Stress overload is the feeling that there are just not enough hours in the day to complete your work and care for the people who need your help. It’s an occupational hazard for lots of pastors. I remember that feeling of being hurried and pressured so I’d work harder and longer to try and fit it all in and get it all done, leaving little bandwidth in my life for the care of my own body and soul. It’s so ironic how service of God had a way of crowding out my communion with God.
Dallas Willard was once asked what one word best described Jesus. Was it love… compassion… holy… lord… teacher… risen… healer? Willard’s answer – “relaxed”! That’s a word that would have never occurred to me. But the more I think about it the better it works…
Jesus was the complete opposite of the compulsive pastor. He wasn’t driven by the urgency of the moment, the expectations and demands of others or a need for success like I was. He felt no pressure to manipulate or control. No need to make things happen. He was relaxed and unhurried.
The gospels present a passionate, kingdom-driven, needs-meeting, on-the-move Jesus yet he was unhurried in his way with people, even setting aside time for the recalibrating and restoration of his soul (Mark 1:35). He withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer as often as possible (Luke 5:16). Evidently this is how Jesus unhurried himself.
I don’t think Jesus “used” prayer the way most do. It wasn’t a utilitarian means of getting something from his Father. Getting isn’t relationship building. If married people only go to their spouses in order to get stuff their relationships will feel more like selfish transactions than real love. That’s getting relationship backward. Relationships don’t always have to accomplish something. They don’t always need to be taking and receiving. Two persons just being present to one another often strengthen relationships. I think that as far as Jesus was concerned prayer was relationship building.
The theologian and writer, Henri Nouwen said something shocking about prayer. Prayer, he wrote, “is wasting time with God… being useless”. What? Now that’s a strange thing to say, don’t you think? Sure is, especially if you share a transactional view of prayer like most people do. That prayer is a way of getting something done. But Nouwen’s statement makes a lot of sense if you think of prayer as a way of creating space for God to act and move. I think his choice of words is a caution against coming to prayer expecting to be useful – that we’ll solve something, answer something, learn something important. That sort of thinking cons us into supposing that we are in control, not God. Viewing prayer as useless and wasting time with God unmasks the illusion of our busyness, usefulness, and indispensability. I think he’s saying that prayer is being unbusy with God instead of being busy with other things.
To the pastor who suffers from the compulsion to do something helpful and useful, when the pressure’s on, solitude, silence and prayer can feel like a waste of time. And according to Nouwen it actually is! “It (prayer) is not useful or practical but a way of wasting time for God. It cuts a hole in our busyness and reminds us that it is God and not we who creates and sustains the world.” Jesus wasted a lot of time in prayer even during his busiest times of ministry. He made himself useless, and in so doing steered clear of compulsiveness. Before getting busy with the business of salvation he unhurried and unbusyed himself, clearing the way for his Father’s will to be done.
I know that we think Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30), is directed to overwhelmed and sin-weary sheep but its especially relevant to stressed-out shepherds as well. It’s an invitation to spend some useless yet essential restorative and refreshing time with him. To avoid stress overload and remain spiritually healthy, pastors must unhurry themselves. Solitude, silence and prayer is the place where it becomes possible to let go of the notion that life depends on the pastor’s productivity rather than God’s provision.
Finally after all these years of busyness and hurry this has begun to sink in and I’ve slowly begun experiencing a new sense of freedom. I’m discovering that I no longer have to be in charge and in control of all the stuff that needs to be done. I don’t have to finish everything right now. I can “waste” a leisurely hour or so to be unbusy and unhurried – to just be with God. I’ve finally begun to relax a bit more and trust my heavenly Father for results. I wish I had made this discovery years ago but I was in too much of a hurry to get things done. What about you?
“ This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says, ‘Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength…’” (Isaiah 30:15)
“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” (Psalm 62:1)