a time for rest

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.

Psalm 23:1-3a

If you’re like me, you nearly always have to be doing something. Or at least that was the case for me for years. I was driven and driven and often felt haggard, quite tired, but you just keep pressing on. But little did I know about rest during that time.

As I’m getting older, I find getting more rest not only easier, but necessary if I’m to get along well, feel well enough to carry on. A part of getting older in my case, but hopefully also a part of growing a bit wiser.

The psalmist, perhaps David who was a shepherd himself casts God as a shepherd, and he a sheep. And what is the first thing we’re told that this shepherd does? Make the sheep lie down in green pastures, leads it beside still waters, restoring its soul.

I like that. I need that. Just to rest, rest and rest some more. Special times of rest.

It doesn’t end there. Then one has to go on through it all. But I take it that this rest should always preface the way. Something we come back to again and again, or are led to again and again by God. In and through Jesus.

getting rid of useless old yokes

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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

“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; The Message

A yoke is the wood on the shoulders of two oxen side by side with more wood or something else in between them attached to the yoke to pull a simple plow. Metaphorically they can be either good or bad. Simply speaking this refers to a discipline, one could say a discipling or commitment to following so as to not only learn from, but as in Jesus’s day imitate a rabbi. There’s the yoke of Torah which in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament is a delight. There’s the yoke of application of Torah, which under many religious rules losing sight of the spirit and heart of the law was something other than a delight.

Many of us could go on for hours and hours on the yokes we’ve carried much of our lives. Some of them have been self-imposed, or put on us by others. Others we might come to enjoy, hopefully good coming out of them. In a sense it becomes a part of who we are, at least influencing that, for better or for worse.

Jesus’s invitation to take up his yoke is an inference to leave many other yokes behind, often burdensome and unhelpful things we’re under. Commitment in this way Jesus says is easy and brings rest. Just the opposite of what we’re accustomed to living with day after day, and year after year.

What we’re talking about is the most basic commitment of life which encompasses all other commitments. The yoke Jesus invites us to for example is meant to enhance other commitments that are good, such as the yoke of marriage. But we do so ironically as those who are under no other yoke but Jesus’s.

I just want to settle by faith into Jesus’s yoke, and by doing so leave the unhelpful yokes I’m so accustomed to behind. Something I’m focused on right now.

the “rest” of faith

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For indeed the good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed are entering that rest, just as God has said,

“As in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’ ”

though his works were finished since the foundation of the world. For somewhere it speaks about the seventh day as follows, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this place it says, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he sets a certain day—“today”—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God, for those who enter God’s rest also rest from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Hebrews 4:1-13

Yesterday I talked about how faith that is alive is active. Today, I want to speak to the importance of what is called the “rest” of faith.

A faith that is alive and well can only be a faith that at the same time, rests. Only when we’re resting from our own works will God give us the work God has for us to do (cf.: Ephesians 2:8-10).

The “rest” here refers to believing in God and God’s word to us from scripture, and specifically concerning the good news of Christ for us and for the world. While it is more than that, it is personal. We have to believe and accept this for ourselves.

There will always be off and on temptations to resist this “rest” just as there was with the Israelites of old. They saw this and that, getting their eyes off of God and God’s promises to them. And then they felt that they had to take matters into their own hands. Not good. God corrected them, but not without great consequence.

But when we do rest in faith, then God enables us to do what we could never do ourselves. The “rest” has to be absolute. Never dependent on us, but only on God. We must make sure though that we’re entirely given over to finding this rest, to get out of our own ceaseless resistance to that. If we make a sustained effort, God will indeed help us. We’ll then find our way into all that God has for us. But never apart from that rest. In and through Jesus.

finding our rest in God and in God’s word

At that time Jesus said, “I thank[a] you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[b]All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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 11:25-30

We’re told in Hebrews (4:11) to make every effort to enter into God’s promised rest in Christ. That seems paradoxical, but the idea includes rest from our own struggles and work, as we enter into God’s rest, and as we see from the passage and Christ’s invitation above, into God’s work as well. No matter what we’re going through or experiencing, this invitation is ever open to us. We hold on to this as our only rest, and let go of everything else. Even while we seek to be responsible in all the details of our lives. But finding both the rest and work we’re to do from, as well as in and through Christ.

Jesus’s invitation

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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

I don’t know about you, but I know about me. It’s quite easy for me to take the burden of the world on my shoulders, or mostly the burden of my own world, which of course like everyone else’s, is challenging in itself. Even when I manage to get some soul rest in God, it’s not long before something else becomes concerning, and disconcerting.

Jesus’s invitation is absolute, for everyone at all times in every circumstance. Of course it’s specific: To those who are working hard at carrying heavy burdens and weary. Maybe fearful that they can’t keep it up, or just accepting the inevitable, and plodding on. It is to those that Jesus’s appeal comes. Not to the complacent, or those who think they can handle life themselves.

It’s an invitation to a yoke, an easy one. Alongside Jesus who surely bears the brunt of it, but who teaches us to live as he lived on earth: in complete dependence on the Father, trusting and then knowing that God will take care of it.

