A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Deep rest for deep ministry


Constant Gardener Trowel

(view original article here)

No pastor wants to ask for a sabbatical.

Sabbaticals are seen by too many as the refuge of the lazy, the weak and the workshy.

If a Christian minister is to leave his post for a period of time, he may think it confirms his church’s suspicions that he’s a sponger, exploiting his congregation’s goodwill.

I for one know very few lazy evangelical pastors. I know dozens who are worn-out, overwhelmed and therefore ineffective in their calling.

These men need a sabbatical, and they and their churches need to understand what that involves, and why it can be such a blessing.

Pastors need sabbaticals

Ministry is exhausting. If you are properly preparing and declaring God’s Word week in week out, it will exhaust you. If you are caring for people, really bearing their burdens, weeping with them as they weep, it will take its toll. If you are making yourself the servant of peoples’ deepest spiritual needs, you will pay the price. Sabbaticals are not luxuries; for most proper ministries they are essentials if the worker and the work will flourish long-term.

What is a sabbatical?

I see it as an extended time of paid leave, when the pastor has no responsibilities in the church he is serving. A month is a minimum, six months is certainly a long time in UK circles, three months is a good length. Ideally, the pastor (and his family) should aim to be away from the home and church for at least some of that agreed-upon time.

What should you do on one?

The answer is, whatever you need in order to get refreshed. Lie on a beach, if that’s your thing; do a course of study, whether that’s your own planned reading, or a seminary module; write an article, or a book; learn an instrument; go and be part of and study another congregation or ministry. Just work out what will refresh and encourage you for the next leg of ministry, and make your arrangements.

Arrangements are complicated.

If you are married, or have school-age kids, then you must think and talk these things through. How will your wife and the children benefit? Three months being dragged off after husband’s / dad’s pet ambitions is a recipe for family strain.

Talk, plan, pray, prepare. And don’t attempt too much. This is to be a rest, after all. The last thing you need on sabbatical is to feel frustrated at how little you accomplish – you’ve got ministry for that! Set realistic goals which don’t over-exert.

Arrangements for the church need time to put in place. The church needs to understand what the sabbatical is, why you’re seeking one, and what the implications are for the church’s life. This needs a series of leadership-level conversations held a minimum of six months before the proposed sabbatical. Pastors, expect the church to be surprised at the request and probably daunted by the implications. Take time to answer all questions from your fellow leaders and church members. At the end of the day your sabbatical must be something they’re enthusiastic about, too.

Never apologise for seeking a sabbatical, if you’re convinced you need one. And remember, it’s common in the secular workplace for employees to have courses, opportunities for exploring other work-experiences, or managed career-breaks. Asking for a relatively modest time away from the burden of ministry is not an outrageous request. It can also do the world of good to a church. The pastor is not the church’s Saviour, simply his servant. It can – and should – do without its Undershepherd for a season every now and then.

Policy in place?

Does your church have a policy of sabbaticals for your pastor? Have you discussed a sabbatical with him? And if not, why not? You and he could be missing out on a highly enriching experience.

 

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Get out of town!


 

Constant Gardener Trowel(view original article here)

Pastors are a strange breed.

We’ve established that. But they’re exactly like anyone else, and no less so than when it comes to holidays. Pastors need to rest, but find it very hard to rest well. Now we’re into holiday season, here are a few thoughts and pointers on taking time out in the summer.

Not taking full holiday

Many pastors (I include myself) don’t usually take the full allocation of their holidays. This is true. They are usually conscientious, we love the job, and sometimes we are just not organised enough to take off necessary and entitled rest. If you’re a Christian leader and this is your habit, then you need to address this fast. Don’t listen to that nonsense which says, ‘I’ll take a holiday when the Devil takes one’. And don’t think your skimping on rest tells everyone that you’re tough and godly. You may be tough and godly at the moment; the chances are that you’ll join the casualty list of the fallen if you don’t take proper holidays. It’s an overtired, joyless vulnerable you who will be your church’s next disaster. Get out of town!

