My friend Windy Rich had had a demanding week. When he arrived at church that Sunday morning, the associate pastor met him at the door and asked him to read a passage of Scripture in the worship service. Windy scanned it hastily, then, assured that he knew it, walked to the pulpit and intoned, “He that humbleth himself shall be exhausted.”
I’ve been thinking about fatigue lately. Not enough to exhaust me, you understand, but still…
What started it was finding an old journal and going over some notes on one of the busiest days of a long pastorate. It went something like this…
7:00 am — a prayer breakfast for the local mayor at which a celebrity spoke.
8:15 am — ran by two hospitals to call on patients from our congregation
9:15 am — to the church office. Met with staff members about upcoming events, counseled with a church member, and studied my Bible for an upcoming message.
10:30 am — visited the 7th grade class in our weekday school. Drew cartoons for the children, sketched all 18 students, and talked with them about giving their lives to the Lord (two indicated they did).
Noon — Lunch with a local pastor who is going through a stressful situation and needs a friend.
1:30 pm — Drove to the next town, 40 miles away, to the nursing home where several of our members live. Met the administrator and two nurses, nice people with spiritual questions and some deep hurts which God used me to minister to.
3:30 pm — Having a cup of coffee in a local cafe and reading my magazine, when a needy family came in. I bought lunch for them and told them where to ask for help with a place to stay. Prayed with them.
5:00 pm — Home. Played ball in the back yard with my boys, read a story to my daughter, fielded two phone calls from church members upset about something or other, and had supper with the family.
7:00 pm — Called out to the hospital; an accident has taken the life of the adult son of one of our members. Seeing the young man–movie-star handsome, well-dressed, strongly-built–but lying there cold in death would be a wakeup call to anyone. Ministered to the grieving family.
9:00 pm — Roger came by the house. He’s slightly retarded, lonely in his isolation, and needs constant reassuring that God understands and we care. He left at 9:30 and I retired for the evening.
I had written a note at the end of this journal entry: “Had I known at the start of this day how busy it would be, how much would be required of me, I would have dreaded it. As it was, I came through it just fine.”
Along about then, I made a discovery concerning a type of tiredness that has often beset me through the years. In fact, I’ve given it a name: “Anticipatory fatigue”. I look at the calendar, see all the meetings and appointments of the day before me, and get tired in advance. Instead of entering the new day fresh and eager, I would drag into the early hours, sure that before the day was gone, my energies would be spent and my bones aching. Talk about lack of faith! But when I did those same events without anticipating them, I breezed through them with energy left over.
Analyzing this business of “anticipatory fatigue,” I began to spot another type of tiredness that has frequently given me trouble. This one I call “Accumulatory fatigue.” I labor hard on some project or with a difficult person, then turn aside for days or even weeks. Then, as I resume the project or the conversation with that person, the old tiredness kicks in. I picked that burden up exactly where I laid it down weeks ago. What a self-defeating thing to do!
I wonder if I’m the only fatigue expert on the planet?
I will confess that I take no joy in making discoveries about fatigue. I don’t like being tired any more than anyone else. In fact, I hereby renounce all counterfeit fatigue. For that’s what those two impostors are: fakes.
There’s nothing wrong with genuine fatigue. You work hard, you’re supposed to feel tired. God built us so we must stop occasionally for rest and refueling. The human body has its limitations. Even Jesus grew tired.
“And Jesus, being wearied, sat thus by the well.” (John 4:6) “And He was in the back part of the ship, asleep on a pillow.” (Mark 4:38)
A hundred years ago, Preacher John Henry Jowett said about these verses, “May I say it reverently–it was the tired-out body, the exhausted minister which carried the holy, passionate redemptive purpose of God.”
I say again, there is nothing wrong and everything right with doing good work until one is exhausted, then stopping to rest and recover. Jesus said to the disciples, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” Mark explains, “For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” (Mark 6:31)
The inimitable preacher Vance Havner used to say, “Unless you come apart, you’ll come a-part!”
Counterfeit fatigues result from our failure to live in the moment, to walk in the Spirit, to leave the burdens of yesterday with the Lord, and to trust Him with the needs the new day. “Thy compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
If we were depicting fatigues and rest on a graph, we might say there is a genuine tiredness on one line, and far beneath it, two counterfeits, anticipatory and accumulatory. Then, above the median line, we find a natural rest, the result of shutting down our system for food and drink and sleep. Then, far above that lies another type of rest altogether: the spiritual. This is a quietness and strength for the soul, without reference to whatever the body may be enduring at any given time, a rest that is a gift from the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Jesus was speaking of this inner, higher-quality calm and renewed strength when He said, “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us labor to enter into that rest.” (Hebrews 4:11)
The epitaph on the tombstone has it all wrong. It’s not just the residents of the cemetery who “rest in peace.” God willing, it’s every one of us who learns to close the door on yesterday, to give Him our future, and to look to Him for today. Anticipating–that’s tomorrow’s burdens. Accumulating–that’s yesterday’s baggage. My task: live for today.
“Today,” the Hebrews author wrote, “if you hear His voice, harden not your heart.” Today. It’s all about today.