I’m going to turn to Ecclesiastes 10, and then in a moment we’re going to look at 1 Samuel 30, and at first glance when you think Ecclesiastes and 1 Samuel, you might think what does that have to do with finding rest when there isn’t any. And that’s because I would like to take a big picture together in our first session, and think together about why it is we struggle with rest and work. And then look at what rest and work looks like in the life of those who follow God. And then in our next session we’ll begin to look at how we work that out. Rest and work and I, we’ve had a long, tumultuous relationship, particularly as it relates to rest. We have a love-hate thing going on. And when I think about rest and work, I think about a moment a few years ago in which a book I had written had received an award, and I was being interviewed on the phone, which would eventually be a podcast, that kind of thing. And during the interview, you could listen to it today, Michael Duduit, preaching and culture.
But if you ever happen to listen to that interview the content isn’t bad, you know. If you ever happen to listen to that interview, here’s what you want to know. I’m giving that interview in a bathroom in a Benedictine house out in the middle of nowhere Missouri. I had lost about 30 pounds. I had lost hair. And my eyes were red. And I was seeking to recover. Now here’s the thing about that. If that interview had been in person, I would have either had to cancel it, or lie. Pretend a great deal in the presence of the interviewer. But somehow the medium of audio distance allowed me to present myself with the gifts that I have, but really veil the person that I was and that I am. And there’s something about life in ministry that can facilitate that breach between our gifts and our person, between what we do well and our souls. As a matter of fact, one of the difficulties of being a pastor and a professor is really heightened as a professor. As a professor, I’m constantly encountered in my areas of strength. Everywhere a student sees me, I’m doing what I’m good at. The benefit of being in congregational life as a pastor is you can only do that for so long. I’ve been where I’m at nine years, Riverside Church, and we’re a small enough place where I just can’t hide and be there. And as those things come together and this breach that we’re tempted to, pushes on us, we have to begin with some thinking about why it is rest and work is hard, why does that breach happen.
The Errors of a Leader
We are not immune to our need for rest.
And I’m in Ecclesiastes 10. I want to briefly, briefly give an answer to that question that we could meditate on for the next three years. But the brief answer is found in the errors of a leader. That’s what Ecclesiastes 10 is about, the wise king, Solomon the sage, is speaking to the errors of a leader, and the primary error of those in leadership has to do with forgetting that they’re human, according to him. And the first thing that we forget is that we’re not immune, we are like everyone else, and that means we have to rest. Chapter 10, verse 5, “There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error preceding from the ruler.” That’s where I get the idea that this is about errors in leadership. And then as the sage is want to do, he give us poetry, proverbs, poetic language, to talk about these errors. Now for some of you, when you feel or experience the thought that you have to read some metaphors, it makes you impatient, and that is part of our issue. We don’t want to slow down with language, but I want to let you know, there’s something very, very kind about God, that when telling us about the errors of the leader, he takes up the voice of a sage right here, rather than the voice of a prophet. For the prophet would come to the leader and say woe to you, repent. Sinner. Yeah. The kindness of the sage is to give us some poetry, which means that errors in leadership, the leaders who are in error, have room to think, reflect, sit back, chew on it. It’s a very kind thing of God to give you and I room. So the first bit of poetic speech he gives us is verse 8. What are the errors that he’s seen under the sun of those in leadership? Verse 8: “He who digs a pit will fall into it. A serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall. He who quarries stones is hurt by them. He who splits logs is endangered by them.”
Now what’s he saying? The first error of a leader is to believe they are immune. They have immunity. Particularly if you are a king in Israel. The temptation to believe that you are God’s favored. You can be blessed, and it has nothing to do with how much or how little you have. It has nothing to do with whether you’re male or female, or black or white or brown or … You can be beneath the occupation of the Roman government and have nothing in terms of status or material gain or political clout, and yet before the eyes of God, you are a blessed woman, a blessed man. King, ruler. Blessedness doesn’t make you immune. To be blessed, you need the wisdom of God. One immediate application of that, and there are many, I commend the whole chapter to you, but an immediate one for our purpose is verse 10. “If the iron is blunt and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed.”
