“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28-29 NET
I originally wrote this article while enjoying the quiet and serenity of a mountaintop retreat in scenic Arkansas.
I look out the window and take in a panoramic view of the surrounding hillsides. There are no traffic noises. No jets flying overhead. No phones ringing. No email messages annoyingly announcing their arrival. In fact, there are few, if any, distractions. The environment is completely restful and, sadly, entirely alien to my normal, everyday life.
I have had to drive hundreds of miles and across three states in order to find rest. Yet, just preparing to get away to come here was anything but restful, and I can easily catch myself worrying about all that is not getting done while I attempt to relax and recharge. Even getting this article written is somewhat of a distraction as I attempt to get away from the normal duties of life. Let’s face it, we all seem to find it hard work to rest.
Yet, as a believer, I have been issued a promise of rest right from the lips of Jesus Himself. He offers me rest for my soul. But for most of us, rest is as illusive as the fountain of youth was to Juan Ponce de León. We long for it. We continually seek it. But we rarely find it. So what’s the problem? Why is rest so hard to come by? What is preventing us from enjoying the rest that Jesus offered? We live in a restless society that is slowly killing itself through over-activity – all in in spite of a growing assortment of labor-saving devices and time-management tools that have promised to decrease our workloads and increase our leisure. And Christians aren’t the only ones suffering from a lack of rest. I recently ran across a book called CrazyBusy by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. Dr. Hallowell’s basic premise is described succinctly on the book’s flyleaf:
“Are you too busy? Are you always running behind? Is your calendar loaded with more than you can possibly accomplish? Is it driving you crazy? You’re not alone. CrazyBusy – the modern phenomenon of brain overload – is a national epidemic. Without intending it or understanding how it happened, we’ve plunged ourselves into a mad rush of activity, expecting our brains to keep track of more than they comfortably or effectively can. In fact, this brain overload has reached the point where our entire society is suffering from culturally induced ADD. CrazyBusy is not just a by-product of high-speed, globalized modern life – it has become its defining feature. BlackBerries, cell phones, and e-mail 24/7. Longer work days, escalating demands, and higher expectations at home. It all adds up to a state of constant frenzy that is sapping us of creativity, humanity, mental well-being, and the ability to focus on what truly matters.”
So where’s the abundant life?
It seems that I recall Jesus saying something like “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness” (John 10:10 NLT). He promised fullness of life. What The Message paraphrases as “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” He is talking about exceedingly abundant life. He promised it, but most of us seem to be missing it. Rather than experiencing fullness of life, we simply live lives that are full – and increasingly busy. But how do you know if your life is lacking rest? Just answer a few of the following questions:
- Is your stomach constantly in knots?
- Are you tense?
- Do you feel tired all the time?
- Do you go to bed tired and wake up tired?
- Are you short-tempered?
- Do you suffer from high blood pressure?
- Do you struggle with feeling low or generally unhappy?
- When you try to think of a solution or a way out, do you go blank?
- Do you struggle with your weight?
- Are you sick a lot?
- Is it hard to get out of the bed in the morning?
If you find yourself answering “Yes” to more of these questions than you might like to admit, you are suffering from a lack of rest. But as believers we should find the words of Jesus encouraging. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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 NASB). The Message paraphrases these verses this way: “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.”
Overworked, overstretched, and about to snap!
In an article entitled, “The Overworked American,” Juliet B Schor states: “…what we do know suggests [workload] has contributed to a variety of social problems. For example, work is implicated in the dramatic rise of ‘stress.’ Thirty percent of adults say that they experience high stress nearly every day; even higher numbers report high stress once or twice a week. A third of the population says that they are rushed to do the things they have to do—up from a quarter in 1965. Stress-related diseases have exploded, especially among women, and jobs are a major factor. According to a recent review of existing findings, Americans are literally working themselves to death—as jobs contribute to heart disease, hypertension, gastric problems, depression, exhaustion, and a variety of other ailments.”
Cease striving and rest!
So what’s the problem? And what are we supposed to do about it? Ah, there’s part of the problem. That little word, “do.” We always think in terms of action or activity. We have to DO something. Take a vacation. Take a nap. Take a break. Go somewhere. Get away. Escape reality. Run away from our problems or attempt to solve them. But is that the biblical solution? Is that the key to discovering the rest that Jesus offered? Over in Psalms 46:10, we find the familiar words of God. “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Those two words, “cease striving” are from the Hebrew word raphah. It means to cease, stop, to abandon, relax, or go limp. The Message paraphrases it this way: “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” We live our lives as if we have set up house right in the middle of a busy interstate highway. We live in constant danger of getting run over, dodging the cars and 18-wheelers of life as we attempt to live life in the fast lane. But God calls out, “SLOW DOWN! STOP THE MADNESS!” And here’s the most important part. “And know that I am God!” We will never recognize God as God until we stop long enough to see Him. We have to learn to “recognize” Him in the day-to-day affairs of life.
