Rest for Meaningful Work

by Dr. Michael Chung

“And (Jesus) said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’” (Mark 6:31)


Desperate employeeThe human body tires and needs rest. The possibility of emotional breakdowns, occupational burnout, sickness and disease, all increase when adequate rest has not been achieved. The disciples just returned from the mission field after seeing much fruit. Jesus not only listened but also initiated rest.

But many do not heed Jesus’s command to rest. Flora Wuellner in Feed My Shephards suggests that between 30 to 75 percent of Christian leaders experience severe fatigue. The old phrase “sacrifice the battle to win the war,” applies to resting while laboring. Sometimes, one needs to drawback and recharge before going back to work.

Jesus recognizes that the missionary task is taxing on one’s personal resources and proactively initiates rest for his disciples. This is a rest that is beyond the Sabbath, but a rest brought on by an inordinately busy schedule and tiring circumstances, much like what current mission workers and business people are facing. Jesus recognized that their work was tiring and imperatively stated that rest was needed.

How can we rest? Joel Hoomans of Roberts Wesleyan College offers some helpful suggestions:

Manage Your Time & Make Time For Sleep – Time is not a renewable resource…once spent, it is never recovered (this makes it more valuable than currency). Every one of us has 24 hours in a day with which to work and manage. Purposefully re-think how you use it (e.g., to whom and to what you give your energy). Protect your days off. Above all else, make sure you allow for seven to nine hours of sleep. If this is a challenge, seek medical expertise that can help you get to this mark. When it comes to sleep, remember that midnight is supposed to be the middle of the night and not the beginning of it.

Proactive & Reactive Vacation Allotments – Plan to schedule the majority of your vacation time for proactive and strategic break times that follow the most demanding times in your work schedule. Make sure the destinations are in line with the affects you wish to accomplish – relaxation, romance, exhilaration, adventure, learning, etc. Leave a small piece of your vacation for emergency periods of rest which can be taken as needed.

Work Smarter, Not Harder – To state it in a positive sense, rest makes us smarter. When you don’t get enough rest you are more liable to make costly mistakes that require re-work and create stress. Proper rest will help you make the most effective use of the time that you do work. If you are prone to worries that inhibit rest, make lists (by priority) and practice leaving those things on the list until you can come back to address them later – when you are equipped with the energy for excellence.

Invest in Hobbies & Your Support System – Set time aside each day for activities and people you enjoy. Use them to unwind from the stress of your day and to renew your enthusiasm. Don’t spend all of your energy at work – intentionally leave some for those at home. Use one night a week for an extended saturation in this time (more than an hour). If you don’t have a hobby or broad enough support system – explore and pursue them by asking other leaders how they have developed them.

Take Micro-Breaks – During your workday, take a fifteen minute break or two from your work and reward yourself with a walk . . . or friendly conversation. Use these to kick start your day, get you to your target heart rate, break up the monotony/stress, or as a form of reward/remuneration.

Define Your Availability – Protect your time off from interruptions and distractions. Make these times of availability a habit and publicize them so that those who depend on you know what to expect. You have to use the ‘off switch’ during these times and turn off your cell phone and other electronic leashes. You don’t owe anyone an excuse for protecting your source of vitality and effectiveness.

Develop Others Through Delegation – Involve and engage others with opportunities to learn and take on new responsibilities. Every task they can successfully take on is potentially an investment in your ability to rest while you are out of the workplace. There is nothing like processes and people that can fulfill the mission of the organization in your absence…and put your mind at rest.

Plan Time For Reflection – Find or create a quiet place for thinking, reviewing, censuring, and prioritizing the day. This will maximize your capacity for learning and planning.

Make Time for Solitude – According to British psychiatrist Anthony Storr, some development of the capacity to be alone is necessary if the brain is to function at its best and if the individual is to fulfill his [her] highest potential. Human beings easily become alienated from their deepest needs and feelings. Learning, thinking, innovating, and maintaining contact with one’s inner world are all facilitated by solitude. This time will differ from person to person: for one a quiet walk will suffice, for another an extended retreat is necessary.

Spiritual Engagement – It only makes sense that if we are to attend to the body and mind, we should also attend to our spiritual component. Utilize church, reading, and fellowship to renew yourself spiritually. This recommendation may surpass all the others, as it concerns itself with the very source of our life and energy.

Avoid the Guilt – Rest is not inactivity. Its purpose is to increase your leadership effectiveness and this is in the best interest of your reputation and the needs of your customers, boss, direct-reports, etc., – even if they don’t know it. As J. Hoomans pointed out, the fact that God Himself rested on the seventh day (following His own creative efforts) means it is part of His design for us as leaders.

Work is important but so is rest. Those who labor must learn this art for long-term effectiveness.

Michael Chung currently teaches Bible and Theology at Houston Christian University. He can be reached at