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The ‘7-Eleven Man’ Finds Peace

Ken Shigematsu uses a wooden yoke to 

illustrate how ‘We were made to be yoked 

to something or someone.’  

Photo: Sue Careless

By Sue Careless

Ken Shigematsu knows firsthand the demanding pressures of the modern world. For several years he worked for the Sony Corporation in Tokyo as a ‘7-Eleven man,’ frantically clocking in long hours with barely time to sleep or eat.

When he entered full-time ministry, he wanted to avoid a similar busyness but the pressure proved just as great. When he was hired as Senior Pastor at Tenth Avenue Church in Vancouver--a struggling church that had had twenty ministers in twenty years--he was warned, “If the ship sinks now, people will blame you.”

At first, he continued the same frantic pace, “squandering” his relationship with God. Eventually, however, after a pilgrimage to holy sites in Ireland he discovered that ancient spiritual practices could renew his relationship with God.

Such practices were not just for those predisposed to solitude and reflection but could fit almost any vocation or life situation and could shift with the seasons of life. 

His bestseller God in My Everything describes how people can experience Christ, not only in their formal prayers but in their home life, studies, work and play through the ancient practice of a personal rule of life.

As a keynote Refresh speaker, he admitted “I still feel the burden to achieve.”

But he recalled the advice a coach, who had himself won gold at the Olympics, gave to an aspiring athlete: “Yes, a gold medal is nice, but if you’re not enough without the gold medal, you’ll never be enough with it.”

Shigematsu stressed that as Christians our true identity lies not in what we do but in who we are. Our identity is not to be found in our achievements but in being a child of God by grace.  

“God doesn’t love us because of our productivity.” He loves us, as the Psalmist said, even in our mother’s womb, just as good parents love their little children unconditionally. And God the Father declared that Jesus was  “beloved” at his baptism in the Jordan, even before he began his earthly ministry.  

Shigematsu challenged his audience: “Have you accepted that you are accepted? You are already enough.” Then he asked, “What enables you to feel most loved, independent of what you do?”

The Vancouver pastor likes to employ props in his presentations. In his first talk, he used a wooden yoke. “We were made to be yoked to something or someone,” he said. So instead of striving under the burden of impossible expectations we need to throw off whatever heavy yoke the world places on us and take on the Father’s light yoke.

 “You don’t need to be ‘the guy.’ You just need to be the son. You don’t need to be ‘the girl.’ You just need to be the daughter.”

In his second talk, he struck a single-note chime to remind us to pause and refocus. Benedictine monasteries traditionally use a bell to call monks to cease from one activity and to begin another. Christians particularly need to hear the call to pause for the Sabbath. If we don’t observe a weekly Sabbath, we “violate God’s intended rhythm of rest.”

The Hebrew Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday, reminding us that as we rest and even sleep, God is at work. It was while Adam was in a deep sleep that Eve was formed. It was while St Joseph slept that God spoke to him in dreams and redirected him. 

Sabbath rest is a “circuit breaker on our selfish ambitions.” Keeping the Sabbath is a way not just to rest from work but also to trust in God. If you honour the Sabbath, you are trusting God that everything truly needful will get done.

“We do not live just by the sweat of our brow but also by the grace of manna that falls all around us.”      

Then he asked, “What might God be calling you to cease from on the Sabbath and what might he be calling you to embrace?” Shigematsu encouraged his audience to “Pray and play” on the Sabbath, to ask, “Does this give me life?”

He recognized that modern North American culture forces many people to work on Sundays, so he encourages such workers to find another time period that could be a Sabbath rest for them. Students who have an exam Monday morning might keep their Sabbath from Saturday sunset to Sunday sunset and study Sunday evening. 

It also takes planning and forethought to enter into the Sabbath. But just as tithing teaches us that by God’s grace we can be secure living on 90 percent of our income, so Sabbath-keeping shows us we can do all our necessary work in six days.  

Later in a workshop, Shigematsu’s prop was a wooden trellis that he used to symbolize a personal rule of life.

“Don’t let a rule intimidate you. Just as a trellis supports a vine, so a rule of life can support our friendship with God. God produces the fruit; it’s God’s work.”

The former “7-Eleven man” concluded, “I’ve learned I can work from a place of rest, not from a desperate need to rest.”   TAP

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