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One-on-One with Adam Mabry on ‘The Art of Rest’

Rest or Ruined: A conversation with a serial achiever on the importance of rest.
One-on-One with Adam Mabry on ‘The Art of Rest’

Ed: Adam, we’ve known each other for a while, so when I heard that you were writing a book on rest, I was surprised. You’re the embodiment of an East Coast, busy, constantly moving person. How did you end up writing this book?

Adam: Yeah, it made my wife laugh, too. So, here’s how it happened: In 2013, our church was exploding, we launched a new campus, we bought a new (but very old) home that I was remodeling, I was wrapping up a master’s degree, and we had the most sleep-resistant child ever.

After a few months of 60-hour work weeks followed by late night reno sessions, I broke down. My whole life I powered through difficulties by just achieving a bit more. But this time, that didn’t work, and I came close to achieving my own destruction. Depression hit hard, and it lasted for a long while. Learning to set my work down was big part of my recovery from that season.

Fast forward a year or two later, and I’m sitting with my staff. I pitch to them a great idea about a new, church-wide campaign to get our people sharing their faith and serving the city. Bleary-eyed, they informed me that everyone I was leading was pretty tired. It occurred to me that I was powering through again, we’d never studied sabbath as a church, and as it was summer, it was a good time.

So, I changed the plan: summer of sabbath. No big initiatives, no new programs. We were going to learn to rest, together, even though we were all bad at it.

As I researched, I found a lot of long books written by people much older than me, reflecting on sabbath in retirement. But, that’s not where my people (or most people) are. So, after that series, a publisher contacted me about putting my ideas into print. I set out writing a mercifully short, helpful little book on rest, ironically written by a man who achieves a lot and was once quite restless.

Ed: The subtitle of your book is, “Faith to hit pause in a world that never stops.” Why do you think it takes faith to take a break?

Adam: Because giving away your time to slow down and be with God takes trust.

The current pace of the world is crazy. There has never been a generation so serially distracted by busyness. This is having two negative effects. First, our iPhone age with its endless notifications, distractions, and constant stream of news, is making us much more depressed and anxious. And, we’ve now turned busyness into the new status symbol. “I’m just sooo busy,” is the new way to show how important you are.

Turning away from our anxious addiction to technology will take a great deal of effort. Laying down our self-perception as really important will require us to believe that the One for whom we are stopping is worth waiting on. In learning the art of rest, we stepping out in faith that we can do more with our lives if we regularly rest with God than we could if we were relentlessly working.

Ed: Why is rest important, biblically?

Adam: Sabbath is a large theme in the Old Testament, starting with creation.

When God made the world, he rested. Not because he was tired, but because he was glad. Just as we might stand back to look at a well-mowed yard, a nicely-set table, or any job well done. This set a pattern for the way humans were to live as his image-bearers.

Fast forward to the exodus story. Israel is enslaved to a false god-king who demands their ceaseless labor so he can sit in constant rest. God defeats Pharaoh, delivers his people, and then does something really weird: He tells them to take one day per week, and stop. Everyone of every kind, all the animals, and all the workers, were to enjoy resting with God. This distinguished God’s people, because God doesn’t need our ceaseless labor. He invites us to rest in his sovereign, saving hands. But, Israel constantly let go of this practice, and eventually, they let go of God.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, sabbath had been turned into this tense, weirdly policed religious duty. Jesus was even rebuked by the Pharisees for not stopping correctly, which is kind of hilarious. But he replies by reminding them, “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”

He proved himself as the God of rest as he did all the work of saving us and invites us to add nothing to it but our acceptance of it. To rest from trying to save ourselves and set the world aright by trusting in him.

Throughout church history, regular rest has been an important part of our witness to a watching world that we’re in this world, but we’re not going to worship the false gods of this world with our busy labor. We’re going to embrace sabbath rest, reminding ourselves and the world just who our God is.

Ed: So for the busy person out there, how is resting not just one more thing to do? How do you recommend we start to practice the “art of rest,” as you call it?

Adam: I’d recommend three things. First, you must become convinced that biblical, God-saturated rest is important. Then, you need to understand why it’s important. Once that happens, then starts the work of actually calendaring your sabbath times. In my book, I guide readers through that process.

But it’s all a bit like tithing: we give God a good chunk of our money, and we end up living better on what’s left than if we’d kept it all to ourselves. Well, time is like money — if we give God a day a week, we’ll be quite amazed at what we’ll reap. I’m still a serial achiever, but now I’m one who’s learning to practice the art of rest.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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One-on-One with Adam Mabry on ‘The Art of Rest’