Tips for the pastor on holiday

Pastors often have the grumps on holidays. Ministerial exhaustion seeps out and colours everything. Sometimes, very sadly, it spoils everything. I almost always collapse in tears at least once on our holidays over something (usually trivial). I discover that all my mental and spiritual energy has been used up in ministry. I need to watch out for all sorts of emotions. Be aware, and remember that forewarned is forearmed.

Holidays aren’t heaven. How often are our holidays spoilt by silly expectations? Holidays can be about sinners attempting to gain the world. That will fail. We Christians are people seeking a bit of R&R on our way to the real rest of heaven. If you expect that a holiday will meet all of your needs, you’ll be disappointed. Relax – it’s only a holiday.

The holiday is for you. Pastor, you are exhausted, you need to rest. Holidays are for going slowly. They are for sleep, and unhurried meals. If you really need to go white-water rafting after a ten mile pre-breakfast jog, then do it. Probably, you don’t, and shouldn’t. Don’t flog yourself to try to give your family a week or two of unforgettable thrills. They need you to be refreshed for the long-term, even if you’re not the 24-7 action dad on holiday.

That said, the holiday is for your family. Enjoy yourself, and do the things you love to do. Don’t feel guilty about the odd morning on your own, if that recharges you. But be as generous as you’re able to be in giving yourself to your family. Don’t resent or get out of family time. Your family goes without you a lot through the course of your ministry year. Holidays are pay-back! Serve them by being all-in on your holiday.

Remember your soul. Plan to feed yourself spiritually. Choose your books carefully before you go. Take something which stretches you spiritually, something which warms and reassures, something you would never normally read, and a novel or something else totally removed from work. Know what you want to read in your Bible, and stick to it. Load your iPod with sermons. And don’t try to read or to listen to everything, it just won’t happen! Go where your mood takes you. Also, aim to get an extended time of prayer, away from everyone else, in the first day or two of the holiday. That has a wonderful way of putting things back into focus before the Lord, so that you begin to rest properly as the holiday unfolds.

Tips for church members

Lastly, two pointers for those who love their pastors:

Insist that your pastor takes his full holiday allowance each year. He will be better for it, and so will his ministry. Elders need to make him accountable to rest just as much as they should encourage him in the work. Does your church have that one covered?

Then finally, how about paying for, or making a contribution towards, your pastor and family going away? And not to a wind-battered static caravan somewhere you got dirt cheap but wouldn’t dream of going to yourself. Give generously, and invest in their rest and together-times, as an act of love. That might be better done anonymously, as a pastor’s job is often harder when he’s aware of particular gifts within the church. However you do it, make him sure that he’s taking a break with your love and full support.

Holidays and rest are a big subject. Over the next three columns we’ll think about burnout, and the place of sabbaticals. For now, remember, you need to go away. And enjoy it, for Jesus’s sake.

 

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

The Bible and Our Daily Work: Work and personal property (Pt 7)


At the beginning of the 20th century the German social historian Max Weber published The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He was trying to explain why, at that time, in many societies those with the top jobs were predominantly from a Protestant background.

Whether you can connect the Reformation of the 16th century easily with the rise of capitalism, mainly in the 19th century, is a matter of conjecture. But it is certainly true that as Reformation leaders like Luther and Calvin taught the Scriptures a new spirit of industriousness and an enthusiasm for daily work was generated. The question raised by Weber’s thesis is not so much to do with work as what we do with the fruits of our labours. Jesus had much to say about money and the use of wealth, e.g. Matthew 6.24; Luke 12.13-21.

The Creator’s Property
Scripture teaches that the one who creates is the one who owns. Work establishes property.
Thus God is called the ‘Possessor’ of heaven and earth, Genesis 14.19, 22.
See also for example Psalm 24.1; Psalm 50.9-12.
Many of Jesus’ parables concerning the Second Coming speak in terms of an owner of property returning and those to whom he entrusted it having to give an account, e.g. Mark 13.32-36.

Already we therefore see that a Christian’s attitude to property ought to be different from that of others. We are merely stewards of things which actually belong to God.

