“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 5:12).
“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).
“My soul finds rest in God alone” (Psalm 62:1).
“Since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it” (Hebrews 4:1).
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
These few Bible texts ought to make it plain that Scriptural rest is not just a luxury; a biblical Sabbath rest is a vital necessity which is both lovingly encouraged and divinely commanded. My wife and I just spent a week at a pastors and wives retreat. I need to say from the outset that this was not a vacation – some sort of filling up the time with the busywork of sightseeing and/or doing a variety of activities – but a God-given and God-ordained opportunity of rest.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate what God was thinking when he ordained his people for intentional times of rest comes from my time in a prayer chapel. One morning I set aside a four-hour block to get away and pray. I’ll be honest that I came into it with a personal agenda of what I wanted God to do. I had my list of prayer items and my thoughts of how I believed God should work. Silly me.
It did not take long into my forceful striving toward God for Him to reveal to me that I was on a misguided adventure in missing the point. Somehow in my desire to see all kinds of prayer requests answered I lost sight of why I was really there: to simply be in the presence of God and enjoy Jesus, that’s it. You see, in our daily work-a-day world we poke and prod, we push, cajole, and finagle to move forward and get our way on all kinds of things. To separate ourselves from our typical routine takes something of a withdrawal, and it isn’t really easy. Maybe this is why so many of us are so stinking tired, cranky, and negative all the time – we find all kinds of reasons to not rest, and even when we do we’re still trying to impose our will on God. Silly us.
What we need most is simply Jesus – to know Him, be with Him, and to experience the depths of our wondrous and gracious union with Him. And that cannot happen, at least not fully, unless we obey the command given by God to rest. To rest means to relinquish all our plans and agendas to God for a time and just come into His presence and enjoy one another.
Our compulsions for performance and perfection are the real culprits to rest. We want to do everything right. We long to pray right, talk right, be right and live right instead of just coming to Jesus like a little child who needs Him. Perhaps we are so profoundly discontent with so many things because we are not really content in Christ. Just maybe the best or right prayer to pray is that we all may be content together no matter the circumstances. Only then might we find that our burdens are light and our life easy.
Jesus modeled the life of rest for us. If there was anyone who did not need to pull away and rest it would have been Jesus, and yet he continually did so. If Jesus needed a sacred space and place to commune and enjoy the Father, then how much more do we need a Sabbath rest and a place to do it? When Jesus rested and prayed He did not perform a duty; He rested in order to connect with his heavenly Father. There was no multi-tasking or juggling other responsibilities. There was simply the radical pursuit of intimate rest.
If we do not rest and intentionally practice occasional times of Sabbath, then we are expressing our confidence that money, hard work, and individual talent are really all we need rather than God. Rest is only secondarily about refueling our depleted resources; it is primarily about connecting intimately with Jesus and a good gracious Father. Just as we need a special room and a certain bed for sleep, so we need a particular place and a certain time set aside just to pray and enjoy God. Proper spiritual hygiene, just like proper sleep and health hygiene must include setting aside a place to daily rest, pray, and be with God.
Real spiritual and biblical rest only “works” when we realize we don’t have it all together – that we are helpless and need Jesus. Apart from Jesus, the blind man cannot see, Lazarus remains dead, and I am lost in my sin. I cannot “do” life without Christ in me and with me.
Maybe this old fallen world is not experiencing revival because God’s people have not yet learned the necessity of rest. As long as we try and manufacture results instead of relying on the Lord for refreshment and renewal, revival will be elusive. Instead, enjoy Jesus today, my friends, and leave the results up to God. And see what the Lord can do.