by: Kyle McClendon
This weekend marks one of the busiest weekends on the calendar for most Americans outside of major holidays. A time where people gather for cookouts, tailgates, and time with family to enjoy a long weekend to celebrate one of the more underrated days in our country: Labor Day. Labor Day, of course, is an ironic name for this day because it is a day when a majority of Americans take a break from their labor and instead focus their day on leisure. The name makes sense when you look up the history of the holiday, but that’s not the point of this post so we’ll move on.
These long weekends are times that excite most of us because they give an extended break from our regular week. We get an extra day off from work, a long weekend away from school, and time to really settle into the openness of our schedules now that we have an extra 24 hours to work--err, play with.
A lot of us struggle with these days, though. Whether we know it or not, these days often reveal some things about our souls and our hearts that God is trying to show us. However, we are simply moving too fast to notice. These days of “rest” truly reveal a lack of rest within our hearts and our souls.
We are given extra time away from our work and we often fill it with . . . work? Or something close to it. Our minds struggle to truly shut off because we have so much pressing on us. Our kids’ sports, our social schedules, our endless list of chores around the house, or our even longer list of entertainment we want to consume--we HAVE to stay up to date with the Pearson family from This is Us and make sure our fantasy football team is ready to go for week one of the NFL season.
No matter our preferred flavor, the cool, sweet taste of hurry and busyness has numbed our hearts to what true rest is. This may seem like a small matter, but the things we pursue and the ways we fill our time tell us much more about ourselves than we know. As author and pastor John Mark Comer writes in his book Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World, “Our time is our life, and attention is the doorway to our hearts.” I would recommend that book to anyone that wants to hear more on this subject.
Our compulsion to fill our time with whatever is closest, easiest, most convenient, or most gratifying should lead us to the conclusion that we have restless, anxious hearts that are in danger of burning out if we don’t find true, meaningful rest. Please don’t think that I am talking as someone that has all of this figured out or has all of the answers. I’m simply speaking from experience. My relationship with rest and busyness is a constant struggle, but God has made me more and more aware of that struggle over the last few years.
Before we go any further, it is important to define our terms so we all stay on the same page when it comes to rest.
WHAT IS REST?
While a cookie-cutter definition would be great, rest is not quite that simple. Rest is a posture of our souls that seeks to routinely practice the presence of God and move at the pace of grace.
Rest is a posture of our souls . . . This points to the fact that rest is deeper than an empty schedule. So often, we have an incredibly busy schedule that is unhealthy and unsustainable for us. So our solution is to simply take a day off of work or to work from home. The thought is, “If I’m sitting in one place all day, how can anyone say that I’m not resting?”
However, our schedules aren’t the litmus test for our quality of rest; our souls are. We can physically rest for months and months on a sabbatical, but if our souls are still hurried by social media, anxiety, careerism, or pressure to perform, we are not experiencing the rest that Jesus has for us. On the flip side, there are times when our schedule is still busy, but that short season of busyness doesn’t automatically preclude us from deep, soulful rest. Does it make it tougher? Absolutely. But some things in life are unavoidable. We just have to grow to learn that God wants more for us than our schedules would normally let on.
Seeks to practice the presence of God . . . On the surface, this may sound strange.. But it is the best way to put it and still stay true to the practice. A seventeenth-century Carmelite monk named Brother Lawrence wrote a book on this practice that can be summed up this way: “In every activity in which you are engaged, remember that God is present and offer your heart to him in prayer” (Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life).
This means that we remain mindful of God’s presence in every single situation. We find ourselves forgetting that far too often and we end up trying to do tasks on our own that we are incapable of doing in a way that glorifies God and brings us closer to Him. Psalm 16 tells us that in God’s presence there is “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore”, yet we can walk around with a scowl or a low-hum sense of anxiety because we are ignoring the fact that God is present with us in that moment. Surely, in this very moment!
Move at the pace of grace . . . Essentially, we move with awareness that we are under grace, not under pressure to produce. For many Christians, the pace of our lives look just like the pace of those who don’t know Jesus, and if we look at the life of Jesus, we see that his life was very different from those around him. One of the key differences in his life and everyone else’s was the pace of his life.