The legitimacy of personal property
In the context of everything ultimately belonging to God, the Bible goes on to teach the legitimacy of personal property. Under God, some things legitimately belong to us.
God is the worker who made the world and therefore owns it. We are made in God’s image, Genesis 1.26, 27, and therefore man too has a certain right to the things he has made.
The Decalogue with its commandments not to steal and not to covet what belongs to others makes the legitimacy of personal property explicit, Exodus 20.15, 17; Deuteronomy 5.19, 21.
The New Testament makes the same point, Ephesians 4.28.
But the Bible also emphasises that personal property is only legitimate if its has been obtained in a legitimate way i.e., justly. Paying people low wages because they are too weak to stand up to a master will bring God’s wrath, James 5.1-6

The dangers of personal property
Within a limited sphere wealth brings both freedom and security. Thus material wealth often goes hand in hand with forgetting God, Deuteronomy 8.10-18. This is what has happened in the prosperous Western world.
Thinking ourselves as having no need of God, fallen human nature sees itself as free to indulge its sinful desires. Thus the love of money becomes a root of all kinds of evil, 1 Timothy 6.10.
When we replace God by the love of wealth and material things, not only do we worship the creature rather than the Creator, Romans 1.25, but we plunge ourselves into destruction, 1 Timothy 6.9.

The responsibilities of personal property
The gift of personal wealth carries with it at least two responsibilities.

First, as we enjoy the material things that God has given us to enjoy we have a responsibility to thank him and love him for his kindness to us, 1 Timothy 4.4, 5.

Second, as God has prospered us we have a responsibility to use our wealth to help others. The apostle Paul tells us to use our money to be rich in good works, 1 Timothy 6.18. The apostle John tells us that practical love towards others through giving is a mark of true conversion, 1 John 3.14-18.

This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.

Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work
Part 4 in the series is ‘Work and Rest
Part 5 in the series is ‘Work and our Attitudes
Part 6 in the series is ‘Work and Ambition

A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.

The Bible and Our Daily Work: Work and ambition (Pt 6)


Is it wrong to seek promotion and advancement at work? Is it right to have ambitions? Christian people can be faced with decisions in their business or professional careers where such questions are pertinent.

1. WHEN HAS AMBITION NOT GONE FAR ENOUGH?
In 1 Thessalonians 4.11, 12 the apostle Paul sets out some basic ambitions connected with our work which should characterise all Christians. Not to desire these goals is to be astray. We are to eagerly seek to achieve at least three things:

To work
The context of that work is to be a quiet life – but the great ambition, if we are physically and mentally able, must be to work, v11.
Note again that there is no disparagement of manual labour in the NT. Paul commends working ‘with our hands.’
Leisure is not intrinsically better than work. It should not be our ambition to be on perpetual holiday. This is what the world so often aims for. Laziness is condemned throughout the Bible, Proverbs 12.24; Titus 1.12.
The Christian is to desire to be useful, productive and to make a contribution to the common good. This is the so-called ‘Protestant work ethic.’ God made us to work and we can find a degree of fulfilment and satisfaction in our work. As Christians our work becomes an act of worship, Colossians 3.23.

Through our industry to win the respect of unconverted people
The background to Paul’s remarks in v12 is in v9, 10. Some of the Thessalonian Christians were so zealous in their love for brothers and sisters in Christ that some people were taking advantage of that and had given up work and were living on hand-outs from the church, cf. Titus 3.14. Such behaviour brought the name of the Lord Jesus into disrepute.
We need to add that ‘success’ at work is not the only way to win respect. It may be that ordinary people will be directed to Christ by the way our faith enables us to cope with crises or drudgery or other difficulties, Philippians 4.12, 13.

Through our work to be dependent on nobody
In v12 Paul commands the Thessalonians to aim at earning their own keep. The New Testament is keen to help those in real need but it will not allow an able-bodied Christian to become content to live from other people’s charity.
Our first ambition should be to support ourselves. This takes priority over whether or not we like the job, 2 Thessalonians 3.11-14.

