Have you ever run out of fuel while driving your car? This has happened to James and me and it’s a most frustrating experience! However, we could have avoided this if we’d checked the fuel gauge and then filled up the tank before setting out. We’d then have been able to enjoy the journey because our progress would not have been halted by an empty fuel tank. In daily living, many of us are sometimes in danger of running on empty. We fill up our human ‘fuel tanks’ with all sorts of things, some of them good and necessary, like work, caring for family, even personal bible study and serving God. But a vital ingredient might be missing from our lives and, as a result, we find ourselves physically exhausted, emotionally burdened, and spiritually weak.
As James Smith, author of “The Good and Beautiful God”, says: “The number one enemy of Christian spiritual formation today is exhaustion.” Can you relate to this? If so, you probably have no difficulty accepting that exhaustion, for whatever cause or in whatever form, has a hugely negative impact on our development as followers of Christ. For the last few months here at ACF and PCF, we’ve been engaged in a series on spiritual disciplines or habits of faith – those practices found in Scripture that stimulate spiritual growth among followers of Christ. These have included evangelism, mission, prayer, worship, fasting, stewardship and giving, silence and solitude, confession, service, bible reading and study, and fellowship. This morning we’re going to look at the spiritual discipline, the habit of faith, the practice that is often the missing ingredient in our exhausted lives. And that is… rest.
As with all spiritual disciplines or habits of faith, rest helps us grow stronger as Christians and in our walk with God. It enables us to reset our priorities. It empowers us to establish a rhythm to life where we schedule periods for rest as well as for work. But rest is not always easy because it makes us realise we can’t do it all. It reminds us we have limits. It brings home the fact we’re not all-powerful. That’s why, in our busy lives (and even in our not-so-busy lives) rest has to be a conscious choice. It must be intentional. It might seem surprising but we actually need to discipline or train ourselves to rest properly. You see, rest is not the same as laziness. We certainly don’t need to train ourselves to be lazy – this can happen all too easily! But rest, as a habit of faith, is a learning process that’s worthy of our serious attention.
The first mention of rest in the bible is right at the beginning, in the book of Genesis. And, interestingly, the rest mentioned here is not about humans resting, but about God resting! And this sets the biblical principle of rest. We discover in Genesis chapter 1 that God has been busy at work in creation for six days and, at the beginning of chapter 2 we see this: I’m reading from the NLT… 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. When God rested on the seventh day it meant He had completed His work of creation. His work was done. And, by resting, He was announcing that he had finished what he had set out to do. We see a similar pattern in the New Testament book of John. As Jesus, the God-man, is dying on the cross, He cries out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He then rested for three days in the tomb, having completed his work of salvation. It was finished. In both these events – the work of creation and the work of salvation – resting meant that God ceased His work because He had completed or finished the tasks He had set out to do. Now, some of the workaholics among us might be thinking at this point, “Well,
if this is the principle for rest, then it looks like I have the biblical go-ahead to work relentlessly, to forge ahead regardless, not taking any rest breaks until what I’m doing is done.” Well, there’s a problem with thinking like this… You see, God is God and we are not. In Isaiah 40:28, we read this: The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. Although God never needs to rest as a result of tiredness, he knows that we do. And if we don’t take appropriate rest, then we’ll be finished! Where, then, does this leave us?
Well, thankfully, God has given us a pattern for rest. And we find this in Exodus, the second book of the bible. Listen to Exodus 20:8-11…
8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.”
Fast forward to the New Testament where Jesus, responding to criticism from the religious leaders of the day, says this: 27 … “The Sabbath (or a day of rest) was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). You see, the religious rulers weren’t content to adopt the ‘one-rest-day-a-week’ commandment in the way God intended. They wanted to go further and add their own rules and regulations which became really burdensome for the people. Now, Jesus doesn’t negate the biblical command to observe a day of rest, but he responds to the hypocrisy of the religious leaders by putting it in its proper perspective. Jesus continues in verse 28… “So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” In other words, he is the one who created a day of rest, to be beneficial and not burdensome for us. I grew up in the Scottish Highlands in the 1960s and 70s. Almost everything came to a standstill one day a week – on Sunday. No-one mowed their grass, no-one hung out their washing, no-one cleaned their car, and no-one knocked on your door to ask if you were coming out to play. This certainly did make Sunday different from other days of the week which, in itself was no bad thing but, looking back, I do wonder how much of this was merely legalistic observance of the Sabbath day rather than devotion to the Sabbath Lord. We are to find our rest in Him, not just on one day of the week, but every day of the week. Let’s look in more detail, then, at this Lord – the person of rest.
I wonder if you have a favourite bible verse. I have several, but one that I particularly love is Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus is speaking and says this: I’m reading from the NIV. 28 ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Jesus is speaking here to people who were feeling crushed by their own attempts to please God. Hearing Jesus’ words must have been such a release and relief to them! By saying this, Jesus was – and still is – offering a lifeline to people who desperately need, and long for, his kind of rest.