Something we need to keep coming back to again and again. And better yet, learn to live in. In and through Jesus.

in praise of work

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There’s no doubt that work can be overrated where I live. Or should I say what we call work? Long hours, whether “blue collar” (like what I do) or “white collar” is the norm, maybe even especially so the latter. The expectations for production, achievement and success only seem to become more and more, not work as God intends. And against greed and graft, of course. But work necessarily is a large part of our lives. Not to be overdone either, but the way in which we provide for our family and ourselves and bless others. Not to be despised.

Work was intended in creation. God works. “The Fall” resulted in difficulty in work, up against the curse imposed on creation, including on ourselves. Yet work continues, and just as we can be blessed, so can the work of our hands.

I often find work therapeutic, helping me get my mind off something troubling or worrisome. Instead having to focus on the task at hand. But I’m not referring to work that is unmanageable, and stretching us beyond what we can achieve and endure. We are limited, and there can be a breaking point. And we indeed need a Sabbath rest, or break from our work. Not just every day after the work time or shift is done, but at least one day at the end of the week, where we can do not only other tasks at hand like house and yard work, but where we can actually just rest, relax and enjoy.

Work especially in collaboration with others, yes in my line simply with others, can be a good exercise in teamwork, in helping each other, each of us stepping up, learning from another, letting others learn and do well while we step back in supportive roles. So many interesting dynamics possible and really at play in work. Developing relationships there which hopefully help both ourselves and others toward the most basic relationship of all: with God. But in the meantime hopefully more and more doing our work in the way God works. In and through Jesus.

needed rest

A David Psalm

God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

Psalm 23; MSG

This well known, treasured psalm refers to the gamut of life, all of it. I would like to consider one part of it: Our need for rest.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.

Away from the pressures of all the responsibilities of life, not to mention all the drama and trauma which inevitably impacts our world along with the world at large, we need those escapes, even getaways, but I’m especially thinking of simple rest in whatever form that takes for us. We need it daily, but it’s good to have a special time of rest set apart once a week, as in the Sabbath Day of old. And it’s good to have seasons and times when we simply rest.

The portrayal of the Lord’s shepherding of us here includes this so that we can say it’s a necessary element of life. All too often we continue on day after day, and even through weekends in a more or less frazzled state, not catching our breath, but rather gasping for breath. That is not the life God intends for us.

Instead we need to accept the good shepherd’s shepherding of us, his sheep. Together as his flock, as well as what that means for us as his individual sheep. After that we’ll be ready for what lies ahead until the next needed rest comes.

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

In and through Jesus.

the importance of sleep and resting in God

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to[a] those he loves.

Psalm 127:2

We recently received a picture of a baby in the most peaceful looking sleep you can imagine: idyllic, almost like angelic. It reminded me of how we need to rest in God. I’m reminded too of when Martin Luther equated sleep to faith that God was running the world.

For our physical well being alone, sleep is vital. Maintaining our circadian rhythm is important, as well. We need to go to bed and get up basically around the same time, while maintaining a healthy number of hours of sleep. I like to take naps when I can. All of this becomes more evident as we get older. We can’t do some of the crazy things we did when we were younger, or if we do, we learn that our body just can’t take it like it used to.

Getting our needed sleep or physical rest as we see in this psalm can be an expression of faith in God. We hurry, scurry and worry about this and that and everything else. In this life there is often no end to that. When God would have us do something much better. Learn to rest in him.

Of course this doesn’t mean at all that we skirt our responsibility, or that we don’t have legitimate concerns. But in all of that, we learn more and more to depend on God. And know in the end that our ability, even our effort, and the outcome all depend on God, God’s faithfulness in the end, and not our own. We thankfully are not God. Indeed we can rest in God and need to do so even when we’re awake. Helping us to get the sleep we need. In and through Jesus.

relaxing/resting in God

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”

Psalm 62

We really need to learn to rest in God. And with that, as we might put it today, to learn to relax in him.

This is, mind you, in the real world. A world of conflict and trouble. Something I want to learn is to somehow rest in God in the midst of everything. To do that much more, much better, really to just begin to do that as a habit of life.

I say habit. We actually can’t control our experience. But we can do certain things. We can pray to God that he would help us there And I believe what we do as well as refuse to do can help us experience more of God’s peace. We shouldn’t give into fear, or thoughts which are disparaging of ourselves, of others, of life in  general. Instead we must submit all such to God, even as the psalmist does here. Trusting that God will help us. That can and will make a needed difference I believe, if we hang in there in faith and practice it, however imperfectly that is. In and through Jesus.

I want to add that some of us may need counseling and medication. Though I currently have not been doing either, I have in the past. No shame in that, and could actually help some of us to calm ourselves down, and practice trusting in God.

Jesus’s invitation to all (to be discipled)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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

I really want to emphasize in this post that this is an invitation to us from Jesus. To all of us who are weary and tired, down and out. This is an invitation to us, open for us, but not forced on us. So the door is unlocked so to speak, but we have to open it. Or like in the image we read in the letter to the church in Laodicea, Jesus knocks on the door, but we have to open it.

This is an invitation to be with Jesus, and to be discipled, that is taught, mentored, directed by him, imbibing his tone, content, something of his very life.

In response we need to take the step and wait. Jesus will begin to take over, but we have to remain committed to this new relationship. It is one of following Jesus. And considering the yoke, doing what he is doing. In and through him.