2. WHEN HAS AMBITION GONE TOO FAR?
God has given us all some set of abilities. If those abilities cannot find an outlet we become frustrated. It is therefore good to have ambition to use our potentials to the full, Ecclesiastes 9.10. But this must be in the context of seeking a contented godly life, 1 Thessalonians 4.11;1 Timothy 6.6. With this in mind here are six indications of when our ambitions have goner too far.

  • When our ambitions are greater than our abilitiesScripture commands us to have a proper estimate of ourselves, Romans 12.3
  • When we are prepared to compromise Christian principles to get promotionThe ‘end justifying the means’ is never God’s way, Psalm 23.3
  • When promotion is pursued for self-exaltationAmbition is not condemned but selfish ambition is always condemned, Philippians 2.3
  • When ambitions are pursued out of the love of moneyJesus told us that we cannot serve both God and money, Matthew 76.24; Hebrews 13.5;
  • When ambitions are pursued out of envy and discontentThe spirit of the world is that ‘the grass is always greener,’ James 3.14-16
  • When ambition is pursued at the expense of our responsibilities to othersWe are to put the needs of others before our own, Philippians 2.4; Ephesians 5.25
  • When ambition is pursued to the neglect of the needs of God’s kingdomLocal churches are a priority. We are to seek God’s glory Matthew 6.33; 1 Corinthians 10.31

‘Right ambition consists not so much in wishing to be promoted, but in wishing to deserve promotion’ Matthew Henry

This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.

Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work
Part 4 in the series is ‘Work and Rest
Part 5 in the series is ‘Work and our Attitudes

A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.

The Bible and Our Daily Work: Work and our attitudes (Pt 5)


Here we consider the broad sweep of the New Testament teaching concerning our daily work. We do so under two headings and find that the teaching focuses around the Lord Jesus Christ.

THE DIGNITY, SANCTITY AND NECESSITY OF LEGITIMATE WORK
For work to be legitimate it must fulfil two criteria. A). The job itself must not entail violating God’s law, e.g. that of a thief Ephesians 4.28. B). The context of the job must not violate God’s law, e.g., a locksmith (legitimate) who makes keys for thieves (illegitimate) etc. The Lord Jesus was the ‘son’ of a carpenter Matthew 13.55, and up until the age of about 30 years old worked at that trade himself, Mark 6.3. This teaches us three important lessons.

  • Legitimate labour, of whatever form, is never to be despisedJesus not only worked as a carpenter / builder in Nazareth he was prepared to do the work of a slave, washing the disciples feet, John 13.1-17. If God incarnate engaged in the lowest menial tasks he has stamped heavenly dignity upon such work.
  • It is possible to maintain the closest communion with God in the toil of everyday workJesus did ordinary daily work with its humdrum routines and difficult customers. He faced all the same difficulties and temptations that we do, Hebrews 4.15. And yet within the carpenter’s shop he grew in favour with God and man, Luke 2.52. His spiritual growth as a human being did not take place during years of solitude and desert contemplation. It took place in the midst of daily work. It is a mistake to use the demands of our work as an excuse for failure to grow spiritually.
  • By his life we see that work is the normal God-ordained means of meeting our needsIf anyone had the right to be exempt from work, if the world ever owed anyone a living, it was Jesus the world’s creator, Colossians 1.16. But he wanted to set us an example, so he worked. He who multiplied the loaves and fishes for the crowds never seems to have done that to provide for himself or his family. He went to work.

Thus we find the apostle Paul is stern with those who refuse to work, 2 Thessalonians 3.6-10.

THE ATTITUDES AND MOTIVATION WHICH ARE TO GOVERN OUR WORK There are a number of New Testament passages which address the subject of daily work, Colossians 3.22-4.1; 1 Thessalonians 4.11, 12; 1 Peter 2.18-25 etc. We will sketch the main considerations which should govern the Christian’s attitude to work from Ephesians 6.5-9.

