Rhythms of Rest and Work in the Ministries of Douglas F. Kelly and William Still

Alex Mark
Senior Pastor
First Scots Presbyterian Church, Beaufort, South Carolina

In my first encounter with Douglas Kelly in 2003, I was a relatively new Christian and he was a giant of the faith. Doing my best to impress him, I sought to assert how much I knew about Reformed theology. He did his best not to laugh at me.

Instead, he decided to laugh at himself as he told me the story of when he first returned to his hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina, after receiving his PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 1973. Walking down the street, he heard two men speaking: “There’s that Kelly boy. Did you hear he’s a doctor now?” “Yeah, I heard, but he’s not the kind that helps people.”

How could a man who takes God so seriously, who has accomplished so much, who is so revered in so many spheres of academia, not take himself too seriously? Over the next two decades of walking alongside him, I saw the answer: he was a man whose soul was at rest in the sufficiency of his God, and the last five decades of ministry are the fruit of that rest.

Created For Rest and Work

It may sound strange to most of us today that work is the fruit of rest, but it is profoundly biblical. God created Adam with an extraordinary job description: tend and keep the earth. And yet it is significant that Adam was created on the sixth day, meaning that Adam’s first full day on earth, before he would undertake his duties, was a day of rest. Like a tourist taking in the wonders of a new city, Adam’s first full day was spent thinking deeply about his God, so that his heart could be calibrated to the true north of his Heavenly Father’s glory. All work would flow from that rest, upward to the glory of God.

But the evil one, jealous of God’s glory, despised Adam’s rest in God. Tempting Adam to question God’s trustworthiness, the serpent set a trap and the man stepped in. The result was not equality with God as the serpent promised, but rather a lifetime of seeking to be his own savior, while also knowing at the deepest level he was radically unfit for that job. In an instant, work lost its transcendence and rest became an impossibility.

For this reason, most people tend to see work and rest as polar opposites, equating work with virtue and rest with laziness. Yet biblically speaking, work and rest are not opposites; they are rhythmic complements which glorify God and bless us when they are in proper balance. We were created so that our rest fuels our work, our work builds in us a healthy capacity for rest, and both are vital aspects of our worship of God.

If work is not the opposite of rest, then what is? The opposite of rest is restlessness. With the entry of sin into the world, our first parents (and all their posterity) experienced a deep sense of inadequacy and spiritual nakedness so acute that they hid themselves with fig leaves. But the makeshift coverings only heightened their workload as continual work was now needed to keep themselves hidden. The serpent’s deception interjected into God’s world a new rhythm: work, work, work, yet the only payment he could give was ongoing restlessness.

The effects are clear today: our workaholism, born of a tendency to seek meaning and security through our work, all testify not to the busyness of our schedules, but the restlessness of our hearts. So much of what we call work today is really an expression of that restlessness—a desire to create identity, to find security, and to prove our sufficiency rather than resting in the sufficiency of who God is. If rest would ever come for man’s weary soul, it must come from God Himself.

Definition of Rest

In 2010, I enrolled at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, in order to study with Dr. Kelly. It was an extraordinary experience to study with world- class pastor-scholars and prepare for ministry. It was also an exhausting experience as I spread myself too thin with courseload, work as Dr. Kelly’s teaching assistant, an internship at a local church, pulpit supply at my home church, all on top of personal and family obligations. I already knew my diagnosis: I needed rest, and it always seemed just a semester away.

I was in my second year of seminary when Dr. Kelly introduced me to William Still’s fascinating work Rhythms of Rest and Work. Dr. Kelly sat under Mr. Still’s ministry at Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen, and the two remained friends until Mr. Still went to be with the Lord in 1997. Not only were the two men kindred souls in their love for God, but also in their understanding of the rhythms of rest and work that God had built into His creation, which exist both for our good and His glory.

