The Art of Rest

Recently I shared with our student ministry that rest is vital and necessary in our lives, and in fact is commanded by God throughout Scripture. Rest is something I have never been good at. I am a high capacity person: I wake up early, can run on little sleep, and just go. Rest has been something I have struggled with for so long, and after walking through the message I shared with my high school students, I knew I needed to share this with others and keep preaching this to myself.

Rest is holistic; it isn’t just sleeping or napping or tuning out, but a state of refreshment by pausing and being with God, allowing Him to take your burdens, and stopping to enjoy what He has given to you. I find that I can be with God but I don’t always give my burdens to Him or pause to enjoy life. Even on vacation I catch myself counting the days we have left, and thinking about what will happen when I return, rather than enjoying the time away.

As I was self-assessing, I came to this realization: there are others in ministry who function in the same manner. We understand our calling and mission and will sacrifice our own time, energy, bodies, and whatever else it calls for to see that mission fulfilled. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how un-biblical that actually is. God doesn’t call us to kill ourselves, but instead to find our rest and strength in Him. He sustains and empowers us.

From this understanding and some evaluation of past ministries and ways of living, let me encourage you to think about implementing these tips into your life to help you in resting and staying in ministry longer.

Spend regular time with Jesus.

This is one of those that we teach and espouse often, but it is also true that in our lives this can be the first area to suffer when we don’t rest well. We may still read our Bibles and pray, but when was the last time you spent quality time with Jesus? When was the last time you truly worshiped and just rested in Him? This is a challenge for anyone, but we as ministers of the Gospel must make this a priority. Truly our rest only comes when we are with Christ and giving Him everything.

Spend time with your spouse and family.

We are called by God to first be in relationship with Him and then to be ministering to, loving, and sharing life with our families. Often the priorities get misplaced in ministry with family being the number three priority (or less in some cases) because ministry becomes an idol. In fact, in the Epistles you see Paul talk about having your marriage in order before serving in ministry, because a marriage reflects into the ministry regardless of health status. But in order to rest well, and to be refreshed, we must pour into and care for our families. If we aren’t sharing where we are at with them, the stress will continue to grow, and potentially we may view the family as a contributing factor. Bring them in, share life, love them well, and watch as family changes into a refuge for you.

Have regular date nights and honor them.

Man, I wish I had done this sooner in my marriage. When Elise and I were first married, our schedules did not work well together. Hers was fluid and changed each week, and included working weekends. Mine was Sunday through Thursday, and there were some weeks we saw each other only as we went to bed. Date nights weren’t a thing because nights together didn’t happen often. Because of that we ended up not growing as a couple, and we knew something had to change. We picked a day (Friday nights) and have become very protective of that. We tell everyone about it, and now even our students ask what we are doing on date night. In essence we are setting an example for the families we serve by leading out. Let me also encourage you that when, not if, you are out and a church member or student stops you to not cut off the conversation in a rude way, but be honest and let them know you are on date night. It may feel awkward, but you have to protect your time together.

Honor your days off.

Let me say this: you get days off, treat them as days off! Don’t do work on your days off, don’t just “pop into the office for a few minutes.” Don’t be checking your email, or responding to a work-based text. We, you, deserve days off and rest like anyone else. This may mean you have to set up or reestablish boundaries at your job and within the context of your ministry, but it is healthy to do so. Yes, in ministry you can feel like you have to always be “on” but don’t let that detract from your time away and with those you love.

Find a hobby and do it.

Often when it comes to rest, people still need to be doing something. Rest doesn’t mean idleness or laziness, but resting in God and who He designed you to be. For me I have gotten into various hobbies over the years: cooking (let me know if you want my truffle, oatmeal cookie, or burger recipe), candle making, reading, biking, and much more. It hasn’t always stayed the same, but it allows for me to decompress and commune with God. Often during these moments I find myself talking to God, humming worship songs, thinking about Scripture, and finding ways to just be silent and rest in Christ.

Use your vacation time.

I will be honest: I am horrible at this. I always have extra time at the end of the year, and I am so bad at looking to use that time. In a way I feel guilty because I am taking time from where God has called me. But the reality we must face is threefold:

  1. Your vacation is part of your employment package so use it – letting it go to waste is like wasting your paycheck. One of my bosses made it clear to me that you were given this time because you deserve it and are worth it, so use it.
  2. By not taking your vacation time, you are essentially telling your family they aren’t worth your time, and the church is more important than they are. You must set an example for them that God has called you first to them, and then the church. And one of the ways you show this is by being with them, not just on days off, but on vacations and special moments.
  3. You aren’t the cornerstone of your ministry, Christ is. I think sometimes we worry about taking time off because we don’t have anyone to run the program. I get it, I have been there. But one of the worst feelings I have ever felt is when I had students and parents look me in the eye and say “this ministry will die because you are leaving.” If that is the way we run our ministries my friends, then we have failed. Our ministry should be rooted in Christ, and as such we should be building teams of people like He did who can do what we are doing. We should be training others to do what we do, which will allow for them to grow and bring freedom and peace into your own life.

