Wait. Read Mark 6:30–44, then come back to me.
Last week I was on vacation. Glorious vacation. I won’t get into the details besides this: sunshine, books, beach, nature, fish, food, family, friends, games. Batteries recharged.
It’s important to do this, and Jesus set the example in Mark 6 by commanding his disciples to “come away to a desolate place for a while and rest.” They were coming and going, sometimes without even a chance to eat, and the Lord of the Sabbath understands the importance of the Sabbath’s service to his people. But in that story from Mark 6, the disciples and Jesus are interrupted in their desolation by a hungry crowd who ran ahead and stood around like sheep without a shepherd. After yet more work, the disciples were probably desperate for rest, but Jesus told them to feed the 5000. They couldn’t. So Jesus did through them.
This happened to me on vacation. At the beginning of the week, the brother of a good friend at church passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. I offered my friend my condolences, then set my phone to Airplane Mode (or as I like to call it, Camera Only Mode). The departed wasn’t a member, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that my service was incomplete. Long story short, halfway through the week I had to touch base with home because yes, the funeral was in fact in my service, scheduled the day after I got back. God bless my support staff, who scrambled to get everything in place without me; I really didn’t have to worry about anything, and I could enjoy my vacation knowing it was in their capable hands. Sure enough, Monday came and went, the funeral went off as usual, and the gospel was proclaimed in confidence of the resurrection.
I love my job, and I covet my time off so I can be better at it. Nevertheless, ministry stops for no one to rest. Even the disciples, who were coming and going with no chance for a break, were reminded in the midst of said break that the Lord of the Sabbath does not sleep. The needs of the crowds outweigh the need for me to eat ice cream on a beach. At such juncture, the pastor has two options: 1) Resent the ministry and turn his vacation into an idol; or 2) Recognize the Lord of the Sabbath’s unrelenting concern for the hungry crowds, of which he is one.
Notice the reversal: By the ministry of Jesus, “Come away to a desolate place” turns into “Sit down on the green grass.” It isn’t the vacation that recharges batteries; it’s being fed by Jesus. It isn’t the desolation that makes pastors effective; it’s the Word coursing through our veins and out of our mouths. It isn’t the well-earned time off that rewards the minister; it’s the ceaseless work of Christ for us and through us and to the crowds.
So we pastors tread the line. We thread the needle. We set appropriate boundaries for our own sake, but still allow them to be broken at appropriate times for the sake of the ministry. For me and my heart, there is no greater sense of rest than when I see a smile creep back onto the tear-stained face of a widow as I promise her that the resurrection—and eternal rest—is coming soon. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.