Work, rest. Work, rest. Work, rest. Work, rest. Work, rest. Work, rest. Rest. Rest. Work, rest. See? Do you hear the rhythm of Genesis 1? That’s what you and I were created for, to surrender to that God-given rhythm is what any leader needs to succeed as God defines success.
Two paths to success are set in front of us. The one is a worker who never rests. The other is a worker who pauses, and then works again, pauses, and then works again. The first path, the one who works without pausing is foolish because eventually that person has to begin to use more energy than the work actually requires. God actually doesn’t intend you, intend us to work harder than the work requires. If you don’t pause to sharpen the blade that you’re using, if the iron is blunt and one does not pause from the work to take care of the tools used for the work, then the work becomes harder than it actually is. You see that? It feels like waste to pause. Here’s part of the reason why, in our cultural conditions, because the one who works without pausing gains an advantage in the short run. That person outpaces you. That person’s team, that person’s ministry outpaces you, and others overlook you, and start to look to them. They’re getting ahead. But it’s not going to last. And if you’ve been around long enough in ministry, you will know the wisdom of what this is saying. Those who skyrocket like stars only in time to fall. This is the old folk adage of the turtle and the rabbit, the tortoise and the hare, isn’t it? We pause so that our teams who serve with us can pause. We pause so that the materials that we use can pause. If it’s a horse, if it’s a piece of land, if it’s a piece of iron, if it’s a team of people, wisdom succeeds by strategic pause for the purpose of vigorous work. It would be an Israelite who would talk like this, because the Israelites, you see, were called to Sabbath, in contrast to the other nations all around them. And so this Israelite sage is reminding us of the rhythm that God intended for His people. We cannot seek to succeed by foolish means. Not as a covenant people of God. You see, one like Solomon would have learned this rhythm, it’s the Genesis rhythm, it’s the Eden rhythm. Remember? Work, rest. Work, rest. Work, rest. Work, rest. Work, rest. Work, rest. Rest. Rest. Work, rest. See? Do you hear the rhythm of Genesis 1? That’s what you and I were created for, to surrender to that God-given rhythm is what any leader needs to succeed as God defines success. In contrast is the one who bypasses, fights, resists that Genesis rhythm to get ahead, even in the name of God, only in the end to have to use more energy, burn themselves and their teams out. Have you ever tried to cut an orange with a plastic knife? Or slice into a grapefruit with a dull butter knife? You just gotta use more effort to get that in. That’s like what’s happening to many of us and our souls and this is an error of a leader. So we’re transitioning now, very briefly, looking at what leads us out of sync and breaches us out of rest in our work, and that is a belief that we are not like other people. We are immune because we are God’s favored leaders. Therefore, we can stick our hand where a serpent is and not get bit. Therefore we needn’t rest, we can work, work, work without rest and we will succeed, and we’re saying that is folly.
Learning from the wisdom of a leader.
So we’re transitioning now from that. We’re going to begin to work to the left of 1 Samuel 30, and as I do, I want you to think about Solomon’s dad, King David. And the psalm about how an Israeli king would think about rest, not only the sage here, the wise King Solomon giving us sagacious wisdom, but David himself. On your way to 1 Samuel 30, you’re passing by Psalm 23. You remember this, you know, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” What’s the next line? “He makes me lie down.” We should just think about that for another month. He, God, makes me, King, rest. I’m not a farmer with sheep, but I’ve talked to people who are, maybe some of you know about herding sheep. Herd, that’s my southern Indiana accent. Herding sheep, not hurting sheep. And apparently sheep are anxious and nervous, and sometimes they won’t lie down, they won’t stop, and a wise shepherd gently handles the sheep in such a way that it lies down to rest. Could you imagine that God in His desire that you would do a great thing for Him would make you lie down and stop? He makes me like down. And so I’ve been asking a question, you see. As a gentile, how is it that the wise king had this view of rest, absence of immunity. I’m thinking about his dad, the king who perceives God as making us lie down in the midst of and for the sake of our work. I’m thinking about the Genesis rhythm. I’m thinking about this question and asking, is there anyplace in scripture where we see this lived out, like how does this pausing in the midst of vigorous work play itself out, and there is a place, and it is 1 Samuel 30, and that’s where we’re turning now. And we’re turning here to give ourselves categories of rest.