Keep track of your hours, responsibilities, and other duties as an employee of the church.

Many times we just give of our time and it is easy to overextend yourself, especially if you are salaried. However, that isn’t healthy or needed. If you find you are always working, always doing, always on-call, start tracking what you are doing and bring others in. If needed, go to your supervisor and let them know what is happening and be honest with them. Let them know if you are struggling. Let them know if you need help or are drowning. I know this can be terrifying because the “what ifs” begin to abound. But if our leaders are truly following Jesus and being sensitive to His heart and leading, they should be good shepherds who care about their staff. This starts by being open and honest with them about where you are at.

Take time away from social media.

Social media can be defeating and debilitating. The sin of comparison can often make youth workers feel inadequate, envious, and lesser because of what they see others doing. If you are feeling exhausted or burned out, don’t just take time off, take time away from social media. It can be a fast for a day, a week, or month, or it can be by having regular unplugged days for you and your family. Elise and I have done this periodically in our marriage where we noticed we weren’t always communicating because we we using technology to fill that need. Eventually we took Monday nights and said no technology. It was awesome! We talked, played games, went on walks, and bonded as a couple. Let me encourage you to consider doing this as well.

Rest is hard, especially when you are in ministry. But we must rest. In order to be effective disciples of Jesus, spouses, parents, and ministers, we have to be resting in Christ. Let me encourage you to build healthy habits of rest and refreshment in your life, and to make sure your priorities are in order. Now go take a nap, spend time with those you love, and lean deep into Christ for sustainment.

Journey in Prayer: 7 Steps Toward a Rich Prayer Life

Prayer is vital to my walk with the Lord. By “prayer,” I mean simply talking with the Lord. I am so grateful that the sovereign Creator, the holy and only God of the universe allows me, a sinful creature, to come directly to Him. He not only allows it, He has made it possible. He has opened the way to Himself through His Son, the Lord Jesus. I like how Ephesians 3:12 puts it: “In Him (Jesus) and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Because Jesus died for my sins, rose from the dead, and returned to the Father, I can boldly approach God’s throne of grace through Jesus, my great High Priest (see Hebrews 4:14-16).

I want to share my journey in prayer over the past 43 years. In particular, I want to tell you about specific ways to pray God has shown me. I think of them as prayer steps in my journey with Jesus. Taking these steps has deepened my experience of the Lord through prayer.

Step #1: Committing to a daily time of prayer.

Right after I became a believer in Jesus, during my freshman year of college, I began practicing daily prayer. After I was done with classes for the day, I would return to my dorm room, sit on my bunk and spend time with the Lord in prayer and Bible study. This practice laid the foundation of a daily practice of prayer which has been a bedrock foundation of my journey with Jesus.

Step #2: Using the ACTS approach to prayer.

“ACTS” is an acronym which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. You can find these kinds of prayer used by God’s people in the Bible. Adopting the ACTS approach to prayer has helped me to understand these different types of prayer and to regularly incorporate them in my practice of prayer. Please understand: this is not a rigid formula I follow in all my prayers. Rather, I generally follow this outline during my longer times of prayer. By contrast, if I am in need of God’s immediate help in a particular situation, I do not adore, confess, and thank before I ask Him for His aid. I just cry out, “Help me!”

Step #3: Praying out loud during my personal prayer times.

This step was, and continues to be, very significant. Admittedly, at first it felt strange and awkward. But the more I prayed aloud, the more comfortable I felt. I also realized some real benefits. I was able to focus my thoughts and make my prayers more concrete. Talking aloud increased my sense of actually relating with the Lord, that He indeed was right there with me in the room and that I was personally connecting with Him. On a personal note, being the private person that I am, I need to be assured that no one can overhear me during my prayer times. That means I pray in the basement, usually in the morning before anyone else is up.

Step #4: Praying Scripture.

At first this too may seem a strange approach to prayer. Praying Bible verses back to God?! Yes, indeed! That is exactly what it is. And it’s not just some modern approach to prayer. People in the Bible prayed Bible verses back to God! One very clear example is in Acts 4:23-31 where the believers in the early church incorporated verses from the Old Testament, especially Psalm 2, in their prayer to the Lord. What I have found is that the Bible gives me content for my prayers, especially for the “Adoration” part. I also have the assurance that when I pray Scripture, I am praying what is true and what is according to God’s will (see 1 John 5:14).

