The Wisdom of Rest – No Man Can Bear the Strain of Constant Work

Regarding the life of John Milne, who was a missionary to India after his wife and children died, it is said that he lacked wisdom in trying to do too much without needed breaks and rest. Horatius Bonar, his close friend, wrote the biography on Milne’s life, and speaks to this issue, which is a valuable lesson and exhortation for active Christians and pastors today–

We fear that in those days he [Milne] did too much. Pastoral, ministerial, and evangelistic work were not meant for one single man. For each of these, Milne was admirably fitted, and for each of them he had a fervent and irrepressible desire. He excelled in and delighted in all of them.

But Milne loved his work and his Master so well that he would take no holiday [vacation]. And on looking back at these times, and judging himself in the light of wiser years, he was willing to admit that he had erred somewhat in denying himself some relaxation, as if his body could never wear out.

“I feel”, Milne wrote, “that I am suffering the consequences and result of the former years of no rest, unrelaxed labor, and the regular work weekly without any rest. But then when the summer season would come, instead of some yearly relaxation, I did itinerant preaching three times as much as normal. There was real folly and lack of wisdom in this. It was just as if I were saying, “A short life and a merry one”; and yet in the end one finds that there comes a season and a time that is neither short or merry, when the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual strengths are all expended and worn out, and the unhappy individual becomes a trial and burden to himself and others.”

There is in this a warning to ministers and a lesson for all people. No man can bear the strain of constant work during twelve months of the year without a month’s rest at least, any more than he can regularly get through 24 hours of the day without appointed sleep. An over-worked minister will soon be like an over-worked outdoor laborer–he will soon do inferior work and in the end, no good work at all. Our Lord surely taught us this when he said to his disciples, “Come ye apart into a desert place and rest awhile.”

While it is certainly better to wear out than rust out, the tendency of some zealous brothers and sisters is to do too much, neglect regular rest and breaks, and keep going. But if we keep going all the time without proper and planned rest, we will break down and we won’t even realize why, because all along we felt fine.

It is true that no one can run on regular physical energy and unbroken exertion without regular rest without finally breaking down. A marathon runner does not sprint, and neither does an 800 meter runner. They pace themselves and take care to maintain themselves for one stated end–the long haul of the race.

George Whitefield usually preached until 11:00 pm – 1:00 am each night and was up at 4:00 am, and died at age 56. John Wesley went to bed at 10:00 pm each night and was up at 4:00 am and died at age 88. I don’t understand it all, but there is a lesson here for all zealous ministers.

Milne learned his lesson a little too late perhaps. May we not do so. Get regular breaks weekly, monthly, and annually, with rest, and vacations. It could be the most spiritual thing you do. If we don’t heed this wisdom, we can find ourselves broken down, without the strength and health to be able to minister any longer, just when the years are beginning that we would have had the most to offer.

— Horatius Bonar and Mack Tomlinson

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