When Psalm 46:10 was translated into Latin, they used the imperative vaco for the phrase “cease striving.” It means “to be free from anything, be without; to be free from work, be at leisure; to have time for.” It is where we get our word “vacation.” In writing about Psalm 46:10, author and Dominican Friar, Simon Tugwell, shared an interesting take on this passage: “God wants us to take a holiday (vacation) to stop being god for a while, and let Him be God. God is inviting us to take a break, to play truant. We can stop doing all those important things we have to do in our capacity as god, and leave it to Him to be God.”
Rest is acknowledging that I am NOT the god of my life. It is admitting that only God can rightfully hold that position. Rest is the act of giving up any attempts at being god in order that I might recognize the one and only God of the universe. He wants me to cease striving and recognize that He is God of my life.
Rest vs. Restlessness
Over in John 10:10, Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness” (NLT). We tend to concentrate on the second part of this verse and neglect the first. Yet it tells us that Satan, our enemy, is out to steal, kill, and destroy. He is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4; John 12:31) and he has an agenda. He is out to destroy the plan of God and establish his own kingdom – a kingdom that is the antithesis of God’s kingdom. So how is he stealing, killing and destroying us as believers today?
- By convincing us that rest is unnecessary
- By portraying the Sabbath as a duty, not a delight
- By telling us that achievement is the measure of our success
- By assuring us that progress will bring us prosperity
- By fooling us into putting our trust and hope in anything other than God
- By replacing the God-given rhythm of rest with a relentless restlessness
The enemy has left us with no sense of rhythm. We don’t enjoy true rest and many of us suffer from burnout and hurry sickness. Yet God is offering us the cure: His rest. In fact, He commands us to rest.
“In a culture where busyness is a fetish and stillness is laziness, rest is sloth. But without rest, we miss the rest of God: the rest he invites us to enter more fully so that we might know him more deeply. ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Some knowing is never pursued, only received. And for that, you need to be still. Sabbath is both a day and an attitude to nurture such stillness. It is both time on a calendar and a disposition of the heart. It is a day we enter, but just as much a way we see. Sabbath imparts the rest of God – actual physical, mental, spiritual rest, but also the rest of God – the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness” (Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God).
We have rejected God’s way
Over in the book of Deuteronomy, we read the following words: “If you refuse to obey all the terms of this law that are written in this book, and if you do not fear the glorious and awesome name of the LORD your God, then the LORD will overwhelm both you and your children with indescribable plagues. These plagues will be intense and without relief, making you miserable and unbearably sick. He will bring against you all the diseases of Egypt that you feared so much, and they will claim you. The LORD will bring against you every sickness and plague there is, even those not mentioned in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed. Though you are as numerous as the stars in the sky, few of you will be left because you would not listen to the LORD your God. Just as the LORD has found great pleasure in helping you to prosper and multiply, the LORD will find pleasure in destroying you, until you disappear from the land you are about to enter and occupy. For the LORD will scatter you among all the nations from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship foreign gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods made of wood and stone! There among those nations you will find no place of security and rest. And the LORD will cause your heart to tremble, your eyesight to fail, and your soul to despair” (Deuteronomy 28:58-65 NLT). The Message reads, “GOD will give you a restless heart, longing eyes, a homesick soul.” A restless (anxious) heart, longing (pining) eyes, and a homesick (despairing) soul. Those three terms are apt descriptions for the day in which we live. They are the symptoms of our restless society.
Standing at the crossroads
Over in the book of Jeremiah, we read, “The Lord said to his people:‘You are standing at the crossroads. So consider your path.Ask where the old, reliable pathsare. Ask where the path is that leads to blessingand follow it. If you do, you will find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not follow it!’” (Jeremiah 6:16 NET).
Why are we…financially tapped out…emotionally stressed out…physically worn out and spiritually burned out? We’ve taken the wrong path – and instead of rest, we’ve found distress. Rather than follow God’s plan for rest, we have bought into the enemy’s lies and as a result, we have dehydrated hearts and shriveled up souls.
Episcopal Bishop, Nathan Baxter so clearly states our condition. “America’s soul is lean. Yes, in this wonderful age of technology, the face of America is changing. It is a stressful face, and a spiritually empty face, reflecting a leanness of soul. Just stand in a public place sometimes and observe. Better yet, just look in the mirror and see what you discover. The rat race is on and we dare not complain; because, after all, this is what we have prayed for and worked for. Someone once said, ‘The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat!’ There is something less than human in the stressful life we have chosen.”
In this crazy rat race, we are never going to be satisfied just getting what we want.
It’s only when we have what we need that our thirst is quenched. We need rest. And Saint Augustine expressed it best when he prayed, “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in Thee.”