Step #5: Praying “all the time.”

My point here is that there came a time in my prayer experience when my praying to the Lord went beyond my designated daily prayer appointment with God. I began to include spontaneous prayers throughout the day. Something along the line of what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.” Another way of thinking about this prayer step is captured in the phrase “practicing the presence of the Lord.” It is an increasing awareness of the Lord’s continual presence. This awareness can be expressed through spontaneously praying throughout the day—and when awakening at night—and when I rise in the morning.

Step #6: Having times of unhurried prayer.

I am a structured person by nature. I structure my day according to a schedule—what I do first, then second, then third, etc.—often with specific time allotments attached. In that schedule, my daily prayer is generally confined to a certain amount of time. What I have found very helpful is to plan an unhurried time with the Lord in prayer. Then I am less prone to be thinking about what’s next in the day and I can be more relaxed and focused on praying. I find that my sabbath day (Monday) is the time when unhurried prayer works the best.

Step #7: Saturating my prayer with the Gospel.

This is my most recent prayer step. I am learning how central the Gospel is in my journey with Jesus. Believing in the good news that Jesus died for my sins and came back to life is not simply my “ticket” into heaven. It is the power of God for the continual transformation of my life into Christ’s likeness. I need to evermore believe the Gospel, rehearse it, and live out its marvelous truth. And so I fill my prayers with the Gospel message, especially toward the beginning of my daily prayer time. I have memorized key Bible verses which give the Gospel and I incorporate them into my adoration of the Lord, my thanks to the Lord, and my confession before the Lord.

I have shared with you a lot of things about prayer. My goal in sharing these steps in my journey in prayer is to not to overwhelm you; rather, it is to encourage you to take one step in your own prayer journey. Step #1 is critical and so I urge you if you have not taken this step, start with this one. If you already have a scheduled time of daily prayer, consider taking one of the other steps.

Journey on with the Lord in prayer! It is a wonderful privilege God has provided us through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tom Loyola is a senior pastor at an Evangelical Free Church in Iowa. He and his wife Sue Ann have partnered together in pastoral ministry since 1984 and are the parents of two children. Tom received his Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary and enjoys reading, running, oil painting, and a good movie.

9 Ministry Time Management Tricks

Too often it seems like a day, then a week, then a month, flies by. If you are like me and serving in ministry, it can seem as if there are not enough hours in a day to figure out how to get everything done and still have time for yourself.

I am not a time management specialist and I am still learning how to do this effectively. But along the way I have picked up some tools and resources that have greatly benefited me, my relationships, my marriage, the ministry I work in, and ultimately my relationship with God. Some of these ideas have been around for a while, some have been given to me by men and women who have served decades longer than I, and others are my own thoughts.

Take these as you will, knowing that all do not have to apply to your life, that they aren’t a magical fix-all, but they are here to be shared and utilized as an encouragement.

1. Make time for Jesus 

This should seem like a non-issue for those of us serving in ministry. We espouse this principle on a weekly basis to those we minister too, but let’s be honest, sometimes that snooze button is all too handy. Some weeks it is easy to say “I study the Word… I prepared my lesson.” Other times we just get distracted. But how can we effectively manage our lives if we have no guiding principles or truth.

Christ offers many examples of time management and shows us what is important, but if we do not readily and daily engage with the Word, our time will be for naught.

2. Be protective of your time

This is something I learned very quickly in ministry. I started off serving in a small church in a small town (a mile and a half squared) as the only pastor. Being young and full of energy I began to do whatever I could to serve the church. I was regularly putting in 40-50 hours a week meeting with people, crafting Bible studies, creating new member classes, counseling parishioners, engaging in local outreaches, meeting with pastors, oh and did I mention I was only part time and held a full time job down as well? This lasted for about a year until I went to the elders and explained I needed help, that I couldn’t do it all. Their response: Why didn’t you say so sooner?

The reality is that we cannot do everything on our own, and we must be protective of our time. Take time to relax, decompress, process, and enjoy life. If we don’t we will burn out, become bitter and resentful, and maybe walk away from ministry. It took me a year of healing and recharging from my first church before I even considered ministry again.

3. Have regular office hours

For some this is a no-brainer because your church requires it, for others your hours may be more flexible. But having set hours in the office allows for meetings to happen, parishioners to drop by, purposeful planning to take place, and for your congregants to see you at work. Sure the local coffee shop is a better place for you to get work done for so many reasons (like your pastoral discount, or the wi-fi that actually works) but being at your place of employment is huge because this is where people expect you to be. Our team has a monthly whiteboard calendar that we all put our hours on and mark where we will be. This has helped so much in keeping us all on the same page and knowing where we can find people if needed.

