Lessons from Piper Sabbatical

Collin Hansen's excellent article, "The Toll of Our Toiling," is a must read for every pastor, if not every Christian. He reflects on pastor John Piper's recent announcement that he will take an eight-month sabbatical beginning this May. In short, Dr. Piper and those he loves are suffering the fallout of overwork. Hansen compares Dr. Piper's situation to that of evangelical giants Billy Graham and Carl Henry, but for most in pastoral ministry, identification with this phenomenon is not difficult. If not guilty of overwork, they are constantly subject to the temptation. (Of course, there are those whose apathy manifests itself in laziness, but that's the opposite crest of the pendulum.)

Hansen is wise to point out that "local church ministry is hardly the only vocation prone to overwork. Teachers, farmers, doctors, lawyers, small business owners, and middle managers [and might I add execs?] alike feel the strains of labor that threaten family and spiritual life." At the very least, there is a dual strain caused by overwork: damage to self and damage to family. Such a pattern reveals who our true lord is—those whose demands usurp God's gift of rest.

Overwork proves one's true theology. Do we really believe that God's accomplishment of His purposes is dependent on our hyper-exertion? As Hansen comments, "To be sure, we're called to toil for Christ, 'struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works' within us (Col. 1:29)." But at the same time we must ask, "Does our work truly point others to the power of Christ? If not, it may draw attention to the one who plants and waters, not the God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3:7)."

Another line in the article is ironic: "Who has time to read the Bible, pray, listen to our friends, and care for our children when there's kingdom work to be done?" And all of the above would not qualify as kingdom work? I have contended before that people have a God-given hierarchy of priorities. For all husbands, #1 is their wife. For all husbands who are fathers, #2 is their children. Everyone and everything else falls somewhere behind or beneath those. Ministry to others that causes one to neglect prior callings/responsibilities is disobedience. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, "It is ill to offer God one duty stained with the blood of another."

As I prepare to enter full-time vocational ministry, I am especially sensitive to this issue. Will I submit to a workload that forces me to abdicate my obligations to my wife and kids and severs me from the Vine from whom alone I draw life? Pray that I will not and I pray that you will not, and that if you have been, you will repent.

Do I covet the influence of men like Billy Graham? Not if such influence came at the expense he and men like him have paid. I will not forsake my calling to love my wife and children even for the salvation of the whole world. Yet if I do love them as I am called to, my ministry to others will be all the more fruitful and ultimately God-glorifying.

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