In previous articles inviting you to join me on a “soul-care journey,” we’ve explored ways to let your “distress bring you to God, not drive you from Him” (2 Cor. 7:9, MSG). One of the primary ways we can do that is to integrate rhythms of Sabbath and sabbatical into our lives.

While the two concepts of Sabbath and sabbatical are intricately connected, they are each worth some consideration on their own. In this article I’ll address the concept of Sabbath. (We’ll explore sabbatical in another installment.)

Often, as pastors, there is a subtle resistance to seeing ourselves as holistically human. This idea very much applies to both Sabbath and sabbatical. We carry—wait, let me speak for myself here—I carry a bit more of a sense of “God can’t do this without me” than I’d like to admit.

In his work The Dark Night of the Soul, author Gerald May writes: “At worse, we give lip service to God’s presence, but then feel and act as if we were completely on our own. … The modern educator Parker Palmer calls this ‘functional atheism … the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me.’” Anyone else want to say, “Ouch”?

Stillness is an important element of what Sabbath brings, but the idea is really that, for these 24 hours, we really do have faith that God can handle the world while we stop.

Pete Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, explains that there are four characteristics of a biblical Sabbath that serve us well. Let me briefly summarize them:


Given that the Hebrew word for Sabbath literally mean “to cease” for a 24-hour period each week, we stop striving in our life. Stillness is an important element of what Sabbath brings, but the idea is really that, for these 24 hours, we really do have faith that God can handle the world while we stop. What paid or unpaid forms of striving does that look like for you on your Sabbath?


Something about stopping gives way to true rest. When pastors ask me, “What in the world am I going to do for 24 whole hours?” or “I can’t take an entire 24 hours!”, I often reply with: “Well, 1/3 of your hours, I hope, are taken up with rest already, right? You do sleep, don’t you?” Ordained Foursquare minister and licensed clinical professional counselor Sherri Robbins is currently writing a fantastic series on sleep that I encourage you to digest here. Many things bring rest, and the important question is, what is restful for you on your Sabbath? Go rest!


If you haven’t had fun on your Sabbath, you probably haven’t Sabbath-ed. (Maybe I made up a word there.) You miss an entire element of life God gives when you miss delight, especially on your Sabbath. A question I ask pastors regularly is, “What do you do for fun?” I know I tend to take myself too seriously, and I also know I am not alone, Pastor!


What does it look like for you to be with Jesus on the Sabbath, maybe in some ways that are outside your routine (not that it has to be non-routine)? What does the contemplation of God’s activity in the world, in your world, sound like or feel like? Maybe it involves something more traditional, but maybe it is a focus on spending time with God in ways that are completely different. The focus here is on how to go about making Sabbath “holy to the Lord” (Ex. 31:15, NKJV) and more than just about yourself.

Moving into the concept of sabbaticals, which are an extended Sabbath, will be our next consideration. Currently, I am planning my next sabbatical to happen within the next year or so. However, I find that pastors generally experience deeper rest and renewal when their Sabbath is already well-integrated into their lifestyle.

I would love to interact with you about this in the comments below. Feel free to ask questions there, and let’s talk about it!

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More encouragement on soul-care

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is director of the Center for Spiritual Renewal (CSR) East in Christiansburg, Va.