleep is because they are awake.
Sheep struggle to calm down. It’s understandable. They are defenseless. They have no sharp teeth or claws. They run slow. When they fall over, they struggle to stand up. They cannot protect themselves. Consequently, they are hesitant to relax.
For sheep to sleep, everything must be just right. No predators. No tension in the flock. No bugs in the air. No hunger in the belly. Everything has to be just so. Unfortunately the sheep cannot find safe pasture, nor can they spray insecticide, deal with the frictions, or find food. They need help. They need a shepherd to help them “lie down in green pastures” (Ps. 23:2). Without a shepherd, they can’t rest.
Without a shepherd, neither can we.
We work hard. There is money to be made. There are degrees to be earned. There are ladders to be climbed. Busyness is next to godliness. We idolize Thomas Edison who claimed he could exist on fifteen-minute naps. (Somehow we forget to mention Albert Einstein who averaged eleven hours of sleep a night.) In 1910 Americans slept 9 hours a night, today we sleep 7 and are proud of it. And we are tired because of it. Our minds are tired. Our bodies are tired. But much more importantly, our souls are tired.
We are eternal creatures and we ask eternal questions. From where did I come? To where am I going? What is right? What is wrong? When I’ve done wrong, how can I be made right? Do I have a Maker and does my Maker care about me? These are the primeval questions of the soul. And these are the kind of questions which, left unanswered, will steal our sleep.
Yet we are so busy making a living, we have no time to ponder the meaning of living.
Our Good Shepherd has a better idea. “He makes me to lie down” (Ps. 23:2). The One who leads us has a plan to restore us. That plan includes ordained moments of rest. That plan includes a Sabbath day.
It is time to rest. In this powerful, restorative book, Robert Morris calls us back to the ancient practice of regular renewal. I love Robert. He is a dear friend, generous with his wisdom and gracious with his leadership. God has given him a message for our generation. This book will bless you. Read it, then read it again.
A century ago Charles Spurgeon gave this advice to his preaching students:
Even beasts of burden must be turned out to grass occasionally; the very sea pauses at ebb and flood; earth keeps the Sabbath of the wintry months; and man, even when exalted to God’s ambassador, must rest or faint, must trim his lamp or let it burn low; must recruit his vigor or grow prematurely old… In the long run we shall do more by sometimes doing less.1
The bow cannot always be bent without fear of breaking. For a field to bear fruit it must lie fallow. And for you to be healthy, you must rest. Slow down and God will heal you. He will bring rest to your mind, to your body, and most of all, to your soul. He will lead you to green pastures.
What does it take to reduce a grown man—the respected head of a large and rapidly growing enterprise with scores of employees, no less—to a weepy, bewildered, half-dressed heap on his closet floor? Surprisingly little, it turns out, under the right circumstances. “How little,” you ask? One morning several years ago, I discovered that nothing more challenging than an empty sock drawer was sufficient to push me over the edge.
That’s right. I am that man.
At the time, Gateway Church, the church in the Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area it is my privilege to pastor, had been in hyper-growth mode for years. We’d all pretty much been charging forward at a dead run from the day we founded the church with only a small group of friends in a living room, but me most of all. In the early days of any church startup, the founder is not only the preacher, but also the business manager, operations manager, personnel director, and the custodian.
Growth brought help and increased division of labor, but the pressures and demands expanded in parallel. A second Sunday morning service was added, followed by a Saturday night service. Then came more services on both days. Within a few years I found myself preaching five or six times each weekend and leading a large, seemingly ever-growing staff during the week.
At the same time, the increased profile of the church and some well-received books resulted in a steady stream of invitations to speak across North America and around the world. I felt obligated to say yes to as many of these as I could. “After all,” I reasoned, “surely the invitation wouldn’t have come my way if God didn’t want me to go help those people.” I presumed, often without asking, that every invitation was an expression of God’s favor and blessing. And that as a good steward, I was obligated to take on everything that came my way. Of course, I was also fully committed to being the best husband and father I could be. Indeed, my heart, value system, and biblical beliefs all demanded that I put family first. So, I had been striving mightily to live out that conviction. But I had been running on empty for years and it was finally catching up with me—physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I wasn’t the only one in our household stretched increasingly thin. As the church grew, my wife Debbie found herself with more to do and more places to be. As it happens, my “hitting the wall” moment happened to coincide with her being out of town for a week at a women’s conference.
On one fateful morning in the middle of that week, I dragged myself out of bed early, my mind already whirling with the multitude of things I needed to accomplish that day, and the precious, limited time available for those tasks in between multiple meetings. Every item on my mental to-do list seemed important. So did the meetings that increasingly crowded my schedule. My practical instinct was to try to prioritize, but everything shouted with equal urgency. Everything seemed to vie for the label “Top Priority.”
