Notes From “An Unhurried Life”

Bill Gaultiere’s Notes from Alan Fadling’s Presentation

Alan Fadling is a friend and colleague of mine and recently he gave a talk on his new book, published by InterVarsity Press, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest

Alan is the Executive Director of “The Journey,” a ministry of The Leadership Institute in Orange, CA, that trains Christian leaders to integrate spiritual formation and leadership development. He has an M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary and many years of experience as a pastor and in ministry to pastors and leaders. Alan is a certified Spiritual Director and teaches seminary courses on spiritual formation.

On July 31, 2013 Alan shared with a group of about 25 pastors, pastors’ wives, counselors, spiritual directors, and other ministry leaders at a quarterly gathering of the Spiritual Formation Alliance in Southern California. You can order Alan’s book and sign up for his blog on his website,

Readers of our Soul Shepherding Devotionals will know that being Unhurried with Jesus is a theme I often write about. I write about being unhurried because I’ve struggled with it and many of the pastors and leaders that Kristi and I work with have “hurry sickness” in their body — or in their mind, which is called “worry.” So I was excited to have Alan speak with us on his book, An Unhurried Life. 

Alan doesn’t just talk about the unhurried life with Jesus — he’s learning to live it personally and in his ministry.

What follows are my notes from Alan’s talk. I did the best I could to capture his words.

Alan Fadling’s Presentation: An Unhurried Life

I’m a recovering speed addict — not the drug. I’m talking about a fast-paced life.

I’m involved in God’s work and there’s always more of it to do! The work never ends. Just one more thing to do. Just one more person to help. It’s all for God. How could that be bad?

We all wish Dallas Willard was still with us. He’s taught us about the dangers of hurry to our spiritual formation in Christ and his thinking on this has helped me greatly. Years ago John Ortberg told the story about calling Dallas when he was about to step into his leadership position at Willowcreek Community Church. He asked for spiritual counsel and Dallas said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry.”

It was quiet. Then John asked, “Ok. What else?”

“That’s all. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.” 

When I was beginning to write An Unhurried Life I had a conversation with Bill. He told me that one time Dallas had asked him the question: “If you had one word to describe Jesus what would it be?”

Many good words come to mind: Teacher. Lord. Compassionate.

After Bill thought awhile Dallas shared his word: relaxed. 

I wasn’t sure I liked that word! It made me nervous. It made me feel itchy!

You can read Bill’s story about this conversation on “Dallas Willard’s One Word for Jesus.”

An Unhurried Retreat into the Gospels

Then I went on retreat and read the gospels over and over. I’d read one and then take a walk. Read another and then take another walk… As I read I asked, Is Jesus really relaxed? Is it good to be unhurried?

Repeatedly I saw Jesus unhurried in his way with people, even setting aside time to be alone in prayer during the busiest of ministry seasons.  When the crowds swelled in number I’d have done whatever I could to keep it going, but Jesus poured into the Twelve, even pulling apart from the crowds in order to be alone with his disciples.

In my rush, in my filling up of my schedule with good things, my time to simply be with people gets squeezed out. Jesus didn’t die for programs, but for people. I can’t tell you much about the programs I led twenty years ago but I can sure tell you about people I’ve journeyed with.

I’m learning to follow Jesus’ rhythm of work and rest, but I’m more comfortable doing and accomplishing. I’ve grown up with the idea that I am what I do, what I accomplish and how I help others.

When I was called into ministry I knew I was called into Jesus’ way of life. But the recognition that people gave me for doing a good job was like crack for my soul. Of course, sometimes I heard complaints, but all the more that made me long for compliments. My identity was rooted in my performance.

Make Every Effort to Enter God’s Rest

Hebrews 4 forms the theme for Chapter 7 in An Unhurried Life. This is the hardest chapter in the book for me to live by. I wrote it because I need to keep re-reading it! Listen to Hebrews 4: 9-11. The writer is talking about Sabbath, the Biblical rest that God put into creation:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

But I think that either I’m making effort and working OR I’m resting. No. Resting requires effort. I need to learn to do this. It’s a gift to enter communion with God, to allow his refreshment to come into my soul and relax me. I don’t find this natural or easy, but I find it good.

One of the insights that came to me is the Jewish way of thinking about the seven days of creation. In creation we show up on day six and our next day is which day? The Sabbath. The day of rest. What have we done on day six that we needed to rest from? We haven’t even started work but still we needed to rest!

Rest is not a place I collapse into when I’ve finally done enough work — it’s the starting place, it’s the way into the well-fitting, easy yoke of Jesus (Matthew 11:25-30). What if we began in rest? Would it be possible to do my work without getting all wound up or collapsing?