Mr. Still’s words resonated with me:

The fundamental need of humanity is rest, in the sense that man needs to submit himself to God, in order that the divine life may be poured progressively into every part of his being. This is negative in as much as it requires man to cease from himself, that the Almighty may fill him with life-giving grace, but it is replete with the positive and vibrant blessings of God and will last to all eternity.[1]

He was right: the only cure for human restlessness is to rest in the sufficiency of divine grace. While physical rest is certainly a necessity and one that Scripture does address, we can never get enough physical rest to undo the restlessness of the human soul as we navigate life in a sin-cursed word. The soul must come to rest securely in God, or as St. Augustine famously said, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.”[2]

And mercifully, what our souls crave, our God provides. He commands us to “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Ps. 37:7). He bids us to come, all who are weary, and find rest for our souls (Matt. 11:28-30). He alone can provide rest, for He alone is, in Himself, perfectly at rest. To quote Mr. Still again, “When infinite intelligence finds infinite perfections in itself, infinite stability and integrity of character are assured. This integrity is simply another name for God’s righteousness, or rightness.”[3]

Rhythms of Rest and Work

Our need of rest is not unanticipated by God, and thus rest is woven into creation’s design.

For six days, God worked. He created the Heavens and the earth. The dynamic power of God’s creative activity is immeasurable by the human mind as He commanded the stars, the moon, every beast of the field, into existence that each might take its place on the stage of creation.

And at the end of those days, He rested. The significance of this is extraordinary: it is not that God was tired from His activity and needed respite; God was establishing in the created order a rhythm of work and rest, rest and work. Mr. Still says, “God intended the divine experience to be applied to man … it was as blessed for man as it has been blessed for God Himself.”[4]

This rhythm extended to the entire created order: periods of rest for the land and soil (Ex. 23:10, 11; Lev. 26:34, 35) and rest for the animals (Ex. 20:10). Periods of darkness were given for rest, and periods of light for work. Seasons for planting and seasons for harvesting. The Noahic covenant reinforced that such seasonal patterns will last as long as the earth (Gen. 8:22).

None of this is mere coincidence, but a parable of God’s care to ensure our rest. Dr. Kelly explains: “In God himself, in whose image we are created, we see a pattern that is in some manner to be repeated in us. We saw that He created the world in six days, and then He entered into his rest.” He continues, “We are supposed to work and we are supposed to rest. There’s a rhythm in life … harmony in the natural world, the morning and the evening, the four seasons of the year.”[5]

“Six Days You Shall Do All Your Work”

There is no question that Mr. Still’s ideas were deeply ingrained into Dr. Kelly’s soul, as this idea of rhythmic work and rest pervade several of Dr. Kelly’s writings. His volume on Creation and Change reflects recognition of these rhythms, as does his Deuteronomy: A Mentor Expository Commentary. For the narrow purpose for which this chapter was written, my primary resource was a series of sermons preached on the law at First Presbyterian Church of Dillon, South Carolina, in the spring of 1975.

In his sermon on the fourth commandment, Dr. Kelly begins by emphasizing the work aspect of Exodus 20:9, “In six days you shall do all your work.” Ever the diligent worker himself, Kelly states, “… there is a deep need in us to be creative, to produce, to turn out something useful and fruitful—to work!”[6]

This is not a call to drudgery, but rather a call to worshipful productivity. God has entrusted each of us with unique gifts and talents, and has afforded to us the time to steward those gifts to His glory. Yet the fourth commandment also makes clear that He has not given us more work than what we can accomplish in six days. He does not desire to make work a burden, but rather a joy. What a vital principle for 21st century Westerners: God has not assigned to us more duties in a week than can be accomplished in a six-day span, so that we might have one day in seven for rest.

“The Seventh Day is a Sabbath to the Lord Your God”

God’s creative activity in Genesis concludes with Him taking a Sabbath: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” Almighty God, who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4), chose to rest after His work of creation. He did so, not out of necessity (for God needs nothing outside of Himself) but in order to mark creation’s completeness (seven days) and to enjoy the satisfaction of His creative work.