  • The Yoke of ChristIn v5 Paul speaks of ‘earthly masters’ and so implies that we have a heavenly master for all our daily work. He makes this explicit in v9. When you became a Christian you voluntarily took upon yourself Christ’s ‘yoke’ taking him as your master, Matthew 11.28-30. He is your master at work. This means there is no sacred/secular divide. Secular work is full-time service for Christ.
  • The Love of ChristYour heavenly master is Christ who has died for you and who loves you, Ephesians 5.25. If he has given himself like that for us then we feel motivated to do our best even with the worst jobs once we see them as done for Jesus. Unlike the world the Christian has reason to be enthusiastic about even the lowest jobs. Our motive is not first of all money, it is serving Christ, v5-7.
  • The Eye of ChristBecause of our sinful nature there is a temptation to do only the minimum amount of work required. But the Christian can be saved from this as he/she realises the we live forever in Christ’s presence v6.
  • The Throne of ChristWe are working for Christ in that all legitimate work which the Christian does is pleasing to Christ and will be rewarded by him at judgement day, v8. This is true whatever our status. Especially we will be rewarded for the times when we have suffered unjustly because we are conscious of God and his ways, 1 Peter 2.18-20.

We conclude there can be no right relationship to work without a right relationship to Jesus and there is no right relationship to Jesus if it does not issue in a right attitude to work.

This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.

Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work
Part 4 in the series is ‘Work and Rest

A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.

The Bible and Our Daily Work: Work and Rest (Pt 4)


Overwork destroys joy. It leaves no room for wholesome fun or stillness. When we never stop to relax or reflect we tend to lose perspective. Overwork can lead to burn-out.

Genesis 1 and 2 tell of God spreading out his work of creation over 6 discrete days. But why did this take a period of time at all? He is God, he could have created it all in an instant had he chosen to do so.

It seems that God used this timescale specifically to teach us that we need rest. God himself does not require rest. His strength is inexhaustible. But he thus gives us, made in his image, Genesis 1.26, 27, a pattern of work and rest to copy.

God made us to work. But he also indicates that rest is essential for us as finite creatures.

THE FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF WORK AND REST
In Genesis we find that as God makes the world two basic rhythms of work and rest are established.

  1. In Genesis 1 we find a daily cycle of work and rest with evening and morning, Genesis 1.5; 1.8; 1.13; 1.19; 1.23; 1.31 (cf. John 9.4). God appears to work during the day but cease in the evening until the next morning.
  2. In Genesis 2 we find a weekly cycle of work and rest established. The pattern is of six days work followed by a day of rest, Genesis 2.1-3.

In Genesis 2.1-3, Moses draws attention to the special nature of the 7th day in several ways. First, although 2.1-3 belongs with Genesis 1 there is nevertheless a break from the ‘And God said…’ pattern introducing the previous 6 days. Second, the day is emphasized in a way the other days are not. Each is mentioned only once, 1.5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31. The phrase ‘the seventh day’ is repeated three times in 2.2-3. What is more the Hebrew phrase occurs in three separate sentences each composed of 7 words. Third, though the word ‘Sabbath’ is not here, yet the word for ‘rest’ used in this verses is virtually the same word (Shabbath compared with Shabath). Fourthly, God is said to ‘bless’ the seventh day. Implied is the thought that those who so rest from labour one day in 7 will be blessed. Fifthly, we are told God ‘made it holy,’ a day set apart for God. Sixthly, the ‘evening and morning’ formula is abandoned for the 7th day (hinting at God’s salvation provision of an eternal Sabbath in Christ?).

There are those who try to deny that the day of rest is a creation ordinance, arguing that it was first revealed at Sinai, that it was for the Israelites only and was part of the ceremonial law which is now gone in Christ. But as we see from the wording, to deny a reference to the Sabbath in Genesis 2.2, 3 would be to be pedantic in the extreme. Furthermore, Moses specifically explains in the 10 commandments that the Sabbath is does go back to creation, Exodus 20.11. So to try to restrict the one in 7 day of rest to it being solely the covenant sign of the Mosaic covenant with Israel won’t wash.

The 4th commandment is part of the moral law. It is wrong to try to make people work 7 days a week.

