I hate to admit it, but I often reach past the Word to seek solutions from human sources. There’s just something about a popular Christian book that has appeal. It feels so validating. It sounds so honest and good, and because multiple copies of it line Christian book store shelves, I purchase mine with high hopes and a five-star review already anticipated. Often, the writing sucks me in as I recognize well-crafted sentences and stellar word selections. The editing job alone can woo me. On so many levels, these titles appeal to me, both as a writer and a Christian, so I fall for their message. Especially if it promises to sort out my schedule and soothe my soul. So, I’ve picked up, read, and thoroughly enjoyed several popular titles that have rest as a central theme. After I have put them aside with a sigh of contentment and a list of changes I need to make, however, I run across God’s answer, the one I needed in the first place, something better than any 5-step program or simplification technique. Often, what God says opposes the information I’ve snuggled contentedly into. Here are a few of the contradictions.
1. Jesus said to lose your life in order to save it. Popular advice says we should make time for ourselves. It emphasizes how recreation is important. It says we are to indulge in the things we love. We are to acknowledge our inner voice. Since Jesus lived out His word, His example is key. Jesus found balance in giving, not in self-preservation. He didn’t say, “I’m going to go sailing today. Disciples, take care of the Kingdom. I need some ME time.” Does this mean I should never have personal gratification or fun? No. It means that I cannot become the center of my time and world. SELF cannot become central to, nor can it become the source of, my ambition or well-being. Pouring out my life is, instead, the outlook that will result in my greatest gain.
2. Jesus said to serve others and to love them with the same kind of love as He had for us. Expert opinion declares we should make more room for ourselves and cut away people from our lives in order to have more time for peace. Jesus always welcomed people into his world. While he didn’t tolerate those who only wanted to cause confusion or argue against His Kingdom purpose, He never turned away the needy, the hurting, or the seeking. He invested in His friends and took time for relationships. He shared meals and conversation, and He shared himself. Jesus had solitude, but when that solitude was infringed upon, He never offered rebuke to those who’d taken his time. There were, however, times he turned aside from the expected, ignoring family or delaying a visit to his sick friend. He didn't rush or stress Himself to please expectations. My take-away from this is to let go of people who oppose my spiritual purpose. People who want me to compromise, who aim to weaken my walk with God, or who choose to work against God are people who will be burdens to me. Those, however, who are ignorant of salvation and need the light within me or those who encourage my faith are people I need to invest in. Relationships are of eternal significance and are worthy of my time as long as those relationships don’t hinder the greater spiritual purpose God has for me and as long as God is directing me, not my need to please others.
3. Jesus said coming to Him provided rest. Christian culture says rest is found in a day off, a period of doing nothing, or in pleasurable pursuits. It's taken the Sabbath to a whole new level of lifestyle in which seclusion, family gatherings, and spending time with friends have replaced prayer, church fellowship, and time in the Word. Jesus slept, and He went apart by Himself. His solitude, however, was most often spent in prayer, rather than in long strolls along the water’s edge. God connection is the ultimate key to rest. Far too often, we look to physical means to replenish both our bodies and our souls. Soul rest, however, goes a long way toward replenishing both body and spirit. When we truly come to God and cast our cares, we hand over our troubles, weights, depressing thoughts, struggles, uncertainties, unhappy situations, nagging circumstances…and we exchange them for peace and joy that come through trust. This is real rest. When we aren’t trying to figure out solutions to issues of our lives, when we stop fretting about the what if’s, when our minds and spirits cease running their marathons, then we experience inner rest. The confidence that the Star-flinger and Molecule-maker is taking care of our lives sets our minds free of the things that cause worry and stress, eliminating the soul-weariness at the root of most exhaustion.
4. Jesus said sleep can hinder our preparation for temptation. We think sleepiness means sleep is needed. In the Garden of Gethsemane, heavy eyelids were the cause of Peter, James, and John’s inability to handle Jesus' arrest and crucifixion with bold confidence. Luke said these same fellows were sleepy when they were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. It seems pivotal moments they shared with Jesus were accompanied by their feeling the need to rest. There have been numerous times I’ve chosen sleep over middle-of-the-night prayer. Prayer would have better served my future than did my tossing and turning, but the inner notion that I should be asleep prevailed. On the other hand, I've gone to church when my body craved going to bed instead, and I've come home totally revived and replenished.
What does this mean? Are we to forgo natural rest and survive on spiritual faith alone? No. But we would have biblical balance if we threw out the idea that "balanced" means equal parts natural and spiritual. Jesus and His followers like Paul and Peter were sell-outs to the spiritual. Physical conditions were given little consideration. Instead, their strength was from God. Their focus was the Kingdom. In this, we must be the same. Scripture says our righteousness is in the Holy Ghost, and that same verse declares that the Holy Ghost is also our source of peace and joy. Peace and joy are the most restful qualities to have. That’s why shutting myself away with God is often what I need more than a long nap or an exotic vacation. Time with God can provide me with much more than time alone. Enjoying the Creator has more benefits than does creating. It can silence the voice that insists I pursue temporal efforts for temporary rest from rest deprivation no amount of sleep can solve. Though a prayer meeting might not stop my husband from cutting cartwheels in his sleep, it will definitely provide the solution for any soul weariness I have and keep me spiritually awake as the mantra of these last days tries to lure my spirit into slumber.
Tip/Tidbit: Take a careful look at your agenda. Are your choices sabotaging your rest? Make an effort to get adequate sleep. Slow down the pace of life by eliminating the unnecessary. Make room for the spiritual. Let focusing on the Kingdom, giving to others, trusting God, and insisting on the spiritual become the heart of your pursuit. Add more time with God to your day, and enjoy the real rest only He can give.