God’s Sabbath was not a one-time event, but rather a creation ordinance, woven into the fabric of God’s world. The fourth commandment not only commands that we follow this work-rest rhythm but also gives us the rationale: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:11). God’s pattern established creation’s rhythm.

Just as God had surveyed the creation and rested satisfied in it, the Sabbath was set apart for man to rest satisfied in God. What a gift: a day to set aside all the labors of other days, and to be reminded of the truths of the nature and character of God! Dr. Kelly says that the Sabbath is, “a very positive commandment. It’s intended for our good, for our blessing, for our joy, for a well-regulated and harmonious personal life and life relationships, and life in business.”[7] It is no surprise then that Scripture exhorts us to call the Sabbath a delight (Isa. 58:13).

Perhaps no people throughout history understood the necessity of the Sabbath better than the Israelites after more than 400 years in Egyptian slavery. After Joseph and his brothers settled in Egypt, the land was increasingly being filled with Israelites who had been fruitful and multiplied, echoing God’s command (Gen. 1:28; 9:1) as well as his promise to Abraham and his chosen descendants (Gen. 17:6; 35:11; 47:27). As long as Pharaoh knew who Joseph was, the Israelites had permission to live freely in the land and to work it. But when a new king of Egypt arose who did not know Joseph (Ex. 1:8), he saw the people who had once saved his nation now as a threat to national security, and he established a harsh form of chattel slavery. Ruthless taskmasters heaped upon them two awful burdens: first, they must make bricks without straw (Ex. 5:10), and second, they did not have a day off. Scripture is descriptive about their experience in Egyptian slavery: their lives were “bitter” (Ex. 1:14), with “hard” (Ex. 1:14; 6:9) service resulting in “misery” and “suffering” (Ex. 3:7) and a “broken spirit” (Ex. 6:9).

Following such a miserable existence in Egypt, one can hardly imagine the joy of hearing that their new King, Yahweh, would actually require that they rest for one full day out of every seven! It was to be a vacation every single week, and more importantly, a regular reminder that the yoke of slavery had been broken.

Kelly beautifully summarizes the gift of Sabbath rest, saying, “There’s nothing more beautiful, nothing more healing, nothing that will do more for family life or for an upset personality, than to observe, reverentially and respectfully, the Sabbath Day; and to let God bless you in his own special way on that day.”[8]

No Rest for the Weary

If such a rhythm is baked into creation, why do most of us find ourselves so unhealthily busy? Let us return to our distinction between rest and restlessness: just as Adam and Eve were restless in their hiding and search for security and identity, so too are we. Instead of seeking these things from our Creator, we seek them in the creation, thereby upsetting the very rhythm by which we could otherwise find these things our souls crave.

This is why in our contemporary culture, perhaps more than in any other in history, work has become the means to secure those things. Carl Trueman addresses this difficulty well in his excellent The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: “Is job satisfaction to be found in the fact that it enables me to feed and clothe my family? Or is it to be found in the fact that the very actions involved in my work bring me a sense of inner psychological well-being?”[9]

As a result, who I am is defined by what I do. And because there is always more to do, rest seems only to get in the way. From this perspective, work is all-consuming, and rest is burdensome.

Such an attitude is deeply theological. David Murray notes several errors that we communicate when we refuse to rest as God has ordained to us:

I don’t respect how my Creator has made me. I am strong enough to cope without God’s gift of sufficient daily sleep and a weekly Sabbath. I refuse to accept my creaturely limitations and bodily needs. I see myself more as a self-sufficient machine than a God-dependent creature … I don’t trust God with my work, my church, or my family. Sure, I believe God is sovereign, but he needs all the help I can give him. If I don’t do the work, who will? Although Christ has promised to build his church, who’s doing the night shift?[10]

Who among us cannot relate to that? Yet so often we acknowledge it like the man of James 1 who looks in the mirror and sees his face, but then walks away, forgetting what he looks like.