REST IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The great emphasis of the NT is on the spiritual rest of salvation to be found in the Lord Jesus as we cease from relying on our works to put us right with God and trust in Christ alone, Matthew 11.28-29. Believing in Christ opens for us the prospect of heavenly rest, the eternal Sabbath which still remains for the people of God, Hebrews 4.9, 10; Revelation 14.12, 13. In this sense it is true that Christ brings to fulfilment the rest pictured in the Sabbath.

But to say that because we already enjoy something of this spiritual rest we no longer require the physical rest of one day off in seven would be as ridiculous as saying that because Christ and the church fulfil the true meaning of marriage, we no longer require marriage between men and women.

  • The Lord Jesus, while rejecting the man-made rules of the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath, confirmed that confirmed the pattern of one day of rest in 7 as a good gift of God for mankind and declared its place within the sphere of his Messianic Lordship, Mark 2.27, 28.
  • As Lord of the Sabbath he encouraged the first Christians to meet together on the first day of the week rather than the last through his resurrection appearances and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost which was a Sunday, John 20.1, 19; Acts 2.1.
  • No other day, except the first day of the week, is singled out for special mention in the NT showing it had special significance for Christians, Matthew 28.1; Mark 16.2; Luke 24.1; John 20.1; Acts 20.7.
  • Paul’s words of  apparent ‘indifference’ towards ‘special days’  Romans 14.5,6 and ‘a Sabbath day’ Colossians 2.17, occur against a Jewish influence in the church and should not be generalised. Paul himself saw ‘every first day of the week’ was special, 1 Corinthians 16.2. And the apostle John certainly thought Sunday was special, calling it ‘the Lord’s day,’ Revelation 1.10.

This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.

Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work

A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.

Seven tips on handling stress at work


As the recession bites and job insecurity increases, how do we cope?

An ICM survey showed that 72% of people enjoy their jobs. Yes, they complain about them, but they also like them.

The Bible tells us that work is good because God is a worker and we are made in his image (Genesis 1.26,27). So, being productive in some way, whether it is at home as a mother, in voluntary work or in paid employment, is part of what it is to be a balanced human being. If we have our usefulness curtailed through illness or redundancy, we feel diminished as people.

What is stress?

But though work is good, statistics show that stress affects about one in five of the working population. Some say workplace stress is the single biggest cause of illness in the UK.

Pressure itself is not bad. It is good to be stretched a little and rise to the challenge. But sometimes pressure becomes too intense. Stress is basically anxiety which results from demands made on us being greater than our resources. Sir Michael Marmot’s research among civil servants showed that the lower you are in the working ‘hierarchy’ the higher the risk of heart disease and shorter life. He says that this is because stress is caused by high demands on people who have low control and low support in their jobs.

Computers have accelerated the pace of work. Smartphones can mean that your company wants you to be always keeping up with your emails. In a recession, firms cut staff and employees are expected to do the work of two or three. We can think that pressure and stress are products of modern society. But that is not so. Back in a slower age of agriculture and manual labour there were other things to worry about. Would the weather wreck the harvest, etc.?

Martha got stressed in offering hospitality (Luke 10.40). Even the Lord Jesus knew what it is to be ‘deeply distressed and troubled’ (Mark 14.33) as he contemplated what was being asked of him on the night before he would be crucified. So don’t think the stresses of modern life are beyond Scripture’s ability to address.

Signs of too much stress

Long-term or chronic stress can lead to depression and ‘burnout’, and can even increase your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. It is important, therefore, to know the danger signals.

* Physical signs
These can include muscular tension, loss of appetite for food or sex, overindulgence in sugar or alcohol, high blood pressure, headaches and continually feeling tired.

* Emotional signs
We can become angry, impatient and irritable. Or we may lose our confidence, feel victimised and withdraw from people.

* Intellectual signs
We find it difficult to concentrate. Making decisions about even fairly trivial things seems to be impossibly complicated.

* Spiritual signs
These might include inability to pray or read Scripture, loss of purpose or hope, doubting God’s goodness. In the incident which Luke recounts, it appears Martha is angry with Jesus.