After a quick shower, I headed to get dressed, opened my underwear drawer in the chest in my closet, and was greeted by a terrifying sight.
I was down to may last pair of clean underwear.
A surge of alarm hit me. What will I do tomorrow? There’s no more underwear!? As I pulled the last remaining pair on, I pulled myself together by assuring myself that I would figure something out later. After all, I had a whole twenty-four hours to solve this crisis.
Then I opened my sock drawer. My empty sock drawer.
I know it seems ridiculous, but that was it. That was the grain of sand that tipped the scales of my fragile physical and emotional well-being. That was the flimsy little hay straw that proved too much for the staggering camel. Sometimes after months of silent snowfall, a single snap of a twig is all it takes to trigger the avalanche that roars down the mountainside. The tiny issue of “no clean socks” was that twig snap. A wave of deep sadness washed over me. I dropped to the floor and began to weep.
Don’t judge me. I was perfectly capable of running a load of laundry. I was licensed and duly authorized by Debbie to operate our Maytag front loader. Or, alternatively, as a functioning adult in possession of a wallet containing cash, I was quite capable of stopping at Target or Walmart on the way to the office and purchasing socks and underwear with my own money. There were numerous easy solutions to this problem, but in that particular moment I was incapable of bringing any of them to my consciousness. Any solution, no matter how simple, constituted “one more thing to do.” My overburdened mind and under-rested soul were simply too weary to choose one. I was essentially frozen in fatigue.
Today I can laugh about the Great Underwear Crisis of 2005. It truly is absurd. I eventually pulled myself together, fished a matching (I think) pair of socks out of the dirty clothes hamper, and got on with my day. I was only lost in despair for a moment, but it was a frightening moment. So when I arrived at the office, I took the first opportunity I had to confide in our senior executive pastor, Tom Lane. Tom was and is a wise elder counselor and friend. He’d been supporting and serving senior pastors for about as long as I’d been a Christian. After describing my meltdown that morning, I finished with the question that had been haunting me all morning: “Tom, am I losing it?”
He smiled and said, “No, Robert, you’re just exhausted. You’ve been pushing too hard for too long. You just need some real, deep rest.” And he was right. I had become just another victim of the great silent epidemic of our times.
Epidemic is a strong word, but it’s the appropriate one here. Precisely one hundred years ago another kind of scourge was sweeping the world and killing millions. Between 1918 and 1920, roughly five hundred million people were infected by the Spanish Flu and somewhere between fifty million and one hundred million died around the world. In the United States, it’s estimated that 28 percent of the population eventually became infected and somewhere between 500,000 and 675,000 Americans died.
At the height of the epidemic, many Americans opened their morning paper each day and found two lists of names on the front page. The shorter of the two lists contained the names of local servicemen who had been killed in World War I. A longer list held the names of those who had died of the Spanish flu.
Thankfully, in the century since those terrifying days, science and technology have gone a long way toward eliminating those kinds of appalling death tolls by disease. But that progress has come at a price. The rise of modern technology has been a double-edged sword—accelerating the pace of life, extending our workdays, and breaking down the barriers between workplace and home.
All of the Western world experienced these changes, but America’s unique culture amplified them. We’re a nation built upon the ideas of freedom, individualism, and achievement. With God’s providential help, the founders created a dynamic place where class or station at birth meant almost nothing. Anyone willing to work hard, sacrifice, and apply themselves could achieve anything. The US became a magnet for the destitute and downtrodden of the world not because of its social welfare safety net. (There wasn’t one.) America became the promised land because a person could arrive penniless and through diligence, thrift, talent, and ambition become virtually anything they could imagine.
Yes, any person could go as far as their energy, creativity, and diligence could carry them. That’s the heart of the miraculous American dream. It’s a wondrous thing. But along the way during these last hundred years, we laid something aside that those previous generations of Americans understood and held sacred. Something that made living “the good life” possible. We’ll identify and explore that lost “something” in great detail on the pages that follow. For now, just know that its abandonment has unleashed another kind of epidemic across our land.
That’s right; today our culture of self-improvement and self-advancement through individual effort has resulted in tens of millions living burned-out, stressed-out lives. We’re never off and never unplugged. We’re never quiet. We’re never not bombarded by tasks, information, obligations, stimulations, and aggravations. And it’s taking an enormous toll on our well-being. It’s a plague of spirit, soul, and body exhaustion.
It’s not just us adults who are suffering the devastating effects of this twenty-first-century pandemic. Increasingly, even children are falling victim to our culture’s obsession with busyness. Shocking numbers of teens and preteens are overscheduled, overcommitted, and under rested. As a result, children too increasingly show all the signs of stress and burnout.
