Tonight I am taking a break from a rigorous schedule of ministry/service/work as a transition pastor. The day started with a breakfast appointment at 7:00 and ended with a summary e-mail to a wonderful team of church ministry servants at 6:00. The day before hadn’t started as early but ended much later with a meeting. So did the day before that which was a Sunday — a more intense day because of the responsibilities of preaching and ministry in the morning. And the day before that, though a kind of day off, turned out to include a personal connection with a fellow pastor and an evening of social engagement with people at church. Complicating the last four days of work has been the experience of fighting a case of the common cold. It’s time for a rest.
Learning to pace oneself in ministry and work is a very important discovery. I don’t always do this well, but I am learning that unless I pay attention to my spirt and body, I soon become restless and less efficient in accomplishing what I believe to be the will of God. It’s important, I find, to work at seeking to experience some kind of rhythm in the course of my day, my week, as well as the months and seasons of my life. I have been greatly encouraged in this endeavour by recently reading a good book on this subject — God in My Everything, by Ken Shigimatsu. This very well-written and fascinating book describes the importance and practice of various disciplines according to a rule of life, or a certain kind of spiritual rhythm. The thesis of the book is based on the idea of following a rule such as was established and practiced by the Benedictine order of monks in the 6th Century.
A rule of life typically will address a way to balance the common realities and needs of daily life — daily rest, Sabbath rest, prayer, spiritual reading, diet/fasting, exercise, work, recreation, play, social engagements, the use of money, and any number of other aspects of life. The point is that each one of us has to come to terms with how to wholesomely relate to each of the necessities of daily life from a spiritual, Christian perspective. If we approach life from a position of faith in Christ — a Christian world view — then we need to relate to Christ in all of these aspects of our lives. We can’t dichotomize and say that some parts of our lives are spiritual and others are not. No; everything about our lives must involve our relationship with Christ, our continuous experience of God.
My typical routine or rule is to rise early enough each day to have enough time for about an hour’s Bible reading, meditation and prayer, This is followed by the routine physical preparation and a light breakfast before heading off for work at the office around 8:30. In a typical work week, this means heading for bed around 10:00 or 10:30, depending on the activities of the evening which often will involve some ministry meeting. But I like to keep the number of evening meetings to three or less per week, if at all possible. Several times each week, I like to watch the national evening news on television. I also like to finish the day by reading a chapter of a good book.
Several times each week, I like to include some type of exercise — walking, running, playing squash, swimming, or going to the gym. Additionally, each week, based on Shigimatsu’s pattern, I try to fast from regular meals (except for some juice) after dinner one evening to dinner the next. I find this to be a good exercise both physically and spiritually — enabling me to concentrate a bit more on prayer and meditation. Some kind of sabbath rest discipline is also important each week for me — a day when I try to stay away completely from any of my regular church ministry work. On a Sabbath rest, I sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, do something recreationally, try not to engage with people outside of my immediate family, and do things at which I can relax.
Currently each month I work hard at church transition ministry for about 16 – 18 days (over three Sundays) before going home for a special time of rest and family relationship renewal — including a refocus time on our marriage. (These days, of necessity, my wife stays home while I am away to serve as I do for these days each month. While I focus my attention on the high demands of church transition ministry for a couple of weeks at a time, Carolyn is minding home matters and also enjoying some public school teaching. It’s a blessing that every couple of months she is able to join me for several days in my location of service and work.) After a couple weeks of hard work, it’s so refreshing to return home for rest and reconnection at home. Time at home is also an opportunity to be renewed in normal social relationships with friends.
I always like to pace myself seasonally as well — taking time off in the summer to rest and be refreshed spiritually, physically and socially. Transition ministry means that the summer off happens quite easily most of the time — since, in my experience, most transition periods tend not to last beyond the beginning of summer.
If I’m honest, I have to confess that in my experience there are many interruptions to this kind of rule, but I find it very refreshing to try to follow a regima that enables me to renew my spirit, soul and body. This is consistent with the example of Jesus and so many of his followers that I have come to know through study and observation. The idea of following a rule of spiritual discipline became abundantly clear to me recently as I read the first chapter of 2 Peter. It is there that the Apostle encourages us to …make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.