Causes of workplace stress

We can picture ourselves as a spring with weights dangling on the end. The weights are our pressures. We are designed to carry some weights; to extend as we do so and then go back into shape when the weights are re-moved. Life should be a sequence of cycles of extension followed by relaxation. Our problems arise: 1) when the spring becomes weak by being extended for too long; 2) when the weights are too heavy; 3) when help in carrying the weights is removed. Here are four common ‘weights’ we carry.

* Change
Change moves us out of our comfort zone. It brings us into the unknown and can make us anxious. At work it might be caused by the threat of redundancy or your company being taken over or a new computer system or a line manager who does not make his/her expectations clear. It brings stress.

* Demands
Increasing workload, deadlines and a never-ending ‘to do’ list can cause stress. We may be given new tasks which are beyond us or for which we have received no training. In some situations we might be able to talk these through with managers. But sometimes it seems impossible to raise the subject of our problems. We feel bullied. We may cover up problems, causing more difficulties and more stress.

* Driven-ness
Self-expectation is one of the primary factors in stress because it is not just another ‘weight’. It multiplies the effects of the two preceding weights. Certain types of people experience this driven-ness. These include the ‘superman’ who misses coffee breaks and rushes around trying to be in two places at once because he/she thinks they can always work faster; the perfectionist who views anything less than perfect as a failure; the people-pleaser who fears criticism and does not want to ‘let people down’.

* Spiritual attack
We must not forget the spiritual dimension here. Christians are involved in a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6.13). Often when we are facing some difficulty, the devil takes the opportunity to have an extra go at us in some way.

Ways forward

Jesus didn’t value Martha less for her dashing around, but he did spot her need not to get stressed out by his arrival and he tries to calm her down (Luke 10.42). How can we do that practically for ourselves?

1. Respect God’s patterns of work and rest
The working week in the UK is three hours longer than the European average. The pressure is to work ever longer hours. Resist that. Genesis tells us God made morning and evening. He has given us the day to work and the night to rest. God has given us the weekly Sabbath; a complete day each week away from work. Try to stick to those patterns. The extended spring needs to relax back or it will lose its bounce.

2. Find your personal worth in God’s love
Dame Carole Black did research into working people and she writes: ‘For most people, their work is a key determinant of self-worth, identity and standing in the community’. Thinking that way, we will put extra pressure on ourselves to perform so as to be esteemed by others. But, Christian, your worth as a person is not first of all dependent on your levels of performance at work. God loves you and values you. Christ died for you. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You are a child of God.

3. Try to organise your work in a better way
It may not be possible. But it may be. God has given us our minds and we do better when we use them. It may be that a little time at the beginning of work, to think about what needs to be done (write a list?) and then to prioritise what must be done today and what can be left until tomorrow, would really help. Don’t fall into putting off the difficult tasks while you just do the tasks you enjoy.

4. Improve relationships in your workplace
Much stress at work is caused by bad or non-existent relationships between people who work together. It’s not a happy place to be. You cannot ask for advice without being sneered at. That only adds to the stress. But where people work as a team, things are different. A 1994 study of social work teams found it was not the intensity of the pressures which determined levels of employee stress, but rather the effectiveness with which teams, led by their managers, coped with these pressures. As Christians we are called to be peacemakers. Are you someone who helps build good relationships in your workplace?

5. Pray about your working life
Much stress is caused by uncertainty. Will I meet the deadline? Is the company failing? But we have a sovereign God who works all things for our good. Learn to trust him at work. Philippians 4.6,7.

6. Recognise who your real boss is
We do not work simply for our company or earthly boss. We work for the Lord Jesus Christ who loves us, understands us and is in ultimate control (Colossians 3.23,24).

7. Grasp the bigger picture of work
Stress can come if we think our work is pointless. But every honourable work, however humble, needs to be seen as co-operation with God for the transformation of the world he has committed to our care (Genesis 1.28). This applies alike to industry and commerce, to public services and the professions, and to full-time caring or motherhood.

Footnotes

In writing this piece I am indebted to the booklet Managing Workplace Stress — Christian Perspective by Dr. Adrian Miles, published by Transform Work UK, and also to the leaflet ‘A brief insight into stress’ by Beverley Shepherd from Crusade for World Revival.

John Benton