Making space for rest: A Q&A with Jeff Vanderstelt

This story was originally published on Facts & Trends, an online publication for pastors and church leaders, in December 2018. Click here to view the full story. 


Pastor and author Jeff Vanderstelt cares about Sabbath rest.

As the pastor of a church, the executive director and founder of Saturate, and an author, he’s certainly busy, but he’s also learned to make space for what matters most.

That’s the crux of his latest Bible study, released earlier this year. Called Making Space, this study delves into the book of Proverbs and the life of Jesus to help Christians center their lives on God’s priorities. Among these priorities is the principle of rest.

Facts & Trends recently spoke with Vanderstelt about the meaning of biblical rest, why rest is essential for all believers (including pastors and church leaders), and how Christians can best pursue it.

Tell me about your recent study, Making Space. What compelled you to write this study?

In January 2015, I was called to replant and transition a church in Bellevue, Washington. During our first year, I lead them through 1 Peter in order to understand how to be God’s people on mission in the everyday stuff of life.

Regularly, I would interact with people who agreed that they should obey Jesus’ commands and fulfill his mission but remarked that they were too busy to do so. They were too busy to live the life God saved them to live.

It was clear our church needed wisdom on how to reprioritize their lives around the things that mattered most. This led to a preaching series through Proverbs on making space for what matters most. Out of that came the study Making Space.

I know rest is one of the topics you cover in the study. Why is this? Why do you think rest is such an important concept for people to pay attention to?

God created everything and everyone to live in rhythm. Work and rest are part of those rhythms. God rested after the work of creating, not because He was tired but because He was satisfied.

He called us to rest in His work and from our work from a place of deep satisfaction, thanksgiving, and humility. We rest in God’s work because we know it is very good.

Rest reminds us to be satisfied in God, God’s Word, and God’s work. We also rest from our work. We know it is not our work that justifies us before God. We work not to gain God’s approval but because in Jesus we already have it.

Rest is an expression of our confidence in the good news of Jesus. God is satisfied with His work on our behalf and so are we if we truly rest in it.

Rest is also an expression of humility. If I admit that I need rest, I admit that I am a limited human being who is in need. In rest I also acknowledge I’m not running the world. It goes on without me.

Lastly, in our rest, the murmur of our heart cries out. If we will slow down, stop working, stop typing, and stop swiping, we will hear our heart cry out for what it longs for and where it needs healing—it will cry out for true rest.

Most people are hurried, broken, wounded souls too busy to listen to the cry of their hearts. And as a result, they have very little space to hear and receive from God. Rest, true rest, puts us in the place to reflect and receive.

Would you say a lot of people are missing adequate rest from their lives? Why do you think that is?

Absolutely.

I think some are frankly afraid of it. They are afraid of missing out. They are afraid something won’t get accomplished. They’re afraid of facing the truth about themselves.

I believe others have so defined their lives by what they do, they can’t imagine not doing. They are workaholics because work is their functional justification and their job or boss is their functional savior.

They have bought into the lie that we are what we do. So, resting undermines their identity and sense of significance.

I’m also increasingly convinced our phones are rewiring us to always be “on.” We are constantly taking in messages, many of which convinced us we are missing out, not doing enough, not working out enough, not gaining enough, etc…

We are becoming a narcissistic, attention deficit, FOMO (fear of missing out) people.

What about pastors and church leaders, specifically? Do you think there are any unique barriers to them pursuing rest? If so, what are they?

One of the biggest challenges for pastors is the lack of clear boundaries. Everything seems to bleed together. Many people can go to work and then leave it there (though increasingly work is always with us through our phones).

Since pastoral ministry is largely about relationships, many pastors never leave work. Work is with them all the time. And, often times, the work is early morning, late night and all weekend because this is when we can meet with people outside of their work schedules.

Most of our culture has a cultural understanding that the weekend (Saturday and Sunday) is supposed to be a time of rest and recreation. Most pastors are working much of their weekend and therefore have very little time carved out for true rest.