I’m not pointing fingers here. As I’ve already made clear, I too have fallen victim to the plague of our times. In fact, this epidemic came close to laying me low on more than one occasion before the Lord opened my eyes to the neglected, revolutionary spiritual key I will present to you on the pages that follow. I’m honored and excited to offer you the biblical cure that saved me.
About a quarter century ago, a Christian family physician from Wisconsin named Richard Swenson wrote a timely and insightful book prompted by the steady stream of stressed-out, worn out, burned-out people he kept treating in his office week after week. In Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Dr. Swenson diagnosed a single root of much of the sickness and physical breakdown he was being asked to treat in his medical practice. That diagnosis? Too many people living with too little in their lives of something he called “margin.” He said most of us are living “marginless” lives. What did Dr. Swenson mean by this? He opened his book by contrasting living with margin to living without it:
Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the bank because you were ten minutes late dropping the kids off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station—and you forgot your wallet. Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.
Marginless is the baby crying and the phone ringing at the same time; margin is Grandma taking the baby for the afternoon. Marginless is being asked to carry a load five pounds heavier than you can lift; margin is a friend to carry half the burden. Marginless is not having time to finish the book you’re reading on stress. Margin is having the time to read it twice.1
Think about this: If marginless living—and the physical, mental, emotional, and financial toll that comes with it—was a significant problem back in the midnineties, it is surely far, far worse today. Dr. Swenson’s book was published back when email and the internet were only embryonic novelties, phones were “mobile” but not “smart,” and the future founders of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were all prepubescent kids in their bedrooms playing Super Mario Kart on Super Nintendo game consoles. The dizzying technological changes that have emerged over the last two decades have served only to crowd, hurry, and busy our lives even more. Today, a wide range of authorities are sounding the alarm about both the physical and mental toll our epidemic of marginlessness is taking on us as a people.
On the medical front for example, a 2017 piece for CNN titled “Stress Really Is Killing Us” reported, “Stress-related disorders and diseases have been on the rise in the whole population for decades, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”2 Along the same lines, a 2016 study measured what it called the “physiological stress load” of Americans of all races and income levels. It found that health indicators tied to heart, kidney, and liver disease were closely tied to levels of stress. It also found that the stress load of the average American has been rapidly increasing since the late 1970s.3 According to one expert on balancing work and life, “Stress is a factor in five out of the six leading causes of death—heart disease, cancer, stroke, lower respiratory disease, and accidents. An estimated 75 percent to 90 percent of all doctor visits are for stress-related issues.”4
Our increasing lack of margin is damaging more than our bodies, however. As I discovered the hard way, it ravages our minds and emotions as well. A respected online source for mental health information lists the following as possible warning signs of burnout or emotional exhaustion:5
• Sense of failure and self-doubt
• Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
• Detachment, feeling alone in the world
• Loss of motivation
• Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
• Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
Currently, millions upon millions of people in our culture are living daily with these symptoms. Far too many of them are believers. Christian counselor David Murray, author of the book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, says we’re experiencing “an epidemic of burnout” in the Church.6 It’s certainly true among my fellow pastors. The words “burnout” and “ministry” have become tightly linked.
For many Americans and their doctors, the path to relieving the negative effects of exhaustion and stress seemingly runs through the local pharmacy. A 2013 study revealed that one in every six adult Americans was on some sort of prescribed psychiatric drug like an antianxiety or antidepressant medication.7 Some unknown but very large percentage of the individuals taking these medications are likely suffering either the physical or psychological effects of living without margin. They’re simply chronically under rested.
The physical, emotional, and mental impacts are troubling enough for any individual. But when you add up the costs across our entire society, it begins to look like a crisis. A 2016 article in Forbes magazine attempted to put a price tag on the damage to our economy. The piece cited a study that estimated that “as many as one million people per day miss work because of stress.” The cost of this lost productivity was estimated to be between $150 billion and $300 billion annually for American employers.8
I know exhaustion certainly represented a crisis for me, as it will for you or someone you love.
So, is there an answer? Is there a cure for this epidemic? I’m happy to report there is. Like most other solutions that actually work, we’ll find that it’s been hiding in plain sight all along—in our Bibles.
THE FORGOTTEN COMMANDMENT
We cannot break the commandments, we can only break ourselves against them.
Roughly thirty-five centuries ago, a vast multitude of people—perhaps two million in number—were encamped at the base of one of the craggy mountains that dot the desert south and east of modern-day Israel. They were waiting. For what, they weren’t quite sure. Their leader had climbed the mountain days ago to meet with the same mysterious God who, fifty days earlier, had miraculously led them out of bondage in Egypt.
