Connect, Lead, Equip: How to Handle Leadership Stress (The “Real Rest” Secret)
Sometimes we lose our calm in life’s chaos. As leaders in business or ministry settings, our stress levels rise rapidly and we live life “on the run.” We keep things juggled well for a while… we live faster, work harder, sleep less, and stop infrequently. It all seems to be getting done, but pay days usually come suddenly and the price tags can be surprisingly high. Lost relationships are expensive, broken health is costly, loss of joy in living and peace in life circumstances is too much to pay. To deal with stress, we need to get some real rest. Let’s see what Jesus said about “rest.”
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV).
Jesus gives an invitation to all who are “weary and burdened.” The “weary” are those who are worn out by their own doing. It is an “active” word and indicates that our efforts, our labors, and our ceaseless doing exhaust us. “Burdened” is a passive term. It means to place a burden upon or a heavy load. It is not our doing that is wearing us out; it is what is laid on us by others or by the circumstances of life.
Glenn C. Stewart (LifeEquip founder, pastor, and author), told a story from when he was in college. He worked for a commercial roofer putting on hot tar roofs. He had to get the equipment and materials up on the roof. His first day it was his job to carry fifty pound rolls of tar paper up the ladder. He saw one of the other guys who was used to this, put one on each shoulder and walk up the ladder. Glenn tried. It was a load! It was a heavy “burden” and at first he couldn’t carry two rolls, keep his balance, and climb the ladder. At the end of the day he was tired, his legs ached, and he just wanted to sit down. That’s the picture of this word “burdened.” A load seemingly too heavy to carry is laid on us and it wears us out trying to handle it. This is a common experience for most of us as we try to balance the responsibilities of work and social life.
Specifically, in Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus was speaking about the load of requirement and expectation laid on the people by the religious leaders. They said, “Do this, don’t do this, here’s the list — it’s long and you never know for sure when you might be violating it, so you never really know if God is going to accept you, but keep trying, don’t stop, don’t give up, don’t let down – keep working for God’s approval.” And that’s a load that will wear us out. Jesus says that religion isn’t the way to God. Trying to live up to the expectations of our religious leaders is simply a burden too heavy to carry. “Come to me,” He says. We find relief not in the doing of religion but the rest of spiritual relationship.
This is a work and life principle we do well to grasp in dealing with stress. We exhaust our bodies and our souls when we are on the treadmill of seemingly ceaseless activity and when we try to live up to the expectations of others trying to secure their approval. The very “load of life” can wear us out so we live “trying to get through another day” instead of enjoying the life and work God intends for us. Jesus tells us how to remedy our worn out, distressed, over stressed, easily irritable, burned out, can’t do enough, can’t be enough, lives.
He says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Here’s what we’ve got to see in Jesus’ invitation. He’s not offering simply a cessation of activity. That is good and is truly needed at times, but there is more. This “rest” we need comes not just from stopping, but from being with Jesus (communion with Him in quiet moments). Our stopping has a purpose beyond stillness, it is to connect more deeply and more personally with Jesus Christ. It is to receive from Him the true rest, the inner rest, the underneath the surface rest we need.
As we face the stresses of balancing work tasks, managing teams, leading community outreach, and other ministry goals, we find relief resting in Jesus through prayer, fellowship, and worship.