January 15, 2013
Pacing Yourself
Living Energetically
Within Your Limitations
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Once I faced a major challenge involving a conference my ministry was planning. Though I wrestled with how to solve this problem for weeks, there seemed to be no logical solution. Then our family went on vacation and spent a restful, refreshing week at the beach. On the morning of the last day, I woke up with a clear answer to my problem in mind. The solution--which in time proved to be ideal--was so obvious and simple that it was remarkable I hadn’t thought of it before.

How often it seems that we get more done in life by doing less. Our minds work best when we’re rested. And when we’re relaxed, we give the Lord the best opportunity to get our ear. There is a normal gestation to our internal process of problem solving also that we must respect. It’s sometimes surprising to find that our subconscious mind has been working on a problem and has an ideal solution, which given the right chance will emerge.

There is gestation in the events around us, too, that we too easily discount. While God gives us a certain ability to influence what happens, we can try too hard. A friend of mine likened God’s arranging circumstances in our life to the piecing together of a master jigsaw puzzle. Certain pieces must first be put in place before others can be pressed in. He also confessed that he often tried to force a piece into place that didn’t belong, to his own peril.

While Scripture has plenty to say against laziness, it warns even more strongly against the dangers of overwork. The most frequently repeated command in the Old Testament, in fact, is to honor the Sabbath. A primary reason we’re to observe the Sabbath, of course, is to give undivided attention to worship. Yet Scripture also stresses our need for mental and physical renewal as a major purpose of the Sabbath as well. “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest” (Ex 34:21, NIV).

While Jesus freed us from legalism in observing the Sabbath, the human needs underlying this principle remain.

The Burned-Out Prophet

Scripture also gives us a graphic picture of the problems that can result from overextending ourselves too greatly, in the prophet Elijah. On one notable day, described in 1 Kings 18, Elijah pushes himself beyond all reasonable limits. He orchestrates an elaborate public challenge against four hundred prophets of Baal, then oversees their execution. Next he clinate to the top of Mt. Carmel and prays intensely for rain, and God grants his request. Then he runs twenty miles to the king’s palace, certainly hoping to find King Ahab and Queen Jezebel contrite in light of the day’s extraordinary demonstrations God’s power.

Instead, Jezebel is thoroughly unrepentant and sends a messenger to announce a threat on Elijah’s life. When Elijah hears it, he completely falls apart. He leaves his servant behind and flees to the desert, where he asks God to take his life (1 Ki 19:1-5).

Elijah’s reaction to Jezebel’s threat seems astonishing when we consider the courage he had shown in the face of much greater challenges that same day. Besides, Jezebel was almost certainly powerless to carry out her threat, for who in Israel would have been willing to lift a sword against Elijah at that time? If someone were willing to do it, Jezebel surely would have sent that person to Elijah to kill him, rather than just a messenger to taunt him. Had Elijah been thinking rationally, he would have realized quickly just how veiled Jezebel’s threat was. By now, though, he was severely fatigued. In this state, he wasn’t able to think rationally or optimistically. Suddenly, the master problem solver was creating problems that didn’t exist and falling into self-defeating behavior.

Most interesting, though, is how God brings healing to Elijah’s exhaustion and burnout. He doesn’t put the prophet through some elaborate spiritual regimen, as we might expect. Rather, he ministers to Elijah’s physical and emotional needs. He gives him the ability to sleep restfully, and sends an angel to prepare nourishing food for him. Within several days, Elijah’s strength revives, his motivation returns, and he is thinking rationally again (1 Ki 19:5-9).

Steps for Pacing Yourself

Although Elijah’s example is probably the most dramatic, it’s merely one of many in Scripture that show the importance of pacing ourselves. Jesus’ disciples, for instance, not only worshiped on the Sabbath but took the principle of rest seriously (Lk 23:56).

While the lessons we learn from these examples are timeworn, we still can scarcely remind ourselves of them too frequently. We put ourselves in the best position to realize our potential for Christ when we live within our energy limits and respect the physical frame God has given us. By pacing ourselves sensibly, we are most likely to keep pace with the Lord and with his intentions for our life--not straddling behind him, but not running ahead of him either. And we best enable ourselves to think clearly--to find answers to problems, and to see our life positively through the eyes of faith.