Mr. Still comments with surgical precision:

The beginning of the secret of how to rest and relax is, of course, in one’s attitude, and it may very well be that this is not only a psychological but spiritual matter. Satan’s work in the human heart is largely wrought by a kind of restlessness, and therefore, the beginning of real salvation here must embody a flat contradiction of the necessity of continual activity …

Once we see that, the battle is half won. It may be that to achieve so much involves admitting with tears of sorrow that we have been too proud to admit we needed rest.[11]

“It Is Finished!”

But how can we rest from our labors when the work is never done? By resting in the One who fulfilled all that was required of us (Gal. 4:4). When the Lord Jesus hung upon the cross, His final cry was tetélestai (“it is finished!”), pronouncing that not only was His work finished, but so too was all that God had required of us for salvation. Without the finished work of Christ, peace is an impossibility; through Christ, peace with God is an objective reality.

In Christ crucified and risen, our souls are able to experience true rest, and the Sabbath transforms in our eyes from burden to blessing. This transformation is marked by the transition from the Sabbath coming at the end of the week to now coming on the first day of the week. Following the resurrection on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1; John 20:1), the Church made it her rhythm to worship on the first day as well (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Rather than the old rhythm of working for six days and then finally receiving rest, the New Covenant brings rest first, followed by six days of work. Like the Israelites who were to be reminded every week of how they had been liberated, the New Covenant Sabbath gives us rest first, reminding us that, indeed, “It is finished.” Every week begins with the poignant reminder that we can set aside one day to do no work, and yet we are still utterly loved and accepted by God.

Mr. Still called this “a clear and sweet parable of the Gospel, in which restless sinners are able to rest from their own ineffectual labours in the effectual and fruitful redeeming work of God in Christ.”[12]

Sinclair Ferguson, another disciple of Mr. Still, says that the Christian:

was called to live on the basis of a day when he could reflect on God’s creation, God’s goodness, store his mind with reflections on who God is and how great He is, and then work through the rest of the week on that basis. And that rhythm is really very important. We need that space to have our minds decluttered and to have our minds filled with the truth of God’s Word. It’s the day when our whole beings are intended to be recalibrated into this weekly rhythm of rest and work and rest and work.[13]

Rest and Sanctification

In one of His many engagements with Pharisees concerning right use of the Sabbath, our Lord set before us one overarching principle: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath is for man’s good, and what higher good does man have in this world than to grow in sanctification and in the enjoyment of God?

Yet such growth does not happen spontaneously. Mr. Still points out that while Christian conversion is instantaneous (like an earthquake), God has ordained sanctification to be by growth (slowly, requiring the right care and nurture before a harvest is reaped).[14] Sanctification is a process of growth, whereby we learn to do natural things spiritually, and spiritual things naturally.

What is the key to this process? According to both Still and Kelly, it is the product of deliberate, holy rest and contemplation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Mr. Still beautifully explains this truth:

So great and luxuriant are the fruits of the grace of justification flowing from God’s peace with us, that entrance into them has the effect of transforming our character (see 2 Cor. 3:18).[15]

To be clear, there have been many throughout history who have outwardly observed the Sabbath but have never experienced the wondrous contemplation of the face of Christ. The Pharisees were a perfect example: at least on one occasion, they spent the Sabbath plotting how to kill Christ (Matt. 12:14)! Regardless, abusus non tollit usum: abuse is no argument against proper use. The Sabbath is objectively a blessing to the Christian soul.