Does Jesus seem to you to be all wound up, straining and stressed, as he works? No he’s continually abiding in a place of peace and joy, affirmation and acceptance.

Also consider the way the Hebrews think about a day. When does a day begin for them? At sundown. The work is done and they rest to begin the day. But we begin our day with the sound of the alarm clock going off in the morning!

If we begin from a place of rest then we can do the sorts of things that Jesus did in the way that he did them. We can discern when to say yes and when to say no as he did. We won’t take on too much. He said his yoke was easy. When I feel my yoke is too heavy I need to ask, what have I added?

I add my own anxiety. Maybe you can relate. Also I add the idea that I’m all alone in the work, rather than doing my work with Jesus, work he was already doing and I get to join in with. From a state of rest I can discern this.

In the Old Testament God’s rationale for Sabbath is that the Israelites are no longer slaves. When they were slaves they had no day of rest. If I’m not resting maybe I’m a slave?

Here’s a way to measure how I’m doing with Sabbath. I ask myself, When I rest do I feel like what I’m doing is worthless?

When we begin with rest we can overflow with Gods presence to others. This is what is most worthwhile!

Alan’s Sabbatical Rest

In 2001 I had the opportunity to take a one year Sabbatical. Not to write a book, but to rest. I followed my mentor Wayne Anderson’s example. He sensed the Lord say to him, “Quit your ministry and begin one year of rest.” At the time he was pastoring a successful church in New England. This is not unlike Jesus who would disappear just when the crowds were swelling and no one could find him!

In that Sabbatical year I had a great struggle with my identity. I’d been “Pastor Alan.” But now I had nothing to produce. Henri Nouwen calls solitude a furnace. For me it was a blast furnace! It was unpleasant. I couldn’t run from myself and go into my work. I was learning to begin my day and my life by being with God and knowing that I’m loved.

When Jesus began his ministry he went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. He heard the voice, “This is my son, I love him. I’m pleased with him.” (Matthew 3:17) Apparently Jesus hasn’t healed anyone yet or given any great sermons but he knows he’s loved!

In these days of solitude when I’m not using the ruler of productivity to measure my worth, but setting that aside to enjoy communion with God, family, friends, this is when I can hear the voice: “You are my son, my daughter, with you I am well pleased.” Then I can go into my work confident and secure. I’m not measured or marked by what people say about me.

Two Cycles of Work and Rest

Tilden Edwards has a book titled Sabbath Time. He describes a cultural cycle and a Biblical rhythm. He describes two ways of thinking about work and rest, two different realities.

1. Driven Achievement. Driven achievement, driven achievement, driven achievement and then mind-numbing escape. Then back to driven achievement!

In this way of life an anxiety engine is driving me then I escape into snacking, mindless television, or playing games on my iPad. Rarely after do something like that do I say, “Wow that was refreshing!” No I’m I more likely to be depressed. In this cycle work is demanded either from a boss or myself. Then rest is deserved. Where’s the grace? “Demanded” and “deserved” aren’t grace words.

2. Work and Rest. The Biblical cycle of work and rest is different than that of driven achievement. Ministry and Sabbath are God-given.

The heart here is to trust in God. I rest from a place of trust. I work from a place of trust. As Dallas Willard always said, letting go of the outcomes. I engage with God in my work. I engage with God in my rest. Work is given and rest is given — by God. They are gifts from God. I can enjoy a day of rest because God has given it to me.  I can enjoy a day of work because I do it with God. I learn to bring a sabbath heart into my work.

Taking EPC’s

One place I see this played out is in my time for “EPC,” which stands for “Extended Personal Communion.” Wayne Anderson taught us this and we help pastors and leaders apply this in “The Journey.” EPC is time set aside to be with God and enjoy with him.

When I first starting EPC’s 20 some years ago I had never heard anyone suggest this was a Protestant Evangelical Christian thing to do. I knew about “quiet times,” Bible studies and prayer meetings (at least some old ladies did that for us). But to just be with God and enjoy him — that was different!

Every time I took an EPC I felt withdrawal. Sometimes I still feel some of those itchy symptoms.

I often lead “Come Away” retreat days like this for pastors and leaders. We help them to get alone and quiet with God for an EPC. I hear them say, “I’ve read books by Dallas Willard or others on solitude and silence and I believe this is important, but I’ve never really done it.”

Through leading “The Journey” in Latin America I’ve learned that hurry, drivenness, and productively are our cultural problems. My notes were garbage! In Latin America the resistance was different, it was to being alone. Also to staying busy, which seems to be everywhere in the world! The key for everyone is understanding that the Biblical Jesus often withdrew to lonely places. Often. Maybe he did this to remember the word of the Father to him at his baptism?

What was Jesus doing? I believe he was sharing his heart with Abba and listening — not just offering long, wordy monologues.