Three important verbs here… come, take, and learn. “Come to me”, invites Jesus. Don’t go looking elsewhere for the kind of rest I can give – come to me. Who is he addressing? “… all you who are weary and burdened…” It’s a wide open invitation to all those who are finding life heavy-going and are exhausted by burdens of sin,
guilt, worry, anxiety, sorrow, fear – all these and more. And he offers rest to all who come to him. Think back to the days before online ordering… Imagine you’ve returned home from having made a start on your Christmas shopping. You get out of the car, open the boot and pick up your various carrier bags. Perhaps you try to carry as many as possible into the house in one go! Despite the fact your arms are aching, you feel your fingers pinched by the bag handles, and some of the contents of your bags are about to fall out, you make your way towards the house to offload your purchases. As you approach, a neighbour comes out of his house and says to you, “Here, let me help you with this load.” How do you respond? Well, it’s a no-brainer. You accept their offer, yes? Jesus is saying to us, “Here, let me help you with this load.” Not the load of the Christmas shop, but the load of everything that weighs us down. If we come to him, he promises to give us rest.
But then Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you…” A yoke was a wooden beam that tied two animals together, usually when they were ploughing a field. As long as the animals moved in the same direction, at the same pace, the yoke fitted well and wasn’t burdensome. But if one of the animals decided to pull in a different direction from the other, it would find the yoke difficult and painful. Get the picture? When we take Jesus’ yoke upon us, we commit to walking in tandem with him and submit to his gracious and loving authority. And the great thing is… Jesus’ yoke doesn’t add to our burdens! To be yoked to him means we don’t bear our burdens on our own. He helps us carry the load.
And then, “… learn from me…” Learn from the one who is gentle and humble in heart. Take on board his teachings. Live as his disciple. Seek to be like him. As we come to Jesus, walk with Jesus, and learn from Jesus on a daily basis, we build up our trust in Jesus. In a very practical sense, trusting him means we keep coming to the point where we say to him, “Whatever happens, I have confidence in your power, your wisdom, your goodness and your purposes.” And trust brings rest. Rest from the guilt and shame of sinful attitudes and behaviours; rest from the inner turmoil of disturbing and distracting thoughts; rest from the confusion that often surrounds wise decision-making; and rest from being dragged in different directions by our out-of-control emotions. Come, take and learn, and – Jesus promises – you will find rest for your souls.
Now, some of you will be familiar with the expression, ‘take five’. This is jargon for ‘take five minutes off’. Well, we’re going to use the expression ‘take five’ to refer to five suggestions that link the person of rest – the Lord Jesus Christ – with the practice of rest.
1. Take a Sabbath rest – one example of Jesus taking a Sabbath rest can be found in Luke 4:16… “When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.” (NLT). Sabbath rest is not just for physical and emotional renewal, but for spiritual sustenance. One of the ways we can take a rest is by joining with other Christ-followers in public worship. Now, that’s slightly on hold at present in terms of meeting physically, but thanks to the wonders of technology, we can still join with others in cyberspace as we worship, pray, learn from God’s word, and even meet afterwards in the virtual coffee hall.
2. Take a mini-retreat – “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16, NIV. At particularly busy times, he encouraged his disciples to come with him to a quiet place and get some rest (Mark 6:31). We, too, can try to find a quiet place. Seek solitude. Regularly meet with God. This might mean rising earlier in the morning – ouch! But, I think Jill Briscoe is pretty close to the mark when she says that “sleep deprivation is better than God deprivation.” I also like what Priscilla
Shirer says… “Quiet time is not an excuse for the lazy but a wise investment for the diligent.”
3. Take a people break – after a busy day of teaching, Jesus “went into a house to get away from the crowd” (Mark 7:17, NLT). People, much as we love them, can be exhausting! And sometimes, for our own sake, we need to put a bit of blue water between ourselves and others. Even our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to escape the crowd from time to time. So, it really is okay to take a people break.
4. Take time to separate the urgent from the important – Mark 1:35-38… 35 Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. 36 Later Simon and the others went out to find him. 37 When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” Jesus separated the urgent – the fact that everyone was looking for him – from the important – the fact that he needed to move on to other towns and preach there; that, he says, is why he came. The urgent might include our own and other people’s expectations – things we and they think we have to respond to immediately; the important involves what really needs to be done, including responding to God’s priorities for us. You see, it really is okay to leave some things undone. We just need to make sure we’re not leaving undone the things that God would have us do.
5. Take note of the character of God – when I was talking earlier about the person of rest, I said that Jesus describes himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (NIV). He is. But, as God, he is also all-powerful, wise and good. Because he is all-powerful, he can deal with any situation that comes our way. Because he is wise, he knows how to respond to any situation we find ourselves in. And because he is good, we can be sure that all he does will be for his glory but also for our ultimate benefit. We serve a trustworthy God and we can rest in that knowledge.
You know, I’ve found the whole topic of rest as a habit of faith really encouraging. I think part of the reason for this is that rest is something that often eludes us. When we’re overworked, we tend to view rest as something we’ll have to leave to another time, but not now, we’re too busy at the moment. And when we’re overwrought, we view rest as something we desperately need and long for it right away! But whether you’re overworked, overwrought, or somewhere in between, the Lord Jesus Christ offers rest for all who are weary and burdened – whether they know it or not. And I find his offer very encouraging. But developing the spiritual discipline, or habit, of rest is also pretty challenging. It’s not going to happen automatically. We really do need to be intentional about incorporating into our lives a rhythm of work and rest. Not just having scheduled times for work, but also having scheduled times for rest so that we grow stronger as Christians and in our walk with God. And if we can approach our work from a restful frame of mind, so much the better. But, above all, let’s find our rest in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, who invites us to come, take and learn. He won’t disappoint us.
Pray with me.