I’ve often struggled deciding when to work and when to rest. Work too much and you’re a workaholic. But too much downtime and you’re a lazy bum. So where’s the balance between the two? God created the Sabbath for a full day of rest, but does that mean the appropriate ratio is one day of rest to every six days of work? Is there no time for Netflix at the end of a long Monday?
Jesus recognized the need for both work and rest in his ministry.
Read Mark 6:30-56.
Many studies on productivity recommend frequent short breaks for more efficient, purposeful work. The Pomodoro Technique uses 25-minute work periods followed by 5-minute breaks. After a few work/rest cycles, there’s a half-hour break. The 52/17 Method by the Draugiem Group bases its ratio on the schedules of its most productive employees. Their sweet spot is 52 minutes of work to 17 minutes of rest.
After the disciples finished the mission assigned to them, Jesus told them to take a break. Even though there would be more work to do, he knew they would need to “refuel” before going on. This wasn’t a hindrance to the ministry or putting the ministry “on hold.” It meant the disciples would be refreshed and ready for the next leg of following Jesus.
Jesus meant to rest with his disciples, but he put that aside temporarily when he saw the great need of the crowd, people who were so lost and desperate that they had chased him on foot. I read another book last week that mentioned this story. Ministering Cross-Culturally by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers pointed out how Jesus perfectly balance the priorities of task (going to rest) and people (meeting the crowd’s needs). He didn’t ignore the people to accomplish his task, but he didn’t give up his task either. After healing, teaching, and feeding everyone, he sent the disciples on in the boat and sent the crowd home. Then he went alone up the mountain for quality time with his Father.
“Few of us have the strength or will to follow this example,” wrote Lingenfelter and Mayers. “Jesus attended to the multitude around him, and then he ministered to himself.”
But Jesus didn’t stay away any longer than he needed. In the early morning, he could see the boat making slow progress and went to meet them. The wind stopped as soon as he stepped into the boat, recalling the time he calmed a storm after taking a nap. The disciples had been shocked that time too. Even after everything they had seen, they still didn’t know what to make of this man.
Jesus could have controlled the wind from the mountain rather than going down on the water, but then the disciples would not have witnessed his power and received further confirmation that he was something more than an ordinary human. Jesus came down from the mountain because he had more to teach them. His rest on the mountain prepared him to continue the work.
Reading this passage, I wonder if the key to work/rest balance is an awareness of needs–both that of others and our own. Jesus was acutely aware of his disciples’ need for rest, the crowd’s need for a “shepherd,” and his need to be alone in prayer. The amazing thing is he didn’t let any of these needs suffer. He may have put some on hold for a time to meet whatever need was most urgent, but he eventually addressed everything that he had to.
We can follow his example by being more intentional about weighing needs around and in us. Is the most important thing to meet work or social responsibilities or do we need to slow down for our own health and well-being? We can do as Jesus did to decide whether work or rest takes priority in the moment.
But we can also fill the roles of the disciples or crowd and know that Jesus will look after our needs (even if we don’t!). We may need to join him in the boat or chase after him along the shore, but Jesus will have compassion on us, satisfy our hunger, and walk across stormy seas to be with us.
…But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Mark 6:50b