A young theologian named Philip Melancthon once announced to his mentor, Martin Luther, “Today, you and I shall discuss the governance of the universe.” Luther responded, “No. Today, you and I shall go fishing and leave the governance of the universe to God.”
Luther lived the majority of his life in the midst of reformations, peasant revolts, excommunication, inquisitions, and translating the Bible into German. To state the obvious, he was busy. I don’t know if he realized he was writing church history or not, but on that particular day, he left history in the hands of God and went fishing with his friend.
How can Luther’s example challenge us in our leadership? We feel the weighty expectations of people. Our pride in long hours invested and a job well done may drive us to even greater expectations of ourselves. What does God expect of us?
In Genesis 2:1-3, God implemented the first spiritual discipline—Sabbath. He rested. He stopped creating, stepped back, and enjoyed it.
For some reason, this particular spiritual discipline is one that God practiced Himself and encouraged His people to practice throughout Scripture. When He gave the Law in Exodus 20, the Sabbath commandment (which contains more words than any of the others) directed people to observe Sabbath as a way of imitating God and enjoying His creation. In Deuteronomy 5, Moses gave the Sabbath commandment a new meaning—to celebrate freedom from slavery. Jesus entered history and reminded people that Sabbath is not ultimately about rules and regulations, but about celebrating the life and salvation that we find in relationship with Him.
For the past few years, I’ve tried to practice Sabbath—to carve out a day to rest from work, to remind myself that I am not in control, to enjoy God’s presence and provision, and to celebrate the fact that I am not enslaved to anything. At the risk of being overly dramatic, I absolutely believe it has saved my sanity and my ministry, and I’ve become a Sabbath evangelist to other leaders who I encounter.
It hasn’t been perfect, and I’m still learning how to do it, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
Plan for It
You have to make it happen. There will never be a convenient time to celebrate Sabbath, because your work and the demands on your life will never stop. Mark it on the calendar and guard it as though your life depended on it. On the day before, you may have to work a little extra hard to ensure that you can celebrate Sabbath freely. In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were required to gather extra manna on the sixth day so they could rest on the seventh. My Sabbath typically happens on Wednesday, which means I work a little longer and harder on Tuesday night to make sure my inbox is clear and the dishes have moved from the sink to the dishwasher.
Experiment with It
Sabbath will look different for different people. Play with it to discover what fills you with God’s presence. Instead of stressing over what activities are permissible and not permissible on Sabbath, I focus on three questions: 1) What stirs my affections for Christ? 2) What brings God glory? 3) What do I enjoy? I find Sabbath at the intersection of those three questions. For me, previous Sabbaths have included dinner with good friends, walks along the National Mall, visits to art galleries, reading at a coffeehouse, hiking at a national park, and enjoying baseball games. One day I will follow Luther’s lead and go fishing. I avoid things that “must be done” and celebrate the things I “get to do.”
For introverts, Sabbaths spent alone with God may be preferable. I find that most Sabbaths are more meaningful to me when I share them with friends. Cook together, laugh together, play games together, experience something new together.
Sabbath is an opportunity to give thanks—for God’s creation, for His provision, for His freedom, and for the life and salvation we find in relationship with Him. Whatever you do or don’t do, be intentional about giving God thanks. Start a Sabbath journal to make a gratitude list.
Make Sabbath happen. Recognize that God is in control and you are not. Sometimes, the most important leadership decision you will ever make will be to leave the governance of the universe to God, grab your tackle box, and go fishing.