Rest Enables Us to Get More Done

One principle of rest and work that Still and Kelly both helpfully emphasize is that intentional, diligent rest actually helps us to get more done. Mr. Still says,

To expect the delicate and sensitive human frame and mechanism to maintain constant efficiency from early morning to late at night without any definite relaxation of tension during so many hours is, it seems to me, unreasonable, and explains why we often behave badly, and act inefficiently.[16]

Dr. Kelly emphasized extensively the return on investment that we receive in Sabbath keeping:

… the investment that you can get from giving one day in seven to God is absolutely fantastic—it is so high and so rich and so rewarding. How much better your work goes those other six days! Oh, the blessings, the return that you get from giving God what is already his—one day in seven![17]

Both are quite right: How frequently do worry, angst, people pleasing, and the tyranny of the urgent sap us of the very energies God has given us for the tasks to which He has called us? In a sense, working without first resting our souls in Christ is like riding a bicycle but peddling in different directions: expending much energy but getting nowhere.

Mr. Still stresses the importance of this rhythm for enduring faithfulness: “We therefore see that the idea of resting in God is part of a total attitude, which includes the recognition that as finite creatures we are absolutely dependent upon him—as for our creation, so for our survival and well-being.”[18]

Rhythms of Rest and Work for the Busy Pastor

I suspect that many who will read this work will be among the thousands of pastors who have been impacted by Dr. Kelly during more than a half-century ministry. We cannot help but admire a man who has remained diligent, clear of scandal, productive, and joyful for over half a century in one of the world’s hardest professions.

For most of us, resting doesn’t come naturally. We hear the exhortation in Hebrews to “strive to enter the rest” (Heb. 4:11) and we think “sure—once I get through with this Sunday evening’s sermon, my visitation list, and prepping for this week’s Session meeting!”

Sadly, rest seems like a pipe dream to most of us unless it is providentially forced upon us. Wayne Muller notes in his book on Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives, “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath—our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.”[19]

Sometimes, the thing that makes our job so difficult is our own stubborn refusal to rest, and it is no wonder that so many pastors face burnout. Yet I can testify that as he continues to labor diligently, Dr. Kelly’s zeal for Gospel ministry has not waned one bit.

In many ways, the secret is his commitment to rest and work. As an observer of Dr. Kelly’s life for the last two decades, I’ve seen four particular components to his longevity and productivity that are vital for pastors to understand and practice:

First, pastors must prioritize time with the Lord in Bible reading and prayer. Regardless of where he is, what conference he is speaking at, or what other projects loom over his head, he always guards a substantial portion of his time to read the Bible. He describes the profound effect that our own reading can have on us as individuals: “to understand the message of the Word of God is indeed to let loose forces in our lives as powerful as a lion.”[20]

Speaking with frankness, Kelly says “There is no reason why most Christians cannot read through the Bible once every year.”[21] Yet with great pastoral tenderness, he recognizes that the Bible can be intimidating and thus recommends following a reading plan, which has been his pattern nearly his whole life. Believing that “Christ speaks to us in all parts of His Word,” he uses a plan that ensures a varied diet from different parts of Scripture.[22]

Likewise with prayer, Dr. Kelly advocates for a structured system of planned prayer. He begins with a time of praise, which he follows with a time of waiting and being still before the Lord (Ps 62). Following this comes confession, during which he exhorts us to be very honest and specific about our sins, that we might see how odious they are and turn from them. Next, he urges a time of applying Scripture in prayer, reminding us “God loves His Word, and when you turn His Word into prayer, He is hearing His own voice, and that voice will have a good reception in Heaven above!”[23] Next comes a time of watching, during which he considers the affairs of our world in light of the spiritual battle being waged, and then storms the gates of heaven for those issues. He continues in a time of intercession, in which he again urges specificity through use of a prayer list. Finally, he concludes the time with thanksgiving, acknowledging God’s mercies with specificity.