Jesus lived at the pace of grace and he calls us to the same. This is seen clearly in Jesus’ words in Matthew 11.
“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.”
-Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. That sounds amazing. And that is what Jesus calls us to in the Gospel. He calls us to live with real rest while he takes on our anxiety, our pressures, and our poor-fitting yokes. We don’t go through life with the pressure to clear our checklist or to produce so we are seen as worthy or more valuable.
We go through life understanding that God’s grace is sufficient for each moment and that the plan and will of God in our lives is not dependent on our performance, rather our resting in his presence and moving at his pace.
Rest is a posture of our souls that seeks to routinely practice the presence of God and move at the pace of grace.
WHY IS REST IMPORTANT?
There are countless reasons for Christians to practice rest with more intention, but I think the simplest reason is that our rest is a gift from God that God himself modeled for us. In our American thought life, we often look at rest as a reward for working hard; as something we earn or something that God begrudgingly gives. That’s simply not true. God seeks for us to grow in our grace and knowledge of Jesus, and he gives us rest as a key tool in that growth.
Just like God’s love for us is not based on our performance, the rest he offers us is not dependent upon our productivity. We see this in Mark 2 when Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” We could easily read this as Jesus saying that man wasn’t truly made for rest and that Sabbath doesn’t matter, but we miss the point of what Jesus is saying if we read this passage that way.
Sabbath was made for man. God created it as a functional reminder for our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds that he is the one who sustains the rhythms of life. Jesus, as the Creator and Lord of the universe, understands the proper function of the Sabbath and of rest for the sons and daughters of God. God gives us Sabbath--he gives us rest--as a gift to remind us that our standing in Christ is not based on our works. Days of rest are days where we can tell ourselves, “I’m not producing anything, yet God still loves me.”
Rest is important for the believer because it aligns our souls to the Spirit of the Father. When we slow down, sit in God’s presence, and allow the truth of the Gospel to wash over us without rushing onto the next thing on our list, we see the concerns we have washed away in the wave of God’s grace. When found in Jesus, rest fills us up with the fruit of the Spirit. We often wonder why our lives aren’t impacting those around like they should.
For a lot of us, it boils down to this simple truth: you cannot give away what you don’t have. N.T. Wright, a theologian and Anglican Bishop, nails this idea on the head when we says, “It is only when we slow our lives down that we can catch up to God.”
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
If we go through life without rest, it is a warning sign that our souls are veering away from God. In Matthew 11, Jesus describes his offering to us as “real rest”; in Acts 3, we see Peter call the Jewish leaders to repentance so that they may feel “times of refreshment.” Rest and refreshment. Those aren’t found in a life without rest.
We certainly don’t see them in a life that is resting in something other than Jesus. As Augustine said, “. . . our hearts are restless until they rest in [God].”
So what does rest look like? While it isn’t always a physical thing, I think the state of our bodies reflect the stature of our heart. Which leads back to the concept of Sabbath: we need one day a week where we simply stop. Stop striving, stop working, stop consuming (whether it is entertainment, distractions, our work, etc.). A day where we remind ourselves that God’s grace is what we need. Jesus is all we need.
This isn’t a legalistic, law-keeping thing. It is a proactive step in allowing our souls to catch up to our bodies once a week by simply resting in the power and presence of Jesus. I call myself a disciple yet I barely ever practice the simple habit sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to his voice.
Secondly, I think rest looks like a steady, stilled heart. Rather than walking around with tense shoulders, tight chests, and low-hum anxiety, a restful heart moves with joy, freedom, and confidence knowing that we’ve got all that we need for the day; and that our slowing down doesn’t make us any less valuable or make God love us any less.
Lastly, a soul that is rested is a soul that is consistently looking upward and outward. When we are tired, burnt out, or simply just worn down our minds and hearts don’t look to others before ourselves. We don’t look to God for direction, we look for simpler, faster input to guide our lives. Soulful rest allows us to be filled to the point of overflow. That overflow allows us to live the life that Jesus calls us to: a life marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.