Give God Your To-Do List

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Default image

I have a family: a wife and three sons (currently all in their teens or tweens). I am actively involved in several ministries through church and work. I have a full-time job as a college professor. I have a home that needs painting, cleaning, and repairs. And I have land that needs gardening, lawn-mowing, weeding, snow-shoveling, and the splitting, carrying, and stacking of firewood. From Monday through Saturday, my work seems to expand to fill all available time (and maybe a little beyond that).

One day each week should be different. Now, I am not a proponent of a legalistic Christian Sabbath. I don't think children should be made to sit in the living room in their church clothes perfectly still with hands folded on their laps or that we need rules defining "labor" based on a number of ounces that we can (and cannot) lift. Yet God commands his people to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy. This means we rest from our own labors, but it also means we give rest to our fellow humans and even to our animals. As I wrote in my previous article, God's Prescription for Workaholics, the Sabbath is not a day of static stillness. Instead, it is a day we are meant to enjoy and delight in the results of our labors and also in God's provision and in his labor of creation.

A Practical Approach to Sabbath

For me, my Sunday Sabbath was (and still is) a day I do not work as a professor. I do not prepare lectures or grade papers or carry out academic research or lab work. It was (and still is) also a day I do not split wood (though I will keep my fire going in the winter), or work in my garden (though in the summer I will pick some fresh lettuce for salad or raspberries to add to the delight of my ice cream). I do not mow the lawn or do any of the endless list of chores that go with owning a house. Even as a college student, it was a day on which I did not do homework or course reading. On the other hand, I will bike (even though I sometimes get sweaty), or go snow-shoeing with my family (which also, in some sense, requires my legs to "work"), or read a book (which works my eyes and my brain), or play catch with my sons, or even make pancakes. These are not things I need to "get done," nor are they things I get paid for. On Sunday, I keep no to-do list.

Until about 2002, I did see Sunday as a day to "get some writing done." On Monday through Saturday, if I were lucky, or especially productive—or if I just ignored some other obligation—I might be able to carve out 30 or 40 minutes to write just before bed. But Sunday was the day I could find two or three hours of uninterrupted writing.

And all the while, I was also praying that God would be "blessing" my writing and "using" my writing, by which I meant that my books would get published and read by somebody. That is, I was hoping for a book contract for my writing. Now I have always enjoyed writing, and usually I do not see it as a burden. I certainly don't see it as "work" in the same way, for example, that weeding, grading papers, or splitting wood are "work." But there were two aspects to my writing that were very much related to work:

1) I was hoping to get paid for my writing, and
2) It was something I was doing on Sundays because I needed to do it.

Sunday seemed to be the only time I could "get writing done."

In 2002, I finally realized that I needed to give up writing on Sundays. It did not fit in with my obedience to Scripture in keeping the Sabbath.

Whatever Your Calling, You Need to Rest

Giving up writing was a very difficult decision. With family, home, work, and other ministry, giving up writing on Sunday might very well mean that I would not have time to do any significant writing at all—nothing more than a short article now and then. It certainly felt like I could be giving up writing books. Yet I felt called to write. Dare I say, I believed that God had given me a gift of writing and intended that I ought to write. Wasn't it unrealistic, then, to give it up? The world would say this was the case—and indeed, whenever I speak on this subject, especially to college students, many of them tell me that it is completely unrealistic not to work on the Sabbath. Yet God asks us to make a step of faith and trust his plan.

So I did, though not without my usual human grumbling and doubt. Amazingly, my productivity as a writer didn't decrease, but rather increased. Not only that, but the very next year—out of the blue as it seemed to me then and still seems to me now—I was offered two book contracts by two different publishers. These contracts came from editors who contacted me without any direct initiative on my part. That is, they did not result from any effort of mine. And the publishing offers have kept coming ever since then. My fifth book since 2002 was just published at the start of 2009, and I already have a contract for my sixth, which I am working on now and expect to be in print in 2010.

Now in sharing this story, I am not promising success in worldly terms for those who obey God. In fact, writing has never been a financially successful endeavor for me. I write because I need to—because it is who I am and what I believe I am good at. But I feed my family with my "day job." Yet there is no doubt in my mind that God has made my writing far more fruitful and productive as I have sought to give it over to him—and to give over to God in faith and obedience the Sabbath day.

Oddly enough, as with so many other things, the Sabbath is much less about giving something to God, and more about accepting from God something that he wants to give to me. In the Sabbath, he gives us rest and delight in a holy day specially set aside by him. The church has, I believe, neglected to take seriously the biblical command to honor the Sabbath. In doing so, we are missing out on an incredible blessing. Taking the Sabbath seriously would transform the 21st Century church. It is time to take that step of faith and obedience.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • Read Exodus 20:8-11. Does your life include a rhythm of rest?
  • What would your Sunday look like if you did not have a to-do list?
  • How can we pursue active rest, without becoming overly interested in the productivity of what we choose to do when we rest?