Sometimes today, Christians are concerned that such a structured rhythm of daily reading and prayer could lend itself toward legalism. This has produced in many believers such a fear of legalism that they do not engage in regular time in the Word or prayer. Yet such fear is unnecessary, as Dr. Kelly reminds us that the goal of this is not self-justification but rather “to keep in the front of our minds a vision of who God is.”[24] When we are able to do that, much like the Sabbath, the work of daily Bible reading and prayer returns an investment substantially greater than what it cost us: “your perspective on life begins to change. Days no longer slip by without a thought of Jesus. You begin to pray when matters get hard to handle, instead of complaining, and you begin to recognize the hand of God at work when things do change. Praise wells up in your heart as you become increasingly alert to His blessings.”[25]

Second, we must commit ourselves to the mortification of sin. Just as with the disobedience of the Israelites kept them from the enjoyment of rest in the Promised Land, sin always disrupts our rest. Certainly, the consequences of sin are disruptive, but there is more to it: we cannot possibly keep our hearts and minds still upon Christ while at the same time following the devil’s temptations toward disobedience. Sin always encourages restlessness unless we put it to death.

I remember one particular conversation in which we were discussing heartbreaking news of a pastor who had tragically fallen from the ministry due to moral failure. Dr. Kelly’s words were simple but powerful: “Alex, you will always be presented with temptation. You must kill it. Kill it!” I did not realize at the time that he was paraphrasing John Owen, but more importantly, I was receiving advice more precious than gold on an essential aspect of longevity in ministry.

A third pattern I saw in years of watching Dr. Kelly was to resist the temptation to make a name for himself. In my three years as his teaching assistant, Dr. Kelly received countless invitations to speak, to preach, and to write, many of which came from prestigious ministries and organizations. To be in such high demand would tempt any of us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.

Despite nearly endless opportunity for self- aggrandizement, I did not once discern that Dr. Kelly’s goal in ministry was to inflate his own ego. It doesn’t mean that he didn’t face that temptation, but rather than letting it take root in his heart, he confessed it before the Lord and put it to death.

How can we likewise resist such a temptation? We must be at rest in Christ as our sufficiency so that we do not sense a need to seek glory for ourselves.

During the time that I have known Dr. Kelly, he has spoken at many of those prestigious events to crowds of thousands. I have also enjoyed the fruits of his weekly ministry at Reedy Creek Presbyterian Church, a small, wonderful church in rural Minturn, South Carolina, where a dozen people in worship feels like a packed house. Astoundingly to me, he prepares the same for either group, for he understands that the goal is not to impress anyone with himself, but to please the Lord Christ through faithful ministry.

A final reason he has been so effective for so long is that he knows his calling. Far from the common vision of pastors today that more resembles a CEO than a shepherd, Dr. Kelly understands that his primary calling among the people of God “is to feed the flock by leading them to green pastures.”[26]

For those of us who are called to the ministry of the Word, so often we are distracted from that chief obligation by a million other lesser duties, many of which are good in themselves.

At times, we compound our duties out of fear of telling others “no” or we wear ourselves out with stress about a whole world of issues that are not central to our calling.

I can remember Dr. Kelly often lamenting that so many pastors today were so occupied with secondary obligations that they were “too busy” for things like morning and evening worship, midweek prayer meeting, and so on. During more than one of our phone calls when I began planting the church I currently pastor, he would ask the question, “Do you have a midweek prayer meeting yet? The saints must gather to pray!” I am deeply thankful that now, in great part due to his influence, we do.

I think that every pastor would profit from the words of another giant of our time, Dale Ralph Davis:

The “busy pastor” obviously doesn’t have time to ponder or think or read (or listen), because he is, well, a “busy pastor.” Believe me, I know something of the load a pastor carries. But I repudiate the busy-pastor model. I don’t think there should be any busy pastors. Ministerial busyness may fulfill our egos, but it empties the soul. Many of us need to join Mary at Jesus’ feet if we are to be equipped for our labor.[27]

We must know our own capacities and callings, and rather than trying to do everything, we must slow down and focus on the main thing: ministering the Word and prayer.

