I tend to do my best writing and my best thinking in the early part of the day. After a good night’s sleep, my morning time with God and a short workout, my body is rested, my mind is fresh, and my spiritual bucket is full. When time eludes me and things get busy, as they often do, one of those areas always seems to suffer. I might skip a few workouts because I’m approaching a deadline and feel like I need to use that hour to work. Or my time with God gets shortened or skipped entirely because I’m crafting a message or preparing for an interview. Or worse yet, I open up my email before I open up my Bible. That’s always a sure sign that my day is not going to start out—or end—well. While technology allows me more access to God’s Word with electronic Bibles, daily devotions sent to my in-box, and social media that can connect me with prayer requests from others, starting my day in that way seems to drain me quickly.
Just one generation ago, sociologists were predicting that with technology, Americans would work far more effectively. Access to information, they said, would allow us to complete their work at such an accelerated speed that we would actually have too much spare time.
Do you have too much spare time?
Technology has often had the opposite effect. We are sending email as we get ready for bed, texting our co-workers over the weekends, and expected to be available to clients and friends on a moment-by-moment basis. We upgrade to 3G-4G-5G so that we can work faster, but find we are not only working faster, but we are also working more. We are addicted to speed.
But there is one process that simply cannot be rushed. Rest. The concept of rest is counter-cultural. Rest asks us to slow down. Rest requires ignoring the urgent for the really important. And in today’s culture, ignoring the pings and pop-ups and calls requires a deliberate act of defiance against our perceived need to be productive.
But what if we rested not to forsake our responsibilities but for the sake of our responsibilities? What if taking time to rest and refuel were actually a way to fill us up so that we were equipped to accomplish whatever it is that God has purposed us to do?
As is often true, the Bible has something to say about this. Rest was so important to God, in fact, that he mentions the concept very early on in Genesis. In fact, rest was so important to God that he modeled it. After spending six days creating the world and everything in it, God rested.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. (Genesis 2:2)
Now God is probably not so physically tired and worn out from creating the world that he has to take a nap, or sit down to enjoy 4 hours of television while his body and mind recover from the work he has done. The kind of Rest God is inviting us to experience is a rest following completion of his work... a state of being, trusting that while there may be more work to be done, now is the time to be renewed.
Later, God reminds his people of the importance of rest. It was so important in fact, that He mandated it. He included rest as the 4th commandment, letting his people know the importance of shutting everything down so that they could focus their attention on relationships—relationships with those they love, and their relationship with their Heavenly Father.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. (Exodus 20:8)
We know that rest is important. This is not new information. But if we get really honest, there is something inside of us that makes it difficult to take time out, to take a step back, or to just stop. There is something inside us that hears that command to make space, and we just can’t. We come to the conclusion that we just don’t trust God to take up the slack in our absence. We don’t trust him to care for our lives, if we stop doing. If we’re really honest with ourselves, what keeps us from resting is Fear.
We have a fear of not doing enough, of missing out, fear of being perceived as sloughing off our responsibilities.
But in God’s theology of rest, it’s not about doing less. It’s about trusting God to equip you to do what he requires while at the same time trusting him to fill you with what you need. What if rest was not about forsaking our responsibilities but was rather for the sake of our responsibilities?
By stopping our doing, pursuing, producing, we are showing God that we trust him. We trust that He will care for our business. We trust that He will honor our commitment to rest by meeting us in that place of rest and offering restoration to our hurried lives. That way, when we return to our work, we will do so with an increased capacity to handle whatever challenges life throws our way.
Hundreds of years later, Jesus comes along and offers the same advice to his followers. He models rest and then encourages them – and us – to come to him so that he can show them how to find rest for their souls.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
I absolutely love how the Message version translates these verses.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Would our life look differently if we learned those “unforced rhythms of grace”… if we learned from Jesus how to take a “real rest’? Give it a try, and maybe you, too, will find rest for your soul.