The Beauty of Rest

Once a month we have a meeting with all of our student leaders. It’s an opportunity to spend time together, celebrate what the Lord has done on campus through the ministry, pray together, and for the staff team to equip our leaders in the areas of leadership and discipleship. For this months meeting, we wanted to come alongside our students and share God’s command for us to rest and how rest leads to more fruit in our ministry. Right now students are prepping papers, studying for exams and finishing group projects, and often, their walk with the Lord takes a back seat.

I (Courtney) am no stranger to this struggle. I shared with the students about how God’s grace often does not abide in our life in the area of our work, and this leads to burn out, frustration, anxiety and disappointment.

A few of the students who were at the leadership meeting on Friday requested that I share my talk with them — so here you go you guys. I pray it blesses you and that you experience the grace God gives you each day.

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How many of you are busy? How many of you are tired? In your busyness, how is your walk with the Lord? Some of you in this room could honestly say that your walk with the Lord is doing really well. You’re walking in the power of the Holy Spirit and experiencing the joyful life God calls us to. And that’s great. Praise the Lord.

But many of you could be sitting in these chairs feeling the complete opposite. A few weeks ago I’d be right there with you.

How are you feeling? Are you feeling peaceful or anxious? Are you patient or angry? Are you experiencing joy  — or frustration and disappointment? With all of these emotions – how are you treating the people around you? Are you an encouragement, or is your bad attitude, critical, and impatient spirit keeping people at bay?

This creates an unfortunate cycle our life. We’re worn down. Our attitude isn’t one of joy and encouragement. We’re not fun to be around. Our community suffers. That makes us lonely and sad. Which in turn perpetuates the cycle of an unhealthy spirit.

Why do these things happen? Why does this cycle exist? How are they all connected?

Today I want to come before you with grace. Know that I say these things because it’s a subject that the Lord has totally put right in front of me the past couple of months. And I’ve fought God on it. I didn’t want to believe I wasn’t doing “well.” I didn’t want to believe that I was the reason why I wasn’t doing well.

Out of my pride I’ve believed I could keep it all together and do it all. Out of my fear of others seeing my brokenness I’ve hidden my heart and true emotions. Pretending was safer than honesty and vulnerability.

As a staff team – our desire is that you would be “whole” people. That you would be spiritually healthy, as well as emotionally healthy. All of you are having real, and helpful, spiritual experiences in certain areas of your lives – such as worship, prayer, Bible studies, and fellowship.

But mistakenly, this can lead us to believe we are doing fine, even if our relational and internal life is not doing well.

This apparent “progress” we make can then provide a spiritual reason for not doing the hard work of maturing emotionally.

We do not want you to be deceived. I know this – I myself have been deceived for years.

So I’m coming before you today to talk about the grace we have through Jesus Christ and the beauty of rest.

The beautiful truth is that we are commanded to rest, and that when we do, we can experience true fellowship with God and with others.

The grace of God is one of the most important subjects in all of scripture. At the same time it is probably one of the least understood. Many of us – by definition – believe in grace. It’s an undeserved gift – unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment. Eph 2:8-9 – for it is by grace you have been saved….

When we think of grace, we almost always think of being saved by grace. We think of salvation. But the Bible teaches we are not only saved by grace, but we are also called to live by grace every day of our lives. It is this important aspect of grace that seems to be so little understood or practiced by Christians.

Most of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well – whatever “well” is in our opinion – then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works rather than by grace.

We are saved by grace, but we are living by the “sweat” of our performance.

Know that I am not immune to this in any way. I’ve had to come before the Lord time and time and time again – especially the past couple of months – to ask forgiveness for living my life by works and not by grace.

Moreover, what makes this so much more difficult is that we live in a world – and the Christian community is a part of this too — where we are always challenging ourselves, and one another, to “try harder.”

We seem to believe success in the Christian life (however we define success) is basically up to us: our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way.

The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience.

But it is not meant to be a one-time experience: the truth needs to be reaffirmed daily. Our relationship with God is possible because of the grace we have in Jesus Christ. Christ’s death was the result of God’s grace.