Learning to pace ourselves, though, presents a challenge of its own. Just how do we do it effectively? Here are five steps that can help.

Learn to delegate whenever possible. Remember that if there is a genuine need to be met, God is infinitely more concerned about meeting it than you are. If you are not physically able to respond to it, he is quite capable of finding other means. He may be touching someone else’s heart with a concern for this need. It may be that this person is more qualified to handle it than you are. It may be, too, that he or she would be greatly blessed to take on this responsibility--an opportunity that will only come if you hold back.

When faced with needs that would stretch us beyond our limits, we need to learn to look creatively and prayerfully for others who can help bear the burden. Even a mature leader like Moses did not appreciate this principle at first. He took every major decision of Israel upon himself. His father-in-law, Jethro, finally counseled him, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Ex 18:17-18 NIV). Fortunately, Moses listened to Jethro’s counsel and delegated many tasks. Not only did the people of Israel receive better service after this, but those whom Moses chose to share his load surely experienced great fulfillment in using their gifts.

Respect your sleep needs. Each of us needs a certain regular amount of sleep. Too little sleep, or too much, leaves us fatigued. Most of us need seven to eight hours of sleep, and within the same general period each day. Determine what your optimum sleep pattern is. Then plan backwards. Fit your responsibilities into the time remaining. If taking on a new responsibility would leave you with insufficient time for regular sleep, realize that God isn’t likely laying this burden on you.

God has created each of us with a certain requirement for rest. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to face this need and to plan our life accordingly.

Use your devotional time to plan your day. While a regular devotional time has many purposes, one of the most essential is time planning. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most neglected. We can fall into routines in our quiet-time that have little to do with gaining God’s perspective on our day.

We should plan our devotional time with a sufficient period for being quiet before the Lord, in order to seek his direction for the day ahead of us. We should, in fact, give priority in our devotions to time planning, and leave the time remaining for other prayer and study concerns.

In praying through your day, remember that certain needs will arise that God will want you to meet, but there will be others you should bypass. Remind yourself that “the work is never done,” and that you’ll need to make wise choices about how best to invest your time. Make a schedule and follow it as closely as possible. By doing so, you’ll be better able to approach what you do with energy, and to find the courage to say no when necessary.

Plan meals to be events. One of the great principles of balanced living in Scripture is so basic and simple that we can overlook it. Meals are one of God’s precious gifts to us, for stress management, and to help us enjoy life.

Scripture extols the value of enjoying our meal times. This is a major theme of Ecclesiastes. “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him” (Eccl. 8:15 NIV; see also 2:24-25, 3:12-13, 9:7).

Meal times were taken seriously by Jesus and his disciples. They followed the traditional practice of “reclining at table”--enjoying a leisurely posture at supper gatherings, which could last for a considerable time. Even on the night of his betrayal, Jesus enjoyed a relaxed meal with his disciples.

In our modern day of fast-food outlets and microwave ovens we’ve lost the sense of meals being times of celebration. Plan at least one meal daily as a special event to be enjoyed leisurely.

Plan exercise that you find enjoyable. Finally, something needs to be said about the importance of regular exercise. We find little mentioned directly about it in Scripture. Yet the lifestyle of people during all periods of biblical history required them to get plenty of exertion in a typical day, whether they wanted it or not. Walking was a major form of transportation, and many daily tasks, like carrying water from a well, kept muscle tone strong. There was enough enforced exercise in many people’s lives, that planned exercise for staying fit would have been superfluous.

Much has been said in our own day about the need for regular exercise, and we are all aware of its importance for healthy living. The only point I want to add is that we should plan exercise that is enjoyable to us and fits our lifestyle. All exercise requires some discipline. Yet if it’s basically fun to us, we’ll more likely stick with it.

Assess your exercise needs, then feel great freedom to plan time in your schedule to meet them, even if this means reducing other commitments.

God, in uniquely designing our lives, has given us each a certain level of physical and emotional energy. If, in response to his Spirit, we manage it well and live within it, we can bear significant fruit for Christ. If, out of envy or a poor self-image, we try to push ourselves beyond it, we’ll become vulnerable to burnout and fatigue. Paul tells us that our body is a temple of God’s Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). We must not forget that a vital part of spirituality is caring for this temple. Doing so is essential to experiencing Christ’s motivation.    

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