the shape of leadership

Unstring the Bow

Answering Jesus’ Call to Rest

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31, NIV).


This was Jesus to His disciples. “Get some rest.” Explaining the familiar but powerful “unstringing” metaphor, writer George Grant recounts:

At the end of the thirteenth century when the Norman English bowmen began to pioneer the powerful new military technology of the long bow … they discovered that the very best precaution that a bowman could take for his weapon was simply to unstring the bow when it was not in use. To release the tension, relax the pressure, and relieve the strain allowed the bow to last longer, snap back faster, and set arrows to flight further. A bow that was never unstrung would quickly lose its effectiveness. A bow that was never relaxed became useless as an offensive weapon.

As ministers of the gospel, given the soul-intensive, schedule-demanding work that such a calling entails, we must never underestimate our need to periodically relax, laugh, have fun, engage in activities that renew us emotionally, and, in general, “unstring the bow” of our ministry lives.

In a more confronting way, professor and best-selling author Barbara Brown Taylor has some rather frank things to say to us about the refusal to rest.

I do not mean to make an idol of health, but it does seem to me that at least some of us have made an idol of exhaustion. The only time we know we have done enough is when we are running on empty and when the ones we love most are the ones we see the least. When we lie down to sleep at night, we offer our full appointment calendars to God in lieu of prayer, believing that God — who is as busy as we are — will surely understand.

Over the years, I have found that the symptoms of exhaustion bear striking similarity to those of spiritual warfare — discouragement, an inability to enjoy simple pleasures, a lack of motivation, tormenting thoughts that tear away at our sense of identity and accomplishment, relationships that are not working, high levels of internalized anger, vulnerability to temptation, and a general sense of living under a cloud.

The enemy then intentionally exploits unregulated exhaustion to gain a foothold in our lives. He wants to take us out physically, emotionally, and spiritually while God is working to keep us in for the long run. That makes rest more than a selfish indulgence; it is part of our battle strategy.

The enemy exploits unregulated exhaustion to gain a foothold in our lives.

I trust that this summer you will be able to get away for a while and rest. We hope to see many of you at General Council in Anaheim, California. Exhaustion is partly spiritual and emotional in nature.

Although the schedule of General Council is demanding, we are anticipating a powerful move of the Holy Spirit that will renew us in ways that we desperately need. The fellowship we will experience with other people who share our same calling and passion for ministry will also nourish us emotionally.

And, if you can take a few extra days before or after Council, let me encourage you to do some vacationing there. For many years, I lived and pastored just a few miles from the Anaheim Convention Center. The Southern California area is amazing in what it offers for touring, hiking, sightseeing, hitting the beach, visiting amusement parks and, in general, getting away from daily routines.

Even if you can’t make it to General Council, it’s still important to break away for a while. Time for rest is a complicated issue, especially for bivocational pastors. But, although it’s easy to blame the demands of church and people for why we neglect our families and live with exhaustion, sometimes the real problem is us. The feeling that everyone needs us, all the time, may be more rooted in our ego needs and drivenness than in our God-given calling.

Taking a true vacation is, for some of us, an actual act of humility by which we surrender our sense of indispensability and trust God to take care of things for a while. It also confronts the human tendency to confuse our “self” with our “work,” an identity confusion that seriously depletes us over time.

We may also fight false guilt when we rest. I love the title of the book, Why Do I Feel Guilty When I Say No? That is me too much of the time. But guilt is like cholesterol — there is the good kind and the bad kind, or what Paul calls in 2 Corinthians 7 godly sorrow and worldly sorrow.

Separating Holy Spirit conviction from false guilt has been a longtime journey in my life. Yet pacing myself, replenishing physically and emotionally, and doing what it takes to be healthy and durable is worth the battle against false guilt. I also remind myself that self-denial and self-neglect are two very different things.

Jesus said, “Get some rest.” Unstring the bow. For the sake of our families and our ministries, may we not neglect that call.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Called to Serve, the Assemblies of God ministers letter.
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