I wonder sometimes if Jesus ever told His disciples, “You’ve served me for a long time. You’re going through a lot of intense service right now. Your reputations and your physical health, and maybe even your mental well-being, are beginning to wear. You’ve given so much in the service of me and my Father, and people are also taking a lot from you. Why don’t you take a break from it all for a few days?”
But when I wonder these things, I need to talk about them, because my thought process is usually so wrapped up in the question that I’m incapable of meditating on an answer on my own. I thank God that I have both lovely roommates and philosophically intriguing friends who are there to listen, ask questions, and point me in directions I’d not yet considered. Their doing so is, in many ways, a service to me.
But is a Christian ever justified in taking a break from service? In pausing the activity of serving others, because that Christian has reached a point where too much is being asked of them with little to no reward, and perhaps even no recognition?
I suppose it depends on the attitude towards the service. If that break is a form of escapism, or pulling away from all of one’s problems for a brief breather before being unceremoniously shoved back under the burden of service to flail in frustration and desperation, then that break is unhealthy, for two reasons.
First, the effect of our service is dependent on the purpose of the service. Like the twelve disciples on the road to Capernaum, we often serve in order that we may be great (“the greatest”), that we may be rewarded with fame, fortune, and favor. But Jesus rebukes their disputing and attempting to one-up each other when he says, “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). If we serve in order that we may be personally fulfilled, we aim to move an ocean from one place to another with a tablespoon. After all, no amount of good works will earn salvation or personal satisfaction, unless those works are done with the heart of a true servant, humbled to service for the sake of obedience and delighting in that service for the love of the Master. As the Apostle Paul and “Timothy our brother” wrote to the church at Corinth, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). That is, not for their own sake or satisfaction, but for a greater and more inspired purpose.
Second, it is unhealthy because of the negative understanding of “service.” Living in the spirit of faithful service to a fair and gracious Master is not easy work. It is tough, on the mind and the body. In addition, we are not all given the same capacity for service in the same areas (1 Peter 4:10). Sometimes, in serving, we are breaking new ground with what we do; other times, our work is continuous, often repetitive. Still, even repetitive service should not become a burden to us, but should be a joy, a delight. As G.K. Chesterton once said:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.”
And God knows our work is not easy. This is why He has given us a day of rest. God Himself rested on the seventh day. On the Sabbath, we don’t rest from Christian responsibility. We rest from the physical and mental labor of the week that we generally perform for the sake of worldly survival, for money and our “daily bread.” But on the Sabbath, we rest in Him on a day gifted to us by him. We find our rest in Him, in the quiet moments – though they be few and far between. As you prepare for worship this Sabbath day, may you be reminded that this is a day of rest, a gift of God to His faithful servants. And in rising on the following Monday, may you find the phrase, “Do it again,” running through your mind with the quiet contentment of finding satisfaction in Him.