Book Review: Reset, by David Murray
David Murray, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. Crossway, 2017. 206 pps, $14.99.
“It’s 3 a.m. Who do you want answering the phone?”
This was the question asked in a political campaign ad several years ago that went on to generate national attention. Behind the question, of course, was another: Who’s most prepared to be called on at a moment’s notice to make life-and-death, national security decisions?
Fast forward roughly a decade, though, and now one might wonder if that question would even make sense. After all, we live in an age where real or perceived pressure to be “on” and available leads many to never be far from their smartphones, even while they sleep. For many, the thought of being disturbed in the night by a buzz isn’t extraordinary. It’s just another day in the office—one you never leave.
This sort of reality is what led David Murray to claim that we now live in a “burnout culture,” and that the adrenaline-drunk sort of existence it requires is simply unsustainable. Murray knows this better than most, as a near-casualty of burnout himself following two life-threatening bouts with pulmonary blood clots. Christians, Murray learned the hard way, must recognize that, as creatures, we must yield to our need of regular rest and renewal if we’re to be faithful in carrying out the responsibilities God has entrusted to us. With his new book, Reset, Murray offers both a diagnosis and a prescription for how one can live a faithful, “grace-paced” life.
Throughout the book, Murray utilizes the imagery of an automotive repair shop through which he guides the reader into a series of “Repair Bays.” These are designed, first and foremost, to diagnose the presence or potential of burnout in one’s life, and then, to prescribe a set of categories to think through in order to structure their lives in a manner that will foster “a better and more useful life” (24).
- Repair Bay 1 (Reality Check) is the primary diagnostic chapter in the book. In it, Murray offers a detailed checklist of “warning lights” and a method to evaluate your life situation.
- Repair Bay 2 (Review) examines the interrelated nature of our bodies, minds, and souls. Humans are complex creatures, and one of the problems that leads to burnout is that we too often functionally ignore the fact that we’re fallen and finite creatures, not machines.
- Repair Bay 3 (Rest) explores the fundamental importance of sleep. It outlines the far-reaching consequences of going without sufficient sleep and the importance of routine in preparing to sleep, and reminds the reader that how and whether we sleep sufficiently “preaches a sermon” about what we believe.
- Repair Bay 4 (Re-Create) offers a brief theology of the body, and connects it to our need for activity. It highlights the need for exercise, the benefits of spending time standing, and the tangible good of manual labor or a hobby that results in something visible or physical at the end.
- Repair Bay 5 (Relax) extends the automotive metaphor by arguing that we need “speed bumps” in our life to force us to slow down. In one of the most practical chapters in the book, it outlines what daily, weekly, quarterly, annual, and seasonal “bumps” look like, and why they’re important.
- Repair Bay 6, (Rethink) takes up the issue of identity. The way we think of ourselves has the potential to either sabotage or serve us, so we ought to build our identity on scriptural foundations.
- Repair Bay 7 (Reduce) asks the reader to take stock of his time and talents. He encourages the reader to ask God “What will you have me to do?” and then to live in line with the answer. This exceptionally practical chapter explores strategic planning, margin, and the importance of saying no.
- Repair Bay 8 (Refuel) considers the effect of food on our lives, offers a helpfully nuanced section on medication and mental health, and asks the reader to prioritize activities that energize rather than exhaust.
- Repair Bay 9 (Relate) explores the significance of relationships. Part of being a creature is recognizing that we’ve been placed in community and aren’t self-sufficient. Instead, we should consciously cultivate our relationships.
- Repair Bay 10 (Resurrection) concludes the book by offering a vision of the new perspectives the grace-paced life can provide.
Not only is Reset an excellent book, but it’s also among the most-needed books I’ve seen in several years. Ministry is difficult in any age, but devices, distractions, and demands are omnipresent in our increasingly digital society. More still, these same societal pressures and digital tools can be intoxicating, demanding our attention while at the same time atrophying our ability to focus on the most meaningful work we’re called to do.
Perhaps the most helpful thing about Murray’s book is the amount of information he’s able to synthesize. He interacts with a wide range of fields—from nutrition to sleep science, productivity and workflow to exercise and marriage—and places it all within a Christian framework. If you read the leading titles across a dozen different areas of science, leadership, and ministry, thought deeply about how the most useful insights from each applied to faithfulness in our Christian life and work, what you’d end up with, if you’re fortunate, is a book like Reset.
For pastors, several areas stand out as exceptionally helpful. First, the chart of warning signs in the “Reality Check” chapter is easily reproducible such that church staffs or leadership could work through this together or plan to work through it annually. Reviewing this list even in “good” times may help reveal areas of neglect in one’s own life.
Second, the practical advice throughout the “Relax” chapter provides a useful template to help determine what kind of “bumps” ought to be present in the pastor’s life. Murray’s list of habits in the daily bumps section is a particularly helpful starting point.
Third, the section on strategy and purpose in the “Reduce” chapter will resist the pull in ministry toward the tyranny of the urgent. This chapter forces pastors to step back, evaluate areas of effectiveness, and devote greatest time and energy there.
It’s worth noting that this book is “addressed to Christian men in general” but with a “focus upon Christian ministry leaders.” This is important because one of the pitfalls of “productivity” books in general is offering unrealistic solutions that can leave the reader feeling more hopeless than before. “Sure, I could take weeklong Caribbean vacations every quarter, check email every other day, and say no to everything I don’t enjoy, but I’d be fired in two days and bankrupt in a month!”
To Murray’s credit, the prescriptions he offers are both general and customizable. Even still, the book will find its greatest value among leaders in Christian ministry who have the freedom to dictate their schedules and workflow more than some in other fields. That said, the need for rest and renewal is equally true for, say, the Christian publicist or salesperson whose job requires they be on the grid in greater measure. Of course, no book can provide a one-size-fits-all treatment that applies equally to every conceivable life situation. But regardless of one’s vocation, Reset offers considerable help.
In all, there are few books that are as needed, or have as much immediate practical relevance to pastors, as Reset. It’s grace-filled, Christ-exalting, and full of wisdom. If you know a pastor, he likely feels overworked and exhausted; he’d be greatly helped by this book.
Just don’t call him to tell him about it at 3 a.m.