Question & Answer

Just Read the Bible More?

Question: “I like what you’re saying about being unhurried but I tend to think I just need to read my Bible more?”

We resist the disciplines of abstinence or disengagement, like solitude. Let’s introduce Jesus’ patterns like being alone and quiet for hours, secrecy in which we do good things but don’t let anyone know so that we don’t take credit, or fasting. These are trainings to form us into the image of Jesus.

What we’re talking about is not just a list of things we will do, but the things that we won’t do.

God Loves Us!

Question: “I like your emphasis on hearing the Father say, ‘You are loved.’ Tell us more about this.”

When I’m alone and quiet, often the first thing that pops up is not the warm, welcome voice of the Father, but that of the accuser, the tempter.

For example, this morning I practiced the discipline of driving in the right lane of the freeway. I do this not to feel peaceful and relaxed. To do that I’d get in the left lane and floor it! No, I do this to get in touch with myself, actually to feel itchy and angry! I may get irritated with the persons in front of me and behind me. Then I can talk to God about what I learn about myself.

Abstinence surfaces things that we need healing from.

Regarding the affirming voice of the Father, I remember leading a retreat day for pastors and one came with a backpack full of stuff to do and ask a God about! We all went off for four hours and Mark (not his name) was the first to share. He said,

I brought this list of things, these plans I was making, but God didn’t have anything to say about these things! I was miffed! But then I discovered that the only thing God wanted to talk to me about was how much he loved me. If I listened and I realized how much God loved me then I wouldn’t worry about all this stuff and I’d be a better pastor.

My instinct is to say, “Of course God loves me, look at all I doing!” Or, “God couldn’t because I don’t deserve it.” No. I’m not dong anything impressive and he loves me!

Is it Lazy to be Unhurried?

Question: “I went on one of your retreats and I realized that I couldn’t be alone because I had too much to do. I’m a mom and pastor and I have so much to do. But I’ve learned that I go nuts if I’m not being intentional about listening to God’s voice.”

Sometimes we think being unhurried is lazy. But I do my most energized and insightful work from the love of God. I do and say things that I’d be timid to say otherwise. I go into life more confident and with a full cup so I have something to give more freely whether it’s welcomes or rejected. I don’t need people to like what I say, but I can just offer what I have to say and trust God with the results. God is happy to use me, but he’s not desperate to use me.

Sometimes Solitude is Unhealthy

Question: “I’m doing Bill and Kristi’s TLC Program for Pastors and Leaders and as part of that I read Henri Nouwen’s book on the Desert Fathers, The Way of the Desert. In it he talks about solitude. It seems that sometimes there is a sweet sense of God’s presence and dialogue with God, but other times its too much quiet and maybe it’s actually unhealthy.”

It’s a rhythm. Solitude goes with community. I’m an introvert and so I like cave time, but that is not solitude. Solitude is a presence. Jesus doesn’t go away for years and decades. He’s also in community. Every practice has its opposing rhythm.

I’m currently seeing a therapist and we address the things that come up in my own mind in solitude.

Having No Agenda

Question: “The times of being still without an agenda are the most rewarding. Tell us more.”

We say we’re not involved in some religious activity, but a relationship with God. It’s not one way, but two way. It’s easy to be aware of what I’m doing for God or to connect with God on my terms, but neglect God’s side of the relationship. We need to give God space to initiate and to listen to him.

I try to set aside a day a month in which I don’t do stuff. But often the day before I feel like I’d be crazy to keep that day! I’m always thinking about what I need to do. Yet, I can’t tell you a single time in which after honoring my day with God that I regretted it! And I can tell you countless times that as a result of that day I suddenly had insights into a problem I was stuck with or I received a burst of creativity, an unsought gift. My intentions were simply to enjoy God.

In solitude good things come from God that we didn’t expect.

Letting Go of Perfectionism

Question: “In Bill’s meditation on Psalm 37 that he led at the beginning of this meeting the word that spoke to me was: “Trust in the Lord and do good.” He suggested that as I listen to your talk I listen to Jesus. As I did I was crying. Why? I’m a full time mom, therapist, and pastor’s wife. I have concerns for my son. I think God is saying,’You and I can do this together. You can learn to be unhurried.’ How do I do my life differently? Can I rest?”

Thank you for sharing with us. Yes, it’s a challenge not to just do our work but to stop and rest with God. It may mean that my work isn’t done exactly the way I want!

The best way to learn the practice of Sabbath for pastors and other men and women in ministry is on a Sabbatical. We show you how this can be a reality for you in our Sabbatical Guide.

We also offer an online Sabbatical Guide course. This program has everything you need to experience rest and renewal on your Sabbatical.

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