GRACE – God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. Jesus Christ has already paid for every blessing you and I will ever receive from God the Father. We have nothing to offer God.

Our culture tells us that:

  • happiness is found in things
  • you should get all you can for yourself
  • security is found in money, education, power, status and good health
  • God is irrelevant to everyday life
  • You’re not responsible for anyone but yourself

With our current reality – both the sin outside in the world, and the sin deep within our own hearts – it is any wonder that we can experience a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is by His grace that we can do this – and often where we miss the truth.

So you could ask – okay Courtney. I get it, living a life by grace and not by works is important. But how does living by grace and not by works tie into the idea of rest.

Let me explain.

I’m gonna use this analogy from a Pastor who wrote the book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.”

We live in a blizzard. And few of us have a rope. He relates a story about farmers in the Midwest who would prepare for blizzards by tying a rope from the back door of their house out to the barn as a guide to ensure they could return home safely. These blizzards came quickly and fiercely and were highly dangerous. When their full force was blowing, a farmer could not see the end of his or her hand. Many froze to death in those blizzards, disoriented by their inability to see. They wandered in circles, lost sometimes in their own backyards. If they lost their grip on the rope, it became impossible for them to find their way home. Some froze within feet of their own front door, never realizing how close they were to safety.

To this day, in parts of Canada and the Great Plains, meteorologists counsel people that, to avoid getting lost in the blinding snow when they venture outside, they tie one end of a long rope to their house and grasp the other end firmly.

Many of us have lost our way spiritually, in the whiteout of the blizzard swirling around us. Blizzards begin when we say yes to too many things — not living by grace because we believe we need to do more. Between demands from work, school, friends, family – our lives fall somewhere between full and overflowing. We multitask, so much so that we are unaware we are doing three things at once. We admire people who are able to accomplish so much in so little time. They are our role models.

Many of us are overscheduled, tense, addicted to hurry, preoccupied, fatigued, and starved for time. Cramming as much as possible into our schedules. We battle life to make use of every spare moment we have.

This was totally me when I was in college. There was always something more to do. I was a leader in Cru, an intern with the admissions office, worked for the college paper, barista at Starbucks, and a full-time student all at the exact same time. I had a boyfriend. A family. Friends. I was busy and had little margin in my life. And the thing that always went out the door first when I needed more time was my time with the Lord. It suffered. I always had the intention of spending time with Him. But when the schedule got too busy – that was the first to go. And because of that, my character was not where it needed to be. I wasn’t developing emotionally.

And because of that — not much in our life changes. Our over productivity becomes counterproductive. I often ended my days exhausted from work and school. And then my “free time” on weekends became full of more demands of my already overburdened life.

I would listen to sermons and read books about slowing down and creating margin in my life. I would read about my need for rest.

But I couldn’t stop. This still is a struggle of mine. I fight with God on this. I believe I can do it all if I just work harder. Often I believe I’m not busy, I feel guilty that I’m wasting time and not productive. This is so not true. This is where our sinful nature comes out in our every day.

Many of us go through the motions of doing so many things as if there is no alternative way of spending our days. It is like being addicted—only it is not drugs and alcohol but to tasks, work, to doing.

Add to this the storms and trials of life that blow into our lives unexpectedly and catch us off guard, and we wonder why so many of us are disoriented and confused.

We need a rope to lead us home.

Jesus called this out to us. He knew this would happen. That’s why He says — “Come to me, all who labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

God is offering us a rope to keep us from getting lost. This rope consistently leads us back home to him, to a place that is centered and rooted.

This rope can be found in the ancient discipline going back thousands of years – the Sabbath.

When placed inside present-day Christianity, the Sabbath is ground breaking, and countercultural. It is a powerful declaration about God, our relationships, our beliefs, our values and ourselves.

Now hear me when I say this – the Sabbath is not meant to add another to-do to your already busy schedule. It is the resetting of your entire life toward a new destination – God.

The Sabbath is a rope that leads us back to God in the blizzard of life. It is an anchor for living in the hurricane of demands.