Rest-Powered Pastoral Ministry

For those of us who have been in ministry for more than a year or two, undoubtedly we have developed bad habits and misplaced priorities. It takes work to break our bad patterns in order to get into rhythm, but consider the benefits that healthy rhythms of rest and work bring to the faithful pastor:

Perseverance in Prayer

Every pastor has likely heard the account of Luther, who once said “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.”[28] We appreciate the sentiment, but so few of us can live by that saying because we’re too busy. And if we’re totally honest, we tend to think we can accomplish more with our hands than with our prayers, and thus we do not slow down enough to pray with perseverance.

Perhaps that is the reason we don’t have more answered prayers: because we can’t slow down enough to really pray. Dr. Kelly exhorts us that persevering prayer must be part of every believer’s life: “Just as the peasant farmer has to take his ten thousand steps to sow his tens of thousands seeds, each one a part of the preparation for the final harvest, so there is a need for often repeated persevering prayer, all working out some desired blessing.”[29]

Passionate preaching

For most of us, especially pastors who have multiple preaching and teaching obligations during a week, we can at times become more like sermon factories than men who have meditated on and marinated in God’s Word before we preach it to His people. As a result, our sermons will often become superficial, because we do not have (or make) time to slow down and think deeply about God.

Proper rhythms of rest and work shut down the sermon factory, and instead allow us to follow the sort of preaching Mr. Still spoke of: “The preaching of the Word of God, when it flows through a living vessel dedicated utterly to the Master’s use, is not only an event in the lives of those who hear it but becomes, first, a decisive act, and then, necessary food for their souls.”[30]

Patience with Problem People

There are many professions in which hurrying to get the work done can be admirable. Assembly line workers, for example, will be rewarded for how much they can produce in a short amount of time.

In pastoral ministry, such a mindset can be detrimental because we are not manufacturing products; we are in the “business” of, by the grace of God, “warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). There are no shortcuts or hacks, and we must resist the temptation to see quick results when dealing with the souls of those whom God has entrusted to us. Mr. Still points out that right rhythms of work and rest help us to have “good-natured tolerance,” “waiting with buoyant good humour and expectancy to see babes grow up into God’s salvation (1 Pet. 2:2) and as living stones into Christ’s church (1 Pet. 2:5) as a spiritual house.”[31]

In 2012, Dr. Kelly led a group of seminary students through an extra-curricular study of Mr. Still’s The Work of the Pastor. Of all the wonderful lessons of that book, Dr. Kelly particularly sought to ingrain in us the holiness of our calling as we work with God’s people:

God has caused you to become pastor to some souls here who are as valuable to Him as any in the world—your quiet persistence will be a sign that you believe God has a purpose of grace for this people, and that this purpose of grace will be promoted, not by gimmicks, or stunts, or new ideas, but by the Word of God released in preaching by prayer.[32]

Peace with the outcome of ministry

The expectations upon pastors are weighty, but of all the stresses we face, the greatest comes from within: we think we’re far more important than we are. As we practice a healthy rhythm of rest and work, we experience the regular reminder that there is one God, and He can handle things quite well without me. Mr. Still poignantly says, “The fact that God will look after the world while you take a little time should give you a sense of real relief!”[33]

Such a disposition will not only build stamina for ministry, but it will make ministry infinitely more effective, because the in-rhythm minister understands he is but a tool, and God is the Master Craftsman.

Longing for the Future Sabbath

No discussion of Dr. Kelly’s understanding and practice of “Rhythms of Rest and Work” would be complete without a glimpse into the future, final rest that believers eagerly await (Phil. 3:20). While we will never fully experience complete and perfect rest in this world, the day is coming in which we will. Today’s Sabbaths are but a foretaste of that “final, perfect consummation of all the purposes of God in and through His creation, which has been washed clean through the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 5:9) for whose pleasure all things are and were created (Rev. 4:11).”[34]

I wish to conclude this chapter in the same way that Dr. Kelly concluded several of his own treatments of this topic: with an extended, wonderfully galvanizing quote by Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

It is a type of heaven when a believer lays aside his pen or loom, brushes aside his worldly cares, leaving them behind him with his weekday clothes, and comes up to the house of God. It is like the morning of the resurrection, the day when we shall come out of great tribulation into the presence of God and the lamb, when the believer sits under the preached Word and hears the voice of the Shepherd leading and feeding his soul.