What are the benefits of a Christian intentionally taking time to rest and observe the Sabbath?

We enter into life the way God created it to be. We work hard, then we rest, both satisfied in our work but also agreeing with God that we are limited humans who are not the god of this world.

We also have the opportunity in Sabbath, to grow in our faith in who God is and the sufficiency of what He has done in Christ. By regularly resting from our labor, we are reminded that we can rest from looking to our works to justify or save us.

In Sabbath, we also take the time to look back and remember all that God has done. We grow in thankfulness. As we do, we look at tomorrow with great hope knowing our Heavenly Father has continued to sustain us and provide for our needs.

In doing so, we don’t slip into the forgetfulness that leads to anxiety today and fear about our future. Israel regularly failed to rest and remember, and it led to grumbling, anxiety, and fear.

And, we will grow in physical, emotional, and spiritual health. There are so many studies that prove overworking with no regular rest actually leads to a shorter and less productive life.

Lastly, regular Sabbath rest leads to rested people the rest of the week. We become more present to God, one another, and to our work when we practice a full day of true rest every week.

Is there anything you think people tend to misunderstand about rest and Sabbath? If so, what?

I think some people believe you are not supposed to do anything. The command was to rest from our work—the work we normally do. Not just become passive people who do nothing.

I remember a time when I was a youth pastor in a church that really emphasized Sabbath rest. They translated Sabbath as Sunday, which is another misunderstanding since Sabbath was originally Saturday.

Saturday was the day Jesus was “at rest” in the tomb and Sunday is the day he rose again—the first day of the new creation. I encourage our people not to get hung up on which day is the correct one, but have one.

Back to the story…My wife loves to vacuum. It’s actually restful for her. So, there she was vacuuming on a Sunday. Someone from our church drove by and called us to let us know they were disappointed Jayne was not observing the Sabbath. I went on to explain that Jayne rests from her normal work through vacuuming.

I also remember people from that church running into each other at the grocery store on Sundays and saying, “Don’t tell anyone I’m here.” It went from rest to rules. That is not God’s intent.

I share this because, if we’re not careful, we can create a whole set of laws around the proper way to rest. I believe the key is to rest from your normal labor and take time to enjoy not working in the ways that are restful to you. For some this is hiking. Others may love to read. Maybe it’s taking an extended nap.

Whatever rest looks like for you, make sure you give space to stop working, listen to God, listen to your own heart, and enjoy the day. We were not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath rest was created for us and our enjoyment.

What are some practical ways people can find and make space for rest?

Identify a day that is conducive for rest. For instance, Sunday is not a day of rest for me because it is my hardest workday of the week. Saturday doesn’t work great for me either since that is the day when I am actively involved in my kids’ sports. So, Jayne and I choose Friday as our day.

Most people who have a typical work schedule would do well to choose Saturday or Sunday since the culture generally makes space for this (though too many parents are too committed to their children’s sport success to ever take a day off—that’s another problem to be addressed in another place).

As you identify the day, protect it. Don’t fill it with activities that just get you working again. Block it out. Turn off your phone—or at least shut off the notifications.

We need to learn to have at least one day without the world screaming at us. You could even set up an automatic response to emails that informs people you don’t look at your emails on this day (like a vacation responder).

Then, create space to rest and reflect. I tend to give myself permission to sleep more on this day (sleeping in or taking a nap). I take more time to read God’s Word, journal, commune with and listen to God. Jayne and I slow down and spend more time sharing what God is teaching us or what we are struggling with.

Identify restful activities. Sometimes I go for a long walk, a bike ride, or a hike. I live in the Pacific Northwest so on a day of rest or a day of solitude, I like to explore and enjoy God’s beautiful creation. Sometimes I go golfing because it’s the one event that forces me to slow down (or it’ll be a bad round).

I also like to enjoy a good book. I have to be careful what book I read since many of the books I read are about leadership and ministry. So, I intentionally choose books that get me out of that world. Sometimes they are more devotional, some are fictional, and some are biographical.

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