Now – we know that we teach you guys to have devotions or a quiet time with the Lord. Normally – this is 10-30 mins a day spent reading your Bible, praying and perhaps reading something from a devotional book. Along with church on Sundays and perhaps involvement in Cru and a bible study, many of us often believe this is enough to withstand the blizzard swirling around us.

It’s not.

I don’t know about you, but within a couple of hours of spending time with God in the morning, I easily forget how God is a part of my every day affairs. By lunch, I’m pulling from my own strength and it shows.

The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word that means “to cease, to stop working.”

At the heart of the Sabbath is stopping to surrender to God in trust.

It refers to doing nothing related to work for a twenty-four hour period each week. It refers to this unit of time around which we are to orient our entire lives as “holy,” meaning “separate, a cut above” the other six days.

On Sabbaths, we imitate God by stopping our work and resting.

Make no mistake – keeping the command of the Sabbath is both radical and difficult in our everyday live. It cuts to the core of our spirituality, the core of our convictions, the core of our faith, the core of our lifestyles.

Our culture knows nothing of setting aside a whole day (24 hours) to rest and delight in God. Like most, I always considered it an optional extra – not something essential to my growth. But as we’ve discussed, living in a fallen world is much like being in a blizzard. Without the Sabbath, we easily find ourselves lost and unsure of the larger picture of God and our lives.

Nothing less than understanding the Sabbath as a command from God, as well as an incredibly invitation, will enable us to grab hold of this rope God offers us.

Keeping the Sabbath in Scripture is a commandment – right next to refraining from lying, murdering, and committing adultery. Sabbath is a gift from God we are invited to receive.

So how can you do this – what can your Sabbath look like? There are four foundational qualities of a biblical Sabbath that distinguishes it from just a “day off.”

1)   Stop

2)   Rest

3)   Delight

4)   Contemplate

First, stop. On the Sabbath, I embrace my limits. God is God. He is indispensable. I am his creature. The world continues working fine when I stop. This was hard for me to do in college – too much homework to stop. This is hard for me now – too much to do to manage my marriage, my job, & my home.

But you know what:

We stop on Sabbaths because God is on the throne, assuring us the world will not fall apart if we cease our activities.

God is at work taking care of the universe. When we are sleeping, he is working. He commands us to relax, to enjoy the fact that we are not in charge of his world. As it says in Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God.

The core spiritual issue in stopping revolves around trust. Will God take care of us and our concerns if we obey him by stopping to keep the Sabbath?

Second, rest. Once we stop, the Sabbath calls us to rest. God rested after his work. We are to do the same. What do we do to replace all that we are now stopping during our Sabbath time?

The answer – whatever delights and replenishes you. Example – maybe you go for a run. Maybe you go hunting or fishing. Maybe you paint, or cook, or just sit on your porch and do nothing. Maybe you spend it with people, maybe you don’t.

When we stop and rest, we respect our humanity and the image of God in us. The Sabbath serves us.

Third, delight. Delight in what God has given you. God, after finishing his work of creation, proclaimed that “it was very good”.

On Sabbaths we are called to enjoy and delight in creation and its gifts. Slow down – take in the beauty of a tree in Schmeekle, or the sunrise created with great care by God. God has given you the ability to see, hear, taste, smell and touch – don’t take that for granted. Delight in that.

Finally, contemplate. The Sabbath is always holy to the Lord. Pondering the love of God remains the central focus on our Sabbaths. Honestly, for most people their Sabbath falls on a Saturday or Sunday. On every Sabbath, we experience a sampling of something greater that awaits us.

As with stopping, resting and delighting, we will need to prepare in advance how to do this.

What will it mean to prepare yourself for worship, to receive the Word of God? What time do you need to go to bed the night before? When might you have times of silence and solitude or prayer during the day?

There are an amazing amount of Sabbath possibilities before you. It is important that you pay attention to the things that are unique to your life situation. Experiment. Make a plan. Follow it for one or two months. Then reflect back on what you changes you’ve made. There is no one right way that works for every person. You have permission to play, be with friends, take a nap, read a book.

If you begin to practice stopping, resting, delighting and contemplating for one 24-hour period each week, you will soon find your other six days becoming infused with those same qualities and a life full of grace.

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