Like most pastors, Doug Wilson often works on Sundays. Aside from an afternoon nap, he doesn’t get much rest on the traditional Sabbath day.
That doesn’t mean Wilson, teaching pastor of Moffett Road Baptist Church in Mobile, doesn’t believe in the value of rest.
“Unplugging and resting are essential for mental and physical restoration,” said Wilson, who is also executive director of the Center for Christian Calling at the University of Mobile. “The older I get, the more convinced I am that if we fail to practice Sabbath rest intentionally, our bodies will take it for us by means of breaking down. I’d rather practice Sabbath rest at home than in a hospital bed. If we don’t unplug and refresh, we will cease being fruitful for the Master.”
Wilson is among those who encourage “keeping the Sabbath holy” by focusing the day on worship and respite from the work and activities that fill the other six days of the week.
In Genesis 2:1–3, God rests following six days of creation. To be clear, God doesn’t need to rest, but His action, passed on to us in the fourth commandment, provides an example for us to do the same.
The theme of observing the Sabbath continues in the Old Testament as God’s people wander in the wilderness. Each day they went out and picked up the food God rained down for them, but He commanded them to rest from that task on the seventh day.
In their rest, which was really in their obedience, God’s glory was shown. Rest is more than just taking a day off, however.
In his book “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry,” pastor and author John Mark Comer cites research that says the average American now takes four fewer weeks of vacation than 50 years ago.
“Hurry is a threat not only to our emotional health but to our spiritual lives as well,” he writes.
Whether taking a Sabbath rest on Sunday or taking a day or block of hours on another day of the week, slowing down allows the human brain to relax. For believers, this time becomes an opening for God to speak.
God’s command to rest does not end in the Old Testament and neither is it the only aspect of physical health the Bible mentions. In the beginning of 3 John, for example, we see John’s concern for Gaius’ soul and his health. “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (v. 2).
John appears to be concerned about his friend’s mental, physical and spiritual health. John prays for Gaius’ physical health, but John also notes that Gaius is a strong example of good spiritual health, which encourages John and the other believers.
As believers, we are to strive to walk in the truth. When we fail to do that, the temptations to sin will increase. And though there is no guarantee of physical or mental wellness in minding our spiritual health, there are ways each of us can work our spiritual muscles on a daily basis.
Here are three ways:
1. Study God’s Word. When we love God with all our hearts, souls and minds, we want to spend time with Him in His Word. However, Bible study requires our time. Some people also struggle to understand Scripture. The best way to get past the obstacles is to press on, and for good reason.
God’s Word equips Christians to deal with every thought and situation: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Studying God’s Word helps keep us from stumbling and it guides our path. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” As you appropriately read God’s Word, you will clearly see the light of Jesus Christ.
2. Practice prayer. Prayer contributes mightily to spiritual health. Peter instructs believers to “pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Communication is vital to any relationship, including our relationship with God.
Stefana Laing, professor of spiritual formation at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, said prayer can take a lot of forms, from a “laundry list” of requests to emergency appeals. And God hears those prayers because “He is a good parent to us,” she said.
‘Listen to God’
But to build a deeper prayer practice, she advises incorporating intercessory prayer, or praying for others, as well as what she calls “wordless prayer.”
“We often do a lot of talking in our prayers,” she said. “God wants us to talk to Him, but our prayers should not all be one-sided. Sit and listen to God.”
3. Love others. Pray for a heart that longs to love others the way God does. It is difficult to have a genuine heart of love in the face of anger, struggles and the hardships of this world. Setbacks will certainly come. But we can build our spiritual foundation on God’s love for us. “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4:16).
Without love for God, spiritual practices are meaningless. One can pray, memorize Scripture, practice Sabbath, fast or meditate but not be genuine. Spiritual health stems from the love God has shown us. We should show this love to others.
There are other spiritual disciplines that could be added to this list. The point is to get started, Laing said.
“Spiritual health is about the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, working in you and through you. It is not just so you feel good and balanced,” she said. “Start somewhere and make it count. Build your practice. Build your discipline.”