4. Be protective of your family

This is one I have to be constantly reminded of. So often on date night my phone will buzz with a text from someone, and I am ready to respond at the drop of the hat. But my wife will often remind me that “It is date night, I am your priority.” It’s true. Date night is our time. It isn’t to be interrupted or removed. Rather it is to be protected and revered, because our marriage comes before our ministry. Our families come before our ministries. Because these are to be a representation to our ministries of what God is doing in our lives. If we cannot be protective of the things God has given us charge of, how then can we lead a church or ministry?

A good couple of things to do on date nights, family nights, or vacations:
– Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb.
– Set up auto-replies for your email and phone.
– Turn off your cellular devices.
– Don’t check your email or social media.

5. Find out what helps you to decompress

This may sound easy, but this is hard for some people. It is difficult to find what helps you process and think through the day or week. For me I like to cook, clean, write, make candles, or watch COPS. I know it is a weird conglomerate of things. But all of them help me to decompress. Cleaning, cooking, and COPS helps me to just zone out and relax because they are fairly mindless things for me to do or watch. Writing and candle making helps me to process and think.

Decompression is necessary in any job, but especially ministry. We need to think through what we are doing, why we did it, and not get caught up on the mistakes but rejoice in the victories and what God is doing.

6. Create a Google calendar

This sounds simple enough, but in the busyness of life sometimes we fail to communicate to those in our lives that we should be communicating with (like our families). I realized this roughly a year into my current ministry position when I proudly declared to my wife that I had to work all day on a Saturday for a ministry event the Thursday before. She was shocked and bewildered that she didn’t know and further that I hadn’t told her. So from that point on we created a shared calendar on Google where it has everything that is happening.

On my end I input all my meetings, work schedules, activities, vacations, retreats. You name it I put it there because I know I will forget. My wife inputs her work schedules and important dates like vacations, birthdays, trips, etc. The point is with us working together we don’t miss much anymore and we are both on the same page.

7. Have an unplugged night

Have you noticed how technology has taken away interpersonal communication? Just people watch the next time you’re at a restaurant or maybe even around your own dinner table. Count how many people are on their phones versus how many are having an actual conversation. Our current society dictates that the majority of our conversations happen through a cellular device and as such our ability to actually engage and maintain relationships is faltering.

My wife and I have started to run with the idea of what we call “unplugged nights.” Too often we found ourselves sitting around the television while eating dinner instead of communicating. And more often than not we would do so with our phones in our hands. So we said “enough is enough” and turned one day a week into an evening where we do not use our phones unless for an emergency, we don’t check email or social media, and we do not watch television or movies. Instead we read together, we play games, go for walks, or just have conversations. For some people this may be a once a week thing, or it could be monthly, but I would definitely encourage these times!

8. Take a recharge day

Recharge days were something I had never heard of until several years ago at a previous church. Once a month we were allowed to take a paid work day to physically, mentally, and spiritually recharge. We weren’t supposed to do office work or meet with people, instead we were to do whatever we need to be recharged.

Recharge days will look different for each person. In my case, I like to retreat to my favorite coffee shop and get a nice French Press and read different books or write. This helps me reconnect and strengthen my relationship with God. Other people recharge by spending time with their kids and spouse. Still others go and read ancient church history and theology books. All this in the name of recharging our lives to better serve the people God has called us to.

9. Prioritize

So often our days can seem to be overwhelming. The amount of work that must be completed is daunting. Many of us take work home after hours and on weekends. The truth is that this will mentality deflate you and will lead to burnout, stress, anxiety, and performance based self-worth. This is not healthy, so we must prioritize what is important.
I suggest making two lists, one of work priorities, and one of your life priorities. For the first, categorize what needs to be done soon and work that out and then focus on what is farther out. When it comes to the second list, prioritize what is important and what should have the majority of your time. Share this with your spouse, or someone close to you, and have them honestly answer if your life reflects this.

A lot of these suggestions can be dependent upon your workplace and those who are in leadership over you. You could try to make changes but ultimately they may rebuff your suggestions and attempts. So what then? Are we to simply exist in a burdensome world where work and the stress of life are destroying us? The answer is a resounding no!

We must always find our worth and value within the love and redemption of Christ. When work becomes too much to bear, when life gives you lemons, when you have had enough, hit the pause button. Step back, reassess where you are at, check your spiritual walk, and if need be, make a decision. Take a vacation, perhaps speak to your boss about what is going on, maybe look for a new job, make sure your heart is in the right place.
The long and short of this post: make sure you are being cared for spiritually, physically, and emotionally. When your priorities flow out your relationship with Jesus then you see what is important and what can be cut back, so that you can feel more at peace with life and all it throws at you.