Introduction: Fatigue is a subject near and dear to my heart. I wasn’t an athletic child when I grew up—except for riding my bicycle and hanging out at the swimming pool. I was sometimes lazy. Everything changed when I was 19 and gave my life wholeheartedly the Lord. It was as if an adrenalin switch came on and put me into overdrive. For years I was a workaholic. Then about seven or eight years ago, I realized that if I didn’t moderate I was going to collapse. So I sat down and made a list and tried to find a good balance between rest and work. As I’ve studied the lives of many Christian workers, I’ve found that this is a difficult balance to achieve. Some Christian workers are, frankly, lazy. Others are so driven they’re wearing themselves out. The famous Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne was one of the most powerful ministers to stand in the pulpits of Edinburgh and Dundee, but he died at the age of twenty-nine, partly because he had weakened his constitution by overwork, excessive busyness, and chronic fatigue. He reportedly said as he was dying, “The Lord gave me a horse to ride and a message to deliver. Alas, I have killed the horse and cannot deliver the message.” The Bible gives us a great balance for avoiding laziness on the one hand and chronic exhaustion on the other. Here are five verses that have been helpful to me.
1. Acts 20:28 – “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock to which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” – Much of the book of Acts is devoted to Paul’s three missionary journeys, and you can remember the great emphasis of his three journeys with these three words: Turkey, Greece, & Ephesus (if you say that just right you can turn it into a rhyme). In this first journey, Paul and Barabbas primarily evangelized a portion of central Turkey. In his second tour, Paul traveled through Turkey again but pressed on into northern and southern Greece. On his third journey, he went through Turkey and on to Greece, but his primary emphasis was the establishing of a great church and missionary-sending center in the great port city of Ephesus on the Aegean. In the last half of Acts 20 near the end of this third journey, Paul addressed a powerful sermon to the church leaders in Ephesus. In verse 28 he told them: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock to which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” The old translations say: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock….” If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of the church, we can’t take care of our families, we can’t take care of those who are depending on us. The starting place is remembering that God wants us to be good stewards of the body He has given us and of the soul He has given us.
2. Exodus 20:8 – “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” One of the ways we take care of ourselves is taking God’s commands seriously, including the commandment to rest one day in seven. There are two different resources we’re to offer God – our time and our money. But there are two different proportions given to us as patterns in the Scripture. In terms of money, the proportion is 1 part to 10 parts, and we call this tithing. We give God ten percent of our income to support His work, and He blesses the other ninety percent in a remarkable way. But when it comes to time, which is more valuable than money, the proportion God established is 1 part to 7 parts. We’re to devote one day in seven as a “holy” day, and from the beginning of creation it has been a day for rest and worship. One of the interesting things about the Old Testament Law is the amount of times prescribed for “breaks” in the calendar of the ancient Jews. In the Levitical Law, one day in seven was described as a day of rest; but there were also trips, retreats, pilgrimages, and festivals throughout the year. The Lord knows we need breaks from our stress. It’s important to have a day each week when we don’t do anything that feels like work. And it’s important to plan getaways for yourself, your spouse, your family. Every married couple needs a few days away periodically.
3. Psalm 127:2 – “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, fore He gives to His beloved sleep.” The New Living Translation puts it like this: “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to His loved ones.” The Message says: “It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know He enjoys giving rest to those he loves?” Recently I’ve been reading the memoir of one of the first Secret Service agents of the modern presidency, Col. Edmund Starling. He guarded five presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt. In his memoir, Starling of the White House, the colonel describes his personal admiration for Calvin Coolidge who maintained a well-balanced approach to his work.
“He didn’t do anyone else’s job,” said Starling. “One day his personal secretary, Ted Clark, came to the office and asked if he could show the President a file of papers which Secretary of Labor Davis wanted him to read.”
“‘He would like to know whether you agree with his decision,’ Clark said.
“‘I’m not going to read them,’ the President said. ‘You tell ol’ man Davis I hired him as Secretary of Labor and if he can’t do the job I’ll get a new Secretary of Labor.’” Coolidge understood the trap of reverse delegation, and he wasn’t going to fall for it.
On another occasion, as Coolidge and Starling came into the White House, they noticed a light burning in the office of the Secretary of Navy, Mr. Denby. Starling remarked that Denby must be a hard worker, for he frequently stayed in his office until late at night. “He must be an excellent man for the job,” said Starling.
“I wouldn’t say that,” the President replied. “I don’t work at night. If a man can’t finish his job in the day time he’s not smart.”[i]
Well, I must not be very smart, because I frequently work right up until bedtime. I enjoy it. But Coolidge had a point. There’s a balance, and the Bible warns against working our fingers to the bone when God delights in giving us rest.
4. Mark 6:31 – And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. Jesus was involved in an intense period of ministry, and He noticed that His disciples were wearing down. So He led them by boat to a deserted spot, although they got precious little rest. The multitude caught up with them, and that’s when He fed the 5000, then sent the Twelve into a storm, then had a conflict with the Pharisees, and in Mark 7:24 He is still trying to get His disciples into a remote place. It isn’t easy to get away from the pressures of life, but Jesus kept trying and He kept trying on behalf of His disciples. In Matthew 11:28, He said: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
5. Revelation 21:6 – And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” The words, “It is done!” are very significant. In the context, they are spoken by Christ after the creation of the New Heavens and the New Earth (See v. 1-5). Now compare this with what Christ said on the cross in John 19:30 – “It is finished.” When He came at the First Coming, He had a job to do, work assigned to Him. He did it and said, “It is finished.” When He returns at the Second Coming, He will complete the task with all the consummating events of history and will establish the Eternal Heavens and Earth, and when that work is finished He will say, “It is done.” At the end of His First Coming, He said: “It is finished!” At the end of the Second Coming, He will say: “It is done!” In other words, Jesus knew the work the Father has assigned to Him, and that is the work He did. He didn’t try to do everything; He did what was assigned to Him. Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist, developed an entire philosophy around this. He tried to figure out what was fulfilling and meaningful in life. Was it pleasure? Was it money? He decided that it was work. He wrote, in effect, “A man must get his happiness out of his work. That’s the first of his problems: to find the work he is meant to do in this world. Without work he enjoys, he can never know what happiness is.” His philosophy was: “Know thy work and do it…. Blessed is he who has found his work.”[ii] Well, Carlyle wasn’t exactly correct. The secret is knowing Jesus Christ, and then finding the work He wants us to do for His glory. Our fulfillment isn’t in our work for the Lord, but in our walk with Him. But we do want to finish the work He assigns to us, but only the work He assigns. We need to only do what only we can do.
Conclusion: The key to healthy living is to understand the importance of gaining God’s daily agenda for life, doing His will, finishing the work He has given us, resting in His promises and presence, and leaving the undone with Him.
[i] Col. Edmund W. Starling, Starling of the White House (Chicago: Peoples Book Club, date given 1916), 209.
[ii] Lillian Eichler Watson, Light from Many Lamps (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1951), 134-135.