Sharpening the Saw in Nature

In order to sustain our efforts over time, we must experience the rejuvenating influence of rest. Stephen Covey called this “sharpening the saw,” and he considered it the 7th habit of “highly effective people.” For optimal performance, we must periodically stop sawing long enough to sharpen the blade.

Two notable social activists who have written about this theme are Bethany Hoang (International Justice Mission) and Ron Sider (Evangelicals for Social Action). In her short book, Deepening the Soul for Justice, Hoang begins by focusing on the interruption of the Sabbath (Chapter 1, “Stop”). She shares how individuals and organizations can stop and rest in God at various intervals–daily, weekly, quarterly. And while Hoang acknowledges the effects of stopping (e.g., the effectiveness of prayer rather than our own ceaseless effort), she makes an important point that goes beyond simply “sharpening our saws” in order to get back to work:

Contrary to what might seem logical, sabbath stopping is not meant primarily to help us “rest up” so we are ready for the next challenge; it is not meant to be pragmatic toward another end. The resting and stopping of sabbath are intended as good in and of themselves–complete. They are a declaration of all that has come before us as belonging to God, and a declaration that all that is left undone and all that lies ahead also belongs to God…. Sabbath is a declaration that it is God alone who reigns supreme this day. (p. 11)

In his compilation of articles titled I Am Not a Social Activist: Making Jesus the Agenda, Ron Sider addresses a different aspect of resting.

We need a break. Both materialistic consumers and workaholic social activists need a celebration of the Sabbath. One day out of seven, we should stop. Stop the feverish production of gadgets. Stop our programs of passionate pursuit of justice. Stop, pray, and enjoy.

I am increasingly coming to see that God’s provision of the Sabbath is a divine reminder of human limitations. We have lost the sense of our finitude. Sabbath, when truly observed, puts a halt to our frantic striving to produce and possess–or even to work to change the world for the sake of the oppressed.

Make no mistake. The material world is good-as is our work creating wealth and fostering justice. But God never intended us to forget our dependence on the Creator in our concern for shaping culture and doing mission. The Sabbath reminds us at once of our finitude and our dependence on God. Setting aside an entire day to not produce good things or even do good kingdom work but to rest and worship is a statement of faith. It is God who provides….

Sabbath gives us time to rest our tired psyches, enjoy our families and neighbors, and take delight in the presence of God… (p. 163)

In the past I’ve written about the need to care for people who are suffering on Sabbath (link). I believe this is very important. We should be ready to relieve suffering when ever we see it, but at the same time, I want to also hold up the God-given need for rest. God created us with a need rest; we are not designed to be perpetual motion machines.

As an Adventist, it nearly goes without saying that spending time in nature is one God-given way to experience God’s rest and presence on any day of the week. Ellen White wrote of Jesus’ preference for being in nature:

In training His disciples, Jesus chose to withdraw from the confusion of the city to the quiet of the fields and hills, as more in harmony with the lessons of self-abnegation He desired to teach them. And during His ministry He loved to gather the people about Him under the blue heaven, on some grassy hillside, or on the beach beside the lake. Here, surrounded by the works of His own creation, He could turn the thoughts of His hearers from the artificial to the natural. In the growth and development of nature were revealed the principles of His kingdom. As men should lift up their eyes to the hills of God, and behold the wonderful works of His hands, they could learn precious lessons of divine truth. Christ’s teaching would be repeated to them in the things of nature. So it is with all who go into the fields with Christ in their hearts. They will feel themselves surrounded with a holy influence. The things of nature take up the parables of our Lord, and repeat His counsels. By communion with God in nature, the mind is uplifted, and the heart finds rest. (Desire of Ages, p. 291)

Consistent with these themes of rest, rejuvenation, and nature, I really appreciate a more personal time that Ellen White spoke about nature. She wrote about the importance of her family enjoying the mountains of Colorado:

We hope [[you:] James White, and William C. White and his wife] will be cheerful and happy while you are in the mountains. This precious opportunity of being all together as you now are may never come to you again. Make the most of it. Do not regard this time of recreation as a drudgery or a task. Lay aside your work; let the writings go. Go over into the park and see all that you can. Get all the pleasure you can out of this little season. I sometimes fear we do not appreciate these precious opportunities and privileges until they pass, and it is too late.

Father, our writing can be done in the winter. Lay it aside now. Throw off every burden, and be a carefree boy again. Will and Mary, if they stay in the mountains a few weeks longer, should neither study nor write. They should be made happy for this season, that they may be able to look back to this time as a season of unalloyed pleasure. Willie will soon be plunged into caretaking and burden bearing again. Let him now be as free as the birds of the air. Mary has never had a childhood any more than Willie has had a boyhood. The few days you now have together, improve. Roam about, camp out, fish, hunt, go to places that you have not seen, rest as you go, and enjoy everything. Then come back to your work fresh and vigorous. (9MR 317.2)

May we work diligently to relieve suffering and to promote God’s peace, justice, compassion and love. And may we also know God’s gifts of rest and nature.

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