The twelve tribes of Israel were about to learn that they, through their representative, Moses, had entered into a sacred covenant with the Most High God. This covenant would set them apart as a unique and special people among all the peoples of the earth. They were becoming a chosen people. But chosen for what, exactly? Chosen to be carriers of a seed. They were picked to become a genetic, prophetic, and cultural vessel that would ultimately bring the Savior of the world into the earth. God had been prophesying about and planning for this seed for a very long time. This future Redeemer was “the seed of the woman” who would one day crush the head of the serpent, promised all the way back in the garden immediately after the Fall.1 This very same seed was foreseen in the promise to Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation, when God said, “In your seed all nations of the earth shall be blessed.”2
This seed that the Israelites would carry as a chosen people was none other than the Redeemer who would eventually be born to undo all the devastation that Adam’s Fall had unleashed upon the earth. The Fall had separated man from his Creator. The promised seed would reconnect him, but only if this people could survive and remain separated according to God’s plan for another 1,500 years.
In other words, the eternal fate of humanity itself hinged on the Israelites’ ability to remain a distinct people and a healthy, successful society through the centuries.
Now, a covenant is like a contract, only far more solemn and sacred. When two parties enter into a written contract, both receive a copy so they can remember what has been agreed to. So, Moses ultimately returned from his mountaintop encounter with the Creator carrying two copies of a covenant document—one for the Israelite people and one for God. In this case, each copy of the agreement was a tablet of stone, with writing on both sides. That writing contained ten stipulations, or “commandments.”
Remember, God’s purpose in creating this covenant was to form a people who could remain distinct, intact, healthy, and thriving for centuries in a fallen, twisted, decaying world. Those commandments were divinely designed to help them do just that. They were the heart of a system—along with the Levitical regulations found in Moses’ books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy—that would create a unique culture and society. One that could resist being corrupted by the devastating effects of idolatry. One that could keep families intact, bodies and minds healthy, the land productive, and the social fabric strong.
Those ten simple covenant stipulations, carved onto those stone tablets by God’s own finger, are a truly remarkable set of rules for living. They held in them the wisdom to live a good life and form a strong society. Of course, the Israelite people as a whole never kept those commandments faithfully or completely. Nevertheless, enough people took them seriously enough, often enough, to keep the Jewish people intact and distinct through centuries of invasion, threat, crisis, exile, and return. Long enough for the fullness of time to come for the arrival of that promised seed. And the more closely they adhered to those rules, the better they did as a people.
The first three commandments centered on how the individual was to relate to God. (Don’t worship other gods. Don’t make graven images. Don’t take God’s name in vain.) Meanwhile, the final six commandments spoke to how the individual was to relate to other people (Honor your parents. Don’t steal. Don’t kill. Don’t lie. Etc.)
So, that’s the first three, and the last six. That adds up to nine commandments. What about the missing fourth commandment? Well, it is something unique. In a sense, in eight simple words it speaks to how the individual is to relate to God, self, and creation all at once: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”3 However, God didn’t take any chances about His people misunderstanding what remembering and keeping the Sabbath looked like. So, He followed this command with lots of explanation. In fact, Moses directly followed this commandment with more commentary than any of the other nine!
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”4
Yes, there was (and is) something special about this particular commandment. God included it and emphasized it because it contains a major key to the Israelites’ success as a people. So important to Israel’s well-being and survival was it, that God established severe penalties for violating it. According to the Mosaic law, violating the Sabbath carried the death penalty. Eleven chapters later in Exodus, here’s what we find God saying to Moses:
“Therefore you are to observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death.”5
But did God really intend this to be enforced? Was He truly serious about making working on the Sabbath day a capital offense? We find our answer in an incident recorded in the book of Numbers:
One day while the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they discovered a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. The people who found him doing this took him before Moses, Aaron, and the rest of the community. They held him in custody because they did not know what to do with him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must be put to death! The whole community must stone him outside the camp.” So the whole community took the man outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.6
Yes, at God’s direct instruction, they executed the man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Clearly, God was quite serious about refraining from work on the Sabbath. Profaning the Sabbath was indeed one of several of the Levitical laws that carried the death penalty—among them murder, rape, and bestiality. Yes, the Sabbath was serious business to God.
I realize this seems excessively harsh to our modern minds. After all, the man was just gathering firewood, for Pete’s sake.
But we have to keep in mind that the laws that Moses delivered to the Israelites were designed for their benefit and to assure the success of His grand plan of redemption. Those laws contained principles for remaining healthy as individuals and families, and strong as a society. God understood what we clearly do not. Namely, that a society in which people work seven days a week is just as vulnerable to collapse as a society in which people are free to rape and murder without consequence. God was crafting a culture and a people that could survive and thrive so that in the fullness of time, His only begotten Son could enter the world through them.
- On Sale
- Oct 27, 2020
- Page Count
- 240 pages