It reminds him of the day when the Lamb that is in the midst of the Throne shall feed him, and lead him to living fountains of water. When he joins in the psalm of praise, it reminds him of the day when his hands shall strike the harp of God, ‘where congregations ne’er break up and Sabbaths have no end.’ When he retires and meets with God in secret in his closet, or like Isaac in some favourite spot near his dwelling, it reminds him of the day when he shall be a pillar in the house of our God and go out no more.

This is the reason we love the Lord’s Day. This is the reason we call the Sabbath a delight. A well spent Sabbath we feel a day of heaven upon earth. For this reason we wish our Sabbaths to be wholly given to God. We love to spend the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship except so much as is taken up in works of necessity and mercy. We love to rise early on that morning and to sit up late, that we may have a long day with God.[35]

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!


[1] William Still, Collected Writings of William Still: Studies in the Christian Life, Vol 2, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson (Edinburgh: Rutherford House Books, 1994), 295.

[2] Augustine, Confessions, 1.1.1.

[3] Still, Collected Writings of William Still 2, 297.

[4] Still, Collected Writings 2, 300.

[5]  Douglas F Kelly, The Law (Dillon, SC: First Presbyterian Church, 1975), 86.

[6] Kelly, The Law, 87.

[7] Kelly, The Law, 85.

[8] Kelly, The Law, 89.

[9] Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 23.

[10] David Murray, “There Are Souls to Be Saved: How Can We Rest?” 9Marks, accessed February 14, 2023, https://www.9marks.org/article/there-are-souls-to-be-saved-how-can-we-rest/.

[11] Still, Collected Writings of William Still 2, 313.

[12] Still, Collected Writings 2, 300.

[13] Sinclair Ferguson, “Sabbath Rest,” Ligonier Ministries, accessed February 14, 2023, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/sabbath-rest.

[14] Still, Collected Writings of William Still 2, 326.

[15] Still, Collected Writings 2, 305.

[16] Still, Collected Writings 2, 305.

[17] Kelly, The Law, 96.

[18] Still, Collected Writings of William Still 2, 301.

[19] Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, 1st edition (New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2000), 10.

[20] Douglas F. Kelly, If God Already Knows, Why Pray? (Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1989), 193.

[21] Kelly, If God Already Knows, Why Pray?, 193.

[22] Kelly, If God Already Knows, Why Pray?, 193-194.

[23] Kelly, If God Already Knows, Why Pray?, 209.

[24] Kelly, If God Already Knows, Why Pray?, 195.

[25] Kelly, If God Already Knows, Why Pray?, 196.

[26]  William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Revised (Christian Focus, 2010), 17.

[27] Dale Ralph Davis, Luke 1–13: The Year of the Lord’s Favor (Christian Focus, 2021), 192.

[28] Kazlitt Arvine, Cyclopedia of Moral and Religious Anecdotes (Nabu Press, 2010), 303.

[29]  Kelly, If God Already Knows, Why Pray?, 163.

[30] Still, The Work of the Pastor, 27.

[31] Still, Collected Writings of William Still 2, 326.

[32] William Still, The Work of the Pastor (Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2010), chap. 1, Kindle.

[33] Still, Collected Writings of William Still 2, 314.

[34] Douglas F. Kelly, Creation And Change: Genesis 1:1–2:4 in the Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms, Revised edition (Mentor, 2017), 336.

[35] Andrew A Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), 539.