The importance of rest

 

This week started off with me being interviewed on the Premier Inspirational Breakfast show about the article I wrote in Premier Christianity’s January issue on new ways to connect with God.

We were discussing the fact that so many of us are praying on the run these days, rather than actually stopping in order to spend quality time with God – and whether that means we are squashing Him out of our lives.

It was an interesting discussion, and I talked about the ways in which short, contemplative prayers have given me space to breathe and be revitalised before tackling the day ahead. I also mentioned the daily examen – the practise of looking back over our days and being aware of when we felt God’s presence – and when we didn’t, in order to learn lessons we can take into tomorrow.

Afterwards one of the presenters told me how much they had enjoyed the conversation – and commented on the fact that I was croaky-voiced. I said I was under the weather – probably partly because I’ve been so busy recently. We then joked about how I need to take my own advice (isn’t that so often the case though – we learn something, share it with others and then realise we need to take heed of it again ourselves!)

Then the following cropped up on my Facebook feed today, and it really made me stop and think. I can’t believe it was two years ago that God literally forced me to rest through an ailment that necessitated a minor op. After a month of recuperation, I reflected on what I had learned:

Having spoken to my family about the fact I haven’t felt well for the whole of January, and the impact that has had, I started thinking about what I’ve learned over the last month. Here’s what I’m thankful for:

  1. The reminder that I’m not superwoman, so I don’t have to try to be.

  2.  The enforced rest, which has taught me there are seasons to be gentle on myself rather than always pushing to do more.

  3.  A husband who, while also having his own unusual stints of being ill, has shared the load with me.

  4.  Friends who have shown they truly care – and who have reminded me that it’s okay to ask for help sometimes.

  5.  Breaking free from any preconceived notions of expectations. I’m certainly not indispensable – this time has shown me that – so who can I be encouraging to realise their potential while I cheer them on from the sidelines?

  6.  A deeper understanding and empathy for those who live with long-term conditions.

FEELING GOD’S NUDGE

Those were important lessons, and ones that I have come back to time and time again. But I can feel God’s nudge again and it has made me realise: I don’t want to be forced to rest again – in the deepest place of my heart I acknowledge that I still need to learn how to really live in those ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ every hour of every day:

“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)

Learning from Jesus is the wisest thing to do. After all, He had constant demands on His time, but always ensured He got away from the crowds in order to connect with His Father. Do we?

LEADERS CAN MAKE THE WORST LEARNERS

I think that our busy 21st-century lifestyle makes it hard for any of us to carve out time for rest – and God – each day – but it is so vital. And I have found over the years that leaders can be the worst at this! Looking after so many other people, with their needs pressing in constantly, means that it can be easy to forget about your own needs.

I have been researching an article on the benefits of retreats for the next issue of Premier Christianity magazine, and came across the wonderful work of Ellel Scotland. Their Operation Blairmore is specifically for leaders who are burned out and in need of healing themselves.

While the idea of a sabbatical is one I am familiar with, and have seen practised by the leaders in our circle of churches, Blairmore offers 10–14 day retreats specifically for those in ministry or business leadership.

The director, Peter Brokaar, has written an article on the blessing of rest, and has graciously allowed me to quote the bulk of it here. I think there is much we can learn from the wisdom within it.

BLESSED BY REST

There is an immense pressure in this world that keeps us busy, occupied, forever moving and squeezing out time for rest, space and healthy relaxation.

The Bible does tell us indeed to imitate the busy ants and most Christians agree that ‘Idle hands can be the devil’s tools.’ But what if this right need to avoid laziness gets pushed too far? It’s so easy for us to let inner pressures of fear and guilt push us into ongoing, relentless busyness. On top of that the technocentric world of today seems out to rob us of the last quiet moments we had left. We’re in real danger of losing out on one of God’s greatest blessings – genuine rest!

In between all the other voices clamouring for attention we hear Jesus’ eternal invitation call out to us: ‘Come to Me, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). But have we heeded that voice? Or has His call too been pushed out by other, more demanding voices? A person that has found true rest – is that how we would describe the average Christian, or even ourselves?

Jesus invited us to come to Him, to live from a place close to His heart. He wants us to ‘abide in Him’, in the language of John 15, and from that place of close relationship to bear fruit for God’s glory.

But it’s almost as if the Lord’s words got lost in translation, as if His words have gone through some kind of filter. So instead of coming, abiding and bearing fruit we, as a church, seem to have misheard the Lord: Work harder and make sure you keep very busy at all times!

Of the Ten Commandments it is the fourth commandment, the one about a weekly rest day, that gets by far the most attention. Rest is important, says Exodus 20, because of Creation. God rested the seventh day and hallowed it. So we, too, should rest one day per week. But why, we naturally ask? Isn’t there a lot of good to do? Jesus answers why: “Sabbath was made for man…” (Mark 2:27).

God built a rest day into creation because of His love towards mankind. It’s amazing to think of this: after having been created, humankind’s first full day was a Sabbath day– a day spent in God’s rest. It wasn’t until AFTER that day of rest that work begun. First rest (in God), then work. That is the picture the Bible gives us.

The enemy of humankind wants to steal God-given (and even God-ordained!) rest from us and he uses the world system as well as our internal pressures to accomplish his wicked goal. He knows that as long as he keeps us running on the proverbial hamster wheel we cannot connect deeply with God in that place of rest.

Jesus, on the other hand, is still inviting us to regain that place of rest which was lost at the fall. Hebrews 4:11 admonishes us to ‘make every effort to enter into [God’s] rest’, which tells us that regaining rest somehow requires effort and goes against the grain of our sinful nature.

 

There’s a lot to think about there. Can I just leave you with a challenge – how are you actively seeking God’s rest?

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