Reflection: Busy and stressed? You'd best read this!


Jesus said to them: "The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)

In his best-selling book "Crazy Busy", author Kevin DeYoung says he heard an anecdote about a woman from another culture who came to the USA and started introducing herself as "Busy".

"It was, after all, the first thing she heard when meeting any American. 'Hello, I'm Busy'. She figured it was part of our traditional greeting," he writes.

It's much the same in the UK – and as a result, stress is the biggest cause of sickness in Britain, with employees taking off 105 million days annually because of it.

Sadly, even church ministers like me are not immune from the problem. In his book Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom for Ministry, Stephen Cherry, a canon at Durham Cathedral, says of clergy: "The system is creaking and people are cracking as more is continuously expected of them."

And what about you? Are you resigned to stress and busyness as a way of life? It seems many of us are. But it's here that once again Jesus wants to challenge and liberate us – and to demonstrate a different way of living to the world around.

Jesus' words about the Sabbath come after his disciples have been challenged for the seemingly innocent action of plucking a few heads of grain while wandering through a field. This was something explicitly allowed in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 23:25) – but some religious groups were so over-zealous in their policing of the Sabbath they reckoned that casual grain-plucking counted as work, which of course was out on that day.

Jesus observes that even the revered King David had eaten the special bread from the Tabernacle in an emergency. So if he did that, why shouldn't his disciples chew a few grains? Jesus then declares: "The Sabbath was made for man – not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

Over the centuries, Christians have had different views about how the Sabbath now works in practice. If you want to explore in more detail, a book such as Perspectives on the Sabbath edited by Christopher Donato sets out various ideas, while a shorter online article Sabbath Rest by that wise pastor and professor Sinclair Ferguson neatly draws several lines of thought together.

But most Christians would agree with Kevin DeYoung's conclusion that "there is still an abiding principle that we ought to worship on the Lord's Day and trust God enough to have a weekly routine where we cease from our normal labours."

And isn't that a remarkably positive gift to be giving to our modern, stressed-out world? Theologian Simon Vibert in his book Stress declares: "I believe that we should do all we can to allow God's creation principles to be expressed in one day of rest per six days of labour." And he continues: "There should be much about the Christian outlook that will be attractive to the non-believing culture. Should we not be modelling life in all its fullness?... We are a restless age. We are over-stimulated with visual and audio input. We need to learn to rest."

For some years in ministry I tried to pack almost everything that wasn't church-related into my weekly day off (Friday) – shopping, gardening, seeing friends, DIY and so on. It never worked. Now my Fridays are mostly just time with the Lord, time with my family and time for myself – often snoozing. My corporate worship, of course, is still on a Sunday!

Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, says elsewhere: "Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Do you know what? I think he meant it.

The Rough Guide to Discipleship is a fortnightly devotional series. David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex.