William Wilberforce’s life has much to teach us on how we can serve God powerfully, whilst also maintaining our friendships, our family life and our sanity without burn out. One of the deep lessons I’ve learned from Wilberforce is the importance of taking a Sabbath.

The Bible is clear on the importance God places on us taking off at least one day a week for rest. And yet it’s incredible how many of us feel we can continually ignore this command. The Bible actually institutes a clear rhythm of healthy rest each week (the Sabbath day), each year (several holidays and festivals), every seven years (allowing the land and the farmers to have a year off), and every lifetime (a time of Jubilee). God wants us to have regular periods of rest, and such things actually make us more productive when we return to our work.

Wilberforce saw many other politicians get burned out and even saw three of his colleagues take their own lives. He attributed this in large part to them not taking off one day a week, so he determined from early on in his career to uphold the 4th commandment. Sundays became a family day together, when all talk of politics and campaigning was put aside, in favour of church, rest and quality time. Only close friends were allowed to join in these family days. He did occasionally break his Sabbath rule to prepare for a crucial political debate, but these things occurred only a couple of times a decade.

High value for the house of God, and the hours of secret meditation . . . made his Sundays cool down his mind, and allay the rising fever of political excitement. Sunday turned all his feelings into a new channel. His letters were put aside, and all thoughts of business banished.

Wilberforce became such a believer in the importance of Sunday as a day of rest that he once even petitioned Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, himself an evangelical Christian, to move the opening day of parliament from a Monday, since this would cause MPs from across the country to travel down to London on the Sunday before.

Dear Wilberforce,
You will be glad to hear that it is determined to postpone the meeting of parliament till Thursday the 19th, instead of the Monday the 16th, to obviate the objections which you have suggested to the meeting on that day.
Yours very truly,
Spencer Perceval.

What’s your Sabbath routine? Do you have one complete day of rest each week? And do you have rhythms of retreat and withdrawal that punctuate your year? How can you best implement Sabbath in your life?

Click for more information on the One Rock biography William Wilberforce: Achieving the Impossible, available from Amazon, and other book sellers.

Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s an experienced leadership trainer, author of biographies on John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and is also passionate about praying for London. He enjoys good films, good food, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markraynespark.