In the late 1970s, my young colleague Dr. Michael Youssef and I were waiting for the delayed takeoff of a Pan American flight from Miami to Rio de Janeiro. Our destination was Sao Paulo, where I was to lead a seminar the following day. Finally, at 11 o'clock at night, the plane started rumbling down the runway. I turned to Michael and said, "I'm going to turn on my light and do some reading."
In what seemed just moments later, I was aware that the plane was still rumbling down the runway. I turned to Michael and said, "When in the world are we going to take off?"
He replied, "This is Caracas, Venezuela. You have been sleeping so hard since we left Miami that we couldn't even shake you awake for the meal."

We stayed on the ground in Caracas for an hour. I then slept the four hours from Caracas to Rio de Janeiro. We made a quick transfer flight to Sao Paulo. I cleaned up, shaved, combed my hair. When we disembarked in Sao Paulo, I was ready for a full day's work.

Michael said, "Chief, I am willing to go anywhere with you, but the next time I'm going to leave two days early. "
I said to him what I've said to people all over the world: "One of the best investments of discipline and effort you can make is in learning how to relax. Get proper rest, whether it be eight hours end to end, or six hours with snoozes throughout the day. Do whatever is the best for you, but make sure you do it." This leader, with a demanding global ministry, has learned the secret. He has more stamina at 52 than he did at 27.

Put relaxation in your diary

Poise and relaxation go together like bread and butter or ham and eggs. You cannot maintain poise while you are tense. But by the same token, you cannot relax and worry at the same time.

Learn how to work under pressure without working under tension. This is possible if you have periodic breaks in your activities. Breaks don't have to mean inactivity. The break may simply be a change in activity.

That's the way your heart works—and boy, does your heart have to stay on the job! Did you know your heart pumps enough blood through your body every 24 hours to fill a railway tanker? Every day it exerts as much effort as it would take to shovel 20 tons of gravel onto a platform as high as your waist.

A lot of people say, "I can't relax; I've got too much to do." If you think to excuse your tension in this way, forget it! No one has had the responsibilities that fell upon our blessed Lord. If anyone had cause for tension, He had. Yet He always remained relaxed. Even when they sought to kill Him (Nazareth, Luke 4), He moved quietly and unhurriedly out of their midst. Can you picture our Lord in a frenzied hurry?

Sure, He took His work seriously: "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work" (John 9:4). But He kept His pace. On occasions when others tried to pressure Him, He said, in substance, "My opportunity is not yet come. The time is not fulfilled." Jesus Christ is our Exemplar in poise through relaxation. Hear Him as He says, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while" (Mark 6:31).

The lesson is clear: come apart, or fall apart! It's too easy to be in a rush, driven by a relentless work schedule, and allow insufficient food, insufficient exercise, and insufficient sleep to erode your effectiveness. It's always an easy excuse to say you're busy. But being busy can boil down to a state of perpetual nervous tension—a biochemical high you can't come down from until circumstances get the better of you.

As the Bible reminds us:
Don't worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God, which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:6

Finding your rhythm can double your effectiveness

There is a rhythm, a cadence, in all of nature.

Plants reproduce themselves in their seasons and human beings in their generation. There is a rhythm, a cadence, in all the actions of nature: in our breathing, in the ebbing and flowing of the tide, in the rising and setting of the sun. One of the earmarks of the amateur musician is that he or she does not give proper attention to the rests.

Apparently Thomas Edison got by on four hours of sleep a day. However, he had the ability to "snooze" at almost any hour of the day or night. He was relaxed at all times. One of the most prominent of our contemporary psychologists has suggested that we need rest for the body and sleep for the mind. He goes on further to say that the man who stays free of psychic tensions gets by on less sleep than the man who gets tied up in knots.

The last year that Dr. Robert G. Lee served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (the world's largest Protestant denomination) he was in his late sixties. During that year he traveled over 150,000 miles, built an auditorium that cost more than $17 million in year 2000 dollars. He also received over 1,200 new members into the 9000-member Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, of which he was pastor.

One of his members, a prominent Memphis surgeon, Dr. J. Murray Davis, told me that the secret of Dr. Lee's output was his capacity to relax. Dr. Davis said, "It is incredible how this man maintains such a pace despite his years." Then the surgeon recounted this incident in the life of Dr. Lee:

One Sunday morning I went to make my hospital visits at six o'clock. Dr. Lee was also at the hospital visiting. He then taught our Sunday school class that morning and followed that by the delivery of one of his matchless sermons at the 11 o'clock hour. Immediately after the morning service he flew by chartered plane to Longview, Texas, where he delivered a baccalaureate address Sunday afternoon. He flew back to Memphis in time to speak at a special assembly of the Baptist Training Union in our church. Following that he delivered the evening message at the 7:30 evangelistic hour. After the benediction of the evening service he rushed to the airport where he boarded a plane for California. He flew all night and spoke Monday night to a large convocation in California.

What a pace! And remember, he was at an age when many folks have already retired. For more than a quarter of a century Dr. Lee averaged 11 visits a day. He preached in his own church a minimum of three times a week and he taught a Sunday school class 44 Sundays out of every year. After he was 40 years of age, he built a church from a membership of 1,300 to a membership of more than 9,000— while all the time traveling and preaching outside his own city and preaching nearly as often as an evangelist. The secret? He knew how to relax! He knew how to pace himself! He worked under pressure without working under tension.

Relaxation helps older people hyperperform

Learn the rhythm of successful living. When you work, work. When you rest, rest.

When my father was 62 years of age he pastored a vigorous church in New York State. He slept only a few hours a night. He walked two miles a day. He was one of the best paddleball players in Binghamton, New York, and all his opponents were under 35. On his sixtieth birthday he played two sets of tennis. How did he do it? He knew how to relax.

On several occasions, when I visited him, he would sit in his high-back rocking chair. Right in the middle of our conversation he would say, "You must excuse me, son. I am going to take a few minutes' snooze." He'd lay his head back and sleep for perhaps seven minutes, then open his eyes again, fresh and alert, and say, "All right, now. Where were we?" Most great achievers maintain the practice of having a nap sometime during the day. It has been proven that a person will fare better with six hours of sleep at night and an hour of sleep every afternoon than with eight hours of sleep at night with no break in the day.

As a young man I realized that if I were to be productive, I would have to master the ability to relax and to sleep. I worked at it assiduously. In the late 1960s, I boarded a flight from Seattle to Tokyo. Then-head of World Vision, Dr. Ted Engstrom, was on the same flight. He said, "John, people tell me that you can sleep like a baby on these flights, and you don't even take a sleeping pill. I don't believe it."

I grinned and said, "Well, Ted, I'm grateful to God. It's true."

Our flight lifted off. We had a meal, after which I read a paper and thumbed through a magazine. About an hour and a half out of Seattle, I stretched across the three seats and laid my head on three pillows just under the window. I slept soundly until 30 minutes out of Tokyo. Ted couldn't believe it.

There's no way that I could have maintained my schedule over the past 40 years had I not learned the secret of relaxation. In that time, I have made more than 85 trips around the world plus more than 167 intercontinental trips; written 15 books and hundreds of inches of copy for brochures, appeal letters, and magazine articles; averaged a speech nearly once a day; administrated an organization with offices on every inhabited continent; and maintained my own personal study habits and responsibilities.

Were it not for my ability to relax, I would be a physical and emotional basket case by this time. At an age that some consider well past retirement, I thank God I'm still able to function with a great deal of energy and zest. The key? The ability to relax.

Relaxation is a vital component of poise. The soil of tension and frenzy will produce long green shoots of worry. Therefore, ask God to help you find poise through relaxation.